When the Virginia Historical Society created the Reynolds Business History Center more than a decade ago, the institution built upon a strong foundation of collections that reflected all aspects of Virginia’s business and commercial history. From the records of single-person shops to the corporate archives of major international firms, such as James River Corporation, paper manufacturers, and A. H. Robins, the renowned pharmaceutical company, the VHS was already a strong participant in endeavors to preserve and make accessible records of enterprises from across the commonwealth and throughout the nation.
The establishment of the center, however, was not just designed to trumpet the great holdings of the VHS. We also wished to attract more materials from a diverse and representative cross-section of Virginia businesses. In that, the institution proved phenomenally successful, beginning with the largest archive of any sort ever received here, the corporate records of the Reynolds Metals Company, headquartered in Richmond.
This increased influx of records of businesses large and small, though enormously encouraging, also fostered a situation faced by so many like institutions: the VHS must take the records collections it desires to preserve as they come available and often without special funding to help in storing, processing, and servicing these new holdings. This puts a considerable strain on available resources of staffing, space, and supplies. Most notably, a backlog in the handling of collection materials naturally develops, thwarting at least temporarily best intentions at promoting prompt access to valuable historical resources.
Here is where the National Historic Publications and Records Commission stepped in to aid the VHS. In the summer of 2012, the agency awarded a generous grant to undertake the processing of nearly 1,200 linear feet of Virginia business records, representing firms headquartered in the commonwealth but ultimately doing extensive business in national, and even international, marketplaces. From the production of telephone and utility poles in the 1920s to the manufacture of aluminum consumer products and the first efforts at creating a national recycling program, these records demonstrate both the ingenuity and the extensive reach of Virginia businesses and their owners and workers.
The two-year initiative enabled us to hire Claire Hope as a project archivist. She had pursued her graduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth University and had worked in the archival collections there as well. Claire and our full VHS project team have tackled the concentrated task of processing fourteen targeted collections and the results of that effort thus far are already available online.
Making a commitment to this effort underscores the Virginia Historical Society’s longtime goals of preserving and providing access to the documentary heritage of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are pleased and proud to be able to partner with NHPRC in that laudable endeavor.
Available finding aids to Virginia-Based Businesses in the Twentieth Century
Blogs on Virginia-Based Businesses in the Twentieth Century
Processed under the auspices of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)