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William L. Honnold papers

Identifier: H-Mss-0381

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William L. Honnold papers contain correspondence, reports, maps, plans, photographs, realia, and ephemera relating to the life and career of William L. Honnold (1866-1950), one of the first mining engineers to successfully combine the roles of engineer, business entrepreneur, and corporate executive, and a major donor to the Claremont Colleges.

The collection falls naturally into three chronological periods: (1) the years prior to 1915, encompassing Honnold’s early life and active mining career, from the 1890s until his departure from South Africa; (2) the years 1915 to 1924, encompassing Honnold’s service in World War I relief, his cooperation with Ernest Oppenheimer in the founding of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa in 1917, his business activities, and his move to California in 1922; (3) the period from 1924, when Honnold and his wife became domiciled in California, onward, encompassing Honnold’s increasingly diversified business activities and his philanthropic activities, in particular his support of the Claremont Colleges.

The records for the first period constitute Series 1: United States, and Series 2: South Africa. They contain primarily mining reports and correspondence addressed to the Consolidates Mines Selection Company of London, for whom Honnold worked as a consulting engineer from 1899, first in the United States (the extant reports relate to mines in Arizona, California, and the Yukon), and from 1902 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The reports document Honnold’s technical abilities as a miner and his skill as an administrator: in 1912, he became Managing Director of the company in South Africa, and Chairman of the Board of the subsidiary companies under its direct control. Much of the correspondence relates to Honnold’s dealings in the stock of Consolidated Mines Selection Company, and reveals the business acumen that made him so financially successful.

The records for the second period, 1915-1924, are fragmentary. Neil C. Cross, Honnold’s Los Angeles secretary from 1924 onward, wrote on 30 August 1954 to John T. Staker, husband of Honnold’s niece, “I recollect that about 1916 W.L. employed Rollin B. Burton [Caroline Honnold’s nephew, who served as Honnold’s New York secretary (“investment” or “fiscal agent” and “tax adviser”) from 1917 until 1937] to keep his record and files and that after W.L. came out here the files were put in storage in New York or New Jersey” [Box 60, Folder 8]. The surviving materials most probably constitute those Honnold considered most memorable or most important from a legal standpoint. They relate primarily to Honnold’s World War I relief work, his mission in 1918-1919 on behalf of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York and other financial institutions to help restart the Belgian economy, and the founding of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa in 1917. Records of the first two can be found in Series 3: United States, in the subsection ”Civic and philanthropic activities”. Records of the founding of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa constitute the earliest part of Series: 5: Anglo American Corporation of South Africa. Those relating to the founding of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa were carefully selected, cataloged, and filed in a safe deposit box; they omit many telegrams and letters known from other sources to have passed between Honnold and Oppenheimer at this time.

The records for the third and last period, 1924 onward, relate to Honnold’s “retirement” in California, his house in Bel-Air, the establishment of the Honnold Trust in 1926, and his philanthropic endeavors in support of the Claremont Colleges, the California Institute of Technology, and his almae matres, Knox College and the Michigan College of Mining and Technology (now Michigan Technological University). The materials comprise those records created by Honnold and Cross in Los Angeles, together with those records created by Burton in New York and forwarded by him to California. Cross arranged those for 1924 through 1930 by subject: these records now constitute Series 3: United States, and the pre-1931 sections of Series 6: Honnold Foundation and Series 8: Personal and family. In 1931, Cross changed to a chronological system, with annual files on each subject. These materials now constitute Series 4: Chronological files. Certain legal and tax records for 1931-1938 were removed from this series in the 1970s or 1980s by a prior processor of the collection to a separate box and refoldered; as it proved impossible to determine with absolute certainty to which year each of these files belonged, no attempt was made to reincorporate these files into Series 4, and they were retained where they were found; they can now be found in Series 3: United States, Subseries 3.4: Financial and legal. Access to the files is through a series of card files compiled by Cross—a single alphabetical file for 1924-1930, and separate alphabetical card files for each year from 1931 onwards—that give the title(s) of the file(s)containing materials relating to a particular individual or subject. The files are largely complete; for files known to be missing from the collection, see “Items Removed from the Collection” in the administrative notes at the beginning of this finding aid. The extant records offer considerable detail on Honnold’s various business ventures (many with members of the Mudd family); his extensive correspondence with colleagues and friends, including many from his earliest days in Minnesota and South Africa; his interest in Republic politics (in particular, his devotion to “the chief”, Herbert Hoover); his concern for education and support for educational institutions; and his deep affection and concern for the welfare of his wife Caroline. Extensive financial records from the 1920s onward, including virtually complete accounts paid, document the contemporary cost of living, including basic foodstuffs; workmen’s and servants’ wages; automobile repair; jewelry, artwork, and other luxury items; and taxes.

For ease of reference, certain materials originally found in the above series have been arranged in separate series. The records of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa (Series 5), although incomplete, offer important insight into the circumstances immediately leading to the founding of the company, and its development in the first critical years. Honnold’s correspondence with Julius S. Wetzlar, whom he had known as a member of the Consolidated Mines Selection Company Board of Directors since at least 1904 is especially illuminating. The records of the Honnold Foundation and the Honnold Trust (Series 6, supplemented by financial and legal records in Subseries 3.5 and Series 7: Ledgers and checks) document the creation, funding, and operation of the institution through which Honnold funded his gifts to the Claremont Colleges, the California Institute of Technology, Knox College, and the Michigan College of Mining and Technology.

Series 8 contains personal and family records of William L. and Caroline Burton Honnold. With few exceptions the materials cover the period prior to 1931; similar materials for the period 1931 onwards are to be found in Series 4: Chronological files. The records include the diary, sermons, and other writings of Honnold’s father, the Rev. Robert Honnold. Family papers include correspondence with Paul M. Folckemer, husband of Honnold's only full sister, Mary, and more extensive financial records and correspondence of Caroline's elder sisters, Mary Burton Curtis and Jessie A. (Burton) Shipman, whose financial affairs Honnold managed from at least the early 1920s, as well as correspondence with the latter’s husband, Charles Goodrich Shipman, MD, with whom Honnold had at least one joint business venture. Honnold's personal papers include his diplomas and awards; a blueprint of the couple's modest first house in Hibbing, Minnesota; life insurance policies from Honnold's earliest years as a mining engineer until 1931; and passports for both William and Caroline for the years the couple lived in South Africa through 1930. Extensive files give a complete accounting of the costs, and (incomplete) plans for the building of the Honnolds' Bel-Air residence. Additional materials document the relationship between the Honnolds and their long-time principal servants, chauffeur Joe Silvera, and housekeeper Josephine Sullivan. Other materials record Honnold's continued interest, both family and business, in his home town of Camp Point, Illinois. The papers include copies of many of Honnold’s writings, including most notably a “diary” of a 1934 deep-sea fishing cruise with Herbert Hoover, as well as Caroline's letters to Honnold during a six-month trip from South Africa to Camp Point and Ely, Minnesota, in 1904.

Series 9: Photographs, documents all aspects of Honnold's life, including his father and maternal relatives, his infancy and childhood in Illinois, his days as a student and young miner in Minnesota, his marriage, his work in California, his life in South Africa, his World War I relief service in Belgium and Northern France, and his retirement, business activities, and community service and philanthropic work in the United States. The series includes a number of photographs of Caroline Burton and her family from the period prior to her marriage to Honnold in 1895. The photographs from the Honnolds' life in South Africa portray the mining, government, and military elite in Johannesburg in the final years of the Edwardian era. The photographs from Honnold's service with the Commission for Relief in Belgium, as well as later photographs (many signed) of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover illustrate Honnold's life-long friendship with and devotion to "the Chief".

Audio materials (Series 12) contains the audio recording of a January 1989 interview with Honnold’s niece, Mrs. Irene (Folckemer) Staker, then 92 years old, who reminisces about her uncle.

Series 13: Realia and ephemera, consists of non-documentary materials in the collection. They include a leather briefcase inscribed to Honnold from his colleagues at the Commission for Relief in Belgium, his masonic apron, and a considerable number of medals commemorating World War I relief in Belgium and Northern France, including the neck and lapel versions the Croix de Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Couronne, awarded Honnold by Albert I. of Belgium, as well as political medals documenting both William and Caroline Honnold's participation as alternate delegates at Republican National Conventions from 1928 to 1940. The series also includes three pieces of Caroline Honnold's jewelry, and a number of silver grooming and dining items.


  • 1842-1955.
  • Majority of material found within 1902 - 1950


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact Special Collections Library staff.


William Lincoln Honnold was born in Oconee, Illinois, on 16 April 1866, the son of the Rev. Robert and Sarah (Ernest) Honnold. His mother died in 1870, his father in 1876, and Honnold was raised by his stepmother, Mary E. (Norris) Honnold (1843-1924) in Camp Point, Illinois. After preliminary study at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, in 1886-87, and at the University of Michigan, 1887-88, and after several times interrupting his formal schooling to gain practical experience, Honnold received an E.M. from Michigan College of Mines, Houghton, in 1895.

In 1893-1895, while still an undergraduate, Honnold was employed by the Mahoning Ore Company, in Hibbing, Minnesota. He married Caroline Burton, a resident of Santa Ana, California, who was born in Chicago on 7 October 1868, in San Francisco, on 12 November 1895. In 1896, he resigned from the Mahoning Ore Company to become superintendent of the California Exploration Company, San Andreas, California, prospecting various gold-bearing claims. From 1898 to 1899, Honnold was manager of Thorpe Gold Mining Company, and from 1899 to 1902, consulting engineer in America for the Consolidated Mines Selection Company (London), in which capacity he traveled widely, examining and advising on both metal and coal mines in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. In 1902, he went to South Africa where he became involved in gold and diamond mining as consulting engineer, again for the Consolidated Mines Selection Company. He became managing director of the company in 1912, and chairman of the subsidiary companies Brakpan Mines, Springs Mines, The New Era Consolidated, and the Transvaal Coal Trust. He also served as vice president of the Chamber of Mines, and a member of the Council of Education, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through his mining activities Honnold became acquainted with Herbert Hoover, and the two became fast friends. He left South Africa in 1915, and was appointed London director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), headed by Hoover. He transferred to New York in August 1916, as director of the Commission in the United States, a position he held until December 1918. For his wartime work for Belgian relief he was made a commander of the Order of the Crown and received the Médaille Commémorative du Comité Nationale. He later became director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium Educational Foundation. In 1918-1919 Honnold served as special representative in Europe of the Guaranty Trust Co. of New York and associated banks, to facilitate the rehabilitation of Belgian finances. He subsequently visited South Africa, and on returning spent some time in London and New York in connection with the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa, which he had founded with Mr. (later Sir) Ernest Oppenheimer in September 1917, and of which he was, with Oppenheimer, one of the two permanent directors.

The Honnolds moved to California in 1922, and in 1924 were domiciled in Los Angeles, where Honnold shared an office in the Pacific Mutual Building with Seeley W. Mudd and the latter's sons, Harvey S. Mudd and Seeley G. Mudd. In 1926, the Honnolds established the Honnold Foundation, to support religious, charitable, and educational services. Honnold took particular interest in the Claremont Colleges. He was on the first Board of Fellows of Claremont College (now Claremont Graduate University) named in 1925, and succeeded his friend and colleague Seeley W. Mudd as president of the Board the following year. He and his wife provided the funding for the Honnold Library, dedicated in 1952, that serves as the central library for the colleges. Honnold was also an honorary trustee of Pomona College, and a trustee of the California Institute of Technology. Honnold maintained an interest in civic affairs, serving on the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and as chairman of their Engineering Committee, from Feburary 1930 to July 1933.

Honnold was made LL.D. by Knox College in 1927; D.Sc. by Claremont College in 1936, and D.Eng. by Michigan College of Mining and Technology in 1937. He died at his home in Bel-Air on 6 May 1950, and is buried in Oak Park Cemetery, Claremont; Caroline Burton Honnold died at home in Bel-Air on 18 July 1954, and is buried with her husband.


102 Linear Feet (142 boxes + 2 map-case drawers)

Language of Materials



This collection contains correspondence, reports, maps, plans, photographs, realia, and ephemera relating to the life and career of William L. Honnold (1866-1950), a pioneering American mining engineer in South Africa, who later became a major benefactor to the Claremont Colleges, and his wife, Caroline Burton (1868-1954). The collection documents in particular Honnold’s early career in the coal fields of Minnesota and gold fields of California; his activities in furthering the technique of deep mining in South Africa; his position as arguably the first mining engineer in to fully combine the roles of engineer, business entrepreneur, and top corporate executive; his long friendship with Herbert Hoover and his contributions to World War I relief in Belgium and Northern France as a member of the Commission for Relief in Belgium; his long friendship with Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, and their founding of the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa; his "retirement" to California in the 1920s, and his subsequent business ventures, many with members of the Mudd family; and his philanthropic activities, the bulk of which benefited the Claremont Colleges, as well as his alma maters, Knox College and the Michigan Mining School (now Michigan Technological University). Photographs from Honnold’s life in South Africa graphically portray Johannesburg’s elite at the height of the Edwardian age. Extensive financial records from the 1920s onward, including virtually complete accounts paid, document the contemporary cost of living, such as food; workmen’s and servants’ wages; automobile maintenance; travel; jewelry, artwork, and other luxury items; and taxes.

Series Arrangement

Series 1: United States and Canada, 1899-1902

Series 2: South Africa, 1904-1915

Series 3: United States, 1919-1930

Series 4: Chronological Files, 1931-1955

Series 5: Anglo American Corporation of South Africa, 1917-1954

Series 6: Honnold Foundation, 1926-1953

Series 7: Ledgers and checks, 1923-1954

Series 8: Personal and family, 1842-1953

Series 9: Photographs, circa 1860-1954

Series 10: Maps, circa 1890-1925

Series 11: Graphics, circa 1900-1945

Series 12: Audio materials, 1989

Series 13: Realia and ephemera, circa 1870-1940

Series 14: Cross, Neil C., 1934-1954

Series 15: Materials in other repositories, 1891-1946

Physical Location

Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library. Claremont University Consortium.

Custodial History

William L. Honnold's papers appear to have been delivered to the Claremont Colleges by the Honnold Foundation at some time in 1955. They were initially stored in the basement of Mabel Shaw Bridges ("Big Bridges") Auditorium, where in January 1981 they were found "in a rather open area ... apparently no one realized the value of them, or what use was to be made of them"; they were at that time moved and placed under lock and key [Charles E. Gross to Patrick Barkey, memorandum, January 22, 1981].

Acquisition Information

The Honnold papers were transferred to the custody of Special Collections at some time between January 1981 and October 1987, but remained in Mabel Shaw Bridges ("Big Bridges") Auditorium until at least November 1987. They were physically moved to the Honnold Library by the end of 1988. Certain photographs now among the Honnold papers were acquired at an earlier date, possibly after Honnold's death in 1950 or that of his wife in 1954.


No additions to the collection are anticipated.

Separated Materials

Certain files concerning "Camp Point matters" (relating to William's relatives, as distinct from Caroline's), the Claremont Colleges, Herbert Hoover, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (of whose Board of Directors Honnold was a member from 1930 to 1933), listed in the card indexes to both Series 3: United States and Series 4: Chronological files, cannot be found. A large number of photographs of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, which had earlier come to Special Collections, most probably from the estates of William L. and Caroline Honnold, were transferred on 21 August 1980 by David Kuhner to the Sprague Library, at that time the principal science library for the Claremont Colleges, and incorporated into a "Hoover Collection" of documents to accompany the Hoover Collection of printed books. It is possible that Kuhner, the Librarian at Sprague, who had access to the Honnold papers in "Big Bridges" Auditorium, may have removed additional, textual materials relating to Hoover to the Hoover Collection in Sprague. Sprague Library has since closed, and those materials from its collections that have been positively traced to William L. and Caroline Honnold have been returned to the Honnold papers. However, other materials, including those for the 1932 election, could not be identified, and are considered missing. In addition, materials relating to Honnold's service with the Metropolitan Water District now form a separate collection within the Water Resources Collection; they have not been returned to the Honnold papers. Since removal of materials from the Honnold papers to other library collections can be proved, it is probable that the documents relating to the Claremont Colleges were also removed from the collection at some earlier date, and these may well be among the materials in the Vertical Files in Special Collections.

Processing Information

The Honnold papers appear to have been foldered, boxed, and summarily inventoried by the end of 1988. Additional processing was done by Tsegaye Gotta, a Claremont Graduate School student, from September 1988 until possibly as late as mid-1990. Copies of the inventory Gotta compiled are annotated "revised 1992 / revised p. 21-24 5/29/96". The arrangement in this inventory of the materials prior to 1931 follows no apparent pattern, and the original order of the chronological files from 1931 onwards was disturbed. 7 document cases of materials were separately inventoried, and approximately 10 per cent of the papers remained unprocessed. The papers were reprocessed, incorporating the separately inventoried and unprocessed materials, re-arranging the inventoried materials prior to 1931, and wherever possible restoring the original order of the chronological files, by Michael P. Palmer, MLIS, in 2012. A concordance of current and former box and folder numbers is available from Special Collections staff.

Guide to the William L. Honnold Papers
Finding aid created by Michael Palmer
18 December 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the 01 - Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library Repository

800 North Dartmouth Ave
Claremont CA 91711 United States