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Francis W. Carpenter papers

 Collection — Box: 1-5
Identifier: 109.15291
The Francis W. Carpenter Papers document the life and work of an American cast-iron toy inventor and manufacturer during the late 19th-century. Comprised of both business records and personal papers, the Carpenter Papers present a thorough picture of the day-to-day operation of Carpenter’s business during the 1880s and 1890s through correspondence, business records, advertising materials, and a handful of patent-related materials. The personal papers span a period from 1860 through 1934 and include family papers (correspondence, bills, property maps, and family photographs), documents relating to Francis W. and Hannah Carpenter’s personal bankruptcy filing in 1904, and biographical and genealogical materials.

The Papers are divided into five series: • Series 1: Business Records, 1876–1925 • Series 2: Trade Sheets/Catalogs, n.d. • Series 3: Patents, 1878–1883 • Series 4: Family Papers, 1860–1934 • Series 5: Miscellaneous

Series 1: Business Records, has been divided into two subseries – Correspondence and Accounts. Subseries 1, Correspondence, is divided into incoming and outgoing materials. Materials sent to Carpenter between 1876 and 1892 include letters, invoices, receipts, and envelopes arranged by correspondent. Outgoing correspondence from 1889 – 1892 is contained in Carpenter’s letterpress book. These materials generally concern accounts payable, purchases, patent royalty requests to Pratt & Letchworth, and a smattering of family correspondence and accounts.

Subseries 2, Accounts, embraces the period from 1884 through 1897. Much of the material represents standard double entry bookkeeping practices in the late 19th century. Included in the collection are four “toy sales journals” (1884 – 1897) in which the daily business of Carpenters shop was recorded, and one ledger (1889 – 1890) in which the accounts of individuals and other companies with Carpenter were reconciled on a regular basis. Carpenter retained a separate file of receipts for wages paid to his employees – only two years 1880 and 1888 are represented in the collection.

Series 2, Trade Sheets and Catalogs, contains twelve examples of F.W. Carpenter’s advertising sheets and promotional materials. These materials depict his cast iron toys as well as his other products including his patented dustpans and a chicken feeder.

Series 3, Patents, contains seven items related to Carpenter’s patents for toys and dustpans. The first two items are issued patents for a toy horse, and a toy horse and wagon combination. The remainder of the file contains material related to Carpenter’s efforts to patent his own dustpan designs including correspondence with his attorney and examples of prior art with which his own invention was competing.

Series 4, Family Papers, contains biographical and genealogical material related to the Carpenter family, a small amount of family correspondence (including household accounts), family photographs, and a file relating to Carpenter’s personal bankruptcy filing in 1904.

Series 5, contains miscellaneous and collateral items that were found in the collection when it was donated in 2009.


  • 1860 - 1934
  • Majority of material found within 1880 - 1897


Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. These materials are now in the public domain.


3 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Biographical Note

Toy inventor and manufacturer Francis W. Carpenter was born in New York City of Quaker parents in 1844, and died in 1925 in Greenwich, New York. His mother was a direct descendant of Stephen Hopkins, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He married Hannah L. Field; they had five daughters and three sons.

Carpenter set up shop in Rye, New York, and was one of the first two manufacturers to apply for a patent on a cast iron toy locomotive, filing an application on October 1, 1879—the same date as rival Jerome Secor. In private correspondence, Secor proposed that Carpenter withdraw his application and admit that “I am the first inventor of the cast locomotive…as though you had not applied for a patent.” Then Secor would license Carpenter “to make the cast iron locomotive you described to me, viz. cast in halves and without a mechanical movement.” His intent was that “you and I would have the field.” Carpenter agreed, and the date June 8, 1880, is found on toys of both men. Carpenter’s patent applications, dated May 4 and May 25 of that year, depict a simple train set which was apparently never produced.

Carpenter’s toy company had two predominant lines: horse-drawn toys (carts, wagons, carriages, and fire engines) and trains, made of malleable iron. The toys were cast at the Connecticut foundry of Bridgeport Malleable Iron. Company records show that the first train made was the Rapid Freight Train produced in 1879.

Carpenter moved his operations to Harrison, New York, in 1882. He enjoyed his peak production years there from 1884 through 1888, when he moved to Port Chester, New York. In 1890 the business was turned over to Pratt & Letchworth (P&L) of Buffalo, which manufactured Buffalo brand toys. P&L produced Carpenter trains at least through 1896; some and possibly all were sold under the XL brand name. While Carpenter began making toys once again in 1892, none were trains. Carpenter and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1904.

In his lifetime Carpenter was granted some 267 patents, only some of which were for toys. He was interested in farming, and one of his patents, granted late in life, was for a feed hopper for chickens. He was also involved in real estate, both in New York City and the Port Chester area.

Carpenter’s toy patents are: • 227216 – Toy Railway Train, May 4, 1880 • 227956 – Toy Railway Train, May 25, 1880 • 234534 – Toy Horses and Wagons, November 16, 1880 • 241188 – Toy Horse, March 28, 1881 • 244433 – Toy Horse and Wagon, July 19, 1881 • 245702 – Toy Locomotive and Cars, August 16, 1881 • 251093 – Toy Horses and Cart, December 20, 1881 • 251763 – Toy Building Blocks, January 3, 1882 • 267773 – Toy Sleigh, November 21, 1882 • 287095 – Toy Horse and Cart, October 23, 1883 • 298446 – Toy [Horse and Cart], May 13, 1884 • 389364 – Toy [Locomotive], September 11, 1888 • 432693 – Toy Figure [Fireman on Hose Cart], July 22, 1890 • 467332 – Toy Fire Escape, January 19, 1892 • 475486 – Toy [Fire Escape], May 24, 1892 • 809092 – Toy [Fire Escape], January 2, 1906 • 981977 – Toy [Firehouse with Horse-Drawn Fire Engine], January 17, 1911

Carpenter’s toys are considered highly collectible. In 2005, Carpenter’s Tally Ho toy (consisting of a carriage, four horses, driver, and six passengers) sold at auction for $92,000; at the same auction, his intricate Burning Building toy sold for $54,625.

Biographical Sources: “Francis W. Carpenter Dies; Noted Inventor.” Port Chester Daily Item. December 26, 1925. Francis W. Carpenter Papers, Box 4, Series 4, Family Papers. “Francis W. Carpenter – Toymaker.” n.d.. Francis W. Carpenter Papers, Box 4, Series 4, Family Papers. O’Brien, Richard. Collecting Toys: A Collector’s Identification & Value Guide. 5th ed. 1990. Ralston, Rick. Cast Iron Floor Trains: An Encyclopedia with Rarity & Price Guide. 1994. Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong. Patent papers.

Custodial History

The Francis W. Carpenter papers were donated to the Strong in 2009, as a gift of Diane Olin. The collection was formally accessioned by the museum as Object ID 109.15291 on October 19, 2009.
Finding Aid to the Francis W. Carpenter Papers, 1860-1934
Doris C. Sturtzenberger
July 2010
Description rules

Revision Statements

  • June 2011: Transfer from MS Word to AT, with revisions to Scope and Content, and A&D Series 1 by J.F.Leach

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.423.1886 (Fax)