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W.E. Manis Collection

Identifier: MS Group 143

Scope and Content

The collection consists of two scrapbook albums, dating from November 1939 to November 1941. Materials included begin chronologically with business correspondence by telegram and regular mail relating to his job offer and contract with Firestone Plantations Co., as well as a handful of personal letters prior to his travel, letters offering travel advice for living in the tropics, company manuals and policies, and personal photographs. A 22-page transcribed letter that he wrote to his mother, Mrs. Elsa Magni [his mother's name after remarriage], and his sister, Beth, soon after arriving in Monrovia is also included.

Several examples of informal typescript pamphlets from the company's Overseas Club recreational organization are included (excerpts from several newsletters, a play script, entertainment programs, etc.). Ephemera, mementos and scrapbook items include a small number of manuscript notes or letters from Liberian laborers under his supervision, offering a glimpse of the personal relationships established in the context of this global horticultural and industrial enterprise. Another example, rare in library collections, is a small pamphlet on Kroo (Kru) ethnic history published in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Other examples include two Bank of Monrovia checks with revenue stamps, luggage tags with a customs stamp and the S.S. Acadia ship's menu for Thanksgiving dinner. An official letter on company letterhead confirms to Mrs. Magni the departure of her son on Nov. 7, 1941. A Playbill and program for Olsen and Johnson's New Hellzapoppin revue represent the collector's arrival in New York during November 1941.

The photographs are a rich source of visual information, but captions were not included. Descriptive information has been interpreted from the photographs themselves, from a letter written by Manis to his family in Montana (1940), from interviews with Manis and other knowledgeable persons, and from various reference sources. Subjects include scenes encountered and people met on the trans-Atlantic freighter S.S. Cathlamet (December 2-24, 1939), upon Manis's arrival in Monrovia on Christmas Eve Day, during his establishment as a staff member on the Firestone plantation, through his work and recreational activities while working there, and finally at his departure back to New York on November 7, 1941.

Approximately 48 prints are of Americans (ship passengers, plantation staff). About 112 prints depict Africans (primarily Liberians, either as plantation laborers or depicted in a variety of village-based activities such as cooking, construction, childrearing, but also as marketers, craftspeople, and celebrants in several kinds of ceremonial activities). Approximately 64 prints depict plantation or urban landscapes (Monrovia, [Harbel?], [Kakata?]) and a few residential interiors (the latter are presumably of Manis's bungalow, including the masks that served as its decor).

The majority of the photographs are of Liberian men, women and children at work or posing for the camera. Manis himself appears in a few of the photos. He identifies the primary Liberian ethnic groups with which he worked as Gio (who call themselves Dan), Mono (Mano, Ma) and Bassa. The Bassa people are Kruan speakers, like the Kru, while the Dan and Ma people are Mande speakers, as are the Mendingo (Manding), who Manis points out are mostly traders in this area.


  • 1939-1941



The collection is open for research, with access restriction applied only for a Firestone Plantations Company employee handbook ("General information for the information and guidance of staff and families of Firestone Plantations Company and affiliated companies in Liberia." June 15, 1941). Users with legitimate research interests should contact the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections to apply for research access to this item. This item may be quoted and cited, but it may not be reproduced until further notice. Patrons seeking access to the item must sign a copy of a restriction statement, confirming that they have read and understood the restrictions, and that they intend to comply with these terms.

Biographical/Historical Note

Wallace Eugene ("Gene") Manis was born in Lewiston, Montana on May 20, 1913. He attributed his interest in international travel to the stamp collection hobby that his stepfather, Carl E. Magni, shared with him. He became interested in a career in science by volunteering at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton. He studied horticulture at the University of Montana, earning an AB degree in 1935 and completing a Master's (AM) degree at the University of Michigan in 1936.

Manis was working in the doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin School of Forestry when Firestone Plantations Co. offered him a position in November 1939. He accepted the position of Rubber Planter in the Research Department of Firestone Plantations Co. and traveled to Monrovia, Liberia on a freighter in December 1939. He returned to the US in November 1941.

His subsequent career included employment with several other commercial rubber interests as well as with the USDA in Brazil (1942-43), as a pathologist with the US-Costa Rican Cooperative Rubber Plant Program (1943-44) and in Uraba, Colombia (1944-46). He was in charge of the US-Costa Rican Cooperative Rubber Plant Experiment Sub-Station (1947-54) and was a hybrid seed and ornamental plant producer with Linda Vista, Ltd. in Costa Rica (1955-57). He was a plant breeder with the Rubber Research Institute and with USAID in Ceylon (1958-60).

He returned to Africa as rubber research officer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Western Nigeria and with USAID (1961-63). His professional service continued as a research horticulturist in charge of the US plant introduction station, New Crops Research Bureau (1964-73) and as Agricultural Research Officer with the International Programs Division, Agricultural Research Service of the USDA (1974-77). He was a consultant to the UN in Thailand and Burma in 1973, where he worked with the United Nations Program for Drug Abuse Control in Chiang Mai.

A member of the Society for Economic Botany, he held concurrent positions as Adjunct Associate Professor (1966) and as Adjunct Professor with the University of Miami (1967-77). He and his wife, Rosemary, moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1977, and he died the following year.


0.5 Linear feet (2 albums)

Language of Materials



Includes photographic prints, letters and ephemera collected or created by W. E. Manis. The collection pertains to the collector's life and work as a Rubber Planter and later in change of the research department of Firestone Plantations Co. in Liberia, West Africa (1940-41). Manis took the photographs and selected items for inclusion in the two scrapbook albums that constitute this gift, complete in 80 pages of 224 black and white photographs, with about 133 sheets of mostly unpublished typescript letters, manuscripts, mimeos and telegrams.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The W. E. Manis Collection was donated by Will and Jean Manis of Sammamish, Washington in June 2003. The collection was acquired through the assistance of Rosemary Manis, Robin Poynor, Susan Cooksey and Dan Reboussin.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of the photos and documents in the W.E. Manis albums are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) Africana Collection. Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company's archives are held at the University of Akron, where access may be restricted. For more information on the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company's official corporate archives, please contact: John V. Miller, Director of Archival Services, The University of Akron University Libraries, Polsky Building, 225 South Main Street, Room LL10, Akron, OH 44325-1702, (330) 972-7670

In addition, a portion of the Akron archives was photocopied with permission and deposited as a part of the Liberian Collections Project at Indiana University's Archives of Traditional Music. Information on these materials, identified as the Svend E. Holsoe Collection, is available at: (e-mail:

W.E. Manis and his wife, Rosemary, donated several important art objects from Liberia to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, including a Deangle masquerade ensemble pictured in the field at the time of its acquisition.

Processing Information

These materials were described in 2003 by Dan Reboussin. The following individuals provided assistance in administrative matters and descriptive work: Susan Cooksey, Svend Holsoe, Mandelyn Hutcherson, Erich Kesse, Fredline McCormack, Rosemary and Will Manis, John V. Miller, John Nemmers, Tim Nevin and Robin Poynor.

A Guide to the W.E. Manis Collection
Finding aid prepared by Daniel A. Reboussin
August 2004
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America