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William H. Paine papers

Call Number

MS 475


1848-1932, inclusive


Paine, W. H.


3.5 Linear feet (8 boxes, 7 volumes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


William H. Paine (1828-1890) was a civil engineer and surveyor for the Union Army during the Civil War. Post-war, Paine served as an assistant engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge. Throughout his career, Paine worked as a consulting engineer on many bridge, tunnel and railway projects, including the Hudson River Tunnel. This collection documents his early life in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, his work in California gold mines, his service for the Union Army, and his work as an independent engineer in New York City.

Biographical Note

William H. Paine was born in Chester, New Hampshire on May 17, 1828 to William Babcock Paine and Susan Emory Paine. Paine completed his basic education in New Hampshire, and in 1848, at the age of twenty Paine relocated to Sheboygan, Wisconsin with his family. Once settled in Sheboygan, Paine found work as a land surveyor for the city.

In 1852 Paine traveled from Wisconsin to California in hopes of finding work in a gold mine. Once in California, Paine moved from town to town working on mining engineering projects. Paine returned to Sheboygan in 1856 and again found work surveying for the city and as a surveyor and engineer for the railroad. During this time, Paine developed his steel surveyor's measuring tape, which he officially patented in 1860. Around this time Paine married his first wife, Harriet Paine and they had one daughter, Hattie Lawrence Paine. His wife died shortly after his daughter was born.

In 1861, Paine joined the Union Army where he worked as a topographical engineer, responsible for mapping projects in Washington D.C. and Virginia. During his time in the Union Army, he received four commissions for exemplary service: Captain and Aide de Camp (1862), Major by brevet (1864), Liutenant Colonel by brevet (1865) and finally, Colonel by brevet (1865).

Post-war, Paine continued his work as a surveyor and drew maps for Civil War history publications such as William Swinton's "History of the Army of the Potomac" and Horace Greeley's "American Conflict". Shortly after, Paine married his second wife Catherine Jones and had one daughter Kathreen (Kittie) Lyman Paine.

Paine settled in Brookyln in the late 1860s and worked for the Flushing Railroad before beginning work for the New York Bridge Company on the Brookyln Bridge in 1869. Paine worked as a construction engineer and later was appointed Assistant Engineer. In this position he was responsible for the engineering of a cable railway on the bridge. During his time working on the Brooklyn Bridge, Paine received 14 patents related to cable railway work, notably a cable gripping apparatus named the "Paine Grip".

In addition to his work on the Brooklyn Bridge, Paine was an independent consulting engineer for various bridge, tunnel and railway projects including the 125th Street and 10th Avenue line of the Third Avenue Railway in the mid-1880s. Most notably, Paine was a consulting engineer for the Hudson River Tunnel in 1874. He also consulted several out of state projects, many of which were in the Midwest. In 1875, Paine was elected a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Paine remained in New York City working as a civil engineer until the late 1880s when he moved to Cleveland to work for the Cleveland City Cable Railway. Paine remained in Cleveland until his death on December 31, 1889.

Derby, George and James T. White. "William H. Paine." National Cyclopedia of American Biography. J.T. White, 1930.


The William H. Paine papers are organized in 10 series, and chronologically within each series:

Series I: Diaries

Series II: Correspondence

Series III: Patents

Series IV: Architecture and Engineering Documents

Series V: Published Material

Series VI: Financial Documents

Series VII: Legal Documents

Series VIII: Clippings and Notes

Series IX: Ephemera

Series X: Photographs

Scope and Content Note

The William H. Paine papers document the personal and professional life of civil engineer William H. Paine. The collection contains diaries, correspondence, patents, architectural and engineering related documents, financial and legal papers, ephemera and photographs. The majority of the collection focuses on Paine's work as a civil engineer both as an assistant engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge and a consulting engineer on various bridge, tunnel and cable railway projects.

Paine's diaries are extensive and his early accounts focus on his travels from Wisconsin to California during the Gold Rush. The diaries and correspondence also document Paine's tenure as a topographical engineer for the Union Army. There are two diaries written during Paine's time as engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge, however, they include little specific detail about his work.

Paine's engineering and architectural documents include a large number of patents, records of patent tax, engineering reports and equipment specifications for various civil engineering projects.

A large portion of the photographs in the collection are in scrapbooks that belonged to Paine's daugther Kathreen.

Of note, Paine's collection includes one photograph album of Matthew Brady Civil War portraits. Also of interest is an 1852 map of gold regions in California.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the William H. Paine Papers, MS 475, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Open to qualified researchers.Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Collection processed by

Cassandra Brewer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:47:07 -0400.
Language: The finding aid is written in English

Processing Information

Processed by Cassandra Brewer, 2011.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024