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Robert Taft papers

Creator: Taft, Robert, 1894-1955

Date: 1918-1955 (bulk 1933-1955)

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: Manuscripts Collection 172 (1918-1955)

Unit ID: 40172

Restrictions: None

Biographical sketch: Chemistry professor, author, historian; of Lawrence, Kan.

Abstract: The collection contains papers relating to frontier artists including George Catlin, Civil War illustrators, American social history, the history of photography, the history of the University of Kansas (Lawrence), the American West, Kansas history, and the Kansas Territorial Centennial Committee that Robert Taft chaired. Included in this collection are copies of many of the articles he used; 4 boxes of railroad notes copied from Kansas newspapers; a letter, 1939 Jan. 24, from Ansel Adams commending him on his book Photography and the American scene; and transcripts of letters of Frederic Remington, 1878-1905. In addition, 8 note card boxes contain indexes to 4 Kansas territorial newspapers.

Space Required/Quantity: 28.62 cubic feet

Title (Main title): Robert Taft papers

Titles (Other):

  • Papers
  • Robert Taft collection


Biog. Sketch (Full): Robert Taft was born March 24, 1894, in Tokyo, Japan. His parents were George and Jessie (Humpstone) Taft who were Baptist missionaries. The family returned to the United States when Robert was three and settled in Rochester, New York. Robert graduated from high school there and received an bachelor of arts degree from Grand Island, Nebraska in 1916 with a major in history. He received his Master degree from the University of Iowa in 1919 where he taught for a year. Then he moved to Ottawa, Kansas where he also taught for a year before joining the faculty at the University of Kansas in 1922. Robert received his Ph. D. in chemistry from KU in 1925 and remained a professor there until his death in 1955. In 1932 Taft became interested in photography. His interest was sparked when reading an account of Fremont's explorations, which included the first use of photography in the exploration of the West. As he searched for answers, Taft found their were no books to give him the answers. After six years of study and research he wrote "Photography and the American Scene." Taft's research involved writing letters to libraries, historical societies, and descendants of early day photographers. People searched their attics for diaries, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The letters Taft received came from across the nation and eastern Europe and served as the basis for the above book as well as "Artists and Illustrators of the Old West." Taft also did a great deal of research in newspapers and magazines. He retained copies of articles from many of them. He also did research on territorial Kansas. During his tenure at K. U. Taft was the author of several books: "Photography and the American Scene" (1937); "Across the Years at Mt. Oread" (1941); "50 Years in Bailey Chemical Laboratory" (1950); "Artists and Illustrators of the Old West" (1953); and "The Years on Mt. Oread" (1955) which was a revision of his earlier work. He also wrote numerous articles on chemistry, photography in the west, and Kansas history. His article, "Matthew B. Brady and the Daguerreotype Era" won the P. H. Emerson award in 1935. He received the Byron Caldwell Smith award for "Artists and Illustrators of the Old West." When he died he was planning several additional books on American photography. Taft served as president of the Kansas Academy of Science and was editor of that organization's "Transactions" from 1941 until he died in 1955. He served as president of the Kansas State Historical Society from 1952 to 1953 and was chairman of the Kansas Territorial Centennial committee in 1953 and 1954. He was also a member of the American Association of University Professors. He had married Josephine Miller in 1916 and they had two children: Robert W. Taft Jr., and Dorothy (Taft) Harney. Robert Taft died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas on September 22, 1955.

Scope and Content

Scope and content:

The Robert Taft papers consist of forty-nine document boxes and fourteen notecard boxes with the material covering the period from 1918 to 1955. From 1918 to approximately 1932, the collection is somewhat sparse. Most of the correspondence is letters of recommendation of Taft for teaching positions. Taft became interested in photography in 1932-1933 and stated several times that his interest began when he was reading an account of Fremont’s explorations, including the first use of photography in explorations of the west. Upon looking for answers to his questions, he found there were no books to give him the answers. Out of his research came Photography and the American Scene, after six years of study.

Research to Taft involved writing letters to libraries, historical societies, and descendants of early day photographers. Taft literally had many people searching their attics for diaries, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The response he got was great. Taft kept a record of the letters he sent to the individuals and the replies he received. The letters came from across the nation and eastern Europe. This was the way he handled his research for his two major books: Photography and the American Scene and Artists and Illustrators of the Old West.

Besides his correspondence to institutions and individuals, Taft did a great amount of research in newspapers and magazines. Many of the articles from newspapers and magazines such as Leslie’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly were copied and are included in the collection.

The one exception to this type of research was when he wrote the history of Kansas University. There is little correspondence and few notes, although in the introduction to the book he states he is indebted to many.

While serving as Chairman of the Kansas Territorial Centennial Committee, he corresponded with a number of notable people in planning the celebration ceremonies. At this time, he also did a considerable amount of research on territorial Kansas and the collection includes many accounts from Kansas and out-of-state newspapers.

Included in the collection are most of the journal articles written by Taft. Most of these are typed copies, although some are in manuscript form. Also included in the collection are various speeches delivered by Taft at various events.

Most of the correspondence is of great value in terms of research. This is especially true of the frontier artists series. The collection includes many artists not mentioned in his book Artists and Illustrators of the Old West. The correspondence contains invaluable information from many people now deceased.

There are many photographs included with the collection, especially with the artist series. The photographs are reproductions of paintings and sketches by artists Taft was studying and are included with the notes and other material collected by Taft. One weakness of the collection is the personal notes that accompany the research material. These notes probably have little meaning except to Taft as they are in reference to his books. Most of the notes are excerpts from newspapers and books relating to artists, photographers, photography, Kansas history, and general American western history.

Of interest to researchers would be the papers and correspondence on Frederic Remington. Taft was planning to write a biography of Remington and had completed several chapters of a first draft. Anyone doing research in the area of photography and art would find the correspondence a valuable aid because of personal replies from individuals or relatives of individuals associated with photography. Another area of interest might be the Kansas Territorial Centennial Committee papers. Taft corresponded with descendants of territorial officers such as Andrew Reeder’s grandson. It also offers an insight into the workings of an official centennial committee. If one was interested in writing about Taft, his correspondence would be an excellent reference to his character, along with his notes, articles, and speeches.

The collection originally contained 55 note card boxes some of which have been transferred to the Library or the Newspaper division. The 14 boxes remaining with the collection deal with the history of KU, research on Civil War illustrators, territorial Kansas, among others. Thirty-one boxes were transferred to the library and contained indices to illustrations in the following periodicals: Ballou’s Pictorial, Illustrated London News, National Magazine, Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly (various titles), and Harper’s Weekly (various titles). Eight note card boxes were transferred to the newspaper division. These boxes contained indexes to the Leavenworth Daily Times, Sept. 1859-June, 1862; Herald of Freedom, Oct. 1854-Dec. 1859; Kansas Weekly Herald, Jan. 1855-July, 1860; and Squatter Sovereign, Feb. 1855-Dec. 1857.

Contents: Personal papers and correspondence (boxes 1-4) -- papers related to research topics (boxes 5-10) -- history of the University of Kansas (box 10) -- photography (boxes 11-17) -- frontier artists (boxes 18-43) -- Civil War illustrators (boxes 44-46) -- miscellaneous (boxes 47-48) -- photographs ; scrapbook (oversize) (box 49) -- notecards (boxes 50-54, 56-63) -- microfilm (6 rolls) -- index cards (2 boxes) -- Kansas territorial newspaper indexes (8 boxes).


Locator Contents
006-01-06-02 to 006-02-05-02  Main collection 
016-12-07-01 to 016-12-07-02  Index cards in addition to range 6 cards 
042-05-06-01 to 042-05-06-08  Territorial newspaper indexes, part of the Territorial Centennial Commission papers, 1855 - 1862 
074-02-10-02  1894-1955: photographs and a scrapbook (Box 49) 


  • MF 690: Frontier artists : Carvalho, Cushing, Eakins, Egloffstein, Holmes, Moran
  • MS 1134: Notes relating to Frederic Remington and biography of Remington
  • MS 1239 no. 2: Robert Taft-William Henry Jackson correspondence 1932-1950
  • MS 1315: [Microfilmed source materials]
  • MS 1316: [Microfilmed source materials]
  • MS 1317: [Microfilmed source materials]
  • MS 1318: [Microfilmed source materials]

Related Records or Collections

Associated materials: Ten other notecard boxes are in the Kansas Historical Society library collection and contain indexes to illustrations to Ballou's pictorial, Illustrated London news, National magazine, Leslie's illustrated weekly, and Harper's weekly.

Associated materials: Other Personal papers of Robert Taft, 1941-1955, 2 linear ft. (2 boxes), are at the University of Kansas Libraries (Lawrence), Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University Archives: collection PP 188; http://etext.ku.edu/view?docId=ksrlead/ksrl.ua.taftrobert.xml;route=ksrlead;brand=ksrlead;query=

Other Finding Aid/Index: Finding aid available in the repository and on its website, http://www.kshs.org/p/robert-taft-collection/14128


Index of Artists and Illustrators in the Robert Taft Papers

Abert, J. W.
Adams, Cassidy (Cassity?)
Alexander, J. W.
Allen, Thomas
Attwood, Francis G.
Bagley, James M.
Baker, George H.
Bartlett, W. H.
Beard, W. H.
Becker, Joseph
Becker, Otto
Berghaus, Albert C.
Bierstadt, Albert
Bingham, George C.
Bishop, William
Blakelock, Ralph A.
Blumenshein, Ernest L.
Bodmer, Karl
Bonwill, C. E. H.
Brewerton, George D.
Browere, Albertus O. O.
Brown, Grafton T.
Brush, George deForest
Bryant, Edwin
Buel, J. W.
Bugbee, Harold
Burbank, E. A.
Butman, Frederick A.
Cameron, Edgar S.
Campbell, A. H.
Carvalho, Solomon N.
Cary, William M.
Catlin, George
Caylor, Henry W.
Christensen, C. C. A.
Coleman, Samuel
Colyer, Vincent
Cooper, G. V.
Couse, E. I.
Cox, H. F.
Craig, Charles
Cross, H. H.
Curley, Edwin A.
Cushing, Frank H.
Fenn, Harry
Foote, Mary Hallock
Ford, Henry Chapman
Fox, R. Atkinson
Frenzeny, Paul
Gaul, Gilbert W.
Gifford, S. R.
Girard, J. B.
Gollings, Elling W.
Goodkins, James F.
Goupil, Adolphe
Graham, Charles
Griset, E. H.
Hafen, John
Hamilton, Hamilton
Hansen, Herman W.
Harmer, Alexander F.
Hastings, Matthew
Hays, William J.
Heap, Gwynn H.
Heger, Joseph
Hencke, A.
Heroncourt, W. V.
Hill, Thomas
Holdredge, R. G.
Holmes, W. H.
Houghton, Arthur B.
Howland, John D.
Hutton, W. R.
Jackson, William H.
Johnson, Eastman
Mathews, Alfred E.
Maurer, Louis
Mayer, Frank
Mente, Charles
Merrick, William M.
Metcalf, W. L.
Miller, Alfred J.
Mills, John Harrison
Mitchell, Alfred
Mollhausen, Heinrich B.
Moran, Peter
Moran, Thomas
Morse, Samuel F. B.
Mulvany, John
Nahl, Charles
Ogden, Harry A.
Ottinger, George M.
Parsons, Charles
Paxon, Edgar S.
Piercy, Frederick
Pitman, Theodore B.
Poore, Henry R.
Pratt, Henry C.
Preuss, Charles
Pride, Sam
Ranney, William T.
Reaugh, Frank
Smith, J. H.
Smyth, William
Sohon, Gustav
Sontag, William L.
Sprague, Issac
Stanley, L. T.
Stanley, John Mix
Stobie, Charles S.
Streight, Howard A.
Strobel, Max
Strong, Joseph D., Jr.
Tappan, William H.
Tavernier, Jules
Taylor, Bayard
Terry, W. E.
Thulstrup, Thure de
Tidball, John C.
Tofft, Peter
Trotter, Newbold H.
Ulke, Henry
Wolk, Douglas
Walker, James
Ward, J. C.
Warre, Henry James
Washburn, Edward P.
Waud, Alfred R.
Waud, William
Winter, George
Woodward, John D.
Worrall, Henry
Wyeth, N. C.
Yeager, Walter R.
Young, Harvey B.
Young, John J.
Zogbaum, Rufus F.

Related materials: Other records of the Kansas Territorial Centennial Committee, 1953-1954, 0.2 ft. (1 box), are in the Kansas Historical Society ms. collections: Kansas Territorial Centennial history collection (no. 603B, UID 42160); http://www.kshs.org/archives/42160.

Index Terms


    University of Kansas -- History
    Kansas Territorial Centennial Committee
    University of Kansas. Dept. of Chemistry
    Kansas -- Centennial celebrations, etc.
    Kansas -- History
    Kansas -- History -- 1854-1861
    Lawrence (Kan.)
    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Pictoral works
    United States -- Social life and customs
    West (U.S.)
    Catlin, George, 1796-1872
    Remington, Frederic, 1861-1909
    Taft, Robert, 1894-1955
    Taft, Robert, 1894-1955 -- Photography and the American scene
    College teachers -- Kansas -- Lawrence
    Science teachers -- Kansas -- Lawrence
    American letters -- Kansas -- History -- 20th century
    American newspapers -- Kansas -- Indexes
    Artists -- United States -- History
    Chemistry -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Kansas -- Lawrence
    College teachers as authors -- Kansas -- Lawrence
    Illustrators -- United States -- Biography
    Illustrators -- United States -- History -- 19th century
    Photography -- United States -- History
    Railroads -- Kansas -- Research
    West (U.S.) in art

Creators and Contributors

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions: None

Use and reproduction: Information on literary rights available from the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka).

Action note: Finding aid written 1978 by Steve Hanschu, intern; revised 1991 by Patty Emmerich, Lela Barnes intern.