Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums
Robert Swanton Platt
Scope and Content
The Robert Swanton Platt Collection was donated to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center by William and Nan Platt in 2004, 2005, 2006. More information about the Platts and associated families may be found in the Platt-Day Families Collection (Hayes 27); Elizabeth Mitchell Heyl Collection (Hayes 19); and the Rutherford Hayes Platt Collection (Hayes 32).
Robert Swanton Platt was born December 4, 1891 in Columbus, Ohio, to Rutherford Hayes Platt (b.1853 d.1928), nephew of Rutherford B. Hayes, and Maryette Andrews Smith Platt (b.1863 d. 1929). He married Harriet Shanks December 30, 1922. The couple had two children: Robert Swanton Platt, Jr., born January 1, 1925; and Nancy Field Platt, born August 28, 1926.
After attending elementary school in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Platt attended St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island. St. George’s, a private boarding school, was founded in 1896 by Rev. John Byron Diman, an Episcopalian clergyman. After graduation from St. George’s School, Mr. Platt spent a year at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Established in 1891, Hotchkiss prepared young men for entry into Yale University, from which Mr. Platt graduated in 1914. At Yale, he majored in philosophy and minored in history.
Uncertain about a career when he graduated from Yale University in 1914, Robert Swanton Platt signed up to teach with the Yale-in-China program. Founded in 1901, the non-profit organization dedicated to educating Chinese children was based at Yale University. Among the subjects he taught was geography, something he had not studied after his primary school years. Taking students on field trips, he became curious about the Chinese landscapes. He noticed similarities and contrasts to landscapes in his native New England, and the idea of a career as a geographer took root. When he returned to the United States, Mr. Platt enrolled at the University of Chicago to study geography.
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Mr. Platt was a member of the university’s R.O.T.C. He was appointed first lieutenant in July 1917. Selected as a candidate for appointment as an officer in the Army of the United States, Mr. Platt reported to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in August 1917. He was sent to Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois, in December 1917 and served as an instructor there until September 1918. During his time at Camp Grant, he was promoted to captain. In September 1918, Captain Platt reported to Camp Sheridan in Alabama and then, in October, to Camp Kearny in California. At Camp Kearny he was attached briefly to the 16th Military Police Company and then to the 82nd Infantry, Company I. Captain Platt was honorably discharged from the Army in December 1918. When he returned to Chicago, he was appointed captain, Infantry, in the Officers’ Reserve Corps.
For the rest of his life Mr. Platt lived in Chicago, and much of his and his family’s life centered on the university. He became an instructor in the university’s Department of Geography in 1919, received his doctoral degree in 1920, became a full professor in 1939, and was chairman of the Department of Geography from 1949 to 1957.
The Platts’ home in Chicago drew many students, especially foreign students, as guests who became like members of the family. Those students called themselves the Plattachés, a group which eventually numbered about 100.
The Platt family traveled extensively. For several years the Dr. and Mrs. Platt held summer field-training courses for graduate students in the upper Great Lakes region. Before World War II Dr. Platt made seven trips to Latin America. His wife served as translator/interpreter.
Throughout his life Dr. Platt was active in associations for professional geographers both in the United States and abroad. He was president of the Association of American Geographers from 1941 to 1945. In the 1940s he served the federal government as an adviser in the Office of the Geographer in the Department of State and as the Chief of the Division of Maps in the Library of Congress. He also assisted governments in Latin America and Western Europe, especially with mapping boundaries.
After retiring, Dr. Platt was a visiting professor of geography at several universities: Frankfurt, Germany; Muenster, Germany; The Ohio State University; Rollins College; and Indiana University. Dr. Platt wrote Latin America and Field Study in American Geography as well as numerous articles for professional journals. After his retirement he also served as the editor of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Robert Swanton Platt died at his home in Chicago March 1, 1964.
Scope and Content
The Robert Swanton Platt Collection contains a variety of materials, dating from 1894 to 1964, that record the life of one of the United States’ earliest professional geographers. Correspondence, photographs, and clippings make up a large portion of the collection.
Correspondence between Platt and both his immediate and extended family dates from 1902 to 1961. Many letters were exchanged during Dr. Platt’s school years and during his extensive travels. Also included are letters from classmates and colleagues.
Photographs record the family’s travel in Europe (1904), Dr. Platt’s travel in China and Japan (1912-1913), and his work as a geographer in the upper Great Lakes region and in Central America (beginning in 1921). There are also portraits of Dr. Platt and other family members; school and class photographs; and postcards from Army training camps (1917-1919).
Materials Dr. Platt used while teaching at the University of Chicago and in Army training camps (topographical maps) are included. Clippings from various publications detail Dr. Platt’s work as a geographer both at home and abroad. Information gathered during his travels was valuable to both businesses (i.e. air traffic patterns for air lines) and government (political boundaries).
Dr. Platt also wrote on many subjects, such as his travels, his profession, and religion. Some of his writings included in the collection are publications; others are essays directed to family.
Other items in the collection relate to Dr. Platt’s brothers: author Rutherford Hayes Platt
(b. 1894 d. 1975) and Joseph Swan Platt (b. 1902 d. 1981); his wife Harriet Shanks Platt (b. 1900 d. 1979); their home in Chicago; the Plattachées (students and foreign visitors who were especially close to the family); and distant relatives: Edward Barry Wall and actor John Grant Mitchell. Two scrapbooks and publications relating to Ohio and Fremont, Ohio, history are part of this large and varied collection. “Obituaries and Memorials,” (Box 2, Folder 16), gives a comprehensive overview of Dr. Platt’s work as a geographer.
To the extent possible, the collection is arranged chronologically. Associated clippings, photographs, and documentary materials are filed with the correspondence from each period.
6 ½ linear ft.
Box 1 - Correspondence 1902 – 1961
1. R.S.P. to grandparents 1902; R.S.P. to mother 1906
2. R.S.P. to parents 1914 – 1915
3. R.S.P. to parents 1918 – 1925
4. Parents to R.S.P. 1905 – 1910
5. Parents to R.S.P. 1911 – 1913
6. Parents to R.S.P. and/or Harriet Shanks Platt 1921 – 1923
7. Parents to R.S.P. and/or Harriet Shanks Platt 1925 – 1927
8. Parents to R.S.P. undated
9. Parents to R.S.P. 1913 (Yokohama travels)
10. Parents to R.S.P. 1921 – 1923 (Central America travels)
11. R.S.P. to parents 1921 – 1922 (Central America travels)
12. Extended family to R.S.P. 1896 – 1910
13. Extended family to R.S.P. 1911 – 1913
14. Classmates to R.S.P. 1907 – 1929
15. R.S.P. to Joseph Platt c.1955
16. to R.S.P. condolence letters 1928 – 1929
17. to R.S.P. miscellaneous 1907 – 1913; 1927; 1961; undated
18. Photocopies and transcriptions: correspondence 1907 – 1920
Box 2 - Photographs and family memorabilia
1. Rutherford Hayes Platt
2. R.S.P. – childhood
3. R.S.P. – adult
4. R.S.P. and siblings – adult
5. R.S.P. and Harriet Shanks Platt.
6. Joseph Swan Platt
7. Geography field trips - Rock Island; Mississippi River c. 1919
8. Groups including R.S.P.
9. Photos: identified subjects
10. Photos: unidentified subjects
11. Harriet McClellan Shanks Platt
12. Edward Barry Wall
13. Grant Mitchell
14. Rutherford Hayes Platt, Jr.
15. Clippings – family
16. Obituaries and memorials – R.S.P.
17. Obituaries and memorials – extended family
Box 3 - Education 1906 – 1917
1. St. George’s School, 1906 – 1907
2. Hotchkiss School, 1909 – 1910
3. Hotchkiss School photographs
4. Young Men’s Christian Association, 1912
5. Correspondence to R.S.P., 1910 – 1914, Yale University
6. Miscellaneous correspondence, brochures, etc., Yale University
7. R.S.P. philosophy essays, Yale University
8. Yale University Commencement, June 1914
9. Yale Class of 1914 reunion, 1939
10. Yale Class of 1914 reunion, 1954
11. Yale-in-China program, 1914 – 1915
12. Letters of recommendation 1916 – 1917
13. Photographs, Yale University
14. University of Chicago Graduate School, 1917
15. Photographs, University of Chicago
16. Gamma Alpha Graduate Scientific Society, 1919 - 1920
Box 4 - Military Service 1917 – 1918
1. Correspondence: R.S.P. to parents from Fort Sheridan, September – November,1917
2. Correspondence: to R. S. P. at Fort Sheridan
3. Correspondence: R.S.P. to parents from Camp Grant, 1918
4. Correspondence: to R.S.P. at Camp Grant
5. Newspaper (University of Chicago and Chicago city) articles, 1917
6. Fort Sheridan, Illinois 1917
7. Fort Sheridan reunion, 1937
8. Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois
9. Camp Sheridan, Alabama
10. Camp Kearny, California
11. Military topography instruction materials
12. Military photographs and portraits
13. University of Chicago R.O.T.C., 1917
14. Officers’ Reserve Corps, 1919
15. Miscellaneous military materials
Box 5 - Travels; Clippings and Memorabilia – Family
1. “My Trip Abroad” – 1913
2. Travel 1913 – postcards
3. (a) Japan, July – September 1913
4. Travel, 1935 – 1936, South America
6. Family cards and memorabilia and two albums of photographs from travels, 1913
Box 6 - Teaching Assignments; Professional Organizations
1.University of Chicago 1920 – 1940
2.University of Chicago 1937 – 1941: dinners; academic programs
3. University of Chicago Department of Geography, 1953
4. University of Chicago 1920 – 1940: miscellaneous events and publications
5. The Ohio State University 1961
6. Geographers’ organizations 1926 - 1939
7. Science organizations 1921 – 1940
8. Correspondence 1926 – 1942: professional
9. Clippings: career
Box 7 - Writings and Publications
1. “Being a Geographer,” c. 1946
2. “Determinism in Geography,” 1948
3. “Around the World in 47 Years,” University of Chicago Alumni reunion 1962
4. Annals...Association of American Geographers, R.S.P., ed. 1963
5. “Journey Through Russia,” 1914
6. “Your Grandpa,” 1929; “Your Grandma,” 1930 [letters to his children re: his parents]
7. “Petrified Religion,” 1938
8. “This Sunday morning…” March, 1945 [letter explicating the meaning of war]
9. “My Religious Exposure,” 1954
10. Handwritten notes on lectures and readings
11. Transcriptions of letters of/to Rutherford Platt (b.1894 d.1975)
12. Transcriptions of articles by Rutherford Platt (b.1894 d.1975)
13. Transcriptions of letters of Rutherford Platt, Jr., 1962 – 1963
Box 8 - Correspondence and Photograph Albums
1. Correspondence related to photograph albums, Europe, 1904
2. Paper-bound photograph album, Europe, 1904
3. Album 1 1904
Box 9 - Scrapbooks and Publications
-Scrapbooks - pressed flowers and plants, school work, etc.
-Publications: See Ohio First, c. 1915; The Ohio Indians, 1909
-University of Michigan: Institute of Latin American Studies 1939
-Guide to the Local History of Fremont, Ohio, 1905
-A Long Journey: The Story of Daniel Hayes, 1978: reprint of 1876 edition
-“Columbus and Xenia Railroad Company Report to Stockholders, March 1923” 
-“A Christmas Sheaf,” by Lucy Elliot Keeler, published in Scribner’s Magazine
-Evolution – a Lecture, 1886
Box 10 - Scrapbook