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Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Smartest Deal in Typewriter History - the $35 Million Bargain

In the late Spring of 1909, a group of well-dressed New Yorkers knocked on the door at 186 Greenwood Avenue, Brooklyn. They had an offer for the widow who lived there, 53-year-old Catherine Marcley Rose. If the beneficiaries of the will of her late husband Frank signed over to them the typewriter patents assigned to him, as well as ownership of the Rose Typewriter Company, they said, they would give Catherine and her son George Francis Rose $150,000. 
"There's someone at the door, Mum," says George, as he interrupts his piano playing. "I wonder who it could be?"
Franklin Sebastian Rose, who had died almost exactly four years earlier - on May 23, 1905 - had developed the aluminium folding portable while running his typewriter sales, repairs and refurbishing business just a few doors down the block, at 112 Greenwood Avenue.
Franklin Sebastian Rose (1856-1905)
The proposal to Catherine and George was accepted and the rights to the Standard Folding Typewriter - which the Roses, with the backing of Marshman Williams Hazen, had been producing in Harlem and West Manhattan since 1907 - were duly transferred.
Some few weeks later, on Friday, July 9, a new organisation, the Standard Typewriter Company of Groton (omitting the word "folding"), was incorporated in Albany, with capital of $1 million. This company would develop and manufacture the Corona 3 folding portable typewriter, launched in 1912.
By the time production of this latter model ended, with the last 260 machines in 1941, 692,500 had been made. At $50 a typewriter, sales had totalled $34.6275 million. Yes, that's 231 times the original investment of $150,000. It has to be the smartest typewriter deal in history. In a way, I guess, it could be matched by buying a Nakajima for $5 today and selling it for $1154.25 in 29 years' time - but that would still be slim pickings, compared to $35 million.
Here are the seven men who stitched the deal together and pulled off this massive coup (note that many of them didn't subsequently live long to enjoy the benefits):
BENN CONGER
(October 29, 1856 – February 28, 1922)
A Groton businessman, banker and politician. Educated at Groton Academy and the Union Free School, with his older brothers Frank and Jay (see below) he entered the business world through the large mercantile house started by his father, Corydon W. Conger, in 1870. He was also president of the Groton Mechanics' Bank and a member of the New York State Assembly 1900-01 and a State Senator in 1909-10. In January 1910, he opposed the election of Jotham P. Allds as president pro tempore of the State Senate, and accused Allds of having demanded, and received, a bribe in 1901 when both Conger and Allds had been members of the State Assembly. Eventually Allds was found guilty, and resigned first the presidency pro tempore and then his senate seat. Embroiled in the scandal himself, Conger also resigned his seat, on April 4, 1910, and retired from politics.
JAY CONGER
(August 1854-December 10, 1920)
Was financial manager of the Groton mercantile enterprise and as a director also represented the family interests in the First National Bank of Groton. Educated at Groton Academy. 
CHARLES HAZEN BLOOD
(April 7, 1866-early February 1938)
It was through a distant family connection of Blood's - Marshman Williams Hazen - that the Conger syndicate tracked down the Roses in Brooklyn. Through Cornell University he was also closely associated with brilliant typewriter design engineer John Henry Barr - who would no doubt have advised, "Go for it!" Charles Hazen Blood was the son of a Civil War brigadier general also involved in the mercantile business. Charles was a leading member of the Tompkins County Bar and practised at his birthplace of Ithaca from 1890. He received the degrees of PhB and LLB at Cornell University in 1888-90 and served as district attorney of Tompkins County from 1894-1903, and as county judge and surrogate of Tompkins County from 1904-10. He was a director of the Ithaca Trust Company and the Tompkins County National Bank, and a trustee and chairman of the finance committee of the Ithaca Savings Bank. From 1901-24, he was a trustee of Cornell University, and a trustee of Ithaca College. With his former law partner Jared Treman Newman, in 1901 Blood acquired a tract of 1000 acres of farmland on Cayuga Heights from Ezra Cornell’s son Franklin, They developed it as a strictly residential "high-class" park overlooking Cayuga Lake and the valley below. From the start, Cayuga Heights was envisioned as a community of scholars and professionals. But by 1911 there were just 21 houses built.
JACOB SLOAT FASSETT
(November 13, 1853-April 21, 1924)
A businessman, lawyer and member of the United States House of Representatives from New York,  he was born in Elmira and attended public schools and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1875. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1878 and began practice in Elmira. He was District Attorney of Chemung County in 1878-79 and became proprietor of the Elmira Daily Advertiser. Afterwards he enrolled as a law student at Heidelberg University in Germany. He returned to Elmira in 1882 and began the practice of law. Fassett was a member of the New York State Senate from 1884-91, and was President pro tempore from 1889-91. He was secretary of the Republican National Committee from 1888-92. In 1891 President Benjamin Harrison appointed Fassett as Collector of the Port of New York, a post from which he resigned to run for Governor of New York. After retiring from politics, he resumed his work in the banking and lumber business in Elmira. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia, while returning from a business trip to Japan and the Philippines. He was an investor in various mines, among which was the Oriental Consolidated Mining Corporation in Korea. His son, Jay Fassett, starred in Hollywood films.
DAVID WADSWORTH VAN HOESEN
(January 6, 1864-January 15, 1923)
Also a former New York State assembly member and a lawyer, he was Benn Conger's counsel and represented Conger in trials related to the bribery scandal outlined above. Born at Preble, Cortland, he spent most of his life in Cortland but left for Mesa in 1920 to grow apples and became an Idaho State Senator. He died of a heart attack in the Hotel Owyehee in Boise while a candidate for State Governor. He graduated aged 16 from Homer Academy in 1880 and taught school in Preble and McLean before entering Hamilton College, graduating with honours in 1886. He entered the law office of Eggleston & Crombie, was admitted to the bar and entered into partnership with O.U. Kellogg. 
WILLIAM ERNEST ALBERT WOODS
(November 30, 1869 -April 5, 1913)
A Syracuse real estate broker.
CARLETON FRENCH BROWN
(June 16, 1882-March 1, 1967)
By a long way the last survivor of this group, Brown was a young mechanical engineer at the time of his first involvement with the Conger syndicate. He came from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and had been educated at Pingry School and St Paul's, New Hampshire (1896-1900). He gained a civil engineering degree in 1904 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Brown became general manager and treasurer when the Standard Folding turned into Corona. After the merger with L.C.Smith he was Smith-Corona’s vice-president of manufacturing. He retired in 1953 and died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The chimney stacks were still smoking at the end of the street in 1941 ...

4 comments:

Words are Winged said...

As always, a wonderful display of historical journalism. Its always interesting to read these

Bill M said...

Great report on the history of the Corona folding typewriter. I wondered why the early ones were only Standard Folding Typewriters. That is quite a list of interesting fellows behind the Corona.

Gordon Tillman said...

Robert I love how you are able to create these fascinating historical vignettes, replete with wonderful photographs and scans of articles from the period. I can only image the amount of time it must take to research this stuff.

David Wells said...

Thanks for posting this wonderful article on what has become one of my favorite typewriters. I recommend that every collector find a Corona 3- so fun to work on and type with.