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Albert Kahn papers, 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945

Albert Kahn papers, 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945

Kahn, Albert, 1869-1942


Collection Information

Size: 7.0 linear feet

Summary: The papers of architect Albert Kahn date from 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945, and measure 7 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical material, correspondence, personal business records, nine sketchbooks, art work, notes and writings, two scrapbooks, printed material, photographs and photograph albums, artifacts, a sound recording and motion picture film.

Biographical material includes a biographical account, marriage certificate, architect's licenses, calling cards for the Kahns, passports, identification cards, letters of introduction, award certificates and medals, membership cards and certificates, a sound recording concerning Albert Kahn's life, and an address book.

Correspondence consists of letters between Albert Kahn, family members, and colleagues including Myron Barlow, George D. Mason, Carl Milles and Arthur A. Stoughton. There is one letter each from Henry Bacon and Alexander Trowbridge, and condolence letters to Kahn's widow.

Personal business records include records of stocks and income, lists of expenses and receipts for construction, property records, price lists for paintings by others, and miscellaneous receipts.

Art work includes nine sketchbooks and drawings by Albert Kahn, a paper silhouette portrait of Kahn, and drawings, watercolors, etchings, lithographs, and a sketchbook of Cornwall by others.

Notes and writings include Ernestine Kahn's diary, notebooks, guest registers and records concerning Albert Kahn's funeral, and typescripts of speeches and lectures.

Two scrapbooks contain clippings, small drawings, photographs of architecture, and letters of tribute.

Printed material includes clippings, exhibition catalogs for others, programs, booklets, books, reproductions of art work, travel brochures, picture postcards, and miscellaneous printed material.

Photographs are of Albert Kahn, members of his family, and colleagues including Myron Barlow, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Arturo Toscanini, residences, and travel scenes. There are also five reels of 16mm motion picture film of the Kahn family at the farm and at various family gatherings.

Artifacts primarily consist of the tools used by Albert Kahn during his career including t-squares and portable tripod supports for drawing boards used on construction sites.

Biographical/Historical Note

Albert Kahn (1869-1942) was an architect, from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.


The Albert Kahn papers were donated by Kahn's children, Mrs. Lydia Winston Malbin, Mrs. Rosalie Butzel, and Dr. Edgar A. Kahn, in 1974.

A Finding Aid to the Albert Kahn Papers,
bulk 1875-1945
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Albert Kahn (1869-1942) of Detroit, Michigan, was an architect, primarily known for designing industrial buildings with the pioneering use of reinforced concrete that allowed large unobstructed interiors.
Albert Kahn was born on March 21, 1869 in Rhaunen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, the oldest son of rabbi Joseph Kahn and Rosalie Cohn Kahn. The family immigrated to the United States in 1881 and settled in Detroit, Michigan.
Albert Kahn worked as an office boy in an architect's office and studied drawing in Sunday classes conducted by sculptor Julius Melchers. Melchers found Kahn a position in the architectural offices of Mason and Rice where he worked for several years. In 1890, Kahn won a scholarship to travel in Europe to study architecture and in 1895 he opened his own architectural office, Albert Kahn Associates, hiring his younger brothers, Louis, Moritz, and Felix. In the following year, Kahn married Ernestine Krolik.
In 1903, Kahn was awarded his first two important commissions: to design the University of Michigan's engineering building and the Palm Apartments in Detroit, built with the early use of reinforced concrete. In the following year, he built the first reinforced concrete factory for the Packard Motor Company. Because of the industrial growth in Detroit at that time, Kahn was in demand to design various automobile factories including the General Motors Building, textile, business machine, and chemical plants. He became an authority on concrete construction and by the beginning of the First World War, his firm provided construction for the military aviation section of the Army.
Kahn later moved from using concrete to steel and glass. In 1927, his company finished a large building for the Fisher Brothers of Detroit for which he was awarded a medal by the Architectural League of New York for the year's outstanding contribution to architecture. In the following year his firm was given full charge of the entire heavy industrial building program of Russia's first five-year plan, and they constructed an estimated two billion dollars worth of factories in Russia.
During World War II, Kahn's firm was constantly busy constructing naval air bases, airplane engine plants, tank arsenals including the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and other government defense projects. In June 1942 Kahn was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by Syracuse University.
Albert Kahn died on December 8, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan.
The collection is arranged as 9 series. Glass plate negative housed separately and closed to researchers.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1896-1945 (Box 1, 6, OV 10; 19 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1891-1970 (Box 1-3, 6; 3.3 linear feet)
Series 3: Personal Business Records, 1891-1943 (Box 3; 7 folders)
Series 4: Art Work, 1890-1936 (Box 3, 6, OV 11-12; 20 folders)
Series 5: Notes and Writings, 1899-1943 (Box 3-4; 29 folders)
Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1890-1942 (Box 7; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1897-1968 (Box 4-6, OV 10; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs and Moving Images, 1875-1944 (Box 5-6, 8, FC 13-17, MGP 2; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 9: Artifacts, circa 1942 (Box 5, 9; 0.4 linear feet)
The Albert Kahn papers were donated by Kahn's children, Mrs. Lydia Winston Malbin, Mrs. Rosalie Butzel, and Dr. Edgar A. Kahn, in 1974.
Processing Information
Portions of this collection were previously available on microfilm reels 1110-1114; this film is no longer in circulation. The collection was arranged and described by Jean Fitzgerald in May 2011. Glass plate re-housed in 2015 with a grant provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund. Motion picture film reels were inspected and re-housed in 2016-2017 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Albert Kahn papers, 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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