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Papers of Walter O. Snelling

Identifier: 2008-012-GB08-19

Scope and content

For a more detailed inventory, please view this record in our library catalog:

The collection is divided into multiple series. Series I consists of Alphabetical Files maintained by Snelling as Director of Research at the Trojan Powder Company. Series II consists of files relating to Patents, most in Snellings name. Series III is titled Career and consists of correspondence, reports and memos detailing Snelling's contributions to the various organizations by whom he was employed. Series IV is in the nature of an addendum and consists of correspondence and documents concerning the firm of Snelling Brothers, a firm set up by Walter two eldest sons while both were still adolescents to sell writing inks manufactured in the basement of their home.


  • Creation: 1899-1965
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920-1955

Language of Materials

Text in English and German.

Biographical sketch

Walter Otheman Snelling was born in Washington, D.C. on December 13, 1880. He was educated at George Washington University and Harvard University. Upon receiving his Ph.D. degree from George Washington University he accepted employment with the U.S. Geological Survey. While employed there he invented an underwater detonator that was used with great success in the construction of the Panama Canal. Snelling left the Geological Survey in 1910 to take up a position as Chemist-in-Charge, Explosives Laboratory at the U.S. Bureau of Mines. At the Bureau of Mines he concerned himself mostly with problems relating to mine safety, but he also conducted his first researches into the production of Propane. This achievement became a source of ongoing bitterness when a fellow Bureau of Mines chemist claimed precedence over him. Snelling left the Bureau in 1912 and worked as a consultant and private researcher until 1917 when an initial contract to work as a consultant to the Trojan Powder Company turned into an offer of full-time employment. Snelling remained with Trojan from 1917 until his retirement in 1954, gradually shifting his interest away from Propane and oil-cracking to return to his initial field of explosives and ordnance. His position as Trojan's Director of Research and his own innate curiosity and love of chemical experimentation led him to try his hand in many different areas of research and by 1960, he had 179 patents issued in his name. In the years leading up to and during World War II Snelling became increasingly involved with military ordnance and in 1946, following successful stints at the Plum Brook Ordnance Works, Sandusky, OH and service with Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force in Germany, he segued over to the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission as a consultant and member of the Raw Materials Advisory Committee until it was dissolved in 1960. Walter O. Snelling died in Allentown PA on September 10 1965.


62.1 Linear Feet (52 boxes)


This collection is mainly a research collection with much of its content being devoted to the field of military ordnance, explosives and pyrotechnics, but in his capacity as Director of Research for the Trojan Powder Company, Snelling maintained files on many different aspects of industrial chemistry.


Arranged into six series: Series 1.Alphabetical Files; Series 2.Patent Files; Series 3.Career; Series 4.Snelling Bros.; Series 5.Photographs Series 6.Addenda.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Charles Snelling (son). Method of acquisition--Gift;; Date of acquisition--2008..

Digitized Materials

Selected materials from this collection have been digitized and are available online in our Digital Collections:

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 8/28/2023: Digitized Materials note added.

Repository Details

Part of the Science History Institute Archives Repository

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19106 United States
215.873.5265 (Fax)