Curators at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History were astounded. Never before had the museum received such a large collection of original material witnessing to the industrial revolution and rise of manufacturing in America.

The Lockwood Greene collection, donated between 1998 and 2008, is the single largest assemblage of engineering and architectural designs, illustrations, and photographs of the American industrial revolution within the Smithsonian’s collection. The donation included ink on linen drawings, blueprints, and original photographs dating back to 1870—more than 36,000 items in total. A further financial donation was made to support the archiving and conservation of these materials.

“These drawings provide a glimpse into the evolution of engineering and immortalize the industrial revolution by showcasing some of the first textile mills and manufacturing facilities,” said CEO Ralph Peterson. “Helping to archive and preserve these drawings for future generations is a privilege and helps to honor the legacy of Lockwood Greene, the oldest American engineering and construction firm in continuous operation.”

The items were discovered in 1996 in a warehouse once used to store munitions during the early 1800s in Boston, where Lockwood Greene at one time had a strong presence. As luck would have it, the cool, dry conditions appropriate for a munitions warehouse were also ideal for the preservation of documents and photographs.

Since transferring the materials from Boston to Lockwood Greene’s Spartanburg headquarters, the collection had been in the care of CH2M HILL Lockwood Greene’s David Rush, facilities manager at the firm’s Spartanburg office. Rush was responsible for sorting through and cataloging the materials in preparation for the Smithsonian donation.

“What’s so exciting about this collection is that manufacturing includes so many areas of life—automotive manufacturing, furniture making, newspapers, high-rise buildings in New York City and more—so we have captured slices of so many areas,” Rush said.

The documents provide a pictorial account of America during the industrial revolution. The drawings handcrafted on linen parchment represent some of the most prominent textile mills, manufacturing facilities, mechanical processes, and buildings of the nineteenth century.

Donated items included architectural and engineering drawings of manufacturing plants for some of the nation’s most recognized companies: Baldwin Piano Company, Palmolive, Piedmont Manufacturing Company, American Cigar Company, and Gillette, among hundreds of others.

“There are drawings in this collection that are works of art,” said William Worthington, engineering specialist for the National Museum of American History. “Lockwood Greene’s archives provide us with an extremely important picture of how American engineering practice has evolved over the last century, revealing engineering details that are recorded nowhere else. Researchers and engineering historians will have a field day with this information.”

Now preserved for posterity, the museum’s Science, Technology, and Culture Department has compiled an index of the Lockwood Greene collection. Researchers and interested members of the public can review the index on the Smithsonian’s website and make an appointment to see the materials in person.