Summary Information
Title: John W. Oliver Papers
Collection Number: UA.90.F76
Creator: Oliver, John W., 1885-1972

Collection Dates: 1942-1984
Extent: 2.0 linear feet

Language: English

John W. Oliver was professor and head of the department of history at the University of Pittsburgh from 1923-1954. While at the University of Pittsburgh, Oliver taught courses in American history and technology. Professor Oliver’s papers include personal and professional correspondence, lectures to numerous organizations and schools, various newspaper clippings detailing his achievements, and working manuscripts, among other documents related to Oliver’s life.

ULS Archives Service Center
University of Pittsburgh Library System
7500 Thomas Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Date Published:

April 2010

Finding aid prepared by Michael Cherry.

John William Oliver, Sr., was born April 12, 1885 and died February 29, 1972. Throughout his academic career, Oliver led an active life serving as professor and head of the department of history at the University of Pittsburgh (1923-1954). Oliver was a professor of American history specializing in the history of applied science and technology. Prior to teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, he served as director of the Indiana State Historical Society from 1916-1923. He was also active in military service, serving as 2nd Lieutenant Field Artillery in World War I. As a child Oliver grew up on a farm in the Leemon community near Fruitland, Missouri. He was the son of L.C. Oliver and Mary Louise (Alexander) Oliver. Oliver attended the University of Missouri on a history scholarship, receiving his A.B. and B.S. in 1911 and A.M. in 1912. After completing his education, he moved to Wisconsin to pursue a PhD at the University of Wisconsin. From 1914-1916, he was awarded the American History Fellowship and completed his PhD at the University of Wisconsin in 1915. Additionally, Oliver was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from Geneva College in 1948.

Oliver’s productive career also extended to his leadership roles in several important institutions. In 1924 he was named chairman of the National Archives Commission to lead a campaign to establish a new National Archives building in Washington, D.C. In 1929 Oliver was appointed chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Survey (1929-1936). The survey was funded by the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, The Buhl Foundation, and the University of Pittsburgh. It consisted of five volumes of surveys on Western Pennsylvania’s economic and social history. Oliver’s other achievements included his contributing affiliations with the Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission (1932-1957), American Historical Association, Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Missouri State Historical Society, and the American Newcomers Society, among others.

In addition, he was a distinguished chairman of an advisory committee for preparing the history of the Navy’s Research and Development Bureau during World War II and also advocated for the building of the Stephen Foster Memorial on the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus. The latter was the result of his relationship with the pharmaceutical industrialist and philanthropist Josiah Kirby Lilly, who Oliver persuaded to become trustee of the Indiana Historical Society. After hearing of Lilly’s love of Foster, Oliver started a movement to erect a building for the Pittsburgh-born native and pre-eminent songwriter. That memorial is still part of the campus today.

Oliver and his wife moved to Winter Park, Florida, in 1956 after his retirement from the University of Pittsburgh. While residing there he served as a part-time lecturer at Rollins College (1956-66). He had also been a lecturer at the University of Sorbonne in Paris for one summer. Oliver is the author of History of American Technology published in 1956. Throughout his career, he contributed numerous articles to prestigious journals including The Scientific Monthly.

Collection Scope and Content Notes

The John W. Oliver Papers consist of three series: lectures, correspondences, and other miscellaneous professional documents, such as working manuscripts, certifications, and several book reviews. The collection reveals Oliver’s research interests and professional accomplishments. The series are arranged chronologically by year.

In addition, there are two smaller boxes of note cards that reflect Oliver’s research interests. Each card contains a subject heading, year, and a bibliographic source for an article or book to the right. Under the subject heading is a brief list of notes that corresponds to the article and date. Behind the index cards in the second box is a small stringed envelope of additional notes and clippings, as well as rare lantern slides from Rittener Furnace Company. These smaller boxes are included in the series containing other personal records.

Subject Terms

  • College teachers -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
  • History -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh

Corporate Names
  • University of Pittsburgh. Department of History.
  • University of Pittsburgh. -- Faculty

Personal Names
  • Oliver, John W., 1885-1972

  • Pittsburgh (Pa.)

  • Correspondence
  • Lecture notes
  • Manuscripts for publication

  • Faculty papers
  • University of Pittsburgh

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

No restrictions.

Acquisition Information:

Gift of John Oliver, Jr., in May 2005.

Preferred Citation:

John W. Oliver Papers, UA.90.F76, University Archives, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Michael T. Cherry on February 10, 2010.


The University of Pittsburgh holds the property rights to the material in this collection, but the copyright may still be held by the original creator/author. Researchers are therefore advised to follow the regulations set forth in the U.S. Copyright Code when publishing, quoting, or reproducing material from this collection without the consent of the creator/author or that go beyond what is allowed by fair use.

Collection Inventory

Series I. Lectures, 1942-1969

Scope and Content Notes:

Oliver's lectures cover a range of topics and reflect his research interests in historical sites, World War II, local history, science, and American leadership. The file folders mainly consist of lecture notes both typed and hand written. The date, year, and place of each lecture are noted where that information was available. In addition to covering a wide range of topics, the lectures also were delivered to various organizations and groups.

Box 1
Folder 1 Why Study History in the Time of War?, University of Pittsburgh, December 29, 1942
Folder 2 Thomas Jefferson-Scientist, 1943
Folder 3 Social Situation of Women, Graduate Nurses, 1944
Folder 4 World Peace: An Unkown Idea, 1945
Folder 5 Some History Lessons I Would Teach, Allegheny Co. Institute, October 11, 1945
Folder 6 Effects of World War II upon the Teaching of History and Social Studies, 1945
Folder 7 Slippery Rock Vesper Service, Homecoming, October 6, 1946
Folder 8 Pitt’s Alumni History, 1946
Folder 9 Radio Talk Charter Day , February 28, 1947
Folder 10 Northwest Airlines Comes to Pittsburgh, 1948
Folder 11 A Great Miracle to Me, Heinz Chapel, April 5, 1948
Folder 12 An Awakening in Early Pittsburgh History, The Department of Fine Arts, University of Pittsburgh, 1948
Folder 13 Leadership in Democracy, Pitt Fraternity Leaders, November 11, 1949
Folder 14 The War and the Prophets, 1950's
Folder 15 Let’s Try Another Remedy for Our Patients, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing, June 14, 1950
Folder 16 Another Approach to the Study of American History, 1950
Folder 17 The Historical Significance of Point Park, 1950
Folder 18 Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Modern Society, Graduate School of Public Health, January 10, 1951
Folder 19 Give Deserving Youth a Chance, Mercersburg Mothers, January 17, 1951
Folder 20 Some History Lessons I Would Teach, Pittsburgh Freedom Committee, September 19, 1953
Folder 21 Washington Scientific Leader, Ligonier Rotary Club, September 28, 1954
Folder 22 Conestoga Wagon Day, Point Park, Pittsburgh, September 20, 1954
Folder 23 The Conestoga Wagon: A Symbol of Early Transportation, College Club, May, 20, 1955
Folder 24 Westmoreland-Fayette County Historical Society, 1956
Folder 25 Why Preserve Historical Sites?, Conference at Rollins, 1958
Folder 26 Theodore Roosevelt: Pioneer Leader in the Conservation Movement, University Club Winter Park, February 22, 1958
Folder 27 Winter Park Kiwanis Club, July 13, 1959
Folder 28 Early American Know-How Goes Abroad: Western Pennsylvania's Part, Westmoreland-Fayette County Historical Society, 1959
Folder 29 Early American Know-How Goes Abroad: Western Pennsylvania's Part, West Overton, June 20, 1959
Folder 30 Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin, West Overton, June 18, 1960
Folder 31 The Civil War Centennial: Lincoln, The War President, Westmoreland-Fayette County, Founder’s Day, June 17, 1961
Folder 32 Destiny and Glory, Winter Park J. C.’s, April 19, 1961
Folder 33 Lincoln: The War President, Westmoreland-Fayette Historical Society, June 17, 1961
Folder 34 Another Bequest from the Mayflower, Annual State Meeting of Mayflower Descendants, November 15, 1963
Folder 35 Abraham Lincoln: War President, University Club (Winter Park), January 9, 1963
Folder 36 A New Challenge to American Historians, University of South Dayton History Conference, May 2, 1963
Folder 37 Huguenot Society, 1964
Folder 38 George Washington: Farmer, University Club (Winter Park), February 22, 1964
Folder 39 Another Lesson in American History, D.A.R. (Winter Park), February 10, 1964
Folder 40 The Gallant Mrs. Stonewall, May 31, 1969
Folder 41 Josephus Daniels in Mexico
Folder 42 Why Study History?
Folder 43 Functional History or Service History?

Series II. Correspondence, 1945-1984

Scope and Content Notes:

This series comprises personal and professional correspondences including family, colleagues, and important civic leaders.

Folder 44 Bowman resignation, 1945
Folder 45 National Society Sons of the American Revolution, 1947
Folder 46 Bowman F. Ashe correspondence, 1949-1950
Folder 47 Oliver's testimonial banquet, 1954
Folder 48 Resignation as Chairman of the Sub-Committee of Point Park, 1955
Folder 49 Alexander Hamilton Bicentennial Commission, Governor's correspondence, 1955
Folder 50 Various correspondences, 1956-1957
Folder 51 Various correspondences, 1957-1958
Folder 52 Various correspondences, 1956-1959
Folder 53 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission correspondence and seal, 1959
Folder 54 Various correspondences, 1959-1960
Folder 55 Various correspondences, 1961-1965
Folder 56 Helen C. Frick correspondence, 1967
Folder 57 Pension correspondences, 1957-1969
Folder 58 Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, 1971
Folder 59 Indiana Historical Society correspondences, 1979
Folder 60 Various correspondences, 1928-1971
Folder 61 John Oliver, Jr., correspondences, 1984

Series III. Other Personal Records, 1937-1972

Scope and Content Notes:

The remaining folders consist of miscellaneous items in the collection. Some of those items include certifications Oliver was rewarded, an undated manuscript, and several book reviews.

Folder 62 Alumni Review issues, 1937 and 1945
Folder 63 Geneva College honorary degree, 1948
Folder 64 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission seal, 1949
Folder 65 The Newcomen Society of England, 1950
Folder 66 Various programs, 1945-1954
Folder 67 Hoodridge House sale, 1955
Folder 68 Pitt: A Magazine of Fact and Thought at the University of Pittsburgh, 1956
Folder 69 Valley Forge Historical Society certification, 1958
Folder 70 Various book reviews, 1950-1964
Folder 71 Notes on moon landing, 1969
Folder 72 Prudence B. Trimble tribute, 1972
Folder 73 Various newspaper clippings, 1942-1972
Folder 74 Various photographs
Folder 75 Card and photograph from Josiah Kirby Lilly
Folder 76 Who's Who: Head of History Department Chosen by Government
Folder 77 Manuscript for The Know How that Made America
Folder 78 Manuscript for The Know How that Made America
Folder 79 Notes, manuscript, and interview
Folder 80 Research notes on various topics
Folder 81 Research notes on various topics
Folder 82 Genealogy and family notes
Boxes 2-3 Note cards and lantern slides