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John Henry Ehlers papers

Identifier: John Henry Ehlers papers

Scope and Contents

The Papers of Joseph Henry Ehlers consist of nine scrapbooks, one photo album, one Japanese philatelic collection, two boxed award plaques, one Japanese magazine, and miscellaneous correspondence. The collection spans from 1917 to 1984, the years of Ehlers' travels and his professional career.

The scrapbooks chronicle Ehlers' travels around the world including a variety of photographs, hotel and travel memorabilia, cruise ship passenger lists, stamps, invitations, foreign currency, art, receipts, travel pamphlets, and numerous other inserts. The last conceivable date to be found in the scrapbooks is the year 1982. The scrapbooks, for the most part, were generally labeled and defined by Ehlers. One scrapbook is entirely composed of magazine clippings and photos of works of art from ancient to modern. "Untitled Scrapbook 1971-1973" serves as a companion to his travel writings published in various newspapers. The photos of his “Around the World in 15 Days” trip (in 1977) are in this scrapbook as well as clippings from his writings about his journeys. Most of the scrapbooks describe his travels and the work he took on in China and Japan. The "Taiwan Trip 1982 Scrapbook" consists mostly of images and memorabilia associated with his trip to the island of Taiwan to receive his Phi Tau Phi Honor Society Award in 1982, but also include letters, photos, menus, newspaper clippings, foreign currency, travel tickets, and photos from various stages of Ehlers in his adult years.

Throughout the scrapbooks, numerous postcards and letters between various friends can be found with a sizeable portion written to his wife. Subjects include reservation requests and deposits, invitations, and friendly banter.

The pictures in a single photo album document Joseph Ehlers’ early life and his early career, including initial travels and work in Alaska, China, and the reconstruction project of the dikes on the Yellow River.

The small philatelic collection revolves around the Japanese New Year. Ehlers appeared to enjoy stamp collecting, as stamps can be found throughout the collection.

In the miscellaneous portion of the collection, there is a copy of the Japanese magazine "The International Pictorial” and Ehlers’ 1982 Phi Tau Phi Scholastic Honor Society Achievement Award plaque. Included is a copy of the letter of invitation from the National Chengchi University in China, as well as a copy of the same letter affixed to the back of the award plaque.


  • 1917-1984


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the John M.K. Davis Reading Room of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College Library, Hartford, Connecticut. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws when using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital surrogates may be provided to researchers, in accordance with the duplication policy of the Watkinson Library.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information (e.g. social security numbers) in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.

Biographical / Historical

Born on December 31, 1892, Joseph Henry Ehlers grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, where he attended Hartford Public High School. In 1910, he began undergraduate study at Trinity College, where he graduated as valedictorian and class president in 1914, and also completed his Master's two years later. He went on to complete a Master's in Civil Engineering at the University of California and similarly, one with Cornell. Ehlers dabbled in law at George Washington University and almost twenty years later (1943), completed an additional degree at Southeastern University.

In 1916, while he completed graduate work, he worked as a rodman (or surveyor of new track layout) for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. In 1917, Ehlers worked as a shop drafter with the Bethlehem Steel Bridge Corporation. That same year, he went became a mill inspector in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a year. He relocated to Alaska in 1919 to assist the engineering and construction for the Alaska Juneau Gold Company. In 1920, he joined Pei Yang University (in Tientsin, China) as a professor of structural engineering. There he founded the Phi Tau Phi Scholastic Honor Society, of which he eventually became the secretary. In 1923, Ehlers was named an Honorary Technical Councilor to the Chinese government ministry of communications. He left the university in 1924 and joined the association of Chinese and American Engineers, where he became an editor of the Journal of said association. At one point, Ehlers reported to coastal Shandong to repair broken dikes on the Yellow River.

During the mid-1920's, he briefly worked in real estate in Florida, before travelling to Tokyo, Japan, in 1926 to serve as the U.S. Trade Commissioner, and assisted in the reconstruction of Tokyo’s Yokohama District (1928), after the destructive 1923 earthquake. For the following decades Ehlers worked in construction and law in Washington, D.C., at times in various positions in the federal government. He served on many committees, such as the Society of Civil Engineers (1949-1956). Ehlers was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects in 1959, and in 1964 was awarded the Order of the Brilliant Star of the People’s Republic of China (later called Taiwan). In the early 1960’s, Ehlers was a housing coordinator in Yemen and worked with the United Nations as an engineering advisor to the Iraqi Government in Baghdad. He was awarded Trinity College’s Alumni Medals for Excellence in 1974 and wrote and published two books about his travels abroad: “Letters of Travel” (1965) and “Far Horizons: The Travel Diary of an Engineer” (1966). A member of the New York Explorers Club, he traversed the globe in fifteen days in 1977.

Over halfway through his life, Ehlers married Marcellite Edwards Hardy, of Russellville, Kentucky, on February 15, 1945, in Rockville, Maryland, with whom he remained until her death in 1964. Ehlers eventually purchased (1982) the Southern Bank of Kentucky, opening and maintaining it as a museum in the name and honor of his late wife, until his death in June of 1988 at the age of 95.


- Cubic Feet

Language of Materials





This collection is arranged loosely into three series:

Series 1: Scrapbooks, 1917-1982

Series 2: Photographic album, stamp collection, and realia, 1920-1982

Series 3: Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1920-1982

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown.

Related Materials

An additional published diary of Ehlers' is located in the Trinity College Trinitiana collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, CT.

Separated Materials

Deframed photos were removed and placed in the Deceased Alumni Photofile.

Processing Information

Archival staff made boxes for the scrapbooks, and a housing for an empty silk covered box found in the collection. Some photographic prints were removed from frames.
Guide to the John Henry Ehlers Papers
In Progress
Ananya Usharani Ravishankar, using a Microsoft-Word finding aid prepared by Alexandra Remy in February 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-09-25: Revised by Eric C. Stoykovich, Manuscript Librarian.

Repository Details

Part of the Watkinson Library Manuscripts Repository

Trinity College Library
300 Summit St.
Hartford Connecticut 06106