Osborne & Metcalf Collection

Cover Image:
Family Christmas card from 1956
Metcalf Family Christmas Card - Image Source

Collection Facts


Historical Context

Two families were intricately tied to the development of Auburn, NY: the Osbornes and the Metcalfs. The Osbornes, in particular, were influential in reform and activism at a national level.

Martha Coffin Wright (1806-1875) and her sister Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880) were organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.  Martha Wright's daughter, Eliza Wright Osborne (1830-1911), continued the women's rights struggle until her death.  Eliza Wright Osborne was closely connected to Harriet Tubman as well, and persuaded Tubman to move to Auburn.  Susan B. Anthony once commented that the Osborne family was the primary source for financial support for the women's rights movement. 

Eliza Wright Osborne was married to David Munson Osborne (1822–1886).  D. M. Osborne, having grown up on a farm, moved to Auburn and established a farm implement business that became the largest industry in Auburn.  When he died in 1886, the D. M. Osborne company employed 1,200 men.  It was bought by the International Harvester Company in 1903. D. M. Osborne was also involved in local politics.

Thomas Mott Osborne (1859-1926) was a son of D. M. Osborne and Eliza Wright Osborne.  T. M. Osborne was a prison reformer, industrialist, and politician.  He took over his father's company in 1886, as the company became the third largest agricultural implement manufacturer in North America. On its sale to International Harvester in 1902, T. M. Osborne focused on public service and activism.  

T. M. Osborne served as chairman to the George Junior Republic, a residential school that took street children from New York City and aimed to reform them in the fresh air of Freeville, NY.  T. M. Osborne helped prevent the school from being shut down by the state in the 1890s.  T. M. Osborne served as mayor of Auburn for several years, and ran a progressive newspaper, The Auburn Daily Citizen, which is the precursor to the surviving newspaper: The Citizen.  T. M. Osborne worked alongside FDR, who was then a state senator, in a failed effort to reform the NYS Democratic party. 

Notably, T. M. Osborne became an avid prison reformer.  His books, public speaking and other notoriety helped end the so-called "rule of silence," floggings and other prisoner abuse common in U.S. prisons at the time.  

Edwin Dickinson Metcalf (1848-1915), originally from New England, moved to Auburn to become the general manager of D. M. Osborne & Co in 1891. A monopoly on cordage made the Osborne Works' business difficult, so Metcalf founded the Columbian Cordage Company, as part of Osborne Works.

The Columbian Cordage Company was part of the sale to International Harvester.  However, after the sale, Metcalf founded Columbian Rope Company a year later.  Columbian Rope Company was a major employer and industrial giant for Auburn in the 20th century.  E. D. Metcalf and his wife, Caroline Walker Flint, were prominent Auburnians.