Staff and volunteers at the History San Jose Research Library and Archives have recently completed processing five manuscript collections from the Perham Collection of Early Electronics under a 2012 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources’ Cataloging Hidden Collections and Archives program. Series through item-level catalog records, as well as many digital images, are now available through PastPerfect Online.
The project provides access to more than 100 linear feet of the largest manuscript portions of the Perham Collection, previously unprocessed, and to some extent unknown even to our Curator:
- The Lee and Marie de Forest Papers comprise the largest collection documenting this award-winning radio and motion-picture inventor. They include not only de Forest’s early Yale University, American DeForest Wireless Telegraph, and DeForest Phonofilm scrapbooks of correspondence, ephemera and news clippings, but also extensive correspondence between de Forest and his peers during the 1940s and 1950s that sheds light on the complex man behind his sometimes controversial inventions;
- Professional and personal papers of 1916 Stanford engineering graduate Harold Elliott contain extensive materials on his work with Federal Telegraph, Galvin Manufacturing, RCA-Victor, and Hewlett-Packard, and his radio clock-tuner inventions. In addition, Elliott was a talented photographer, and his papers include more than 1000 photographs from his early days at Stanford University (1911-1916), hiking and camping trips in the Sierras and Arizona (circa 1915-1930), early automobiles, and later photographs of the Pacific Coastline and Portola Valley foothills, many of which were displayed in photography exhibits in the 1950s and 1960s;
- Rare materials from Federal Telegraph Company (1909-1929), one of Silicon Valley’s earliest successful startups, including Douglas Perham’s scrapbooks of photographs, blueprints, and technical reports documenting Federal’s radio installations in San Francisco, San Diego, El Paso and Kansas City between 1909 and 1912;
- Research notes and correspondence of Jane Morgan, author of “Electronics in the West” (1967), a treasure trove of information on early electronics pioneers on the West Coast. Although written in a popular style, Morgan’s work was meticulously researched and documented, and her research files include correspondence and notes detailing interviews with many key individuals; and
- The Perham History Files, a collection of ephemera, notes, manuscripts, and other items pertaining to hundreds of people, companies, and technical developments.
The Perham Collection of Early Electronics preserves rare books and ephemera, trade manuals, personal papers and archives, along with some 1200 photographs, and 2500 electronics devices from some of the earliest commercial ventures in electronics in the Western U.S. and a nascent Silicon Valley, from the 1890s to 1960. Douglas M. Perham, who began this collection, spent his career with many of these firms, from Federal Telegraph in 1909 to the highly successful post-war Varian Associates. He and his colleagues avidly collected material documenting what they saw happening around them over a seven-decade period. Originally displayed at Perham’s New Almaden Museum, the collection became part of the Perham Foundation’s Electronics Museum at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, in the late 1960s. After the Museum’s closure in 1991, the Collection went into storage, and was eventually donated in 2003 to History San Jose.
The Collection, received largely unprocessed, has now been almost entirely re-housed and cataloged, thanks to the dedication of a hardcore band of semi-retired engineers who have logged thousands of hours over the past ten years identifying and researching the over 2500 objects within the collection; and thanks to this CLIR grant, without which we could not have dedicated the time and resources to process this primary source material invaluable to anyone interested in early Bay Area commercial history. The grant has also allowed us to create an in-house processing manual, available to all volunteers and staff, that fully integrates PastPerfect museum and archives software into an archival workflow process, resulting in a more consistent and efficient approach to processing collections and submitting EAD guides to the Online Archive of California.
As part of this project, we have created a website to document the people, companies and products that comprise the Perham Collection at http://www.perhamcollection.org. The site will continue to grow, and highlights some of the more compelling stories found in the manuscript collections over this past year. We also anticipate researchers and collectors will benefit from the richer insight provided by these materials into the personal and professional lives of the engineers responsible for many of the inventions that are the foundation of today’s telecommunications and computer industries.