ROBERT HAWLEY INGERSOLL
AND HIS MIGHTY DOLLARNext time you see a child playing with some decorated blocks, you use a metal pencil or perhaps a label maker, you draw a circle with a compass, you check your watch, you shave, you open your key wallet and see how secure your keys are on their rings … or you use a typewriter … think of Robert Hawley Ingersoll.
Ingersoll had his hand in designing all of these things. But whereas toy blocks, metal pencils, pencil compasses, watches, sharp razors, key wallets and key rings are all the very common sorts of things we might see or use on any average day, the kind of typewriters Ingersoll devised are unlikely to ever come within our reach.
Ingersoll typewriters are as scarce as hen’s teeth. And that’s why collectors with plenty of spare cash covet them so earnestly. If their money wasn’t enough, they’d probably offer up an arm or a leg.
What makes all that rather poignant is that Robert Hawley Ingersoll went to his New York grave, on September 4, 1928, a sick and broken man. He’d gone bankrupt in 1921, his wife had left him and taken up with another man in the same year, and then just one week before Robert’s 67th birthday, she shot her lover and killed herself.
In the aftermath of this Christmas 1926 tragedy, The New York Times was to call Ingersoll “aged and infirm”, a “most pathetic figure”, a “bent and white-haired old man, walking heavily with canes ...”
For all that, his name lives on, in watches still being marketed under his name, and in the small world of typewriter collecting, by people who salute the ingenuity of his cheap, “primitive” yet greatly desired little typewriters.
George Carl Mares was impolite enough to say in his 1909 The History of the Typewriter that the Ingersoll was "beneath notice".
Eighty-one years later, when rusty, musty old Ingersolls began to be unearthed in the US, and collector, historian and author Darryl Rehr began to write about them in ETCetera (issues of December 1990, September 1991, September 1992 and June 1997), the typewriter collecting world suddenly sat up and took real notice.
But ranking first and foremost among Robert Ingersoll's tiny giants is the mighty Dollar, also known as the Yankee, Eureka and the Wilson.
Ingersoll was issued with a patent for the Dollar on this day in 1892.
In his patent application of January 24, 1891, Ingersoll set out his objectives as, “the provision of a centrally-pivoted carriage, the forward arm carrying a typewheel and the rear piece being provided with a feed-pawl … the whole being simple in construction, inexpensive in manufacture, and efficient in practical use”.
This was one of many of Robert Ingersoll’s inventions, which range to a $35 bicycle (below) and a cheap sewing machine.
His designs should possibly include at least one other typewriter.
I say “at least” because one of his earliest inventions, for which he jointly applied for a patent with fellow New Yorker Philip B. Henry in May 1885 (below), has never been suggested as a typewriter by earlier historians.
The patent described it as a “Rotary hand numbering and printing machine”, but it was definitely the forerunner of Ingersoll’s later typewriter designs, indeed of many other small, cheap index typewriters. Like them, it is what we might today call a label maker.
Ingersoll’s first patent was for toy blocks, in 1883 (above), which perhaps led to him being called a toy maker by some sources. It was at the time this patent was issued that this branch of the Ingersoll family had become mired in a major public controversy for the first time.
Robert H. Ingersoll’s older brother Howard Smith Ingersoll, who lived at 9 Jay Street, Brooklyn, ran a successful rubber stamp making business at 9 Barclay Street, Manhattan, close to Broadway and near where the World Trade Centre now stands (Underwood had its headquarters close by on the parallel Vesey Street).
In December 1880, Howard Ingersoll became one of a number of wealthy New York citizens who were the victims of a blackmailing scheme by a notorious young woman called Ellen May Stanley. The blackmailer, who claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of an English earl and the survivor of a shipwreck, used standover men and allegations of being molested to try to get money from various noted New Yorkers – including lawyers, brokers, clergymen and businessmen.
After rejecting an effort to extract $500 from him, and being subjected to a red pepper attack in the street outside his business by Stanley and her cohorts, Howard Ingersoll spent a vast amount of time and money tracking down Stanley’s life story, and pursuing her in court. Some of the more salacious claims which emerged from the case were published in the New York Sun and republished in the New York Illustrated Times.
In 1883, Howard Ingersoll claimed the publicity had cost him $15,000 in lost business in the previous year. He then sued the Sun and the Illustrated News for $90,000 each for libel. Stanley was fined and jailed, but it seems the whole affair ruined Howard Ingersoll. He apparently suicided, aged 49, on August 27, 1892.
Robert Ingersoll became the administrator of his deceased brother’s estate and business. Howard had applied for a patent for a hand stamping device in 1888 and it which was issued to Robert in June 1894.
This device (above), coupled with the handheld printing device Robert Ingersoll himself patented with Philip Henry in 1886, point us to the most famous of Ingersoll’s typewriters, the one known as the Ingersoll but which was also marketed under many other names, including Domestic and Nassan.
However, as with the cheap watches and cheap cameras that would later make Robert Ingersoll and his younger brother Charles Henry Ingersoll (above) world famous, there appears to be no evidence that the Ingersolls actually designed this typewriter.
The Ingersoll’s dollar watch, below, was in fact invented by Archibald Bannatyne, named Jumbo after the famous P. T. Barnum elephant, and made by Waterbury.
Paul Robert, in the marvellous book he edited and published in 2007, The Typewriter Sketchbook, devotes a detailed section to Robert Ingersoll’s life (including the tragedy concerning his wife) and his typewriters.
Paul suggests the Ingersoll may have started life in 1884 as the Universal, also known as the Simplex. This advertisement for the Universal-Simplex appeared in a New Zealand newspaper in November 1887.
But in this British advertisement from the same period, it would seem the Universal-Simplex is in fact what we call the Dollar typewriter:
Paul Robert, however, is convinced the Universal-Ingersoll is a New York-made machine.
My own researches reveal it is highly likely the Ingersoll typewriter design is a simplified modification of a design which was patented in 1883 by Warren Raymond Perce, of Providence, Rhode Island. As well, Charles Spiro was toying with similar designs in the same period.
Putting to one side the degree of excitement elicited among collectors by the Ingersoll typewriter, the clear evidence suggests it is a kind of stamping device and thus is far more closely related to the stamping device designed by Howard Ingersoll, and the tiny printing machine designed by Robert Ingersoll and Philip Henry, than it is to an actual typewriter.
Patented Robert Ingersoll designs which are distinctly for typewriters are for the Dollar-Yankee and for what Paul Robert and others refer to as the Kruse.
The Kruse was the first of the two typewriter patents for which Robert Ingersoll applied (above). He applied for this one on March 28, 1889, and was issued with it on June 3, 1890.
In his specifications, he again stressed his objectives were “the provision of a device simple in construction, cheap in manufacture, and efficient in practical use”.
Robert Hawley Ingersoll was born at Delta Mills, Eaton County, Missouri, the son of Erastus Smith Ingersoll and Cyene Peabody Utley Ingersoll, on December 26, 1859.
He “received little schooling and until he was 20 remained on the family farm. He then traveled east to seek his fortune, farming for a time in Connecticut and then moving to New York City. Within a year there he had accumulated sufficient capital to start a small business of his own, manufacturing and selling rubber stamps.” This last reference possibly relates to Robert taking over his brother Howard’s company.
Whatever the case, Robert Ingersoll quickly got down to business and patented these two cheap items in 1889-1891:
Robert Ingersoll, as president, and Charles Henry Ingersoll (some 10 years Robert’s junior), as secretary, started Robert H. Ingersoll and Brother in 1892.
This, 1892, is the year which still appears on the Timex-owned Ingersoll watch trademark; some sources claim 1882 and others 1891:
In 1908 the Ingersolls took over the Trenton Watch Company, and on November 25, 1914, they acquired the bankrupt New England Watch Company’s factory in Waterbury, Connecticut, for $76,000.
During this period, the Ingersoll brothers were issued with various patents for watch designs of their own. This is one of Robert Ingersoll's designs:
Yet in 1922 the Waterbury Watch Company took over the bankrupt Ingersolls’ company for $1.5 million. The Ingersolls’ headquarters were at 30 Irving Place, near Union Square in New York City and they had a branch in London. Their first watch was the $1 Jumbo, but perhaps their most famous watch was the Mickey Mouse, endorsed by Disney.
A biographical entry on Robert Ingersoll said, “As sales strained the capacity of [the brothers’] Brooklyn factory they added products from other manufacturers to the line, gradually building up a considerable mail-order business [including bicycle parts] and eventually opening a chain of retail outlets. In search of a cheap and large-volume item on which to anchor the enterprise, in 1892 Ingersoll bought 10,000 pin-pallet lever watches from the Waterbury Watch Company at 85c apiece. The following year the Ingersolls sold 85,000 at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition, where they set up a miniature factory so people could see how the watches were made and place their orders."
The watches, selling quickly at a dollar each, proved to be precisely the reliable item Robert Ingersoll was looking for and he contracted for a steady supply of watches, made to his specifications under the name 'Universal'. The name was soon changed to 'Ingersoll' [and in 1895 to ‘Yankee’] to combat competition, and the watch quickly caught on with the public … truly earning the reputation of 'the watch that made the dollar famous'.
Ingersoll Watch Company factory workers, circa 1900 (above).At the time bankruptcy proceedings started against the Ingersoll company in late 1921, the brothers had made 70 million watches, as many as 3.5 million a year, 16,000 a day at a peak in 1916, and were shipping 8000 a day to various places around the world. Theodore Roosevelt is reputed to have said that on a hunting trip in Africa he was described as “the man from the country where Ingersoll was produced”. By 1944, 96 million Ingersoll watches had been sold worldwide.
And yet by May 1921 the Ingersoll brothers owed creditors $2.32 million. Insiders said they had relied too heavily on “street money” instead of long-term credit. The Ingersolls had liabilities of $3 million and assets of $2 million.
Robert Ingersoll married a divorcee, Edith Maria Bannister, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1904. In her apartment at 55 Park Avenue, at about 4pm on Sunday, December 19, 1926, Mrs Ingersoll, then aged 55, used a .32-calibre pistol to shot and kill herself after seriously wounding her lover, Wallace McLean Probasco, 60, the director and general manager of the New Century Color Plate Company (below).
Police found a partially completed note handwritten by Mrs Ingersoll saying, “It has all been much a mistake.”
Probasco, a nephew of the Supreme Court Justice John McLean, was married to Maude Robert Ingersoll, one of the daughters of Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (1833–1899, below), a political leader and orator noted for his defence of agnosticism.
Wallace McLean Probasco and Maud Robert Ingersoll are seen above at their wedding on December 30, 1912. Maud's mother Arabella Sophia McLean Ingersoll is on the right.
"Bob" Ingersoll was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”. Newspaper reports at the time of Howard Ingersoll’s blackmail troubles with Ellen May Stanley said that he was a cousin of Robert Green Ingersoll. Other sources say the two Robert Ingersolls were not related.
Mrs Edith Ingersoll, who had been wrapping and addressing Christmas presents and writing Christmas cards in the hours before the tragedy, was wearing a pink afternoon dress, a white gold wedding ring inset with diamonds and rubies, a $15,000 pearl necklace and a white gold-bound lorgnette when she shot herself through the heart.
55 Park Avenue today (above).Both Robert and Edith Ingersoll, and Wallace and Maude Probasco, had been separated, with Robert Ingersoll moving from 81 Park Avenue into the Pennsylvania Hotel and Probasco living at 38th Street and Lexington, around the corner from Mrs Ingersoll. In September 1925, Mrs Ingersoll had moved into an eight-floor four-room front apartment at 55 Park Avenue, while Mrs Probasco lived with her sister at 72 Irving Place, Gramercy Park. However, the night before the shootings, the Probascos had reconciled.
Wallace Probasco, who was shot four times, in the chest, side and arm, was taken to the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital under a technical homicide charge. He was released two days later after a bedside bail hearing at which a bond was fixed at $12,000.
The New York Times reported that Ingersoll, who for five years had known of his estranged wife’s relationship with Probasco, continued to provide for Edith and occasionally called on her. The Times said he was “aged and infirm” and, after being told by police of his wife’s death, “the most pathetic figure”. The Times quoted Ingersoll as saying, “It’s a sad affair, a terrible affair. She has been my five for 22 years.”
The Times said that Ingersoll, the following day, was “A bent and white-haired old man, walking heavily with canes [who] called at her apartment once more yesterday just after her body had been taken to the city morgue.”
At the time of the tragedy, the Times said Ingersoll, following his company’s 1921 bankruptcy, had “not been active in business for several years”.
Robert Hawley Ingersoll died, aged 68, on September 4, 1928, 20 months after his wife's suicide. He had suffered from Bright's disease (chronic kidney disease) for many years. After his death, a number of patents were issued to attorneys acting on his behalf. These included:
The Robert Ingersoll-designed Pedipoint pencil (above) was made in St Paul, Minnesota, by a company founded in 1922 by William Ingersoll, a nephew of Robert and Charles. William had worked for Robert H. Ingersoll and Brother until its demise, at which time he became president of the Positype Corporation. He later resigned to organise Ingersoll Redipoint.
On this day in 1905, Myles Horton was born near Savannah in West Tennessee.
Horton was an educator, socialist and cofounder of the Highlander Folk School, famous for its role in the Civil Rights Movement (Movement leader James Bevel called Horton “The Father of the Civil Rights Movement”). Horton taught and heavily influenced most of the era's leaders. They included Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks (who studied with Horton shortly before her decision to keep her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955), John Lewis, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, Ralph Abernathy, John B. Thompson, and many others. He died at New Market, Tennessee, on January 19, 1990.