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Philo Holcomb, Jr. Papers

Identifier: MS386

  • Staff Only


The Philo Holcomb, Jr. papers consist of a series of laboratory manuals, notes, and engineering course work from Mr. Holcomb's time as a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The papers are dated from 1911-1918 with an additional artifact (autobiography) dated 1955.


  • 1911-1955 (bulk dates 1913-1918)
  • Majority of material found within 1913 - 1918


General Physical Description note

(one full size document case (8 folders) and one half size document case (4 folders); 73 items)

Restrictions: Access


Restrictions: Use

Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections.


0.6 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of laboratory excercises completed by Philo Holcomb, Jr. during his time as an undergraduate at the Georgia School of Technology (Georgia Institute of Technology). Electrical engineering labs, mechanical engineering labs, and physical labs that cover the period from February 1913 through April 1915 are included. The collection also consists of a series of business lecture notes dated February through April of 1915, undated exams, and a Register of Graduates (1918). A short autobiography, written by Philo Holcomb, Jr. in 1955, is also included.

Biography of Philo Holcomb, Jr.

Born in 1893, Philo Holcomb, Jr. is noted for several contributions to the field of telegraphy during his long tenure with Western Union. Holcomb graduated from Tech High School in 1911; he then went on to earn his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia School of Technology in 1915.

Holcomb’s background in telegraphy can be partially attributed to his father, who worked for Western Union on the first transcontinental line at Julesburg Colorado and owned an extensive communication library. According to Holcomb, he learned the alphabet and Morse-code at the same time and, by the age of eleven, had already worked with neutral relays and started his own boys’ hobby club, the “back alley telegraph company”. While still in high school, Holcomb began to work summers as a branch office relief operator for the Postal Telegraph. In 1912, shortly after entering Georgia Tech, Holcomb started working summers as a transmitter clerk in the Barclay department of Western Union Telegraph Company in Atlanta. By 1914, Holcomb had secured a steady position in the Western Union district plant superintendent’s office in Atlanta. While working in the superintendent’s office, his duties consisted largely of telegraphing, conducting line and office inspections, and of implementing electrolysis surveys.

In 1917, Holcomb enlisted in the Army and, within two weeks, was on his way to France. While serving in France, Holcomb served in the first American telegraph offices in France, where he assisted in the installation of multiplex and duplex telegraphy equipment. He eventually became Chief Operator for the third Army Headquarters in Koblenz, Germany and, by the time he was discharged, was rated as a Master Signal Electrician.

In 1923, Holcomb became a Traffic Inspector for Western Union, and he relocated to the office of the Vice President of Traffic in New York. From 1924 onward, he worked on a variety of special projects for Western Union. One of his most successful projects, the Varioplex system, was his own invention. Holcomb even won a 5,000.00 development prize from Western Union in 1924 for the Varioplex; Holcomb described the device as a telegraphy application that was later utilized as the basis for International Metered Communications. The Varioplex was discussed in two AIEE papers and in at least one college textbook.

Holcomb later went on to do pioneering research in a variety of fields related to communications and telegraphy. According to Holcomb’s own account, he had applied for “approximately” thirty five different patents related to telegraphy and communications technologies. By 1946, Holcomb had become the General Traffic Engineer of the International Communication department of Western Union. By his own account, he continued working on Metered Message Service (MMS) applications between 1946 and 1955.

In a brief autobiography, written in 1955, Holcomb goes into greater detail about the various projects that he worked on for Western Union. The autobiography states that, as of 1955, Holcomb was married and living in Great Neck, New York. Holcomb’s son, Philo Holcomb III, was beginning his first semester at Harvard when the autobiography was written.


Folders are arranged alphabetically by course titles. Within the folders, course material is arranged chronologically.

Other Finding Aids

A print copy of this finding aid is available in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room.


Donation, 2004 (accession # 2004.021).

General Physical Description note

(one full size document case (8 folders) and one half size document case (4 folders); 73 items)

Processing Information

Justin Ellis (archives intern) processed this collection in February 2012.

Inventory of the Philo Holcomb, Jr. Papers, 1911-1955
Justin Ellis
Copyright February 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Library, Georgia Institute of Technology Repository

Georgia Institute of Technology
266 4th Street, NW
Atlanta 30332-0900 USA