Skip to main content

Theodore Thomas Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Thomas

Scope and Content of the Collection

Much of the correspondence relates to Thomas's final post as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, most of which is letters from well-known figures in the world of music and the arts, many of them written in German. There are a few letters and drafts of letters written by Thomas himself, and some correspondence to Rose Fay Thomas, written after Thomas's death.

Also in the collection is a guest book kept by Rose Fay Thomas beginning in 1903, which until 1927 she used as a scrapbook, containing numerous signatures, lines of music, photographs and letters of famous people. The collection of photographs includes Johannes Brahms, Edward Elgar, Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Franz Liszt. The rest of the collection is a small miscellany of items such as programs, short articles, notes and memorabilia, plus typescripts of inventories of the contents of the Thomases' libraries.


  • Creation: 1852-1926



Materials are in English and German.

Conditions Governing Access

The Theodore Thomas Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Theodore Thomas 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 Theodore Thomas

German-American conductor.

Theodore Thomas was born in Esens, East Friesland, Germany, in 1835. A self-taught violinist, when the family emigrated to New York City in 1845 Thomas played with his father in small theater orchestras. At fourteen, he toured as a soloist in the southern United States and at nineteen he joined the New York Philharmonic Society. It was here that he learned conducting by observation. Thomas's debut as a conductor was of an opera about 1859. He then hired and rehearsed his own orchestra -- which was named the Theodore Thomas Orchestra -- and he conducted his first concert in May, 1862. This orchestra developed into the most precise musical ensemble known up to that time.

For twenty years, Thomas toured all over the United States, bringing the symphonic orchestra to people who had never heard one, attempting to educate the listeners by mixing both light and more serious pieces. This touring orchestra was disbanded in 1888.

Thomas was the organizer and conductor of the Cincinnati May Music Festival in 1873, director of music for the Philadelphia International Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and director of the Cincinnati College of Music in 1878-1880. He was the conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1879 until 1891, as well as touring in 1886-1887 with the American (later National) Opera Company. In 1890, fifty wealthy Chicagoans pledged to establish a symphony orchestra, which debuted in 1891 as the Chicago Orchestra. The rest of his life he gave to conducting and developing the Chicago Orchestra, which was renamed the Theodore Thomas Orchestra after Thomas's death in 1905, to be changed one more time in 1912 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In 1864 Thomas had married Minna L. Rhodes and they had five children. When Minna died in 1889 Thomas married Rose Fay, sister both of Amy Fay, a prominent violinist, and businessman Charles Fay, who was Thomas's chief booster and supporter in organizing a major Chicago orchestra. Together they raised funds to build Orchestra Hall, which was completed in 1904. Not only was he the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony, but Thomas was important for his lifelong efforts to create a nation-wide audience for classical music in the United States. He died in 1905.


2.6 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, mainly incoming, of Theodore Thomas, the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his wife Rose Fay Thomas; photographs of musicians; and a small collection of miscellaneous material relating to the Thomases.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1860-1926
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Guest Book, 1904-1927
Box 3
Series 3: Photographs, 1872-1911
Box 3
Series 4: Miscellaneous, 1852-1911
Box 3
Box 4

Collection Stack Location

1 34 4


Purchase, 1952.

Related Archival Materials note

The Newberry Library also holds several hundred musical scores and music books owned by Theodore Thomas, as well as scrapbooks of his concert programs, 1864-1903. The scrapbooks are available on microfilm. See the online catalog for more information about any of these materials.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2003.

Inventory of the Theodore Thomas Papers, 1852-1926
Virginia H. Smith
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