The University of Toledo has collected archival material relating to the university from administrators, faculty members, students, alumni, and other individuals associated with the university since the establishment of the library in 1917. Manuscripts collections, ranging from fifteenth century incunabula to twentieth century organizational records, have been accumulated since 1929. A department of continual growth, Rare Books, Special Collections, and Archives moved to its current location on the fifth floor of the William S. Carlson Library in 1979. The move was made possible by Mrs. Doreen Canaday Spitzer of Princeton, New Jersey who, on September 22, 1977, gave the university a gift of $226,000 to be used to create a research center for the study of rare books and special collections as a tribute to her father, former chief executive officer of the Willys-Overland Corporation and long-time president of the Friends of the University of Toledo Libraries, Ward M. Canaday.
Ward Murphy Canaday, often known as "the father of the Jeep", was a longtime member of the Toledo community and a benefactor for the University. Educated at Harvard, he began his career revolutionizing the kitchen cabinet industry, creating consumer credit plans for cabinet purchases that he would later use as a model for automobile credit plans. He joined the Willys-Overland company in 1916, rising to become Chairman of the Board and President of the company. One of the most important successes of Canaday's reign at Willys-Overland was the creation of the Willys MB, the vehicle that would later gain the moniker of Jeep and would be called "America's greatest contribution to modern warfare" by General George C. Marshall.
Canaday branched out into government service, playing an active role in the passage of the National Housing Act of 1933, as well as serving as the Co-Chairman of the Caribbean Commission from 1948 to 1952. Internationally, Canaday received the Grand Cross, Order of the Phoenix from the Greek government; was named an honorary citizen of the city of Athens; and served as the Chairman of the Board for the American School of Classical Studies in Greece. (For more information about the life of Ward M. Canaday, please see manuscript collection MSS-072, found under the subject headings Business and Commerce, and Civic Interests, to the right.)
The Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections was formally dedicated on September 26, 1979 and has happily served the University of Toledo and City of Toledo communities since.