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James W. Ellsworth Papers

Identifier: spe-wce-jwe


James W. Ellsworth was one of the leading directors of the World’s Fair of 1893. His papers consist of outgoing correspondence (85 letters), incoming correspondence (926 letters), departmental records and ephemera. The collection documents his activities with the Fair from its planning stages through the disposition of the exhibits and buildings after the close of the exposition.


  • 1879 - 1961
  • Majority of material found within 1890 - 1894


Language of Materials

Materials are primarily in English, but a couple of items are in Portuguese.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

James William Ellsworth (1849-1925) was an American coalmine owner, banker, and art collector. The coal town of Ellsworth, Pennsylvania is named after him as a result of his mining interests there.

Ellsworth was born in Hudson, Ohio and attended the Western Reserve College and Preparatory School, now known as Western Reserve Academy. In 1869, Ellsworth joined the coal-mining firm Ames & Company. He assumed ownership interest in 1873. The newly renamed James W. Ellsworth & Company operated mines in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and offices in Chicago, New York City and Pittsburgh. Ellsworth also owned a number of residences including ones in Chicago, New York City, Hudson, Ohio, Switzerland and Florence, Italy.

In 1874, Ellsworth married the Chicagoan, Eva Francis Butler. They had two children, Lincoln and Claire before Eva died in 1888. In 1895, Ellsworth married a second time to Julia Clarke Fincke. She died in 1921. Ellsworth financed the 1925 attempt by his son, Lincoln, to cross the north polar basin with explorer Roald Amundsen.

Ellsworth was initially reluctant to participate in the development of a World’s Fair in Chicago. After he learned that the planners of the Fair envisioned an international exposition rather than a localized county fair, Ellsworth joined the Board of the World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE) and directed all his energies toward the successful development of the “Dream City” that was to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Americas. Ellsworth’s contributions included negotiations with the nation’s railroad companies to raise capital, the purchase of the Lorenzo Lotto portrait of Columbus used on the Fair’s commemorative medal, and service to the Committees on Liberal Arts and Music in helping to secure the loans of European artworks for display in the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry). The Fair attracted 26 million visitors during its six-month run and was pivotal to Chicago’s reemergence following the fire of 1871.

Following the Fair, Ellsworth served as the president of the Union National Bank of Chicago from 1896 to 1898 where he was a signatory of National Bank notes. He also served as president of the Caxton Club, and was a member of numerous other groups including the Jekyll Island Club and American Numismatic and Archaeological Society.

In 1907, Ellsworth sold his coalmines to Bethlehem Steel and purchased the Villa Palmieri in Florence, Italy, in part to further his interests as a collector of art and rare coins. He died there in 1925.


7.5 Linear Feet (in 18 boxes plus 2 oversize folders)


The collection is arranged into three series: Series 1: Correspondence, 1879-1912, undated; Series 2: Departmental Records, 1890-1897, 1961; and Series 3: Ephemera, 1887-1909.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated by Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio (the alma mater of James W. Ellsworth) in 1946.

Related Materials

• C. D. Arnold Photographic Collection

• Ellsworth-Arnold Photograph Album Collection

• E.R. Walker Photograph Album

• Moses P. Handy Papers

• World’s Columbian Exposition, Bureau of Music, Official Report

• World’s Columbian Exposition, Ephemera Collection

• World’s Columbian Exposition, Miscellaneous Photographs

• World’s Columbian Exposition, Snapshots Collection

• World’s Columbian Exposition, U.S. War Department Exhibit Photographs

• World’s Congress Auxiliary Congress of Authors Collection

• World’s Congress Auxiliary Pre-Publications, Programs and Circulars Collection

• Youth's Companion Collection

James W. Ellsworth Papers
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875