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Clemens Herschel papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0221

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Collection includes Herschel's professional correspondence with fellow engineers on the design and construction of bridges, dams, and power plants; and the design and use of venturis and weirs, which he invented, for the measurement of water flow. Also includes Herschel's correspondence and reports for the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Holyoke (Mass.) Water Power Company. Collection also contains Herschel's personal correspondence with colleagues and friends.


  • 1866 - 1923


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.


Clemens Herschel was born on March 23, 1842, the son of Samuel and Maria Theresa (Kolm) Herschel. There is disagreement on whether Herschel was born in Boston, Massachusetts, or in Vienna, Austria. He spent his boyhood in Belleville, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. Herschel was privately tutored, then entered the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1860. He wished to attend the École des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, but the quota for foreign students was filled, and he went instead to the Karlsruhe Technical School in Karlsruhe, Germany, from 1861 to 1864.

Herschel returned to Boston as a consulting engineer. He worked for the Boston Sewer Department, he was engineer for the Albany Street Bridge, and he was superintendent of streets in West Roxbury. Between 1874 and 1878 he was engineer at the Quinnipiac drawbridge in New Haven, Connecticut, but abandoned bridge engineering the following year, preferring not to work for the increasingly large bridge companies.

In 1879 Herschel became hydraulic engineer at the Holyoke (Mass.) Water Power Company, where he made his major discovery. In the course of rebuilding a wooden dam across the Connecticut River, he realized that measurements of water flow were often in error. His investigations led to the invention of the Venturi meter, a device for the measurement of the flow of water, without using moving parts. Herschel was awarded two patents for his invention, and received the Rowland Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Elliott Cressen medal from the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. Herschel joined the East Jersey Water Company in 1889 and served as chief engineer and superintendent until 1900. The company built many dams and reservoirs on the Pequannock River and used the Venturi meter throughout its piping systems. Following the success of the meter in this application, it became widely used throughout the world for the measurement of the flow of many types of fluids.

Herschel served on the international commission which considered the appropriate types of turbines used for the Niagara Falls Power Company. He also served as first manager of the hydraulic engineering department at Allis-Chalmers Company. In 1918 he invented the Herschel Weir, another device for measuring water flow. He received a patent for the weir in 1921.

Herschel published many papers in engineering journals as well as three books: Continuous Revolving Drawbridges (1875); 115 Experiments on the Carrying Capacity of Large, Riveted Metal Conduits (1897); and an English translation of Sextus Julius Frontinus's The Two Books on the Water Supply of the City of Rome (1899). Herschel was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institution of Civil Engineers (London). He was married twice, first on May 12, 1869, to Grace Darling, who died in 1889. They had three children, Arthur Hobart, Winslow Hobart, and Clementine. Herschel married his second wife, Jeannette Begg Hunter, on March 5, 1910. They had one son, Clemens Herschel, Jr. Herschel died in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, on March 1, 1930, at the age of eighty-eight.


5.3 Cubic Feet (4 record cartons, 4 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



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

Source of Acquisiton

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) in December 1986 by Jane Neal. Additional papers were accessioned in 2003.

Source of Acquisition

The papers were given to Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) in December 1986 by Jane Neal. Additional papers were accessioned in 2003.

Processing Information note

Needs review.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Guide to the Papers of Clemens Herschel
Ready For Review
Mark A. Vargas
(Copyright 1988)
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