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Fairbank-Graham Family Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Fairbank-Graham

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, personal and business materials, documents, diaries, writings, photographs, and maps of the Fairbank, Graham, and related families, including the Carpenter, Davis, and Beeckman families.

Fairbank family materials include correspondence between Fairbank family members Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, his wife Helen Graham, and their children Kellogg, Dexter, Helen, Margaret, Livingston, Nathalie, and Wallace, some personal materials, and a few papers relating to the financial assets and estate of Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank. Papers of the Graham family include family correspondence and business papers of John A. Graham who was involved in the coal and iron industries in the Cumberland, Maryland area during the Civil War. The Carpenter family materials consist mainly of correspondence between Helen Fairbank Carpenter, her husband Benjamin Carpenter, and their children. There is also significant genealogical correspondence written in the research of Helen Fairbank Carpenter's two family histories. Davis materials center on the three generations of physicians starting with Nathan S. Davis Sr., who founded the American Medical Association, his son Nathan Davis, Jr., and grandson Nathan S. Davis III. Their papers include materials pertaining to Davis Sr.'s professional activities, correspondence and notes of Nathan S Davis, Jr., and published medical articles, and writing and research materials of Nathan S. Davis III.

The collection also includes family history materials and transcriptions of many family letters; photographs, portraits and candid shots of the Fairbank and Graham families, their ancestors, vacation homes, ancestral homes, and gravesites; scrapbooks kept by Louise B. Graham and George B. Graham; and maps of areas in which John A. Graham had coal and iron interests.


  • Creation: 1775-1980
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1870 - 1920



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Fairbank-Graham Family Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Fairbank-Graham Family Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of the Fairbank Family

Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank was a prominent Chicago businessman and civic leader.

Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank was born in Sodus, New York on October 20, 1829. His father, Stephen Fairbank, was a builder and farmer who had come to Sodus from the Berkshires, Massachusetts in 1818 after marrying Mehitable Kellogg. Both parents died relatively young, and at age 18 Nathaniel Kellogg moved to Rochester, New York to become a bookkeeper's apprentice. In 1855 he was sent to Chicago as the western representative for David Dows & Co., an agricultural firm. There he joined the newly formed Chicago Board of Trade, and in 1863 was elected Vice President of the Board. During the Civil War, production in Chicago's meat packing district was booming and Fairbank invested in lard, a rising commodity. He built a lard and oil refinery on the South Side of Chicago and became associated with the firm of Smedly, Peck & Co. Later, he founded N. K. Fairbank and Company and expanded into the manufacture into soap made from lard and cottonseed oil. Eventually N. K. Fairbank and Co. was sold to a larger firm which paid Fairbank to retain the company name. Among Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank's other interests were a canning company, iron, lumber, real estate, and a silver mine in Arizona. He also became a prominent member of Chicago's business community and society. He belonged to the Chicago Club, was on the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, and was a supporter of many other civic causes.

On holiday at Bateman's Point, Rhode Island in the summer of 1864, Fairbank met Helen Livingston Graham, daughter of industrialist John Andrew and Helen Beeckman Graham. They corresponded over the following months and married in 1865. Helen Graham Fairbank settled in Chicago with Nathaniel in a house at 18th Street and Michigan Avenue where they lived for the rest of their lives. They had eight children: Graham (who died in infancy), Helen Graham, Kellogg, Wallace, Dexter, Margaret, Livingston, and Nathalie. The family traveled extensively and spent time in their lavish summer home, called the Butternuts, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia. Helen Fairbank died suddenly of appendicitis in 1895. Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank remained active in business until 1901. He died on March 27, 1902.

His children continued to be prominent in Chicago society. Nathalie Fairbank married Laird Bell, a Chicago lawyer, and eldest daughter Helen married into the Carpenter family, also important in Chicago business. Helen Fairbank Carpenter authored and co-authored two extensive family histories and was well known in genealogy circles. Her daughter Cordelia married Nathan Smith Davis III, one of three generations of Chicago doctors, whose grandfather Nathan Smith Davis, Sr. founded the American Medical Association.

Biography of the Graham Family

John Andrew Graham was an east coast industrialist with interests in New York and Maryland.

John A. Graham was born on December 8, 1808 in Rutland, Vermont to Nathan Burr and Jean Lorimer Graham. He came with his family to New York City in 1888 where his father worked as a lawyer. Graham was a merchant in New York until 1840 when he developed an interest in the mining and oil industries. In 1848 he moved with his wife and children to the Cumberland area of Maryland where he became president of both the Mount Savage Iron Company and the Cumberland Coal Company, as well as a large stockholder in the Potomac Wharf Company. The first heavy iron rail ever manufactured in the United States was turned out at the Mt. Savage Iron Company.

Graham married Helen Smith Beeckman in 1836. They had five children, two who died in infancy. The surviving children were Henry Beeckman, Helen Livingston, and Wallace Graham. Wallace Graham entered the Navy during the Civil War and served until 1876 when he died of pneumonia. Helen Livingston would marry Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank in 1865. In 1882, after his retirement from business, John Andrew and Helen Beeckman Graham followed daughter Helen and settled in Chicago. John Andrew Graham passed away on October 26, 1883. His widow survived him for thirteen years and stayed close to the Fairbank family. She died in Lake Geneva in 1896.


17.4 Linear Feet (37 boxes, 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, personal and business materials, documents, diaries, writings, photographs, and maps of the Fairbank and Graham families. These families were connected by the marriage of Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, a prominent Chicago businessman, and Helen Beeckman Graham, daughter of East Coast industrialist John Andrew Graham. Collection also includes materials of the Carpenter family, through the marriage of Helen Fairbank and Benjamin Carpenter, and three generations of the Nathan S. Davis family, joined to the Fairbanks and Grahams by the marriage of Cordelia Carpenter to Nathan S. Davis, III.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Fairbank Family, 1822-1980
Boxes 1-5
Series 2: Graham Family, 1775-1933
Boxes 6-16
Series 3: Carpenter Family, 1832-1957
Boxes 7-23
Series 4: Nathan S. Davis Family, 1861-1955
Boxes 24-27
Series 5: Family History, 1805-approximately 1930s
Boxes 28-30
Series 6: Photographs, approximately 1850-approximately 1950
Boxes 31-35
Series 7: Scrapbooks and Maps, 1825-1927
Boxes 36-38

Collection Stack Location

1 14 7, 1 16 5


Gift of Helen de Freitas, 1986, Frances Laird Osgood (Mrs. Gilbert Osgood), 1991, Fairbank Carpenter, 2000, and Helen Fairbank Goodkin, 2008.

Processed by

Lisa Janssen, 2010.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Fairbank-Graham Family Papers, 1775-1980, bulk 1870-1920
Lisa Janssen
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States