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Tuesday 6 May 2014

Imperial, Triumph, Burnett: Oblique Frontstroke American Rarities from a German 'Enemy Agitator' and a Royal Brother

Imperial Visible (1907-08)
Triumph Perfect Visible (1907)
Burnett (1908)
Images, Dietz Collection, Milwaukee Public Museum
The first two of these almost identical machines were manufactured by the Visible Typewriter Manufacturing Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1907, owned at the time by Franz Johann Leopold Dorl. The Imperial Visible was also made in 1908 by the Burnett Typewriter Company of Chicago, which of course built the closely related Burnett.
This image of a 'Business' typewriter appeared on the cover of ETCetera No 73, March 2006. It had come from collector Dennis Clark, and ETCetera correctly speculated that it was of the prototype of a Herbert Conrad Hess design which later became the Triumph Perfect Visible.
They were originally designed in 1899 by Herbert Conrad Hess, the younger brother of typewriter genius and Royal Typewriter Company founder Edward Bernhard Hess (1857-1941).

A young Ed B.Hess
Herbert Hess re-designed the typewriter as a four-bank in 1903 and assigned it to Dorl's Visible Writing Machine Company (later the New York City-based Triumph Visible Typewriter Company, or simply Visible TC), at that time headquartered in Jersey City.
The revised 1903 patent schematics
The original 1899 three-bank designs, patented in 1900
Herbert Hess was Ed Hess's junior by more than 22 years. The pair lived together with Ed's wife Eliza Sheridan Hess in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, when Herbert designed this typewriter while working as a bookkeeper. Herbert was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 11, 1879. After his brief 1899-1903 foray into typewriter designing, he became a travelling typewriter salesman, presumably for Royal, based in Atlanta, Georgia. He returned to Brooklyn to sell trucks for Packard. He died young, aged just 47, back in Louisville on April 29, 1927. 
Hess's machine was made after Dorl had bought the Kenosha plant from August D. Meiselbach, who had made Louis C. Sholes's Sholes Visible there between 1901-03. Meiselbach had bought the L.B.Warner Pulley Works in March 1900, along with the "Latham Sholes typewriter interests" in Kenosha
(See biography of Meiselbach below)
Dorl's chequered career in typewriter making, exporting to Europe and selling in the US from his offices on Park Row, Manhattan, lasted 11 years, until he was arrested as an "enemy agitator" on the night of Wednesday, November 21, 1917. (Dorl was mostly listed in directories and on census forms as Francis J.L.Dorl). The US had declared war on Germany 7 1/2 months earlier. Dorl was subsequently jailed for the remainder of World War I, which ended one year after he had been interned.
*Tunney was head of the Police Headquarters Bomb Squad.
At the time he launched the Kenosha-made Triumph Perfect Visible on the market in March 1907, Dorl was described by Typewriter Topics as "an enterprising pusher". His "familiarity" with the typewriter markets in "foreign lands" had enabled Dorl to build up a "particularly gratifying export business in a remarkably short length of time".   
As it turned out, the few Imperials made were built in Kenosha in the latter part of 1907 and then in Chicago by the Burnett Typewriter Company in 1908.
Although, at that time, it was claimed that as many as 20 Triumphs a day were being shipped to European dealers, moves were very soon afoot to move the Visible company's manufacturing operation from Kenosha to Aurora, Illinois. However, the change did not take place, and the Kenosha plant was sold to pay for back taxes - amounting to less than $800. It would seem the typewriter's move was made from Kenosha to Chicago instead.
Whether Dorl or Hess had anything to do with the mysterious Sears Roebuck-marketed Burnett is unknown, but it definitely appears to be, at least outwardly, an advance on the Triumph Perfect Visible and the Imperial Visible. Indeed, the last models of the ill-fated Imperial Visible were made by the Burnett Typewriter Company of Chicago!
Aurora was the home of the Miller-Bryant-Pierce typewriter ribbon and carbon paper-making company (bought out by Smith-Corona in 1928), for which Harry Annell Smith once worked before setting up his typewriter rebuilding business in Chicago in 1911.
Typewriter Topics, 1918
But it seems possible he was running a typewriter mail order operation before that, and after all that's how Sears Roebuck sold the Burnett. It was a similar situation with the Emerson.
Smith is said to have been involved with the Burnett. He did once call a typewriter the Annell - maybe his wife was Florence Burnett Smith!? 
The New York Times
Dorl was born on April 28, 1881, in Greussen, a town in the KyffhÀuserkreis district of Thuringia, Germany, 18 miles north of Olympia's original home of Erfurt. Dorl graduated as a chemist from the University of Berlin and arrived in the US in 1902. He concentrated on his typewriter business in Manhattan until 1915, when, in an attempt to sway public opinion in America against the US joining World War One, he founded a weekly propaganda magazine called The Vital Issue.  His pro-Germany campaigning as editor and publisher quickly brought him to the attention of US Government Secret Service agents. After he was jailed, the magazine, under new management, became known as Issues and Events.
Dorl's friend Johann Heinrich Graf von Bernstorff, the German politician and ambassador to the US and Mexico from 1908, who returned home in February 1917 when Woodrow Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany.
His arrest was front page news in the Washington Post and other newspapers. The New York Times, to which Dorl had been a regular letter writer, was especially critical of his activities, and referred to him as "Herr Dorl". 
After his release, Dorl returned to work as a chemist. Interestingly enough, he registered for the draft in World War II. Dorl spent much of the last 20 years of his life working on a tapered ball bearing invention, continuing to patent it right up until 1965. He died in May 1968 in Summit, New Jersey, aged 87. 
From Memories of Milwaukee County, Volume II, edited by Lieutenant Colonel Jerome A.Watrous, Madison, 1909:
August D. Meiselbach, of the A. D. Meiselbach Motor Company, a prominent manufacturer and business man of North Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one of the most generous and public-spirited citizens of that place, was born in New York City in 1863, the son 0f August D. and Caroline (Eigle) Meiselbach, both of whom were natives of Saxony, Germany. Meiselbach is descended from a line of manufacturers and inventors, and it may almost be said that he has inherited his fine abilities in those lines of endeavour. His grandfather, August D. Meiselbach, who spent his whole life in Saxony, was a manufacturer, as well as an inventor of note; as early as 1832 he invented a horseless wagon, which was in a way the precursor of the modern automobile, and he was also the inventor of an excellent tricycle. Our subject's father was a prominent vehicle manufacturer, and came to the United States from Saxony in 1854, first locating in New York City, where he was engaged in the manufacture of wagons, omnibuses and ambulances until 1867. He then moved west to Chicago and established himself there in the same line of business. In 1882 he made a trip to the Fatherland, and was drowned on the return voyage through the sinking of his vessel at sea. His widow still survives and makes her home with her son in North Milwaukee. Our subject is the only survivor of a family of seven children. He attended the public schools of Chicago until he was 12, and was then apprenticed to the machinist's trade for a period of three years. At the end of this period he was employed for some 10 years by E. F. Angle and other manufacturing firms, and was then associated for three years with the W. R. Parsons Manufacturing Company, manufacturers of sewing machines and of numerous patent devices. He then embarked in the manufacturing business on his own account, devoting his time to various patents, and turned out the first patent cash register. At the end of two years he embarked in the bicycle business with Ernes & Frost, under the name of the Peerless Bicycle Company. He subsequently went to Columbus, Ohio, where he was associated in business with the Columbia Bicycle Company until the middle of 1895. On June 20, 1895, Mr. Meiselbach came to Milwaukee, where he entered into a contract with the firm of Lindsey Brothers to manufacture 20,000 bicycles for them. He bought out the Hunt & Kipp factory at North Milwaukee, in January, 1896, and also operated factories at two other points, one being located on St Paul Avenue, Milwaukee; these two factories he afterwards sold, but continued to run the one at North Milwaukee until September, 1898, when he sold it out. He next purchased the [Charles F.] Sieg Bicycle Factory and the Latham Sholes typewriter interests at Kenosha, Wisconsin, and began the manufacture of typewriters, being engaged in that line of industry until the year 1903. He then returned to North Milwaukee, where he organised the A. D. Meiselbach Motor Wagon Company, manufacturers of commercial automobiles, and the McKaig automobile transmission gear. During the years 1897 and 1898 Meiselbach maintained extensive exhibits both at Madison Square Garden, New York City, and at Chicago; he also maintained a large store and warerooms at 84-86 Reade Street, corner of Church Street, New York City. Meiselbach has always been a staunch adherent of the Democratic Party in politics, and served as the first president of the village of North Milwaukee. He has contributed more than any other one man to the advancement and the material upbuilding of North Milwaukee, where his business push and energy are everywhere in evidence. In 1897 he installed the electric light plant of North Milwaukee; built the splendid Casino in 1900; erected five large store buildings and a number of dwelling houses, as well as the extensive manufacturing plant he now operates, in 1903; and he has since constructed a number of other important buildings. He is broad-minded, progressive, and liberal in his views, exceedingly generous by nature, and has extended a helping hand on innumerable occasions to others. Meiselbach was united in marriage in 1884 to Miss Margaret Miller, of Chicago, and four daughters are the fruit of this union, to wit: the Misses Lillie, Hattie, Emma, and Jessie. He is a member of numerous clubs, fraternal orders and societies, in both Chicago and New York City. He is one of the most approachable of men, his generous and kindly instincts have won for him a host of warm friends, and he is especially endeared to the people of North Milwaukee, for whom he has done so much. By the exercise of indomitable energy, enterprise and sound business judgement, combined with a remarkable inventive capacity, he has become a man of large affairs, and now holds a position of commanding importance in the business world. By the citizens of North Milwaukee his name will always be cherished as one of its most useful and public-spirited citizens. 


Richard P said...

Impressive story.

I really want one of those obliques!

And Harry A. Smith, by the way, looks like a very pleasant fellow. I don't think I'd seen a photo of him before.

Anonymous said...

The Burnett is surreal!

Scott K said...

These are some incredible machines. And well researched. Good story.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Scott and Richard, your comments are very much appreciated.
Yes, Steve, like Richard I would love to own a Burnett. One was listed by Uwe Breker, not sure how long ago.
Sorry, Peter, my reference to the Emerson wasn't properly explained. It was also at one time sold by mail order by Sears Roebuck and Smith was said to have been involved with it.

Susan Galiano said...

This is a great article! I was wondering where you obtained your information on Dorl having been a part of the Visible Typewriter Company?

Robert Messenger said...

"Typewriter Topics", September 1907, page 62, "Triumph Triumphs".