William K. Bixby Papers
The William K. Bixby Collection includes a variety of materials, ranging from Bixby's personal correspondence relating to his collecting interests, through his connection with Washington University and the St. Louis Burns Club, and including many items from his manuscript collection. This collection includes enslavement documents dating from the 1830s to the 1850s.
The correspondence in each series is arranged chronologically. Items in other subseries are arranged alphabetically. The correspondence in Series 1 relates primarily to Bixby's collecting interests, publication of items in his manuscript collection, and his work on the Capitol Decoration Committee of Missouri, 1921-1927, 681 items. Series 2 contains items relating to gifts made by Bixby to Washington University, 1913-1927, 66 items. Series 3 contains items relating to the Burns Club of St. Louis but is in no way a complete archive of the Club's activities or of Bixby's relation to it, 80 items. Series 4 contains autograph letters and related documents of notable individuals, primarily of significance in American and English literature and history, 891 items. Series 5 concerns Eugene Field and includes correspondence, numerous original manuscripts, editorial materials, printed items, and miscellaneous personal items, 281 items. A list of the correspondents included in each series preceeds the section of the register devoted to that series. Included at the end of the register is a list of 15 items relating to John Paul Jones tipped in U.S. Congress. Joint Committee on Printing. John Paul Jones commemoration at Annapolis... (Washington, 1907).
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.
Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University.
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William Keeney Bixby, 1857-1931, was born in Adrian, Michigan, the son of Alonzo Bixby, a lawyer native to Batavia, New York. His father's interest in the South seems to have been a determining factor in his career. The senior Bixby, Adrian's prosecuting attorney, had lived in Texas and fought with the Texas Rangers at Reseca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. He became intensely Southern in his sympathies and was considered a “copperhead” during the Civil War.
In 1875, after graduation from high school, William Bixby went armed with a letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of Texas, a Confederate veteran, who got the sixteen-year-old a job as night watchman and baggageman for the International Great Northern Railroad at Palestine, Texas. An Algerish touch to this story is the part played by the roughly dressed old man who frequently dropped around at night and pestered the boy with apparently idle questions about railroading. Because the boy was courteous and intelligent, at the end of a year the old man revealed himself as H. M. Hoxie, president of the railroad. The result was promotion to the post of general baggage agent in San Antonio for young Bixby. Now he could afford to marry Lillian Tuttle who was visiting her brother in San Antonio, from Bolton, New York. Mr. Hoxie's benign influence was not over. When he became president of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the couple moved with him to St. Louis, where Bixby became printing and stationery buyer for all the Gould lines.
After several years in St. Louis, William McMillan, president of the Missouri Car and Foundry Company, offered the rapidly rising young man a still better job. Within the now-traditional year he again attracted signal attention to himself. His employers had made a ruinous contract for the purchase of pig iron and by his direct honesty Bixby renegotiated the contract, making a long-range, profitable ally for his company. At the age of thirty-one he became vice-president and general manager. Soon the company became such a large factor in freight-car building that it found it advantageous to merge with the Peninsular Car Company, the first step in a series of mergers out of which came the American Car and Foundry Company, of which Bixby became President, and soon thereafter was elected chairman of the board. At the age of forty-eight, in 1905, he retired.
His aesthetic appreciation had always been keen and he was a voracious reader, reading books by the paragraph and the page rather than the sentence. He now devoted himself to collecting books, autographs, and paintings, with the same avidity with which he had pursued his business career.
Inevitably he accumulated duplicates of his books, and, in combination with Henry E. Huntington, he disposed of these by auction in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he sold his English and American autographs to Huntington. Hardly slowed down, he started collecting again in 1920 and in 1929 sold the new collection to Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach.
Among his better-known treasures were the Mary Wollstonecraft copy of Queen Mab, the manuscripts of Burns's To Mary in Heaven,Kipling's Recessional,Thoreau's Walden,AndrÉ's Journal,Burr's Journal,Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth,Shelley's Note-Books, Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture.
His art collection was no less impressive. It included a fine Rembrandt, several paintings by Corot, a Franz Hals, and a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart.
Mr. Bixby was a quiet but vigorous supporter of educational and charitable foundations in St. Louis, Washington University being a particular beneficiary. He was also generous in making available to scholarship his manuscript material. Thus the Bibliophile Society reproduced twenty-eight manuscripts, the Franklin Club of St. Louis reproduced two, the Society of Dofobs of Chicago two, and the Burns Club of St. Louis one. At Christmas he frequently distributed facsimiles of his manuscripts to his friends. The considerable rare book collection at Washington University had its basis in gifts from Mr. Bixby.
After his retirement as Chairman of the Board of the American Car and Foundary Company, Mr. Bixby's life seems to have been fuller than ever. He was a very active director of the St. Louis Union Trust Company. He served for a while as president of the Laclede Gas Company of St. Louis and later, in 1909, as receiver of the Wabash Railroad. From June 1928 to June 1930 he was president of the Washington University Corporation in St. Louis. While president of the City Art Museum he had a large part in persuading the city of St. Louis to set aside a portion of each tax dollar for support of the Museum. When president of the Missouri Historical Society he gave that organization Thomas Jefferson letters, the original Burr-Hamilton correspondence, Eugene Field letters, autograph material relating to the activities of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston. He was a director of the St. Louis Public Library, an original incorporator of the American Red Cross, vice-president of the American Federation of Art, and a director of the National Gallery of Art. He spent part of his time in foreign travel, which included big-game hunting in Africa and lacquer and jade hunting in China. However, most of his time and energy were devoted to the promotion of art, education and literature.
Howard S. Mott
Source of Acquisition
Accession number 820. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann, April 11, 1967.
Accession number 908. Gift of William K. Bixby. Laid in materials, April 8, 1968.
Accession number 1197. Gift of William K. Bixby. Laid in materials, June 2, 1970.
Accession number 1198. Gift of William K. Bixby. Laid in materials, June 9, 1970.
Accession number 22967. Unknown.
- William K. Bixby Papers
- Description rules
- Language of description
- 2021 May 5: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.
- 2021 September: Finding aid revised by Joel Minor, Curator of Modern Literature Collection/Manuscripts, to improve descriptions of enslaved people.
Collecting Area Details
Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis MO 63130 US