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John D. Runkle papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0007

Scope and Contents

The collection consists mainly of the professional correspondence of John D. Runkle, a professor of mathematics and the second president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The bulk of the incoming correspondence is from William Barton Rogers, MIT’s founder, and his wife, Emma Savage Rogers, concerning MIT. Other prominent correspondents include Robert H. Richards, Charles W. Eliot, Benjamin Pierce, William R. Ware, Albert F. Hall, and T. Sterry Hunt. Letters from Edward Everett, Chauncey Wright, James Walker, James M. Craft, Edward C. Pickering, J. H. C. Coffin, John Muir, Alfred P. Rockwell, Samuel Kneeland, Gaetano Lanza, John M. Ordway, D. C. Fogg, Simon Newcomb, James Angell, and C. H. Dalton are also included. Most of the letters date from the years 1869 to 1873. In 1871 Runkle accompanied MIT mining students on a trip to Colorado and Utah, and the collection includes several letters he wrote to his wife during the trip.

On the topic of a proposed merger with Harvard, a letter from Harvard president Charles W. Eliot suggesting such a plan to Runkle is in the folder of June 1870 correspondence. Other education issues are topics of correspondence and the collection includes an 1876 report Runkle wrote for the MIT Corporation on the "Russian System of Shop-Work Construction for Engineers and Machinists." In 1858 Runkle founded the short-lived journal, The Mathematical Monthly, and the three published volumes are included. There are some letters to Runkle from his son and brother, as well as a volume with copies of letters Catherine Runkle wrote to her sisters, Lucy and Emily Bird, while she was in Europe with her husband and children, July 20, 1878, to September 5, 1880. The bound volume includes a forward written by John Runkle in 1883 to his two youngest children, who were born after the European trip.


  • 1853 - 1880


Access note

This collection is open.

Digital Access Note

Some parts of this collection are available online. Links to specific online digital items are found within their entry in this finding aid.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.


John Daniel Runkle, 1822-1902, SB, MA, 1851, Harvard College, was the second president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1870 to 1878, having served as acting president from 1868 to 1870. He was professor of mathematics from 1865 to 1902. Earlier in 1860 he was a member of the committee that prepared the "Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology," which led to the establishment of MIT in 1861, and he worked closely with the founder and first president of MIT, William Barton Rogers. Runkle's interest in the "Russian system of shop work training" led to the establishment of the School of Practical Mechanisms at MIT in 1876. After his resignation as president in 1878, Runkle was granted two years' leave of absence which he spent traveling in Europe with his family and during which he studied technical and industrial education abroad. He then returned to MIT and teaching.

John Runkle was also associated with the Nautical Almanac computation project from 1849 to 1884. In 1858 he founded the journal The Mathematical Monthly and edited it for three years, when publication ceased.

He was married to Catharine Robbins Bird in 1862 until her death in 1897. Their children who lived to adulthood were Catharine Bird, born February 1863; John Cornelius, born December 1866; Eleanor Winslow, born March 1881; and Gordon Taylor, born July 1882. Two other children, William Bird (February-September 1865) and Emma Rogers (May 1870-May 1871) did not survive childhood.


1 Cubic Feet (3 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) between 1978 and 1980.

Related Materials in the Institute Archives and Special Collections

William Barton Rogers Papers (MC 1).


  • “John Daniel Runkle and His Share in the Development of Technology.” Technique 1901: 37-59.
  • Tyler, H. W. “John Daniel Runkle, 1822-1902.” Technology Review 4 (July 1902): 277-306.
  • Life and Letters of William Barton Rogers. Edited by Emma Savage Rogers with the assistance of William T. Sedgwick. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1896. MIT Libraries | Full text online
  • Runkle, John D. "The Russian system of shop-work instruction for engineers and machinists." Boston, Press of A.A. Kingman, 1876.

Processing Information note

Volume of letters in box 3 (accession 83-16) was originally designated as MC 156

Processing Information

Materials initially processed as their own collection, Catharine Robbins Bird Runkle letters, 1878-1880 (MC-0156), were merged into this collection between 1994-1995. The materials from MC-0156 became Box 3 of the John D. Runkle papers (MC-0007).

Guide to the Papers of John D. Runkle
Donna Webber
Copyright 1990
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 August 18: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US