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William McMurtrie Speer papers, 1880-1936 

Speer, William McMurtrie, 1865-1923.
Phys. Desc: 
17 linear feet (17 linear feet 33 boxes 3 oversize volumes 1 oversize folder)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

William M. Speer was born in Huntingdon PA in 1865 and died in Piermont NY in 1923. He graduated from Yale University in 1880 and from the Albany Law School in 1887. He was a journalist, public official, lawyer, inventor, businessman, publisher, and author.

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, contracts, legal briefs, patents, and other documents, music scores, cartoons, technical drawings, account books, blueprints, photographs, clippings, printed legal briefs & transcripts, proofs, scrapbooks, and other printed materials of William M. Speer. There are 14 manuscript boxes & 3 oversize volumes concerning his work as a journalist & publisher. Speer was the Albany correspondent for "The Sun" from 1884 until 1893. From 1893 to 1896 he was editor and part owner of "The Argus" in Albany and there are business records from this period. There is a scrapbook of his articles for "The Buffalo Express" for the period from 1896 until 1903. In 1896 he founded The Law Press as a commercial printer for lawyers, and The Cornucopia Company to publish music and a literary periodical. From 1904 to 1909, he was editorial and legislative writer for the "Evening World" in New York City and there are files of his correspondence, editorial writing, and his investigations of the insurance industry and the Panama Canal libel suit. From 1903 until 1922, he contributed to periodicals and wrote books and pamphlets on many subjects. Starting in 1919, he worked on a scenario and publicity for the Fox Film Corporation's film on wounded veterans of the war. In 1922, he became an editorial writer for "The Evening Mail". There are 10 boxes of material covering his activities as a public official and political appointee. In 1889, he was Secretary of the Johnstown Flood Committee; in 1889 and 1890, Secretary to The Committee for The International Exposition of 1892; in 1890, Secretary to Mayor of New York City Hugh J. Grant; in 1894, Delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention. In 1910, he was appointed Special Counsel to New York City for the Ashokan Reservoir Compensation Claims, advising the city on landowners' claims in Ulster County. In 1912 and 1913, he was Special Counsel for the Aldermanic Police Investigation in New York City during the anticorruption drive of Mayor William J. Gaynor. In 1920, he bacame a Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States to investigate profiteering in the coal industry. There are 5 boxes of case files from his private legal practice for the period 1890 to 1923. And there are 4 boxes of papers and an oversize folder of drawings concerning his interests as an inventor, promoter, and businessman. These are files about the Snow Melter (his device to clear city streets), his New York & Brooklyn Economic Power & Construction Company (for the transmission of electricity), The Pneumatic Co. (to manufacture stencil cutting machines), The Philippines Company (a shipping business), hinge making machines (patents and contracts for manufacturing), rack cutting apparatus, an old age pension plan (for the sale of annuities), the Food Committee (a planned co-operative purchasing company), Fabricated Concrete Corporation (which built, rented, and sold houses made of cinder block), Sunlight Gas Machine Co. (which sold equipment for gas lighting), timber mill and timber land sales (acting as an agent for selling land in the southern states), and public transit reorganization (his plan for improving the transportation system in New York City). Among the cataloged correspondents are: Maxwell Anderson, Charles A. Dana, David B. Hill, Walter Hines Page, S.S. McClure, and Elihu Root.