Hello, I’m Alec Ferretti, and I recently interned with the Archival Processing Unit at the New-York Historical Society. I’m a professional genealogist by day and a grad student at NYU in their Archives program by night. I set aside every Monday of the spring semester to work on processing collections here in the N-YHS manuscripts division.
On the first day of my internship, I was taken down into the belly of the Archive, and was given the Irving S. Olds Papers to process. Irving Sands Olds (1887-1963) was an interesting man whose name has been somewhat lost to history. Born in the late 19th century in Pennsylvania, Olds went on to graduate Yale and Harvard with law degrees, and become a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. He later took a position at one of the world’s largest law firms, White & Case, and eventually became a law partner there. Through his business dealings, he built relations with the management of U.S. Steel, and was appointed its Chief Executive Officer in 1940, a position which he served for 12 years. Upon his retirement, he maintained a long list of social contacts, and was involved in many philanthropic activities in the greater New York area.
The collection focuses on his records from later in his life, when he was heavily involved in philanthropy, resulting in the accumulation of fun little tidbits: there was a large photograph which was mounted onto a piece of wood, taken of the opening night of a season of the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein presumably at the podium. In another box, I came across a pamphlet from the opening ceremony of Lincoln Center itself! President Dwight Eisenhower was even planning on attending, and the concert repertoire was spectacular!
Olds knew a ton of interesting people. I came across a portrait of Olds with Mayor Robert Wagner, and it was even autographed! Around 1960, Olds traveled to Moscow as part of a delegation planning the World’s Fair, and even appeared in a group shot with the then Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
There are some other fascinating tidbits of family records that survived with the collection as well. These include financial instruments from the mid-1800s, such as railroad coupon bonds, and shares of stock in a handful of long-defunct corporations. A bunch of these corporations were named Acme, but they predated Looney Tunes by decades! There were also land records from the early 1800s that appear to have been passed down to Olds through his mother’s family. One was printed on very thick paper that almost had a parchment like texture. It had been folded up and had begun to tear at the seams, but we were able to flatten it, and now it’s safe in its new home for the foreseeable future!
The Olds papers are a great source of information about the Upper-Middle Class of New York during the 20th century!
This post is by Alec Ferretti, NYU Archives Intern.