WPI’s Curation, Preservation, and Archives staff are blogging a few of their favorite things to celebrate American Archives Month! What’s your favorite archival object? Let us know in the comments below!
[avatar user=”lbrueck” /]
When asked what my favorite object in the Archives was, I immediately responded “Charles Thompson’s teapot.” To me, it is a tangible symbol of the roots of the Worcester County Free Institute for Industrial Science—of the simplicity, but elegance, of the fledgling school on the hill.
Charles Thompson was the first “principal” of the Institute, but his duties encompassed so much more than one would expect. There were no administrative assistants –not even any typewriters– when the doors opened to the first students on November 11, 1868. Thompson responded to all correspondence himself, dutifully recorded in letter press books, which due to their fragility have been transcribed by Archives staff. The letters Thompson posted show that he handled matters including sending catalogs to prospective students and their parents, purchasing books and supplies, dealing with ill and absent students, and much more. In addition to daily operations, Thompson established the curriculum, reported to the trustees, balanced the books, hired faculty, and served as chemistry professor.
The significance of the images on the teapot is unknown. On one side a young couple is heading forth with tools to work the land; on the other side is a young affluent couple strolling arm in arm with a picnic basket.
Whatever the meaning, looking at the teapot today, one can almost see him huddled in his cold office on the first floor of Boynton Hall, finding comfort in a cup of tea, while attending to the affairs of the school that would become Worcester Polytechnic Institute.