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John Saylor Coon Collection

Identifier: MS313

  • Staff Only


This collection contains incoming and outgoing correspondence to and from John Saylor Coon, as well as a ledger that Coon kept between about 1916 and 1919.


  • 1878-1967


General Physical Description note

(one half-size document case, one oversize box)

Restrictions: Access


Restrictions: Use

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


1.4 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

This collection is made up largely of correspondence to and from John Saylor Coon. Although much of the correspondence dates from Coon's life prior to his arrival at Georgia Tech, there are a few items that were written during his career at the school. A 1967 memorandum by Samuel C. Stovall in the correspondence contains Stovall's reminiscences of Coon as a teacher and friend.

Also included in the collection is a ledger that was kept by Coon from 1916 to 1919. The ledger contains copies of outgoing correspondence and students' records, including some grades.

Biography of John Saylor Coon (1854-1938)

John Saylor Coon (1854-1938) was appointed the first Mechanical Engineering and Drawing Professor at the Georgia School of Technology in 1889. The first chair of the Mechanical Engineering department, in 1896 he also assumed the role of superintendent of shops. During his thirty-five year career at Georgia Tech, Coon contributed much to the growth and reputation of the school.

Coon was born on November 22, 1854 in Burdett, New York, to William Clarke and Susan Saylor Coon. He was educated at Cornell University, obtaining a B.S. and an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1877. After his graduation, he remained at Cornell as an instructor in mechanical engineering for one year. During the years that followed he held positions at E.D. Leavitt in New York, Calumet and Hecla Mining in Boston, and the Anaconda Copper Company in Montana. In 1882 and 1888 he published papers on pumping engines and upright boilers in the ASME Transactions. Coon served as the chair of mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee beginning in 1888, but less than a year later he accepted the professorship in mechanical engineering and drawing at Georgia Tech.

During his years at Georgia Tech, Coon revised the curriculum, moving the school away from the system of contract work for commercial sales and toward courses of study that emphasized design and testing, mathematics, problem solving, and ethics. A founding member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, he was interested in providing theoretical as well as practical experience. The apprentice system, which was introduced in the fall of 1888 and supported by Coon, allowed young students to get training in advanced mathematics and science and introduced them to unfamiliar machines and tools. Coon also revised course descriptions and introduced a senior thesis, which involved senior students in experimental laboratory projects with design and testing components. In the shops, Coon emphasized the conceptualization of engineering problems in mechanical terms, mechanical drawing, and practical experience. All students were required to take four years of mechanical drawing. Coon’s emphasis on practical experience developed into the Cooperative Education Program, which was initiated in 1912. Coon also incorporated the teaching of ethical standards into the curriculum. Both cooperative education and the teaching of ethics remain firmly established in the training of engineers at Tech.

In addition to his professional interests, Coon enjoyed gardening and spent time planting shrubs and roses on the campus. He also supported classical music in Atlanta, particularly grand opera. He was married to the former Alice Spencer from Houston, Texas.

Coon retired from Georgia Tech in 1923 and returned to Canandaigua, New York, where he died on May 16, 1938.


The correspondence in this collection is arranged chronologically, followed by the ledger.

Other Finding Aids

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

Custodial History

One folder of correspondence was apparently once in the possession of Samuel C. Stovall, Jr. of Atlanta, a member of the class of 1922.


The Archives of the Georgia Institute of Technology assembled this collection from several sources. The early correspondence (1878-1888) was purchased from a dealer in 2006 (accession 2006.132). The remaining correspondence, photograph, and ledger were obtained from the Georgia Tech Alumni Association (accession numbers: 2001.002, 2001.109, 2006.195).

Separated Material

The single photograph in this collection has been separated and will be processed as VAM313.

General Physical Description note

(one half-size document case, one oversize box)

General note

The ledger and some of the correspondence in this collection are very fragile, and must be handled with extreme care.

Processing Information

Christine de Catanzaro and Arhant Durlabhji processed this collection in February 2007.

Inventory of the John Saylor Coon Collection, 1878-1967 (bulk 1878-1919)
Christine de Catanzaro, Arhant Durlabhji
Copyright February 2007.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

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