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Monday 22 April 2013

How Corona Tripped Up the Baby Fox: Battle of the Folding Portable Typewriters, 1919-20


Twenty-seven months after the much-vaunted launch of the Baby Fox folding portable typewriter, the Corona Typewriter Company instigated legal proceedings to force the Fox out of the marketplace.
Richard Polt Collection

The Baby Fox, designed by Norwegian Henry Peter Nordmark, had been launched in April 1917. Nordmark started work as a toolmaker for the Fox Typewriter Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1912 and quickly rose to the positions of works superintendent, chief engineer and designer. Nordmark, born in Fredrikstad, Norway, on July 15, 1888. died in Grand Rapids in April 1968. 

The Baby Fox was heavily promoted upon launch, and very soon that promotion was paying off handsomely, with orders from across the globe for the little back-folding portable far exceeding the Fox company's capacity to meet demand.

The result of this early sales success brought rich dividends for Fox.
But then in July 1919, Corona moved. The case was heard by Clarence William Sessions (1859-1931), a judge of the United States Court, Western District of Michigan.
Judge Sessions
On August 27, 1920, Judge Sessions made his decision in favour of Corona:
Fox relied on "folding typewriter" precedent patents issued to Samuel Lee Condé (1837-1919) in 1894 (patent numbers 514910 to 514912), Zalmon Gilbert Sholes (1864-1917) in 1896 (patent numbers 557617 to 557619) and Mexican Manuel Sebastian Carmona (patent number 661849) for a stenography machine in 1900. Corona defended patents assigned to it and issued to Franklin Sebastian Rose (1856-1905) in 1904 and posthumously in 1915, Otto Petermann (1875-1961) in 1914 and Emmit Girdell Latta (1849-1925) in 1915.
Fox did not end up appealing Sessions' decision. For one reason, the first case had proved extremely costly to defend. Fox did go on making typewriters, for almost two years. But eventually the Baby Fox did die - of natural causes. Fox's business slid downhill rapidly after the Corona case and the company went broke in 1922. That's what ultimately stopped production. But Corona, I guess, could still claim the credit.
Wesley Henry Bennington bought the Fox plant to make the Xcel syllabic typewriter. See my post on it here.

Typewriter Topics, August 1922


Spiderwebz said...

Interesting! Thanks for putting this all together!

shordzi said...

Genius design! One more on my wish list. I was utterly surprised when I first "folded" it.

Richard P said...

Poor Baby Fox!

I am still puzzled about why the company's business went into sudden decline. Was the loss in the court case enough to precipitate this collapse? Was there something about the big Foxes that went out of fashion?

Robert Messenger said...

Richard, the downfall occurred in 1921 and I cannot access Typewriter Topics for that year, to get more detail on the cause(s). The Condensed History skips from Irving Frank's retirement in December 1917 to receivership in May 1921. In 1921 Fox was involved in another costly court case, not involving typewriters but another patent infringement dating back to about 1914 (when Fox also made things other than typewriters) and involving a man called August J.Oehring. Oehring won a finding but Fox apparently didn't pay up, and when the company was reorganised Oehring seems to have gone after the money owed him. Since the assets were only about $46,000 and I think Oehring was owed about $11,000, this may well have tipped the scales in the collapse of the company. I am hoping to access details of the Oehring case, which may throw more light on this. Will Davis does say Fox concentrated on portable product after 1917, cutting back on standard production. If I learn more I'll let you know. Robert M

Robert Messenger said...

Not being a legal eagle, I don't quite gather the implications of the Oehring case, which had dragged on since about 1919. But it seems to have had something to do with the entitlements of "old stockholders" in a reorganised company, so maybe Oehring had exchanged Fox's debt to him for stock in the "old company"? Perhaps, don't know for sure. One one or another, Fox was in heavy financial trouble by 1921, when the Oehring case reached a conclusion. ...

Robert Messenger said...

Of course, what I didn't mention was the Sterling. Will says Fox did stop making the folding Fox after the Corona finding, and switched to the non-folding Sterling, which presumably would have involved time and more money. I don't think Fox had to pay Corona infringement penalties, but obviously its legal costs were very high. If Will is right, it would also have cost Fox all those orders for the folding machine, which it was trying very hard to meet. Suddenly stopping production of the folding Fox would have been very costly all round. Will speculates Corona lost the case, since Nordmark's patent remained in place, but this is clearly not so.

Robert Messenger said...

Although it said it would appeal and keep on making the folding, Fox probably baulked at the cost of further legal action and dropped the folding for fear of infringement penalities?