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Daniel Augustus Tompkins Papers, 1886-1942

Identifier: MS-2022-015

Content Description

This collection contains business ephemera, pamphlets, publications, and other materials relating to his personal and professional life. Materials are in good condition and dated 1886-1942.


  • 1886 - 1942

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to duplicate or publish material from this collection must be obtained from the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Biographical / Historical

Daniel Augustus Tompkins was born on October 12, 1851 in Edgefield County, South Carolina to DeWitt Clinton and Hannah Virginia Smyly Tompkins. He attended local schools as well as the Edgefield Academy before entering the University of South Carolina in 1867. Tompkins transferred to Renssalear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 1869. During the summers he worked for Alexander Lyman Holley as a draftsman in the Troy steel works of John A. Griswold and Company.

Tompkins graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1873 and immediately began working for Holley in New York City. Eventually Holley sent the young Tompkins to learn the craft of a machinists. Within five years, the latter was a master machinist having trained under John Fritz at the Bethlehem Iron Works. It was Fritz who arranged for Tompkins to supervise the installation of a hoop mill at the Schwerte Iron Works in Westphalia, Germany. By 1879, Tompkins returned to work as a draftsman at the Bethlehem Iron Works. In 1881, he moved to Crystal City, Missouri and worked as a master machinist for the Crystal Plate Glass Company.

Two years later in March of 1883, Tompkins moved to Charlotte, North Carolina as an agent for the Westinghouse Machine Company. He installed and received commissions for steam engines. This arrangement led to the creation of the D.A. Tompkins Company in partnership with R.M. Miller, Senior. The two men organized the Southern Cotton Oil Company in Charlotte and by 1887 they had built eight mills. That same year, Miller and Tompkins dissolved their partnership. However, Tompkins was just getting started. He incorporated the D.A. Tompkins Company and served as its major shareholder and chief engineer. 1910 involved the company involved with the construction of 250 cotton oil mills, 150 electric plants and 100 cotton mills. Tompkins owned outright Atherton Mill in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood, High Shoals Mills in Gaston County and Edgefield Manufacturing Company in Edgefield, South Carolina.

Tompkins success led to a presidential appointment by William McKinley to the US Industrial Commission in 1899. One year later he joined the National Association of Manufacturers. Tompkins led a successful campaign to establish North Carolina State University as well as a number of textile schools at Clemson University, Mississippi and Texas.

Charlotte was on the move when Tompkins began his career in the Queen City. He became involved in the Charlotte Manufacturer’s Club (a private men’s club) and the local Democratic Party. Tompkins owned controlling interest in three newspapers, including the Charlotte Daily Observer, the Charlotte Evening News and Greenville, South Carolina, News. He owned the Observer Printing House and laid claim to being the author to numerous books and pamphlets. However, historians learned that Tompkins hired ghostwriters such as Charles Lee Coon, Alexander J. McKelway and Bruce Craven to produce his histories of Mecklenburg County and books on the textile industry.

Through his newspapers and publishing firm, Tompkins had a private outlet to voice his opinions regarding the developing social and economic trends in North Carolina. He opposed compulsory public education, child labor legislation, wage /hour regulations and restricted immigration. In other words, Tompkins did not want any legal interference that prevented his mills from profiting from the abundance of cheap labor and underage workers.

Although successful in his professional life, his private life seems to have been that of a solitary figure. His fiancée died in 1884 and apparently Tompkins let his work become his life. By 1912, his health declined to the extent that he retired to his summer home in Montreat, North Carolina. Tompkins died of a stroke on October 18, 1914 in Montreat, and he is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.


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Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The immediate source and date of acquisition for this collection is unknown.

Condition Description

Materials are in good condition

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of this collection was started by Shelia Bumgarner. The collection is not fully inventoried or processed.

Daniel Augustus Tompkins Papers, 1886-1942
In Progress
Shelia Bumgarner
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Repository

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library-Main
310 N. Tryon Street
Charlotte NC 28202 USA