For Sesquicentennial, Cooper Union Puts Artifacts on View

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An 1852 contract — a delicate sheet of paper, with tinges of yellow — outlined plans for the Cooper Union foundation building. On it are the signatures of the college’s founder, Peter Cooper, and the architects Frederick A. Petersen and F. H. Knevitt.

Nearby, a letter and invoice show a lab director’s request for equipment totaling $7,407, which included steam engine thermometers and sewing machine motors.

There is also a 1901 letter from an alumnus, John F. O’Rourke, who helped design the Poughkeepsie Bridge, requesting an honorary Ph.D. (He was not granted one.)

At Cooper Union, these documents and more compose a treasure trove of information now on display as one of the most exclusive colleges in the nation celebrates its 150th anniversary this month. Only through some luck and historical detective work did the acquisition happen.

The materials — some, for example, document Thomas Edison’s work at the college (he was a regular visitor to Cooper Union as a member of the New York Electrical Society) and Cooper Union’s Telegraphy for Women program — will serve as rich resources for historians, said Carol Salomon, an archive librarian at Cooper Union...

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