Tracy W. McGregor examining one of his books, ca. 1932.

Tracy W. McGregor examining one of his books, ca. 1932.  (MSS 11263-k)


Books played a central role in Tracy W. McGregor’s life. Believing that reading “strengthens the mind and procures intellectual health,” McGregor was an inveterate reader—especially of history and poetry—and encouraged the same of the men at his Detroit mission. He began to build a large personal library after World War I. A private tour of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan in 1925 changed everything—from that moment McGregor focused on forming a world-class collection of rare Americana, and a representative collection of rare English literature.

Over the next decade McGregor devoted long hours to reading catalogs, considering bookseller offers, and recording his acquisitions. In 1931 McGregor hired several staff to assist with the library, then several thousand volumes strong, allowing him to increase his buying. The opportunities were extraordinary: the Depression had drastically lowered prices and brought many exceptional rarities to market. With the advice and assistance of several trusted booksellers and librarians, McGregor rapidly acquired many classic works that are now all but impossible to obtain.

McGregor always collected with philanthropy in mind. By 1930 he decided that his collection would ultimately go to a deserving Southern university whose library lacked the resources of a Harvard or Yale. In 1933 he partnered with the American Historical Association to fund the innovative McGregor Plan, which strengthened American history collections in sixteen college libraries. Until its disbandment in 1943, the Plan helped such institutions as Mount Holyoke, Dartmouth, Emory, and William and Mary to augment their rare Americana holdings.