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Brown Brothers Harriman records

Call Number

MS 78


1696-1973, 1995 (bulk, 1820-1968), inclusive


Kouwenhoven, John Atlee, 1909-1990
Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co.
Brown, Shipley & Co.


109 Linear feet (148 boxes, 212 volumes)

Language of Materials

The materials are in English, with a few documents in German and French.


The Records consist of original and secondary research materials amassed to support the writing of Partners in Banking for the 150th anniversary of Brown Brothers Harriman and its predecessor businesses; original records from these entities, including correspondence, ledgers, account books, business transaction records, diaries, daybooks, clippings, scrapbooks, prints, photographs, audio tapes, artifacts; and a research library of printed material.

Historical Note

Belfast linen merchant Alexander Brown emigrated to the United States in 1800 and in 1818 founded Alex. Brown & Sons to import and export commodities, including Irish linen and American tobacco and cotton. The firm later established offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. In 1810, Alexander's eldest son William returned to England and established the trading firm William Brown & Co. in Liverpool. This became Brown Shipley & Co. in 1839 and relocated to London. It separated from Brown Brothers as a distinct business entity in 1918. The extending of credit and other banking-related opportunities that stemmed from international trade gradually became more profitable than the physical moving and sale of actual goods, and these solely financial endeavors became and remained the firm's focus. It originated travelers' letters of credits, later known as travelers checks, which allowed both individuals and corporations to access credit worldwide, through a network of international correspondent banks.

As financing opportunities and cash availability were diminished by the Depression, in 1931 Brown Brothers merged with the Harriman interests, to become Brown Brothers Harriman. The Harriman ventures included widespread investment and other financial holdings organized from Edward R. Harriman's vast fortunes, gained initially through successive mergers into what became the Union Pacific Railroad, and later by extensive and prudent investment.

In 1964 John A. Kouwenhoven, professor of English at Barnard College and the author of The Columbia Historical Portrait of New York, among other works, was hired by Brown Brothers Harriman to identify and amass records of historical value to the firm. His title was Director of the Historical Files, which were to serve, among other purposes, as the research materials for the writing of Partners in Banking, commissioned by Doubleday & Co. publishers to celebrate the firm's 150th anniversary in 1968. Kouwenhoven was assisted by researcher Sarah B. Brown, a former history teacher at the Brearley School and wife of partner Thatcher M. Brown III; and by Patricia Hoban. Mr. and Mrs. Brown were both direct descendants of Brown Brothers founder, Alexander Brown.


The collection is arranged in ten series:

Series I. Historical Files
Series II. Annual Reports and Statements of Condition
Series III. Financial and Business Records
Series IV. Business Transaction Records
Series V. Partners' Papers
Series VI. Scrapbooks and Collected Material
Series VII. Promotional and Press Material
Series VIII. Visual Material and Audio Tapes
Series IX. Artifacts and Memorabilia
Series X. Published Material

Series I represents the arrangement provided by Kouwenhoven, Brown and Hoban, The remaining series were designated based on the physical and intellectual groupings of the materials.

Scope and Contents

The Records consist of an artificial collection of relevant original and secondary material collected in part to support the publication of Partners in Banking as well as some of the naturally occurring records of Brown Brothers Harriman and its predecessor companies' business activities, and some of those companies' partners. These include original, photocopied, and transcribed correspondence; ledgers and account books; records of international business transactions; daybooks, correspondence, and diaries of Brown Brothers' partners, both personal and professional; scrapbooks; newspaper and magazine clippings, and other publicity materials; prints, photographs, and other visual materials including a portfolio commissioned from photographer Walker Evans; audiotapes; artifacts; and a reference library of published and privately printed material about the Brown family, its business interests, and other background information.

The collection documents the activities of Brown family businesses including Alex. Brown & Co., Brown Brothers & Co., Brown Shipley & Co., and their merger with the Harriman interests in 1931 to form Brown Brothers Harriman. To a lesser extent, it includes information on the Harriman interests, including Union Pacific Railroad.


Access Restrictions

This collection is stored offsite. For information on making arrangements to consult it, 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 Brown Brothers Harriman Records, MS 78, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

This collection is stored offsite. For information on making arrangements to consult it, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1970; some materials were added up to 1975.

Related Materials in Other Collections

The Library of Congress holds records of Alex Brown & Sons from 1796 to 1884, and the papers of W. Averell Harriman.

The New York Public Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division holds 176 volumes of ledgers and other account books from Brown Brothers & Co. in the period 1825-1889. It also holds correspondence of John Crosby Brown, Mary E. Brown, and William Adams Brown in the Brown Gilman Family Papers (1862-1937).

Union Theological Seminary holds the William Adams Brown papers (1865-1938) and the John Crosby Brown papers (1876-1909).

Correspondence related to the appointment of partner Charles J. Rhoads as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1929 was donated in March, 1965, as a gift of Brown Brothers Harriman from Mrs. Thatcher M. (Sarah B.) Brown III to the American Philosophical Society, where it is processed as the Charles James Rhoads Papers, 1883-1929.

The Walker Evans Archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art includes negatives, annotated contact sheets, correspondence, and project ephemera relating to photographs commissioned for Partners in Banking.

At Boston University, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center's nursing collections include records of Mary Magoun Brown (see Subseries V.C.i.).

The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library of Columbia University holds a scrapbook of William Adams Delano.

Yale University Library's Division of Manuscripts and Archives holds the personal papers of Robert A. Lovett. Official papers from his government service are housed at the National Archives.

Related Materials at the New-York Historical Society

Materials in the Records were used as research for volumes including John Crosby Brown's 100 Years of Merchant Banking, Thatcher Magoun Brown's Brown Brothers & Co. [and] Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., 1900-1950, Mary Elizabeth Brown's St. Cloud Church, and John A. Kouwenhoven's Partners in Banking, all of which are in the Society's library collection.

Some letters from John Crosby Brown related to the sermons and papers of his maternal grandfather, Rev. Jonas Coe, are included in the Coe-Brown Family Papers.

The Print Room holds some architectural records of buildings designed by Brown family cousin William Adams Delano and an album of photographs (Album 109) from the 150th anniversary celebrations in Seattle and Sun Valley Idaho in 1968 and given to Juan Trippe.


Brown, John Crosby: A hundred years of merchant banking. New York, 1909.

Brown, Mary Elizabeth: Alexander Brown and his descendants, 1764-1916. Privately printed, 1917.

Brown, Thatcher M. Brown Brothers & Co. [and] Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., 1900-1950

Kouwenhoven, John A. Partners in banking. New York: Doubleday, 1958.

Descendants of William Brown: [accessed December 11, 2009]

James Crosby Brown's Clifton Wynyates. In The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion (Part 29). [accessed January 2010]

Collection processed by

Celia Hartmann. Machine readable finding aid created by Celia Hartmann.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:09 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Processing of the Brown Brothers Harriman Records was made possible by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) in 2009.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024