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Robert H. Richards papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0116

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Of interest in the collection are materials documenting instruction in mining and metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the beginning years of the Institute. Instruction in the mining course consisted of lectures, laboratory work, and a summer school. Diaries record information about the summer school mining trips taken under the direction of Robert Richards. Some of the diaries are written by Richards, other diaries were kept by students for the school. The diary that Richards kept in 1873 offers a more personal view of the trip. In his diary Richards recorded notes for courses he was teaching as well as his equipment packing list for the trip. One can also follow the progress of the trip via his notes about student assignments at mine sites and sketches of machinery. In these beginning years of MIT, there was still much discussion about methods of instruction. Undergraduates studying mining and economic geology were expected to spend a portion of their vacation investigating mining operations and submit a report on what they had learned. The summer excursion for mining students became a well-established part of the curriculum with trips to mining camps across the United States and Mexico an annual venture for many years.

Robert Richards recorded his thoughts in the form of quick notes or observations rather than elaborate prose. Two years after writing his 1873 trip diary, Robert Richards married Ellen Swallow, the first female graduate of MIT (SB 1873). The diary contains a few intriguing glimpses into this personal side of his life. One is a list of dates and places on the trip from which he wrote to her. On another page are notes about educating men and women together, with arguments for and against. He credits one of the "for" arguments to "Swallow."

The collection also contains Robert Richards’s laboratory and teaching notes and a bound volume of course notes, including engravings and printed diagrams used by Richards in a mining engineering class in fall 1880. Student work, which may be related to a 4th year class “Memoirs, laboratory reports” listed in the Institute’s course catalog, can be found in the set of laboratory reports produced by students.

A photograph album of mining company sites and processes appears to have been made during one of the summer trips, and as it is stamped “Mining Laboratory” to have been used as a teaching tool.

Robert Richards’s dual role as a faculty member and alumnus is demonstrated in the reports of the faculty and the Committee of Eighteen on the proposed alliance with Harvard University in 1905, which was opposed by MIT alumni.


  • Creation: 1871 - 1914


Access note

This collection is open.

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.


Robert Hallowell Richards, 1844-1945, SB 1868, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was a member of the first graduating class of MIT. He remained at MIT as an assistant in chemistry. He became an instructor in assaying and qualitative analysis in 1869, assistant professor of analytical chemistry in 1870, professor of mining and assaying in 1871, and professor of mining engineering in 1873. He was head of the course and Department of Mining and Metallurgy, 1873 to 1914, when he became emeritus.

In 1871 Richards was one of five members of the MIT instructing staff and fifteen students to make the first summer school of mining excursion. In 1872 he started the Mining and Metallurgy Laboratory at MIT, which introduced the method of combining practical experience with theory. He was secretary of the faculty, 1873 to 1883, and the first president of the MIT Alumni Association. He married the first female graduate of MIT, Ellen Swallow, in 1875, and after her death in 1911, he married Lillian Jameson. Robert and Ellen Richards often visited Robert's family members in and near Gardiner, Maine. His brother Harry was a co-onwner of a camp near Gardiner on Cobbossee Great Pond. Camp life was documented by Robert who was an excellent photographer. In 1888Robert and Ellen Richards purchased land in Randolph, New Hampshire for a camp of their own, and in 1904 built a camp building on the property which they called "The Balsalms".

Robert Richards was the son of Anne Hallowell Gardiner and Francis Richards. His siblings were Francis, George (died as a baby), George Henry, Sarah (died age 15), John Tudor, and Henry. Robert Richards and Ellen Swallow Richards are buried in Gardiner, Maine.


2 Cubic Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 1 legal manuscript box, 1 flat storage box)

Language of Materials



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

Source of Acquisiton

The papers were given to Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) in several groups, the first in February 1978 by Charles Lane. Materials added later were transferred from the holdings of the MIT Libraries.

Related Materials

Maine Historical Society, collection 2574, Robert H. Richards Photograph Albums. (photographs in 3 albums taken by Robert Richards on glass plates, developed, and printed by him)

Maine Historical Society, collection 2085, (with Gardiner Public Library) The Yellow House Papers: the Laura E. Richard Collection. Record Group 3, folder 24 and folder 43 have photographs of Robert Richards and his wife Ellen Swallow Richards.

Related Materials

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, records of Secretary of the Faculty Robert Hallowell Richards (AC 562)

Heinrich Hofman papers (MC 253)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Mining Engineering and Metallurgy Curricula (AC 214)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mining Enginnering and Metallurgy Student Laboratory Reports (AC 72)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Records of Secretary of the Faculty Robert H. Richards, 1879-1880 (AC 562)

Collection on Ellen Swallow Richards, 1873-1945 (MC 659)

Heinrich Hofman Papers (MC 253)

Selected Bibliography

  • Richards, Robert H. "Description of the Calumet Mine." Massachusetts Institute of Technology SB thesis in Geology, 1868.
  • Ore Dressing, 4 volumes and General Index, by Robert H. Richards. New York: The Engineering and Mining Journal, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1903-1909.
  • Richards, Robert H. A Textbook of Ore Dressing. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1909. First edition of work published in the Engineering and Mining Journal in 1903.
  • Richards, Robert H. Robert Hallowell Richards, His Mark. Boston: Little, Brown, 1936.
  • "Richard Hallowell Richards" in Technology Review, vol. 10, no. 3, July 1908, pp. 249-259. Includes detailed bibliography.
  • Hunt, Caroline L. Life of Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1912.
  • MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections Exhibit: "Diary of Robert Hallowell Richards, 1873"
  • Bever, Michael B. Metallurgy and Materials Science and Engineering at MIT: 1865-1988. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988.
  • Shrock, Robert R. Geology at M.I.T.: 1865-1965: A History of the First Hundred Years of Geology at M.I.T. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977.
  • AIME Transactions Volume 169 (1946) as the Richards Memorial Volume on Milling and Concentration.

Processing Information note

Collection originally designated MSC 12.

Guide to the Papers of Robert H. Richards
Elizabeth Andrews
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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