The American Antiquarian Society has a collection of nearly 7,000 directories published before 1877. It is one of the largest in the United States, and includes most of the earliest directories printed in America. The amount of information contained in this collection is astonishing. It is also very much a reflection of the growth and development of the country itself.
The first American directory, published in The South Carolina and Georgia Almanac for1782, contained a list of 304 names indicating the trades or professions and addresses of the residents of Charleston, South Carolina. Three years later, in October 1785, Macpherson's Directory for the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia, was the first directory in the United States to be published separately. This was followed a month later by Francis White's, The Philadelphia Directory.
Obviously, the essential purpose of a directory is to provide information, but these early ones -- produced just as the Revolutionary War was ending, or shortly thereafter -- also suggest the need to create a sense of order and solidity in a new society. Although these early directories were modest in comparison with later publications -- most were the size of a pamphlet or a small book -- the titles convey the impression of a comprehensive vision. The Boston directory of 1789, for example, had the title: The Boston Directory containing a list of merchants, mechanics, traders, and others, of the town of Boston, in order to enable strangers to find the residence of any person. To which is added, publick offices, where, and by whom kept. Barristers and attorneys at law, and where residing. Physicians, surgeons, and their places of abode. President, directors, days and hours of business at the bank. Names and places of abode of all the engine-men. Illustrated with a plan of the town of Boston. A map, or plan of the town, so that a "stranger" could find his way, was also included in other directories of the time.
Additional information, some of it substantial, began to be included quite early. James Hardie's, The Philadelphia directory and register.. ., for example, included an account of the Pennsylvania Hospital, "the design of which was first suggested by the late Dr. Thomas Bond, for the purpose of relieving the sick poor, whether afflicted in body or mind." Both Hardie's 1794 directory and Cornelius William Stafford's, The Philadelphia directory, for 1798, tell of yellow fever epidemics and their effects on the city, the latter account being shorter than the former by two pages and having the following explanation: "The Editor intended to have introduced a copious account of the Yellow Fever, had not Mr. Folwell published one, and secured the Copy Right, which has deprived him the pleasure of inserting one. Nevertheless, the editor manages, even in so short a space, to convey the seriousness of the situation. "In July 1797," he wrote, "the Yellow Fever again made its appearance in Philadelphia, and providentially for the city, it subsided so early as the October following. In respect to its origin, the various opinions which have been advanced, render abortive the intention of giving any satisfactory account. The melancholy scene which presented itself in the year 1793, induced many on the confirmation of its being again in existence, to quit the city."
Within a short time, information became more copious and advertisements began to appear. In 1802, The Baltimore Directory... printed an abstract of the revenue laws, listed import duties, places of public worship and public buildings, and advertised land and water stages, pleasure gardens, and baths, etc. By 1823, it appears that the titles of directories were shrinking in inverse proportion to the increase in their size. The Philadelphia Index, or Directory for 1823: Containing the names, professions, and residence, of all the heads of families and persons in business of the city and suburbs, with other helpful information. By Robert Desilver, contained numerous advertisements, a perpetual almanac, a list of physicians, directions to the reader, a list of streets, roads, lanes, alleys, courts, avenues, public places, wards, wharves and shipyards in the city, government, court and town information, rates of postage, banks, insurance offices, turnpikes and canals, wardens of the port, custom house, ministers, consuls, and commissaries of foreign powers, the census for 1820, etc. In addition, Bailey's Washington Almanac, for the year of our Lord, 1823 is bound at the back.
The Miners and Business Mens Directory for the year commencing January 1st, 1856. Embracing a general directory of the citizens of Tuolomne, and portions of Calaveras, Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. Together with the mining laws of each district, a description of the different camps, and other interesting statistical matter, is of particular interest, not only for all that the title contains, but also (being a directory of the gold fields) for a variety of colorful advertisements for such places as Ferguson's Saloon at Columbia, which had billiard tables, and The Jenny Lind Restaurant, and W. Sperry, M.D., Shaw's Flat. Keeps constantly in hand a general assortment of provisions, mining tools, drugs, and medicines which he invites the public to call and examine. Other pieces of interest include A New Theory on the Gold Formation and a poem (extempore), which begins, In Sonora one hot and sultry day/ Many people had gathered together/ They were bound to drive the Greasers away/ And they cared not a fig for the weather/ For folks had been robbed and folks had been killed...
By the time Volume I of Gould & Aldrichs annual directory of the city of St. Louis, for 1872 was published, it had 990 pages, with advertising on every page, and its list of societies included everything from ordinary temperance societies to "U.A.O. of Druids" and "Red Men" as follows: "Cherokee Tribe, no. 4 meets every Saturday..., Delaware Tribe, no. 5, meets every Thursday..., Ontario Tribe, no. 6..., Meramec Tribe, no. 7."
The collection of Worcester directories extends into the twentieth century, and some Canadian directories are also included in our collection. There are also separately shelved collections of trade yearbooks and railroad directories, each having its own checklist located in the reading room. The yearbook collection is primarily concerned with subject rather than place. Thus it includes such titles as American Racing Calendar and Trotting Record, from September 1, 1856 to January 1, 1858, and Henry Chadwick's Baseball Players' Book of Reference containing the Revised Rules of the Game for 1867.
In 1961, AAS published Dorothea N. Spear's Bibliography of American Directories Through 1860. All new acquisitions are annotated in this bibliography as they arrive. The directories listed in Spear are available on microfiche and are shelved in the Society's microform reading room. In addition, we have recently acquired 453 reels of microfilm for directories published in the United States through 1880. AAS directories printed through 1830 are fully cataloged online. A checklist of directories that have not yet been cataloged is arranged alphabetically, by the name of the town or city, and is continually updated.
- Joan M. Pingeton, former Acquisitions Manager; updated by Jennifer Code, Acquisitions Manager