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Arch GA 15

Cunningham, William J., 1875-1962. William J. Cunningham Papers, 1914-1944: A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University


Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Arch GA 15
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Title: William J. Cunningham papers
Date(s): 1914-1944
Quantity: 2 linear feet (4 boxes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The William J. Cunningham papers contain materials relating to railroad history and teaching at Harvard Business School.


A portion of the material was received from George P. Baker in 1957. The remaining material was the gift of the Cunningham family in 1963.

Processing Information:

Processed: November, 1993
By: Katherine A. Powers
Reviewed: August 2004
By: Lisa Moorhead

Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open for research. Materials stored offsite; access requires advance notice. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edufor more information.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: William J. Cunningham Papers. HBS Archives. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School.

Related Collections Note:

See also George P. Baker Papers for related material about railroad transportation.

Biographical Note:

William James Cunningham was born on April 9, 1875 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. He attended school as a young child, but his formal education ended when he graduated from grammar school at the age of thirteen. In 1895 Cunningham left St. John to take a clerk position in the superintendent's office of the Boston and Albany Railroad in Boston, Massachusetts. Cunningham worked his way through the railroad industry from 1895 to 1908 in numerous positions and varying capacities. Some of the railroad companies he worked for include the Boston and Albany RR, the Boston and Maine RR, the Canadian Pacific RR, the Lackawanna RR, the New Haven RR, and the Union Pacific RR. During this time he also continued his education by reading, attending night school, and taking correspondence courses.
HBS was founded in 1908, and in that same year HBS Dean Edwin Gay and Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot asked Cunningham to join the HBS faculty as a lecturer on railroad operation. Cunningham accepted and held this position for two years. In 1910 he became an assistant professor, a position he held until 1915, when he was made the James J. Hill Professor of Transportation.
During his time at HBS, Cunningham continued to be involved with the railroad industry. He was Statistician of the Boston and Albany Railroad from 1907-1913 and Assistant to the President of the New Haven Railroad from 1913-1914. Cunningham also held the title of Assistant to the President of the Boston and Maine Railroad from 1914-1916. During World War I, Cunningham was a member of the US Railroad Administration, serving on the staff of the General Director. He was also the author of several books, numerous chapters and articles on railroad transportation, and was in high demand as a transportation consultant.
Professor Cunningham retired from HBS in 1946 after having served 37 years as an active faculty member. He was the only full professor at HBS with no formal academic training. When Cunningham died on June 24, 1962, HBS lost its last surviving member of the original HBS faculty.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

Scope and Content Note:

The William J. Cunningham papers document his work as a professor of railroad operations and transportation at Harvard Business School. The collection includes material on railway magnate James J. Hill and the establishment of a professorship in railway studies at HBS; material on the Great Northern Railroad; a journal kept by Cunningham during a 1916 railroad trip; correspondence regarding Chinese railroads and the purchase of railroad management books; correspondence concerning a summer school course on transportation; and other material on courses at HBS.
The collection also contains case files collected with HBS colleague George P. Baker and consisting of correspondence with railroad and airline executives, notes and drafts of cases, typescripts of cases, and blueprints and maps of railroad systems.

Container List