Biographical Note

Scope and Content

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Guide to the Erastus Brainerd Papers



Manuscript Collection No.: 4624
Accession No.: 4624-001
Creator: Brainerd, Erastus, 1855-1922 , creator
Title: Erastus Brainerd papers
Date Span: circa 1880-1919
Quantity: 3' linear (circa 2,900 items)
Languages: Collection materials are inEnglish.




Biographical Note

Erastus Brainerd, journalist, editor, politician, and civic leader, acted as lobbyist for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce during and after the Klondike gold rush and as editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1904 to 1911. Brainerd was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on February 25, 1855. In 1870 he graduated from the Phillips Exeter Academy and entered Harvard, from which he received his A.B. in 1874. From October 1874 to April 1878, he worked for Boston publisher James R. Osgood and Company. Brainerd traveled to Europe in 1878; the next year he returned to America and began his newspaper career.

Before moving to Seattle, Brainerd served on the editorial staffs of the New York World, the Philadelphia Press, and the Atlanta Constitution, where he was working when he married Mary Bella Beale of Richmond, Virginia, on May 30, 1882. (The Brainerds had three daughters: the first, Mary Beale, died in infancy; the second was also named Mary Beale; and the third, Elizabeth.) Brainerd also served as editor in chief of the Atlanta Star, as well as editor and co-owner of the Philadelphia Daily News. After he and his family moved to Seattle in 1890, Brainerd edited the Seattle Press, which bought out another evening newspaper, the Times, in 1891 to become the Seattle Press Times under Brainerd’s editorship. Brainerd left his post at the Press Times in 1893 to become a member of the Board of State Land Commissioners, a position he held until the Fusionists came to power in 1897.

Shortly after Brainerd’s term as land commissioner ended, news of gold in the Klondike reached Seattle. Brainerd was appointed secretary of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s newly formed Bureau of Information. As secretary he carried out an international advertising campaign, promoting Seattle as the gateway to Alaska. He sometimes acted as lobbyist in Washington D.C. for the Chamber and other Seattle businesses from 1897 to 1903. One of his successful lobbying campaigns was convincing Congress to assign Seattle a government assay office. During the same period, Brainerd also spent some time traveling in Alaska, where he worked as a mining consultant, having received investment capital from Philadelphia streetcar magnates, Elkins and Hivener, and from his cousin, Frank Brainerd. In December of 1901, Erastus Brainerd was sent to Washington, D.C. to represent Seattle throughout the Congressional session. During the session, he played a key role in getting a federal appropriation for the construction of the Lake Washington Canal.

Brainerd was active in Republican party politics. While he was essentially a Taft Republican, a Taft Republican was frequently a McKinley Republican somewhat chastened by the municipal reformers, populist agitators, the muckrakers' ex¬posures of the corrupt associations of business and politics, and the Rooseveltian disruption of standpatism within the Party. He believed the political influence of the railroad interests in the state was unfortunate. Brainerd served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1904 and represented Washington at other conferences, including the Conference of Governors in 1908 and the National Convention of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 1912.

As editor of the Post-Intelligencer, Brainerd infused the newspaper with a "reform vigor" which revoked the newspaper's past. "Reform" was conservative, not radical; Brainerd believed in a stewardship doctrine of politics, and with many of his contemporaries, believed that stewardship was justifiable only if politics was purged of vicious and corrupt elements. When corruption became evident in the Seattle police department under Police Chief C. W. Wappenstein and Mayor Hiram Gill, a committee of church people was formed who, led by the Rev. Mark A. Matthews of the First Presbyterian Church, urged Brainerd to oppose Mayor Gill. Brainerd acceded to the demands and using P-I editorials, led one of the nation's first recall campaigns. Gill, who was elected in 1910, was removed from office in 1911. (He was, however, reelected in 1914 and 1916.) Wappenstein was fired and indicted for accepting bribes. In addition, Brainerd has been credited with initiating impeachment proceedings against Judge Cornelius H. Hanford. Impeachment hearings were held in 1912 and Hanford resigned. (In addition to speaking out against public figures, Brainerd also later campaigned against prohibition for the Anti-Prohibition Association on the grounds that such legisla¬tion would encourage "secret vice and law breaking.")

Brainerd fully exploited the potential afforded by his associations with local men of prestige, position, and power. Many such people accredited the Direct Primary Law to Brainerd. Frank Fitts, Brainerd’s secretary at the P-I, witnessed Brainerd's summoning of Samuel Cosgrove, a Seattle lawyer, out of a sickbed, to be coerced by Brainerd into becoming the Republican candidate for Governor. In addition to choosing candidates, Brainerd kept himself well-informed concerning the activities of men already in office; for example, he was able to keep close tabs on Governor Mead through Ashmun N. Brown, private secretary to Mead and former employee of the P-I.

Brainerd also worked closely with men who were intimately involved in the advancement of the state's farm economy. He cooperated with William H. Paulhamus when Paulhamus was speaker of the Senate during Governor Mead's administration. Brainerd also cooperated with Wilbur W. Robertson, publisher of the Yakima Republic, on behalf of eastern Washington farmers, particularly those in the Wenatchee and Yakima valleys.

In 1911 W. W. Chapin, general manager of the Post lntelligencer, brought in Scott Bone to replace Brainerd, who, long discontented with the management, had offered his resignation in 1910 but did not actually leave the paper until Bone was hired. In 1913, Chapin was managing a San Francisco newspaper, the Call, and despite their previous differences, hired Brainerd as editor. He edited the Call for six months, but the newspaper was suffering financial problems and was sold. Brainerd returned to his home at Richmond Beach, a short distance from Seattle.

Brainerd served as president of the Board of Seattle Park Commissioners from 1914 1916, and during World War I, he became Assistant Federal Food Administrator for Western Washington (1917). In 1919 he served as Northwest consul for Paraguay, having previously represented Paraguay in Philadelphia during President Cleveland’s administration. He died at the Western State Hospital in Steilacoom, WA, on December 25, 1922.

Scope and Content

Incoming letters concerning his editorship of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1904-1911; his involvement in Republican politics; and his role in securing Klondike gold rush trade for Seattle; some legal documents and memorabilia.

The papers are composed mainly of letters to Brainerd which span his career from ca. 1880 to 1919; however, some aspects of his career and the events of his time are reflected more adequately than others. Most abundant are letters for 1904 to 1911, when he was editor of the Post lntelligencer. About one third of the incoming letters are concentrated in this period. There are also letters relating to matters in which Brainerd was concerned but to which he was not directly a party; e.g., copies of letters recommending Brainerd for various positions, and letters enclosed with those expressly addressed to him. Letters from Brainerd to other parties are also in the collection. Brainerd's life after he left the Post lntelligencer is sparsely represented by the papers. Two of the three documents included are petitions to President McKinley on behalf of Brainerd's unsuccessful candidacy for the position of Alaskan consulate. The third document is Brainerd's argument before the Washington Board of State Land Commissioners in Sanderson vs. Winsor concerning the purchase of Ballard tidelands. The papers also contain memorabilia and a few photocopies of Post-Intelligencer articles.

Included in the papers covering Brainerd’s term on the Board of State Land Commissioners is material on the development of the Seattle harbor and the private speculation corporation headed by Eugene Semple. Also included is material on Brainerd’s trips to Alaska and his work in Washington D.C. for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and other Seattle businesses. In the papers concerning his lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. are materials on his work to obtain support for the Lake Washington ship canal, a naval basin, the Lawton infantry post, and development of Alaska. The material covering Brainerd’s Post-Intelligencer editorship includes discussions of municipal, state and national politics. Topics discussed include the Mead-Turner senatorial campaign of 1904; the antagonism between the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer (which was chiefly antagonism between Brainerd and Times editor, Colonel Alden J. Blethen); the “municipal-ownership” election in Seattle in 1906; reports of interviews and analyses of Roosevelt, Taft, and Washington congressmen, the 1908 senatorial campaign, the Ballinger-Pinchot dispute and general conservation policies; the Wilson-Burke-Poindexter senatorial campaign of 1910; and the recall of Mayor Gill in 1911.

Letters from Brainerd’s most prolific correspondents, Ashmun N. Brown and Walter Eli Clark, seem to touch on a large proportion of people and events that are most significant in the Brainerd papers. Brown had become private secretary to Governor Mead in 1905 with the help of Brainerd’s influence. In 1909, at the time of the Ballinger Pinchot controversy, Brown was sent to Washington, D.C. as the P-I’s special correspondent. Walter Eli Clark, prior to his appointment as Governor of the Territory of Alaska in 1909, worked as the P l’s Washington D.C. correspondent from 1902 to 1909, although he was primarily associated with the New York Sun and the New York Commercial.

Major correspondents include Richard Achilles Ballinger, Ashmun N. Brown, William Turnbull Burwell, Stephen James Chadwick, William Wallace Chapin, Walter Eli Clark, J. G. Crowley, Thomas B. Donaldson, Thomas H. Downing, Marion E. Hay, William E. Humphrey, Wesley L. Jones, John H. McGraw, Mark Allison Matthews, Albert E. Mead, William H. Paulhamus, Samuel H. Piles, Robert P. Porter, Wilbur Wade Robertson, Eugene Semple, William M. Sheffield, George Turner, John Lockwood Wilson, Charles E. Woodruff, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

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Terms of Use

Creator's literary rights not transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

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Subject Terms

Personal Names:
Ballinger, Richard Achilles, 1858-1922, creator.
Brainerd, Erastus, 1855-1922 --Archives.
Brown, Ashmun Norris, creator.
Chittenden, Hiram Martin, 1858-1917, creator.
Clark, Walter Eli, 1869-, creator.
Crowley, J. G., creator.
Donaldson, Thomas Blaine, 1876-, creator.
Downing, Thomas H., creator.
Hay, Marion E., 1865-1933, creator.
Humphrey, William E. (William Ewart), 1862-1934, creator.
Jones, Wesley Livsey, 1863-1932, creator.
Matthews, Mark A. (Mark Allison), 1867-1940, creator.
McGraw, Thomas Harte, creator.
Mead, Albert Edward, creator.
Paulhamus, William H., creator.
Piles, Samuel Henry, 1858-, creator.
Robertson, Wilbur Wade, creator.
Semple, Eugene, 1840-1908, creator.
Sheffield, William, creator.
Smith, Charles W. (Charles Wesley), b. 1877, creator.
Strong, Sydney, 1860-1938, creator.
Wilson, John Lockwood, 1850-1912, creator.
Woodruff, Charles E., creator.
Organizations:
Moran Brothers Company (Seattle, Wash.), creator.
Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- )
Seattle Chamber of Commerce, creator.
Subjects:
Personal Papers/Corporate Records
Last modified: December 5, 2015
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