Richard T. Crane was born on August 12, 1882 in Denver, Colorado, the son of Charles R. Crane and Cornelia W. Smith. His grandfather was richard Teller Crane who founded the Crane Company of Chicago in 1855. Although his father, Charles Crane, had been formally educated only to the age of fourteen, he became one of the most cultured men of his generation. He is most known publicly for the Crane-King report which he co-authored and for his years as American ambassador to China (1920-1922). An unusually vital and active family, the Crane family correspondence figures extensively in the collection.
Richard Crane attended Lawrenceville Preparatory School and received his A.B. degree from Harvard in 1904. After graduation, he went with the Crane Company, where his father was president. In 1905 he became vice-president of Eaton, Cole and Burnham Co., which merged with the Crane Co. in 1910. Crane remained president of the new Crane Valve Co. until 1914. When he resigned in August, 1914, he entered the congressional race in Chicago as a Progressive Candidate for the ninth district. In his own words he "finished a close third."
In July, 1915, he was offered a position as the private secretary to the Secretary of State, Robert Lansing. The years he spent in the State Department were some of the most crucial in U.S. history. It was during this time that America's diplomacy developed into that of a world power. The papers in this first series reflect the broadening sphere of our foreign interests. The official State Department memoranda are particularly numerous in respect to Russia and Eastern Europe.
In April, 1919, Richard Crane was appointed by Wilson as the first American ambassador to Czechoslovakia. For the next two years he was stationed in Prague, at a time when the republic was just forming. Crane had previously known Thomas G. Masaryk, the president of Czechoslovakia, when he held the chair of Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago. The chair had been founded by Charles Crane. Richard strengthened his friendship with Masaryk during the latter's stay in Washington in 1918. While in Prague Richard and his father purchased the palace which had previously served as the residence of the Archbishop of Prague. Crane's term as an ambassador ended in 1921. During this period in the Department, there was some question in the minds of many in the diplomatic corps whether their posts were political or based on their service record. After much personal debate, Crane finally decided to submit his resignation to Harding in 1921, as had been common practice when a new administration took over in Washington. His resignation was accepted, thus ending Crane's diplomatic career.
While still in Prague, Crane purchased Westover Plantation on the James River in Virginia. The estate was originally built by William Byrd in 1730 and has thus remained a virtual shrine in Virginia. As thoroughly as he had dedicated himself to the diplomatic service, Crane now turned his energies toward an active civil and social life in Virginia. He was a member of the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce during its formative years. He was also involved in highway safety legislation during its embryonic stages of development. A great deal of time and energy was spent as a commissioner of game and inland fisheries. Crane attempted to promote a concept of game propagation based on a European model which would fit game management into an existing agricultural system of production. Based on a strong interest in music and the arts, Crane accepted the role of president of the Virginia Choral festival which was held each year in Richmond.
The management of Westover was both involved and costly. The difficulties in keeping up a house which was built in the eighteenth century are obvious, but the severe effect of the Great Depression years made the normal requirements more difficult. Nevertheless the family was able to keep the estate and tried to entertain in the best tradition of Southern hospitality despite the heavy economic burdens. In the thirties Crane became interested in a system developed by Ralph Bsordi. It was based on the School of the Living project in Suffern, New York. If successfully applied to Westover, the estate would become a totally self-sufficient unit in all respects.
Despite his involvement in Virginia, Crane kept his interests in foreign affairs and national politics. In 1926 he was awarded the Czechoslovakian Great Cross of the White Lion by President Masaryk. In 1929 he was likewise awarded the rank of Grand Officer in the Polonia Restituta from Poland. crane was also a member of the Institute for Current World Affairs, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the Foreign Policy Association. He maintained an active role in national politics, serving several times as a Democratic delegate to national conventions. Although his attitude changed in later years, Crane had actively supported Roosevelt whome he had known for many years.
Equally represented in the collection are the papers of Ellen Bruce Crane, whom Richard married on September 22, 1909. Ellen Bruce had grown up on Berry Hill Plantation in South Boston, Virginia. Typical of many Virginians, Ellen's fmaily could be traced back through the history of the state and colony. Her ties with her family and other prominent Virginians remained strong throughout her life. Despite this fact, her correspondence is not parochial, but is diversified and cosmopolitan. After Richard's death in 1938, Ellen Crane continued to live at Westover until her death.