Librarian Horace Wilson, Baseball Hall of Famer | Mechanics' Institute

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Librarian Horace Wilson, Baseball Hall of Famer

Due to the coronavirus, baseball season and just about everything else, is understandably delayed; but every year about this time I am reminded of a “curious incident” that took place some years ago.

It was a typical day at the Reference Desk at the Mechanics’ Institute in March 2013 when a young man, clad in a slim, dark suit knocked on the door of the 3rd floor. I opened the door and loudly said “Hi!”

Slightly taken aback, the man asked in a tentative voice, “Have you heard of Horace Wilson?” 

“Of course I have,” I replied incredulously, “How do YOU know about him?” (Let me add that Horace Wilson died almost 100 years ago).

Taku Chinone, a librarian himself from Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum patiently began to explain. He was here to see the World Baseball Classic Championship (2013) and he was here to see the place where his hero, Hall of Famer Horace Wilson, worked for sixteen years. I was shocked, my Horace Wilson, the Mechanics’ Institute librarian was a Hall of Famer?

The answer was YES. Baseball is a national obsession in Japan, perhaps even more so than in the U.S. Wilson was inducted into the Tokyo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 because he is credited with bringing the sport of baseball to Japan.   

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 Head Librarian at the Mechanics’ Institute from 1878 to 1894 and later he became a trustee. During his life he was a teacher, a bookkeeper, 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.

His time as Librarian was largely uneventful according to Annual Reports of the Mechanics' Institute but 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 also a cultured and fascinating person 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. Horace Wilson died in 1927 - gone from this earth but not forgotten!

Taku Chinone and I are still in touch, exchanging emails occasionally and he infallibly sends me paper announcements, all the way from Japan, about the goings on at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Tokyo. 

More information about Horace Wilson and as told by his descendants who were treated to a trip to Tokyo for Wilson's induction into the Hall of Fame is available here

Images provided by the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, WIkimedia Commons, and Open SF History


Posted on Mar. 26, 2020 by Taryn Edwards