George F. Sproule (1867-1928), known as an authority on the Port of Philadelphia, served on the Board of Port Wardens of Philadelphia from 1884 to 1907, as Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the Delaware River from 1907 to 1920, and as Director of Wharves, Docks and Ferries from 1920 to 1928. His son, Samuel Jackson Sproule served as Port Representative for the United Sates Shipping Administration, Recruitment and Manning Organization during World War II. This collection documents the professional life of George F. Sproule in the Philadelphia shipping and maritime industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the history of the Port of Philadelphia, and the World War II career of his son. The collection includes clippings, correspondence, appointment books, a scrapbook, business records, photographs, ephemera, and writings. The collection also includes a large number of maritime-related newspaper clipping volumes dating from 1891 to 1928.
George Sproule was born in Ireland in September 1867. On December 4, 1884, he entered the office of the Board of Port Wardens of Philadelphia, “the local administrative authority of the Port of Philadelphia [from] 1766 until 1907,” (Sproule, page 3). On July 23, 1888, he was elected secretary, and “his promotion at that time [was due] wholly to the fact of his knowledge of the port and of shipping matters generally,” (Document in collection). He served in that capacity until the Board of Port Wardens was abolished in 1907 and their duties were divided between the municipal Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries and the State Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the Delaware River and it navigable tributaries. Sproule was elected Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation. According to The Port of Philadelphia: Its Facilities and Advantages, the Board of Commissioner of Navigation was responsible for “all wharf property on the Delaware River and its navigable tributaries in both Delaware and Bucks Counties; … regulations governing the stationing and anchoring of ships and vessels within the entire limits of the Port of Philadelphia, … all the functions exercised by the Harbor Master under the old law; [and] licens[ing] and regulat[ing] the Pennsylvania state pilots,” (Sproule, pages 3-4).
In 1920, J. Hampton Moore became Mayor of Philadelphia and he appointed Sproule to serve as Director of Wharves, Docks and Ferries, a position which included jurisdiction of the piers in Philadelphia. In addition, the Director “ha[d] authority to condemn and improve wharf property and [was] vested with other powers which … served to greatly stimulate the up-building of a modern port,” (Sproule, page 3). A municipal dredging plant and ice boats were responsibilities of the Director. Finally, Sproule, as Director, became the ex-officio President of the Commissioners of Navigation. An obituary found in “Commerce and Industry” states that, “in [Sproule’s] eight years in office, there was witnessed a greater development of the commercial facilities of the port of Philadelphia than has been witnessed in all the previous maritime activity of the history.” He was also responsible for helping to organize the Port of Philadelphia Ocean Traffic Bureau and for initiating modern pier construction.
He married Nora Louise Gerrish of Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1896 and they were the parents of two sons: S. Jackson Sproule and C. Gerrish Sproule. He died on July 2, 1928 of a heart attack at the age of 60.
He was remembered as “an authority on all questions affecting the use of wharves [with] his intimate knowledge of shipping [making] him a most valuable asset to the shipping community,” and the “best grounded man in Philadelphia on all matters concerning the port of Philadelphia,” (document from collection).
His son, Samuel Jackson Sproule, “Jack” was born on January 18, 1905. He was educated at the Episcopal Academy, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Following in his father’s footsteps, he worked on the water almost entirely until 1946. He worked with freight, traffic issues, and steamship organizations. For brief periods of time, he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and for his brother’s company, C.G. Sproule, Inc. as an automobile broker and insurance salesman.
In 1942, Sproule enlisted in the Navy and served as Port Representative for the United States Shipping Administration, Recruitment and Manning Organization. He served in this capacity until 1945, when he was made Director of the Manning Division of the United States Shipping Administration. In 1946, with the end of World War II, the organization was abolished due to budget limitation.
Sproule also belonged to the Maritime Society of the Port of Philadelphia Traffic and Transportation Club.
The George Sproule papers document his activities in Philadelphia maritime and shipping matters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection includes business records, clippings, correspondence, appointment books, ephemera, photograph albums, publications and laws, a scrapbook, and writings, the bulk of which were authored by George F. Sproule.
The collection is divided into three series: “George F. Sproule materials,” “Newspaper Clippings Volumes regarding Maritime and Pier Events,” and “Samuel Jackson Sproule materials.”
The “George F. Sproule materials” series consists of business documents, clippings regarding Sproule, and correspondence regarding Sproule’s work as secretary of the Port Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia, Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation, and Director of Wharves, Docks and Ferries. This series also contains two appointment books which probably belonged to Captain J.R. Whitehorse. Ephemera includes invitations, event programs, certificates and a souvenir book on Providence, Rhode Island issued by the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association. Two photo albums, both presented by the Commercial Museum, document a trip taken by the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, U.S. Congress aboard the pilot boat Philadelphia; an inspection by the Rivers and Harbors Committee of the U.S. Congress of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in 1911; and images of the Municipal Piers constructed by the Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries, circa 1920, and various ships on the Delaware River, including the John Wanamaker. A scrapbook, consisting mainly of clippings regarding George F. Sproule, includes information on his death and funeral. Of interest to researchers focusing on the Board of Port Wardens is the folder of writings, most of which were authored by Sproule. The scope of these writings is broad, however, they address, in a fair amount of detail, the history of the Port of Philadelphia, a topic on which Sproule was considered an expert.
The “Newspaper Clippings Volumes regarding Maritime and Pier Events” consist of 17 volumes and cover the years 1884 to 1912 and 1922 to 1928. The years from 1913 to 1927 are not present. These volumes give a long history of maritime events, especially the accidents and disasters occurring at sea, and might prove useful for a researcher.
The final series, the “Samuel Jackson Sproule materials,” contains clippings regarding the War Shipping Administration during World War II, photographs that are largely unidentified, and correspondence and documents regarding the War Shipping Administration and Sproule’s search for a job following the closing of the War Shipping Administration at the end of World War II.
There is much material for researchers interested in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Philadelphia maritime history, including shipping, ports, wharves, docks, and related matters; the Port of Philadelphia; the Board of Port Wardens; and shipping and pier events. Additionally, researchers interested in the Port of Philadelphia’s role in World War II or the War Shipping Administration, Recruitment and Manning Organization may find this collection to be valuable.
- Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association
- Pennsylvania. Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the River Delaware and its Navigable Tributaries
- Pennsylvania. Board of Wardens for the Port of Philadelphia
- Philadelphia (Pa.). Dept. of Wharves, Docks and Ferries
- Port of Philadelphia Ocean Traffic Bureau
- United States. Navy
- United States. War Shipping Administration
- Philadelphia (Pa.)
- Sproule, George F., 1867-1928
- Sproule, Samuel Jackson
- World War II
- Appointment books
- Business records
- Reasearch notes
- Souvenir programs
- Delaware River
- Delaware River Port Authority
- Port of Philadelphia
- Port Wardens, Board of
- Philadelphia Docks and Wharves
- ?Philadelphia Maritime Exchange
- ?Port Records