Sorting out the TILTONS,
Uncovering the truth
about the VICTOR,
frankly giving up on KIDDER
and tasting the
magic mushroom of STOVER
A Magical Mystery
Tour of TypewritersIt’s amazing the things one finds when one isn’t really looking for them. Take today, for example. I set out to find as much as I could about one Charles E. Tilton, of Worcester, Massachusetts. On this day in 1889, Tilton had been issued with a patent for what typewriter historian and author Michael Adler described in Antique Typewriters (1997) as a “linear plunger .. with index and indicator ... with inking by ribbon”.
Initially I had hoped the Charles E. Tilton would turn out to be Charles Elliott Tilton, of Tilton, New Hampshire, since there is a lot to be written about this particular Charles E. Tilton, and that would have made my life so much easier. Maybe Charles Elliott Tilton (below) spend some time in the late 1880s in Worcester? And how good would it be to have a typewriter inventor living in a town he named himself, in his family’s honour?
No such luck, I’m afraid. But, then, since this Tilton died in 1901 as “One of the most prominent and wealthy men in Northern New Hampshire” (with “a fortune estimated at several million dollars”, according to The New York Times) I guess it was wishful thinking on my part. Anyone who had returned to the US from the goldfields of California, South Africa and “the [West] Indies” with wealth in great store would probably have felt no need to invent a typewriter – unless it had become some sort of rich man’s passion.
But this Charles E. Tilton was no risk taker. When he went to California, it wasn’t to get his hands dirty in the diggings, it was to run a family hardware business and make as much money as he could from the blood, sweat and whatever pickings a bunch of Vermont gold-seekers could lay their hands on. Anyway, having explored the Amazon and Orinoco, run banks (in Salem, Portland and Walla-Walla, among other places), and railways and textile mills (in Tilton), and having bought up every square inch of land in his home town, inventing typewriters would have seemed pretty tame fare for this Charles E.Tilton.
At best there might have been a typewriter in his mansion: perhaps in the two-storey drawing room, lined as it was with 7500 feet of South American mahogany. And Charles Elliott Tilton might have used it as he peered out at his hilltop arch, the only one of its kind in the whole of the United States of America, built to the proportions of the Arch of Titus in Rome, rising 55 feet from a 40-foot wide granite base, beside a tomb topped by a 40-ton Numidian lion carved from Scotch granite.
No, our typewriter inventor wasn’t Charles Elliott Tilton, industrialist and patron.
It was Charles Emery Tilton, of Leominster, Worcester, Massachusetts, a man of much more modest means. Born in Conway, Massachusetts, in September 1851, our typewriter inventing Charles E. Tilton started work doing what the Tiltons of Leominster, Massachusetts, all seemed to earn a living doing: making and selling horn combs and jewelry.
This Charles E. Tilton at first worked as a clerk in the business owned by his father Emery and uncle Edward Tilton. The Tilton and Cook building is in use to this day, as home to a cooperative.
Father and son Tilton were men of many parts. Emery Tilton was also a tax collector, railway operator and superintendent of the water works, while Charles went on to have a variety of jobs, including watchmaker, spectacles maker and bookkeeper. He no doubt longed to escape this type of hum-drum existence by making a living from typewriters.
Yet again, no such luck. Charles’s little linear plunger (above), though assigned to the Tilton Manufacturing Company, then of Portland, Maine, does not appear to have gone into production. Charles died on January 17, 1902, having failed to achieve either fame or fortune through typewriters - or horn combs, for that matter.
But here’s the rub: Tilton Manufacturing Company? Now there’s a name that seems to come up quite a bit in early typewriter manufacturing history. Any connection with the Charles Emery Tilton? Hardly. But the possibly that it was established by the other Charles E. Tilton, Charles Elliott Tilton of Tilton, must surely be very distinct (though being a namesake obviously did Charles of Leominster no good at all). After all, Charles Elliott Tilton was one of the richest men in the region. And it is known that he “also invested large sums of money in real estate and business enterprises”.
Having settled on which Charles E. Tilton was which, I continued my researches, this time directing my attention to the Tilton Manufacturing Company.
Lo and behold, up pops a patent, dated August 20, 1889, just one week after the Charles E.Tilton typewriter patent was issued. And this one is also assigned to the Tilton Manufacturing Company. But it’s for the Victor index typewriter.
And when I check this patent against the various typewriter reference works, I find there’s a problem, Houston. The books give the inventors of the Victor as Joseph A. White and Frederick D.Taylor, but on the patent these two gentleman are merely the witnesses, not the inventors.
The real inventor of the Victor is one Arthur Irving Jacobs, of Hartford, Connecticut (born August 1858, died 1918).
And now we do have a story: not only are the history books wrong (White and Taylor jointly patented no typewriters in the United States, in 1889 nor at any other time) but there’s a great story in Mr Jacobs. This is the man, after all, who turned the drill chuck into the drill chuck we know all and use today, as well as patenting many other things:
The Jacobs Chuck company (which, like Tilton and Cook building in Leominster, Massachusetts, still exists) is proud to say of its founder, “Arthur Irving Jacobs was never one for leaving things alone. He was always improving them - continually coming up with new ways of working and new gadgets to do the work. Before he was 30, A.I., as he was known, had perfected a new method for making bicycle spokes and chains, plus many other manufacturing advancements.
“On one particular occasion, he was working with an old style drill press, trying to hold the belt control with one hand and applying the spanner wrench to the other. The wrench slipped and he badly battered his knuckles. A.I. knew there had to be a better way. In a matter of days, he had developed the first drill chuck with a toothed sleeve and key. A few months later, he founded what would become the Jacobs Chuck Manufacturing Company. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Yes, and history is ever evolving, and forever being updated and corrected, as we now discover in terms of the Victor index typewriter. Thus finally Arthur Irving Jacobs gets his rightful due as this famous typewriter’s creator. Yet again we can blame A Condensed History of the Writing Machine (1923) for sending typewriter historians down (almost entirely) the wrong path.
There may be an excusable reason for this oversight, nonetheless. Taylor and White did patent this typewriter under their own names, as assignees, in Britain and in Canada (August 6, 1889), each in the fortnight before the US patent was issued. This may explain the second patent date of August 13, 1889, on the front of the Victor; but only one patent was ever issued for it in the US, the one clearly stating Jacobs was the inventor.
And Jacobs, after all, unlike businessman Fred Taylor, was an established inventor of machinery. He had applied for the patent in October 1888.
But wait, there’s more to all this: Far be it for me to suggest Joseph A. White of Boston didn’t have anything to do with typewriter designing.
Wellington Parker Kidder, as well we all know, invented the Franklin typewriter. Indeed, Kidder applied for a patent for the Franklin on this day in 1889 (what a day for typewriters August 13, 1889, turns out to be!). Kidder assigned this to Tilton Manufacturing as well.
Like the Victor index, the Franklin was at first made by our old friends at the Tilton Manufacturing plant, in Boston. However, in 1907, the task of making the Franklin was moved to … yes, you guessed it: the Victor Manufacturing Company, of New York! It was from this plant that a conventional Victor frontstroke typewriter would emerge later that same year.
Now, A Condensed History of the Writing Machine says the Franklin Typewriter Company of New York was established in 1892. It claims the last model of the Franklin, the No 10, or New Franklin, of 1904, was “the work of Mr Kidder in affiliation with Walter J. Barron, formerly of the Remington and Caligraph [and James Densmore’s stepson].
Yet on January 12, 1897, an unassigned patent for an improved Franklin, with the ribbon spools in the front of the carriage, was issued to none other than Joseph A. White, of Boston.
At this point I gave up on the Victor-Franklin Jacobs-White-Taylor paper chase. As Paul Lippman wrote in American Typewriters in 1991, “The model designations of the Franklin are rather confusing, but extensive research by Richard E. Dickerson establishes five main types appearing from 1891 through 1904.” Lippman says the No 9, which appeared in 1904, differed in that “its ribbon spools were no longer on the right side of the machine’s body and projecting above the carriage, but were concealed within the machine”.
Wim Van Rompuy CollectionWell, take a close look at the 1897 White design above: the ribbon spools are front, centre and unconcealed. So is this the 1898 Franklin, or the 1904 one? And how come White was designing it, in between Kidder improvements?
All too much for me, all too complicated. And here was me hoping for an easy night! Ah, the joys of trying to unravel the mysteries of typewriter history on a chilly Canberra Saturday!
Far better to move on to yet another typewriter patent (above) issued on this day in 1889, to prolific mechanical inventor Daniel Carroll Stover, of Freeport, Illinois.
By coincidence, we touched on Mr Stover in yesterday’s post, about the true heritage of the IBM Selectric. A 1891 patent from Stover was one of those to which IBM engineer Horace Smart “Bud” Beattie referred in his application for a patent for his ”high speed printing mechanism”, or the “mushroom printer” which became the golfball.
Oddly enough, Stover once had a workshop on Walnut Street in Freeport (IBM had originally nicknamed the golfball the “flying walnut”).
It’s even more odd that IBM did not also cite this 1889 Stover patent, because it more clearly shows the distinct likeness between Stover’s single type element and the one Beattie claimed to have invented, having allegedly been inspired by the “shape of a light bulb” he replaced.
Daniel Carroll Stover is another fascinating character. He was born near Greencastle, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on May 9, 1839, the second youngest of 12 children of farmer Jacob Price Stover and his wife Elizabeth Emmert Stover.
“Even when a small child, the spectacle of wheels in motion had for him a remarkable fascination.” Daniel’s father once told the Reverend David Long "that he feared Dan would never amount to anything; he is not satisfied to work like others, but is all the time trying to improve or find some easier way of doing the work.
“It is a pity he was not born in my time, for then there was use for this disposition, but now everything is invented that can be of any use, so there is nothing further to be done."
“But,” wrote Daniel's biographer,“[Daniel’s] disposition to invent was like Caesar's ghost, it would not lie down, and from that day to this his happiest moments are when he is inventing something new … If the old adage, ‘He that causes two blades of grass to grow where but one grew formerly is a public benefactor’ is true, then Mr Stover has his reward.”
Like Charles Elliott Tilton, as a young man Stover travelled to the Californian gold fields in search of his fortune. He returned to Illinois in 1864, first setting himself up in Lanark, then two years later moving to Freeport, where began to make corn cultivators, barbed wire fencing, wire door-matting and windmills. Stover became the largest windmill manufacturer in the world, and some of his windmills were sold in Australia in the early 1880s.
Stover invented and manufactured machinery of various kinds under the name Stover Experimental Works. In 1879 he incorporated this as the Stover Manufacturing Company, and over time divided it into 11 different manufacturing companies. These included the Stover Engine Works, the Stover Bicycle Company (to make the “Phoenix”, one of the six leading standard bikes in the US), the Stover Steel Tank Company and Stover Novelty Works, the last of which specialised in small drill presses. Stover’s product line leaned toward farm-related products, such as windmills, drag saws, portable sawmills, water tanks and pumps, drive heads and points, pipe fittings and cutters, and rotary feed grinders and stock tanks. Among his 100 or so patents, he held rights to such diverse items as coal chutes, hinges, pulleys, windmills, mixers, poker and clinker tongs, mops and cylinder sleeves. Stover became a supplier to Sears and Roebuck, most notably of gasoline engines and windmills.
Between 1888-1891, Stover put his hand to inventing a Stover typewriter, but apparently did not meet with the same success that he had with farm implements and engines.
In terms of them both being set up for subsequent lives of wealth and comfort with fortunes made as young men on the Californian goldfields, there are interesting comparisons to be made between Charles Elliott Tilton, with whom we started today’s post, and Daniel Carroll Stover, with whom we end.
Like Tilton in New Hampshire, Stover became known as the richest man in Freeport. Stover’s home on Stephenson Street, Freeport, however, was far less ostentatious than Tilton’s monstrosity in Tilton (above). Still, it was set “in the midst of beautiful grounds, with a fine lawn in front, ornamented with choice shrubs and shade-trees. The building is of brick, two stories in height, finished and furnished in modern style and indicating within and without the cultivated taste and ample means of the owner.”
While at his mansion in Tilton, Charles Elliott Tilton entertained Civil War Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, and President Benjamin Harrison, in Freeport Stover “and his estimable wife entertain in a hospitable manner a large circle of friends, composed of the refined and cultivated people of Freeport and vicinity”.
Like Tilton in Tilton, Stover had a large monolith built in Freeport to mark his grave site (Stover's above).
But Tilton left his heirs well placed. But when Stover died, on January 17, 1908, it was found he had cut his son and daughter from his will and dictated that the will could not be probated until both children were dead. He was "not satisfied with his son's business ability or application" and his daughter had eloped with her local sweetheart at 17. Stover’s grandchildren had to wait until 1967, when they were in their 60s and 70s, to collect the huge estate.
Stover advertising card
One last mention of mysteries: The "Man of Mystery", British-born film director Alfred Hitchcock, was born Alfred Joseph Hitchcock in Leytonstone, London, on this day in 1899. He died, aged 80, in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on April 29, 1980. Hitchcock pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres.