William Sellers & Company, Inc.
Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
1 linear ft.
William Sellers, a member of the illustrious Sellers family of inventors and mechanicians and one of America's leading mechanical engineers, was born in Upper Darby, Pa., on September 19, 1824, and died on January 1, 1905. Sellers attended a private school run by his family, and between the ages of 14 and 21 served his apprenticeship in the Wilmington, Del., machine shop of his uncle J. Morton Poole. In 1845 he took charge of the shops of Bancroft, Nightingale & Co. in Providence, R.I. Sellers returned to Philadelphia and set up his own machine shop in 1847. A year later he was joined by Edward Bancroft as Bancroft & Sellers. Upon Bancroft's death in 1855, the firm was reorganized as William Sellers & Co., including his brother, John Sellers, Jr., and his cousin, Coleman Sellers. The Sellers firm was one of the foremost American machine shops. Sellers himself obtained over 90 patents, covering machine tools, including the spiral geared planer, rifling machines, and injectors for steam locomotives and boilers. Sellers served as president of the Franklin Institute in 1864-67. It was here that he delivered his influential paper urging the adoption of a standard system of screw threads, an essential ingredient of interchangeable parts. His proposed system was adopted by the U.S. Government in 1868 and the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869, leading to its quick, universal acceptance. Besides his machine shop, Sellers organized the Edge Moor Iron Company in 1868. It became a major producer of structural steel and iron-work, providing materials for the Centennial Exposition and the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1873 he reorganized the William Butcher Steel Works in Nicetown into the Midvale Steel Company, turning it into one of the leading producers of heavy steel forgings, ordnance and armor plate. Sellers was also a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania from 1868 until his death and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and other professional societies. The Sellers firm was incorporated in 1886. It continued to function until April 9, 1947, when the machine tool division was sold to the Consolidated Machine Tool Corporation and relocated to Rochester, N.Y. The records consist of five volumes and miscellaneous correspondence from William Sellers and the Sellers firm. The firm's first order book (1848-54) contains orders with dimensions for machinery, mostly shafting (1867-72). The works' visitors' register (1861-1947) contains the autographs of numerous dignitaries who visited the plant. They range from fellow mechanical engineers from the U.S., Britain, Germany and Japan, to industrialists who had placed orders with Sellers, to distinguished foreigners on tour like Louis Philippe d'Orleans, Comte de Paris. The register gives a good picture of networking among mechanical engineers and the personal element in technology transfer. There is also a register from the patent marks drawing room, a list of parts for a multiple automatic spacing punch with pneumatic control, and a scrapbook containing Army-Navy "E" Awards for World War II. A series of 45 letters from Sellers at the Edge Moor Iron Works to his second wife, Amelia Haasz Sellers, vacationing at Newport, R.I., in 1883 contains business as well as domestic news. The records contain three extraneous items belonging to Benjamin Ferris of Delaware, the father of Sellers' first wife. They are Ferris' will and religious essay, "A Metaphysico-Physiological Discourse on the Works of Creation, Part II" by John Linton (undated), with an 1827 letter from Linton to Ferris on religion.