1804-1917; bulk: 1866-1913

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of correspondence, diaries, and scrapbooks chronicling Blake's scientific and photographic interests, including his service with the United States Coast Survey (1866-1875), his work as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition (1870), and his experiments in physics and electrical communication which led to the development of the Blake transmitter for the Bell Telephone Company.

Biographical Sketch

Francis Blake (1850-1913) was born in Needham, Mass., the son of Caroline Burling (Trumbull) and Francis Blake, Sr. Known widely as the inventor of the Blake transmitter for telephone communications, Blake was a respected physicist who also worked on the United States Coast Survey from his teenage years through early adulthood (1866-1878); was responsible for the design of his elaborate family estate, Keewaydin, in Weston, Mass.; and was a serious amateur photographer. He married Elizabeth Livermore Hubbard (1849-1941) in 1874, and together they had two children: Agnes (Blake) Fitzgerald (b. 1876) and Benjamin Sewall Blake (b. 1877).


Davis, Keith F. "The High-Speed Photographs of Francis Blake." The Massachusetts Historical Review 2 (2000): 1-26.

Hall, Elton Wayland. Francis Blake : An Inventor's Life 1850-1913. Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.

Collection Description

This collection contains 82 boxes of correspondence and a 50-volume diary, 1866-1913, and 41 scrapbooks chronicling Blake's service with the United States Coast Survey (1866-1875); his work as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition (1870); his determination of differences in longitude between Greenwich, England, and the U.S.; and his experiments in physics and electrical communication which led to the development of the Blake transmitter for the Bell Telephone Company. The papers also include extensive records of household expenses; business investments; the construction of his estate, Keewaydin (Weston, Mass.); his photographic interests; and his association with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Thursday Evening Club, the Brookline (Mass.) Country Club, and the town of Weston. Also, Blake's personal ledger and trial balance account books; a 5-volume diary and personal account book of his wife Elizabeth L. (Hubbard) Blake; Blake family genealogy; and papers of the Hubbard, Lane, Sewall, and Trumbull families. Correspondents include Alexander Graham Bell, Charles O. Boutelle, Julius E. Hilgard, Charles F. McKim, and Thomas O. Selfridge. The collection also contains over 100 printed volumes relating to Blake's scientific and photographic interests.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society by the descendants of Francis Blake, Jr., May 1964.


The collection is arranged as Francis Blake had personally arranged it.

Photographs (box 78 and volumes 33-37) have been removed to the Francis Blake photographs (Photo. Coll. 57). As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.

Other Formats

Digital facsimiles of the Francis Blake's U.S. Coast Survey papers (Series II) are available on Age of Exploration, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Photographs (box 78 and volumes 33-37) have been removed to MHS Photo. Coll. 59. As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.

I. Private letters, 1866-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Incoming correspondence and copies of occasional outgoing letters from Francis Blake, chiefly regarding personal, family, and business matters in Boston and Weston, Mass. Of particular interest are letters concerning Blake's attempts to sell his transmitter patents to national and international telephone companies; correspondence with the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company of Rhode Island concerning machinery and tool manufacture for Blake's laboratory; correspondence with Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909) regarding the landscape design of Keewaydin; a letter dated 31 Jan. 1881 from Alexander Graham Bell; a life-long series of letters from Blake's brother Charles H. M. Blake concerning his business ventures in Mexico; correspondence with Boston area photographers; references to theater performances of Edwin Thomas Booth (1833-1893); and an account of the imprisonment of Jefferson Davis at Fortress Monroe.

Box 1Folder 1-12
May 1866-June 1870
Box 2Folder 13-25
July 1870-July 1873
Box 3Folder 26-40
Jan. 1876-Dec. 1879
Box 4Folder 41-52
Jan. 1880-Oct. 1880
Box 5Folder 53-67
Nov. 1880-Apr. 1881
Box 6Folder 68-84
Feb. 1881-Oct. 1881
Box 7Folder 85-102
Nov. 1881-Nov. 1882
Box 8Folder 103-120
Dec. 1882-Oct. 1883
Box 9Folder 121-137
Oct. 1883-June 1884
Box 10Folder 138-154
July 1884-June 1885
Box 11Folder 155-170
July 1885-Mar. 1886
Box 12Folder 171-186
Mar. 1886-Nov. 1886
Box 13Folder 187-201
Nov. 1886-June 1887
Box 14Folder 202-217
July 1887-Feb. 1888
Box 15Folder 218-232
Mar. 1888-Nov. 1888
Box 16Folder 233-249
Nov. 1888-June 1889
Box 17Folder 250-265
July 1889-Feb. 1890
Box 18Folder 266-280
Feb. 1890-July 1890
Box 19Folder 281-293
July 1890-Jan. 1891
Box 20Folder 294-307
Jan. 1891-July 1891
Box 21Folder 308-322
July 1891-May 1892
Box 22Folder 323-335
June 1892-Dec. 1892
Box 23Folder 336-350
Dec. 1892-Apr. 1893
Box 24Folder 351-364
Apr. 1893-Oct. 1893
Box 25Folder 365-379
Oct. 1893-Apr. 1894
Box 26Folder 380-395
Apr. 1894-Dec. 1894
Box 27Folder 396-408
Dec. 1894-May 1895
Box 28Folder 409-421
May 1898-Dec. 1895
Box 29Folder 422-433
Dec. 1895-Apr. 1896
Box 30Folder 434-447
May 1896-Nov. 1896
Box 31Folder 448-462
Nov. 1896-June 1897
Box 32Folder 463-476
June 1897-Jan. 1898
Box 33Folder 477-489
Jan. 1898-Oct. 1898
Box 34Folder 490-502
Oct. 1898-May 1899
Box 35Folder 503-515
May 1899-Jan. 1900
Box 36Folder 516-530
Jan. 1900-Aug. 1900
Box 37Folder 531-544
Aug. 1900-May 1901
Box 38Folder 545-558
May 1901-Mar. 1902
Box 39Folder 559-572
Apr. 1902-May 1903
Box 40Folder 573-585
May 1903-Dec. 1904
Box 41Folder 586-598
Jan. 1905-Sep. 1907
Box 42Folder 599-611
Sep. 1907-Dec. 1912

II. U.S. Coast Survey, 1843-1889

Arranged chronologically.

Official incoming correspondence to Francis Blake from the U.S. Coast Survey office, chiefly regarding business matters. Correspondents include Charles O. Boutelle and Thomas Oliver Selfridge (1836-1924) commissioning Blake as an astronomer with the Darien Exploring Expedition to survey the Isthmus of Darien, S.A., for an interoceanic canal, as well as expense and pay accounts and charts and notebooks of weather, birds, and general observations at Observatory Island, S.A. Also, instructions for astronomical measurements from Julius Erasmus Hilgard (1825-1891) with respect to Blake's surveys determining the differences in longitudinal measurements between Greenwich, England, and the United States; letters and news clippings regarding a federal investigation for alleged misappropriation of funds by Boutelle and Hilgard; and a scientific ledger book charting survey points at Keewaydin.

NOTE: Digital facsimiles of the papers in this series are available on Age of Exploration, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.

Box 43Folder 612
Catalogue of the stars, 1843
Box 43Folder 613
Oological notes, 1868
Box 43Folder 614
Gulf of Darien, S.A., 1871-1881
Box 43Folder 615-627
May 1866-Mar. 1872
Box 44Folder 628-641
Mar. 1872-Feb. 1875
Box 45Folder 642-656
Mar. 1875-Mar. 1889
Vol. 1
Scientific ledger, Mar. 1880-Apr. 1889

III. Autobiographical correspondence from Francis Blake to Elizabeth M. Crosby, 1870-1892

Arranged chronologically.

Box 46Folder 657
Box 46Folder 658

IV. Bills, house building, 1874-1875

Arranged chronologically.

Estimates, bills, and receipts for the design and construction of Keewaydin, Francis Blake's home in Weston, Mass.

Box 46Folder 659-670

V. Greenhouse, May-Dec. 1891

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and specifications with Lord & Burnham Company of New York, horticultural architects and builders, for the design of the Keewaydin greenhouse.

Box 47Folder 671-673

VI. Bills, domestic, 1875-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Scrapbooks of bills and receipts for food and dry goods including clothing, furniture, interior decorations, photographic supplies, tools, fuel, and tack purchased by the Blake family at Keewaydin.

Box 47Folder 674-682
Box 48Folder 683-689
Vol. 2 (XT)
Vol. 3 (XT)
Vol. 4 (XT)
Vol. 5 (XT)
Vol. 6 (XT)
Vol. 7 (XT)
Vol. 8 (XT)
Vol. 9 (XT)
Vol. 10 (XT)
Vol. 11 (XT)
Vol. 12 (XT)
Vol. 13 (XT)
Vol. 14 (XT)
Vol. 15 (XT)
Vol. 16 (XT)
Vol. 17 (XT)
Vol. 18 (XT)
Vol. 19 (XT)
Vol. 20 (XT)
Vol. 21 (XT)
Vol. 22 (XT)
Vol. 23 (XT)
Vol. 24 (XT)
Vol. 25 (XT)
Vol. 26 (XT)

VII. Telephone, 1877-1917

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and diagrams detailing the development of the Blake transmitter for the telephone, patent offers to Bell Telephone and New England Telephone, attempts to patent the transmitter worldwide, other electrical inventions, and various inventions from other inventors. Also, tables and graphs recording the number of telephone calls made from selected Boston metropolitan phone lines, and one volume of monthly earnings reports of American Telephone and Telegraph Company. Correspondents include Alexander Graham Bell, John Elbridge Hudson (1839-1900), and Thomas A. Wilson.

Box 48Folder 690-695
1877, July 1878-Nov. 1879
Box 49Folder 696-710
Nov. 1879-July 1881
Box 50Folder 711-726
July 1881-Sep. 1885
Box 51Folder 727-739
Sep. 1885-Jan. 1891
Box 52Folder 740-747
Jan. 1891-Apr. 1895
Vol. 27
A T & T earnings reports, Jan. 1898-Nov. 1917

VIII. Clubs and societies, 1879-1908

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence, bylaws, financial statements, lists of officers, minutes, and annual reports, chiefly of Boston area clubs and societies, including the Boston Camera Club, Somerset Club, St. Botolph Club, Union Club, American Society for Psychical Research, the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Good Citizenship, and others. Also, scrapbooks of The Country Club, Brookline, Mass., with bylaws, financial statements, club rules, programs, race lists, and advertising ephemera of horses and horse racing at Clyde Park, as well as correspondence regarding the purchase and sale of thoroughbreds.

Vol. 28
Membership, 1879-1908
Box 52Folder 748-754
July 1886-1893
Box 53Folder 755-765
1893-Dec. 1908
Vol. 29
The Country Club, 1882-1886

IX. Benjamin Sewall Trust, 1879-1902

Arranged chronologically.

Will of Benjamin Sewall, inventory, and executor's and trustees' probate accounts.

Box 53Folder 766-771

X. Health, 1880-1911

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence relating to Francis Blake's personal health, pathological reports, EKG, physician's diagnoses, and laboratory reports on well-water and toxic arsenic levels in wallpaper.

Box 54Folder 772-777

XI. Trumbull estate, 1881-1910

Arranged chronologically.

Personal and legal correspondence regarding settlement and distribution of the Trumbull estate to heirs, as well as surveys of Trumbull real estate holdings in Worcester, Mass.

Box 54Folder 778-787
Box 55Folder 788-805
Oct. 1902-Nov. 1910

XII. Wines, 1882-1901

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence with French and European wine producers and importers, as well as a scrapbook of wine lists, price lists, recipes, advertisements, and news clippings of wines, champagnes, brandies, and other foreign and domestic liquors.

Vol. 30
Box 56Folder 806-817

XIII. Thursday Evening Club, 1882-1913

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence, announcements, and invitations with respect to members and guests, featured speakers, entertainment, transportation and other arrangements for biannual club meetings hosted by Francis Blake at Keewaydin.

Box 57
Cards, 1882-1913
Box 58Folder 818
Cards, 1884-1904
Box 58Folder 819-823
17 Apr. 1884
Box 58Folder 824-829
15 Apr. 1886
Box 58Folder 830-835
19 Apr. 1888
Box 59Folder 836-842
3 Apr. 1890
Box 59Folder 843-848
7 Apr. 1892
Box 60Folder 849-854
26 Apr. 1894
Box 60Folder 855-860
16 Apr. 1896
Box 60Folder 861-865
28 Apr. 1898
Box 61Folder 866-872
24 Apr. 1902
Box 61Folder 873-879
21 Apr. 1904

XIV. Keewaydin Water Works, 1883-1909

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence; advertising catalogues from the Henry R. Worthington Pumping Engines and Water Meters Company, New York; and meter readings and bills rendered to local customers of the Keewaydin Water Works, Weston, Mass.

Box 62Folder 880-885
Box 62Folder 886-892

XV. Republican Club of Weston, 1884-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence, ballots, flyers, speeches, and news clippings regarding political candidates and issues of Weston town, Massachusetts state, and national interests, including the controversial presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryant.

Box 63Folder 893-899

XVI. Weston town letters, 1887-1908

Arranged chronologically.

Incoming and copies of outgoing correspondence from Francis Blake, selectman, with respect to Weston town business, including the design and construction of the Charles River Bridge, Weston Public Library, the development of the Weston fire department, Weston town seal, and the introduction of paved roads, water, sewer, electric and telephone utilities, and other public services, as well as selectmen committee minutes, bylaws and warrants, budgets, ballots, and lists of town officers.

Box 63Folder 900-909
July 1887, Oct. 1890-Jan. 1893
Box 64Folder 910-926
Jan. 1893-Feb. 1898
Box 65Folder 927-944
Mar. 1898-1902, 1904, 1908

XVII. Louisa S. Jackson Trust, 1889-1913

Arranged chronologically.

Disbursement vouchers to Louisa Jackson from Francis Blake, trustee.

Box 66Folder 945-953

XVIII. Blake genealogy, ca. 1849, 1891-1913

Arranged chronologically.

Manuscript volume, ca. 1849, recording births, deaths, and marriages of the Blake family (1689-1849) in England and Massachusetts. Correspondence with genealogists and photographs of the Blake family and homes in England.

Vol. 31
ca. 1849
Box 66Folder 954-962
Box 67Folder 963-968
Box 67Folder 969
Francis Blake will, 1913

XIX. Investment, 1893-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence chiefly with Francis Blake's attorney, Philip Dexter, with respect to personal investment decisions and actions in stocks, bonds, annuities, mortgages, and Boston real estate.

Box 67Folder 970-974
Box 68Folder 975-986

XX. Riverside Bridge, 1894-1901

Correspondence, contracts, and receipts related to the construction of a bridge over the Charles River on land owned by Blake in Newton, Mass.

Box 69Folder 987-996

XXI. Davenport Stone and Mt. Feake, 1895, 1902

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and topographical maps concerning the Davenport Stone on Doublett Hill, Weston, Mass.

Box 69Folder 997

XXII. Agnes Blake, 1895-1904

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence to Francis Blake concerning his daughter Agnes and her personal health, future and wellbeing, including reports from a hired personal detective.

Box 69Folder 998-999

XXIII. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1896-1910

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and reports of the Committee to Visit the MIT Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering, as well as the Jefferson Physical Laboratory at Harvard University, regarding their physical facilities, faculty, and student status.

Box 70Folder 1000-1011

XXIV. American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 1877-1903

Arranged chronologically.

Official correspondence to Francis Blake, treasurer, regarding securities, investments, and the management of the Academy's Rumford Fund.

Box 70Folder 1012-1014
Box 71Folder 1015-1034

XXV. "Editors" Word Contest, 1897

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and news clippings from Women's World Magazine and Jenness Miller Monthly.

Box 72Folder 1035-1042

XXVI. Massachusetts General Hospital, 1899-1902

Arranged chronologically.

Typescript of Extracts from a History of the Massachusetts General Hospital, 1872-1846, by William Tudor. Letters to Francis Blake acknowledging the MGH history book as a gift.

Box 72Folder 1043-1046
Box 72Folder 1047-1050

XXVII. Edward L. Wilson, 1901-1903

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence with Francis Blake concerning the ill health of Edward Wilson, an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, who was institutionalized at the Massachusetts State Hospital at Taunton and the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Box 73Folder 1051-1054

XXVIII. Harvard University, 1902

Arranged chronologically.

Scrapbook, 27 June 1902, of Harvard University's 1902 commencement bestowing an honorary degree of Master of Arts to Francis Blake, along with correspondence, programs, news clippings, and biographical notes.

Vol. 32

XXIX. Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, 1902-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Business correspondence, bylaws, meeting agenda, reports, and financial statements of Ludlow's jute and hemp manufacture.

Box 73Folder 1055-1064
Box 74Folder 1065-1071

XXX. Charles B. Wells estate, 1902-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Legal correspondence to Francis Blake, executor, with respect to the management of Wells's estate.

Box 74Folder 1072-1077

XXXI. Robert Craighead, 1903-1904, 1911

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence, news clippings, and investigative reports of Robert Craighead for Francis Blake by an agent of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.

Box 74Folder 1078-1080
Box 74Folder 1081-1083

XXXII. St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 1903-1912

Arranged chronologically.

Sunday bulletins, prayer leaflets, and correspondence regarding church business and activities at New Lowe Falls, Mass.

Box 75Folder 1084-1091

XXXIII. Elizabeth Hubbard Blake, 1842-1908

Arranged chronologically.

Typescript letter from Charles T. Hubbard to Benjamin Sewall, 1845. Invitations, guest list, and news clippings of the debutante ball, 1895, for his daughter Agnes Blake. Letters from Elizabeth Blake, while traveling throughout the United States, to husband Francis.

Box 75Folder 1092
Charles Hubbard to Benjamin Sewall, 16 July 1845
Box 75Folder 1093-1099
Agnes Blake, Jan. 1895
Box 76Folder 1100-1105
Agnes Blake, Jan. 1895
Box 76Folder 1106-1108
June 1906-May 1908

XXXIV. Charles H. M. Blake, 1877-1901

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and power of attorney to Francis Blake from his brother Charles.

See also Private letters, Nov. 1881, for the first in a long series of letters from Charles, in Mexico, to Francis.

Box 76Folder 1109

XXXV. Lane family, 1804-1883

Arranged chronologically.

Correspondence and contracts of Lane Lamson & Company, Lane family wills, and deeds to Weston, Mass., lands. Letters, 1872-1873, from David Lane while on a cattle drive with his young family from Missouri to Wyoming.

Box 76Folder 1110-1113

XXXVI. Blake oversize, 1866-1913

Oversize documents removed from manuscripts.

Box 77

XXXVII. Photographs, ca. 1860-1900

The photographs contained in box 78 and volumes 33-37 have been REMOVED to MHS Photo. Coll. 59. As a result, there is no box 78 and no volumes 33-37 in the Francis Blake papers.

Finding aid to the Francis Blake photographs available at:

XXXVIII. Account books, 1842-1912

Hubbard business account book recording the import and wholesale exchange of cotton, pig iron, tobacco, and sugar for New England manufacturers. Elizabeth Blake cashbook detailing domestic expenses and silver inventory. Francis Blake's personal ledger and trial balance.

Vol. 38
Charles T. Hubbard account book, 1842-1846
Vol. 39
Elizabeth H. Blake cash book, 1888-1912
Vol. 40
Francis Blake ledger, 1878-1883
Vol. 41 (XT)
Francis Blake trial balance, 1881-1912

XXXIX. Miscellaneous scrapbooks, 1862-1909

Two scrapbooks of news clippings, theatre broadsides, menus, and other ephemera detailing the social life and customs of Boston. Scrapbook of bills and receipts for food, hotels, transportation, and clothing while traveling in Paris, Marseilles, and Rome, including a trans-Atlantic crossing on the S.S. La Bretagne from New York and a holiday at the Casino de Dinard, Saint-Enogat, France. Scrapbook of holiday greetings, calling cards, and invitations to whist parties, dinners, open houses, dedications, commencements, weddings, and birthdays. Menus from a wide variety of eating establishments, including restaurants in Boston and France, railroad dining cars, and vacation retreats, particularly Glen House, New Hampshire.

Vol. 42
Scrapbook, 1862-1906
Vol. 43
Scrapbook, 1867-1906
Vol. 44 (XT)
Bills, Europe, 1869-1897
Vol. 45
Cards & invitations, ca. 1872-1909
Vol. 46
Menus, 1885-1903

XXXX. Francis Blake diaries, 1866-1913

Box 79
Vol. 1-16, 1866-1880
Box 80
Vol. 17-35, 1881-1898
Box 81
Vol. 36-50, 1899-1913
Box 82

XXXXI. Elizabeth Hubbard Blake diaries, 1885-1906

Box 83
Vol. 1-6, 1885-1906

Photographs Removed from the Collection

Photographs have been removed from this collection to the Francis Blake photographs, ca. 1860-1964. Photo. Coll. 57.

Preferred Citation

Francis Blake papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Bell, Alexander Graham, 1847-1922.
Blake, Elizabeth Livermore Hubbard, 1849-1941.
Blake family.
Boutelle, Charles Otis, d. 1890.
Hilgard, J. E. (Julius Erasmus), 1825-1891.
Hubbard family.
Lane family.
McKim, Charles Follen, 1847-1909.
Selfridge, T. O. (Thomas Oliver), 1836-1924.
Sewall family.
Trumbull family.


American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Bell Telephone Company.
Brookline Country Club (Brookline, Mass.).
Harvard University.
Massachusetts General Hospital.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thursday Evening Club (Boston, Mass.).
United States Coast Survey.
Weston (Mass.). Selectmen.


Account books--1842-1846.
Account books--1878-1883.
Account books--1881-1912.
Account books--1888-1912.
Home economics--Accounting.
House construction--Massachusetts.
Keewaydin (Weston, Mass.).
Massachusetts--Social life and customs--19th century.
Photography--19th century.
Weston (Mass.)--Officials and employees.