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Guide to the William H. Paine Papers
1848-1932 (bulk 1848-1895)
 MS 475

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Cassandra Brewer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 21, 2022
The finding aid is written in English

Biographical Note

William H. Paine was born in Chester, New Hampshire on May 17, 1828 to William Babcock Paine and Susan Emory Paine. Paine completed his basic education in New Hampshire, and in 1848, at the age of twenty Paine relocated to Sheboygan, Wisconsin with his family. Once settled in Sheboygan, Paine found work as a land surveyor for the city.

In 1852 Paine traveled from Wisconsin to California in hopes of finding work in a gold mine. Once in California, Paine moved from town to town working on mining engineering projects. Paine returned to Sheboygan in 1856 and again found work surveying for the city and as a surveyor and engineer for the railroad. During this time, Paine developed his steel surveyor's measuring tape, which he officially patented in 1860. Around this time Paine married his first wife, Harriet Paine and they had one daughter, Hattie Lawrence Paine. His wife died shortly after his daughter was born.

In 1861, Paine joined the Union Army where he worked as a topographical engineer, responsible for mapping projects in Washington D.C. and Virginia. During his time in the Union Army, he received four commissions for exemplary service: Captain and Aide de Camp (1862), Major by brevet (1864), Liutenant Colonel by brevet (1865) and finally, Colonel by brevet (1865).

Post-war, Paine continued his work as a surveyor and drew maps for Civil War history publications such as William Swinton's "History of the Army of the Potomac" and Horace Greeley's "American Conflict". Shortly after, Paine married his second wife Catherine Jones and had one daughter Kathreen (Kittie) Lyman Paine.

Paine settled in Brookyln in the late 1860s and worked for the Flushing Railroad before beginning work for the New York Bridge Company on the Brookyln Bridge in 1869. Paine worked as a construction engineer and later was appointed Assistant Engineer. In this position he was responsible for the engineering of a cable railway on the bridge. During his time working on the Brooklyn Bridge, Paine received 14 patents related to cable railway work, notably a cable gripping apparatus named the "Paine Grip".

In addition to his work on the Brooklyn Bridge, Paine was an independent consulting engineer for various bridge, tunnel and railway projects including the 125th Street and 10th Avenue line of the Third Avenue Railway in the mid-1880s. Most notably, Paine was a consulting engineer for the Hudson River Tunnel in 1874. He also consulted several out of state projects, many of which were in the Midwest. In 1875, Paine was elected a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Paine remained in New York City working as a civil engineer until the late 1880s when he moved to Cleveland to work for the Cleveland City Cable Railway. Paine remained in Cleveland until his death on December 31, 1889.

Derby, George and James T. White. "William H. Paine." National Cyclopedia of American Biography. J.T. White, 1930.