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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:7 1910-1946 S271

Thorp D. Sawyer papers


The Thorp D. Sawyer papers are letters written by an American engineer working in Chile, Bolivia, and Colombia, 1910-1946.


  • 1914-1946

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


0.25 linear feet (1 box)

The Thorp D. Sawyer papers consist primarily of letters written by Sawyer to his mother between 1910 and 1946, while he was living and working in South America as an engineer. The bulk of the letters were written between 1914 and 1932. Three letters are from Sawyer to other recipients: his son Freddy, the Christian Science Board of Directors, and the Shawnigan Lake School; and one is from his wife Kitty to her mother or mother-in-law. Also included are eleven black and white photographs.

Biographical Note:

Thorp D. Sawyer was an American civil engineer who spent at least twenty years of his professional life in South America from the 1910s to the 1940s. He worked on numerous projects, both under the employ of American companies there and independently, at one point establishing his own engineering and consulting company in Bolivia. Sawyer graduated from Cornell University in 1914 with a degree in Civil Engineering. His mother, with whom he corresponded regularly, lived in Tacoma, Washington. Both he and his mother were members of the Church of Christ, Scientists. Upon graduation, Sawyer was recruited by the Guggenheim Brothers to work for their Chile Exploration Company, whose operations were centered around the large copper mine at Chuquicamata in northern Chile. He left for South America in June 1914.

Based in Chuquicamata, Sawyer conducted surveys for construction projects that included pipelines, transmission lines, railroads, and oil spurs. He also worked on engineering projects such as the building of bridges and pumps, and was involved in gold mine speculation. During this time he occasionally worked in Tocopilla, Chile, and traveled to Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. In 1919 he moved to Santiago to become the branch manager for the Allied Construction Machinery Corporation but later that same year, after work was suspended because of political unrest, moved to La Paz to return to the employ of the Guggenheim Brothers and resume mine-related work. In late 1920 he and Ralph Anderson Bennitt opened their own engineering and contracting company, Bennitt y Sawyer Ingenieros, in La Paz. In 1921 the company was called Bennitt, Sawyer & Co. In 1928 he was working in Tocopilla again, this time with nitrate, in association with the Anglo-Chilean Consolidated Nitrate Corporation. Business in Chile became more difficult due to economic and political reasons and in 1932 Sawyer returned to the United States. However, by 1944 he was in Medellin, Colombia, with plans to open a permanent office in Bogota.

Sawyer married a woman named Kitty in 1917 or soon before, and they had several children, the eldest of whom was named Frederick.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Thorp D. Sawyer correspondence, 1910-1946
  2. Series II. Thorp D. Sawyer photographs, 1914-1929

Physical Location



Purchase, 2012

Processing Information

Processed: November 2012

By: Irene Gates

Sawyer, Thorp D. Thorp D. Sawyer Papers, 1910-1946: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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