Librarian Horace Wilson

Librarian & Trustee Horace WilsonHorace WilsonHorace WilsonIt was a typical day at work last March when a young librarian from Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum knocked on the door of the 3rd floor of the Mechanics’ Institute. “Have you heard of Horace Wilson?” he asked. “Of course I have,” I replied in astonishment, “How do YOU know about him?” Taku Chinone, a librarian himself, was here to see the place where his hero, Hall of Famer Horace Wilson, worked for sixteen years. Never heard of Horace Wilson? Well, Horace Wilson was responsible for bringing the sport of baseball to Japan.  What brought Mr. Chinone to San Francisco was the World Baseball Classic Championship. As baseball is a national obsession, Wilson was inducted into the Tokyo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

This experience so dazzled my employers that I was encouraged to do a little research on Wilson. Luckily Wilson lived during the golden age of 19th century record keeping (despite the 1906 earthquake and fire which was largely disastrous to San Francisco records – the Hall of Records  was destroyed).

After prowling about in the U. S. Census, birth records, California voter records, and several historic newspapers, I found that Wilson was Head Librarian of the Mechanics’ Institute from 1878 to 1894 and later a trustee. During his life he was a teacher, a book keeper, an insurance salesman and also a San Francisco Supervisor for a spell in 1900. He was 5’7” tall and had a fair complexion with green eyes and dark hair.

Born in Gorham, Maine in 1843 to a family of farmers, Horace Wilson came to San Francisco with his wife Mary in 1868 after serving in the Civil War. He worked as a bookkeeper and teacher. Meanwhile, Japan, eager to modernize its university system, offered attractive salaries to American instructors and artisans who would teach English and western ways. On September 1, 1871, Wilson sailed for Yokohama to accept a position at what is now known as Tokyo University. Loving baseball so much he brought with him some bats and gloves and during breaks from their studies taught his students the finer points of the game.

Horace Wilson’s time in Japan was over by December 1877. By then he was back in San Francisco and certified to teach first grade. Shortly thereafter he would assume duties as Lib220px-Electricpenrarian at the Mechanics’ Institute. His time as Librarian was largely uneventful according to Annual Reports of the Mechanics’ Institute. I did scrounge up a funny letter from him to the Trustees (1879) asking that they purchase for the Library an “Electric Pen and Prese” – an invention of Edison’s that was lent to the Library for trial. The cost of this pen was $55 and “possession of it [was] indeed desirable and may be made profitable [as it would save] much now paid for in printing“. I can only imagine what trials that poor man had to go through when it was time to send out overdue notices! Thank goodness for email and automated library services!

Wilson’s wife Mary was a cultured woman who lectured on art and literature and was a president of the Century Club. The Wilsons were good friends of Andrew and Martha Hallidie and members of the Unitarian Church, and took part in many related society events. Horace Wilson died in 1927 – gone from this earth but not forgotten!

Sources: U.S. census, birth record, California voter records (all available via Ancestry.com – don’t pay for this until you check your local library), SF Bulletin March 4, 1868, September 2, 1871, and December 19, 1877 (via GenealogyBank.com – a resource I subscribe to solely for its newspapers).

 

 

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