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Sunday, 1 March 2020

The Ultimate Typewriter Trust: Royal’s Imperialistic Plans to Take Over Underwood, Oliver, Blick Et Al, Then Crush the Union

This full-page advert appeared in the June 1907 issue of Typewriter Topics, just as the Ryans were announcing their control of the Royal Typewriter Company and plans were being made to transfer production to Hartford, Connecticut.
To which year should we accurately place the start of the Royal Typewriter Company? The choice of the present-day company, Royal Consumer Information Products, and of Wikipedia, is 1904, when the company was incorporated in New Jersey. But it wasn’t until 1905 that Edward B. Hess started reassigning some of his earlier typewriter patents to Royal. And it wasn’t until September 1906 that Royal actually produced a typewriter, from its factory in Brooklyn. Instead, should it be April 15, 1907, when the Ryan family took charge and Allan Ryan talked about “forming the present company”? Certainly the “ultimate typewriter trust” publicity campaign, clearly engineered by the Ryans in September of that year, made the whole typewriter world sit up and take notice of Royal. It had arrived, in an avalanche of arrant nonsense.       
One of Royal's first five incorporators, lawyer Herbert C. Zellhoefer.

            It is true that a certificate of incorporation of the Royal Typewriter Company was filed in Trenton, New Jersey, on January 26, 1904. The incorporators were a group of five lawyers and investors headed by Francis Ray Foraker (1851-1934) and Herbert Charles Zellhoefer (1878-1951), and the company’s registered office was 51 Newark Street, Hoboken. The capital stock of $1.5 million was divided into 1000 shares common and 500 shares of 7 per cent cumulative preferred. There was no Thomas Fortune Ryan, Edward Bernard Hess or Lewis Cary Myers involved in the incorporation process, and none of the five lawyers are mentioned in Bruce Bliven’s 1954 quasi Royal history, The Wonderful Writing Machine (which was presumably published to mark what Royal believed to be its 50th anniversary). What is certain is that nothing more concrete than  incorporation occurred in Royal’s timeline in 1904 and 1905.
        Between 1898 and 1901 Hess was patenting typewriter designs assigned to the Century Machine Company, Mechanical Improvements Company, Union Typewriter Company and Visible Writing Machine Company. Two of his designs from 1901, one regarding typebar linkages and the other to the flatbed layout that would become the first Royal typewriter, were both renewed in 1905 and assigned to the Royal company incorporated in Hoboken.  At that time Hess was mainly working with Joseph Stoughton, not Myers. Stoughton’s involvement is not mentioned by Bliven.
        The first Royal typewriter emerged from a factory at the foot of 46th Street and Second Avenue, Bay Ridge, South Brooklyn, in September 1906, and within three months Royal was looking for “stationers, bank cashiers and men who are hustlers” to find easy pickings by becoming agents for the typewriter. Meanwhile, the output of the Brooklyn plant was increased to almost five times its original capacity.
Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851-1928)
        On June 1, 1907, the tobacco, insurance and transportation magnate Thomas Fortune Ryan made it officially known that he had became involved with Royal. On that day Ryan announced on Wall Street that he had appointed his son, Allan Aloysius Ryan, as president and treasurer of the company. In fact, Allan Ryan had been installed as president by Royal stockholders on April 15, and was at the head of a board which included Hess, Edward Manning, Jacob Neahr and, representing the ridiculously wealthy Guggenheim family, Simon Robert Guggenheim (1861-1949). From that date Allan Ryan had been busy seeking out a site for a new Royal factory in Hartford, Connecticut, having already headhunted Underwood's Hartford-based general manager Manning. But from the day of the Wall Street announcement, the Ryans began to make it clear their sights were on much larger targets than simply pushing a new typewriter on the market. They claimed they had a confrontation with the Union typewriter trust in mind – and the ultimate typewriter trust was said to be their weapon of war.
Allan Aloysius Ryan (1880-1940)
According to Bliven, Thomas Ryan “didn’t say a word to the press when he handed Hess and Meyers [sic] $200,000 and told them to go ahead with the Royal typewriter.” I turns out the Ryan family’s plans went way beyond just Royal. They weren’t in the least bit afraid to “say a word to the press” across the United States about a merger of “all the typewriting companies of any consequence in this country in a giant trust”.
Typewriter Topics' take on the matter:
       “Purpose hardly concealed,” reported The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on September 6, 1907. Referring to the Union Trust put together by Remington in 1893, the Eagle stated, “This is to gather in rivals of the present trust, and then to compel the latter to surrender”. So the idea was not just to bring a new typewriter on to the market, but in the process to crush what was left of Remington’s cartel (Smith Premier, Densmore, Yost, New Century and Monarch).  “This company [Royal] is backed by some of the most powerful financial interests in the United States,” added the Eagle, saying the merger “will be an accomplished fact inside of a year.” The companies targeted by Royal, as identified by the Eagle, were Underwood, L.C. Smith, Oliver, Williams, Stearns, Moyer and Blickensderfer, each of which would continue to be sold under their original brand names.
Former US Vice-President Levi Parsons Morton (1824-1920)
Thomas Ryan’s Royal team, headed up by his son Allan, had Hess as vice-president and secretary, and financier and long-standing Mergenthaler Linotype Company president Philip Tell Dodge as one of the directors. Offices were set up in the Postal Telegraph Building, Broadway and Murray Street, Manhattan, and plans were already well advanced to set up a large new factory in Hartford, Connecticut. Major stakeholders included such financial heavyweights the Guggenheim brothers – Isaac, Daniel, Maurice, Solomon, Benjamin, Simon and William - Harry Payne Whitney, former US vice-president Levi Parsons Morton, steel magnate Charles Michael Schwab and close Ryan ally John B. McDonald, the Irish-born builder of the first New York subway. With that sort of monetary oomph behind it, how could Royal possibly fail? Or the mooted merger for that matter? An “in-the-know” Royal source told the Eagle, “It may be put down as certain that the capitalists behind the Royal company did not embark in that enterprise merely for the purpose of placing a new machine on the market. In combination lies the only salvation of the typewriter business in this country.”
Harry Payne Whitney (1872-1930)
Allan Ryan told the Eagle, “The typewriter business has never been properly developed in this or any other country. No one seemed to grasp the possibilities of the situation and, after careful investigation, I and my associates formed the present company for the purpose of developing the business to its full extent.” He went on to talk about increasing Royal’s sphere of influence in the typewriter world.
Edward James Manning (1865-1938)
From a purely typewriter point of view, the success of the Ryans in luring the massively experienced Edward James Manning away from Underwood, where he’d been a technical mastermind for 17 years, was the greatest coup of all. Manning changed camps on April 5, 1907, (his employees gave him a diamond ring as a going-away gift). Manning followed Jacob Eugene Neahr, who in October 1906 was recruited from Underwood to take care of Royal sales. The pair joined Royal’s new board of directors. Manning was appointed general manager and brought with him his English-born offsider Charles Belnap Cook. As well, the Ryans robbed Underwood of its auditor Charles Marvin Burlingame, who became company accountant at Royal. Royal went on to cherry pick Underwood staff across the country – Iowa state manager and highly successful salesman Tom Symonds switched sides in Des Moines in April 1907, as just one example. Another was Arthur Rattray, who went from Hartford to New York in mid-May, to be joined by W.A. Wells in September. M.F. Klopfenstein and his repairman Harry L. Newhard followed suit from Allentown, Pennsylvania, in late June, and Charles F. Courtney of Reading, Pennslyvania, in September. Right across the US, typewriter people were showing enormous advance faith in the new product.
One of the first newspaper adverts to appear after the Ryan takeover of Royal was placed by Tom Symonds in the Des Moines Register on November 10, 1907.
Allan Ryan claimed the typewriter industry, as conducted in 1907, was “practically in its infancy”. Of the 80 million in the US, and millions in other “civilised countries”, a great many wanted typewriters, but he estimated “only about 250,000” were made in 1906. The “total yearly output is ridiculously small.” Ryan said that within 10 years Royal’s new plant would produce 140,000 typewriters a year alone (70,000 was the initial projected output). “I also believe that there will be a legitimate demand for all the machines that can be made.”
Charles Michael Schwab (1862-1939)
On September 14, 1907, The Los Angeles Herald followed the Brooklyn Eagle’s story under the headline "Think Ryan heads typewriter trust: New Royal company may absorb Remington:  Schwab, Guggenheim and Other Prominent Capitalists Representing Many Millions Are Interested In Concern.” It said, “Rumors have been heard for some time that a group of American capitalists, with Thomas F. Ryan at their head, were forming a large company to acquire all the largest typewriter interests in the country and to obtain control of the business, all over the world.” The Herald said the consortium had “combined holdings … sufficient to effect an absolute monopoly of the typewriter business. “It was learned that the Royal Typewriter Company is the nucleus of the big enterprise and that a plant, said to be the largest of the kind in the world is now being erected in Hartford, Connecticut. Several of the chief men of the Underwood Typewriter Company have been employed by the Ryan concern and two of them have been made directors of the new company.”

The Herald quoted Neahr as saying, “Up to the present time we have been giving most of our attention to the foreign trade. The foreign market for American typewriters is something enormous and will continue to grow. In the matter of making typewriters, Europeans are just where we were 12 years ago, and our great difficulty just now is to make our machines as fast as they are sold abroad. We have just closed a contract for 6000 machines in England, and have sold 200 recently to the French government.
        “In Hartford we are putting up the largest typewriter factory in the world, and are offering all sorts of inducements to workmen to complete it as rapidly as possible.” Asked about “the so-called Royal Typewriter Company” absorbing other large American typewriter concerns, Neahr replied, “I shall not discuss that part of the business, but you may draw your own conclusions. The Royal machine was perfected only a year ago and has not been placed on the market here [in the US] to any extent. But capitalists who have made a careful investigation are satisfied that there is a big future in the business and the new company has succeeded in procuring the services of some of the best typewriter experts in the world. We have about 12 from the Underwood company.” Neahr said 25 “of the strongest capitalists in the country” were stockholders in the new company, but they didn’t want their names mentioned “until certain negotiations now pending are closed”.
Philip Tell Dodge (1851-1931)
The involvement of Wisconsin-born, Washington-based Philip Tell Dodge in the Royal establishment is interesting. He had had a long involvement in the typewriter business. He was patent attorney for the first typewriter design from Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Willard Soulé. Dodge was also employed by Sholes to patent his machine for printing numbers, and the previous year Sholes and Soulé employed Dodge's father, William Castle Dodge, as their patent attorney for an earlier version of this machine. Philip Dodge went on to become a patent counsel for Remington and it was he who secured the Byron Alden Brooks patent for the shift device first used on the Remington 2 in 1878. Starting in late 1891, Dodge served 37 years as general manager and president of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company.
Given the financial clout behind Royal, and the company’s boasts about its production and sales capacities, the good aldermen of Hartford, Connecticut, must have been astounded to read in September 1907 of ambitions for global domination. Three months earlier, on June 10, 1907, a petition from Manning for Royal to be relieved from assessment of taxes for five years was discussed by Hartford’s board of aldermen, board of finance and a joint special committee. It was found the alderman, though they agreed to a three-year abatement, didn’t have the power to help Royal. The typewriter company had bought 5¼ acres of land for its new Hartford factory on May 25, 1907. In April it had considered Manchester, nine miles east of Hartford, but on Manning’s insistence settled on Hartford. It was merely a return to home turf for Manning. The Hartford factory was opened on March 14, 1908. Heavy advertising in New York newspapers for the Royal typewriter started in October 1908.
There were two obvious benefits from the brouhaha about the “gigantic” Royal typewriter trust. First, the Royal typewriter received more, and more widespread, publicity than, even with its big backers, it could possibly have afforded in paid advertising. Second, it immediately proved bad publicity for the more established companies mentioned, such as Underwood, whose officials reacted with immediate denials and stated Underwood had never been, nor ever would be, part of a trust. There was far more at stake than in the first match between the two company teams in the Hartford Church Bowling League on March 19, 1908. But by then, talk of the ultimate typewriter trust was long dead.
 Typewriter Topics, September 1907:


Bill M said...

Interesting. A typewriter monopoly.

John Cooper said...

So did the plan succeed (by generating publicity and sowing uncertainty about Royal's better established competitors) or fail (because no competing companies were actually absorbed)?