News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

June 10, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The precocious sons of John Henry and Eliza Barr

TERRE HAUTE — John Henry Barr, one of Terre Haute’s pioneer druggists, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

But, with able assistance from a gifted spouse, he helped raise two sons who carved substantial niches in their respective professions: politics and engineering.

His early life was a struggle. He was born Sept. 2, 1828 in Leesburg, Va., but moved with his parents to Zanesville, Ohio, two years later. His father died in 1837, leaving a family of four boys.

At age 9, John Henry became an apprentice in a tobacco shop. His goal was to become a tobacconist, a specialist in dealing with tobacco and its many accouterments. But he hated the work. As soon as his apprentice term expired, he became a house painter.

He was still painting houses when he relocated in Terre Haute in 1846. Two years later he united with Thomas H. Barr, his younger brother, in the wholesale and retail drug business at Fourth and Wabash.

Meanwhile, he met and married Eliza Tillotson, daughter of Elijah Tillotson, the first mayor the Town of Terre Haute, on May 2, 1850. She was an extraordinary woman. An advocate of education, Eliza was a teacher at the County Seminary during the 1840s.

The couple had seven children: George, Henry, Sarah, Mary, John Henry II, Margaret and Martha. The elder Barr had a strong work ethic. During the Civil War, he delivered drugs and medical supplies to Union troops in the field despite his poor health.

John Henry’s failing health forced him to withdraw from the Terre Haute partnership in 1867 and move to Mankato, Minn. At first he entered the banking business there but, after a year, founded a wagon and plow manufacturing firm, which he maintained until his death on Nov. 27, 1869. Eliza survived until June 5, 1890.

Son Henry Austin Tillotson died as a teenager but the two other Barr boys made significant contributions to society in science and politics respectively.

Oldest son George Tillotson Barr, born Feb. 4, 1851, attended Terre Haute High School and the State Normal School at Mankato, where he met and, on June 24, 1873, wed Clara Lucille Hersey.

After investing in Mankato Tile, Fire Brick and Clay Co., George got involved in Republican politics, serving one term as an alderman and one term as mayor of Mankato. He later was named to the Mankato Board of Education and the Minnesota Board of Trade. He also was on the board of managers of the State Normal School in 1884-85.

Praised for his honesty and accuracy, George was elected to represent Blue Earth County in the Minnesota legislature in 1889. After serving one term in the House, he was elected to four consecutive two-year terms as state senator. He was president pro-tempore of the Senate for the sessions in 1895 and 1897.

In April 1902, George and Clara relocated to Orange County. Calif., where George became involved in a carriage accessories business. He died there on Aug. 28, 1928.

John Henry Barr II, born June 19, 1861, secured a Mechanical Engineering degree and a master’s of science from the University of Minnesota. After his marriage to Katherine Kennedy on June 4, 1884, the couple relocated to Ithaca, N.Y., where John Henry II enrolled in graduate school at Cornell University.

He earned a master’s of mechanical engineering from Cornell in 1889 and joined the faculty in 1891. Four years later he was elevated to associate professor of machine design and became a full professor of machine design and mechanical engineering in 1898.

While at Cornell, Barr wrote several technical papers on machine design and began work on a textbook, “Kinematics of Machinery.” But before his book was published in 1905, Barr resigned from Cornell to become director and manager of Smith Premier Typewriter Co. in Syracuse, N.Y.

Between 1909 and 1913, he was a consulting engineer for the Union Typewriter Co.

From 1913 to 1923, Barr was a consultant for Remington Typewriter Co., competing with Arthur J. Briggs, a former co-employee at Smith, to design a portable typewriter.

According to the patent application dated May 21, 1918, the Terre Haute native was the sole inventor of the world’s first four-bank portable typewriter. The patent was granted Oct. 28, 1919.

The state of the art office machine was introduced at the New York Business Show during October 1920. Capable of doing everything a standard typewriter could do, Barr’s portable was far ahead of its time.

Though attached to an aircraft armament section in Washington, D.C. during World War I, Barr later became a major in the ordnance department. However, he continued to work on enhancing the portable typewriter. During the 34-year period between 1903 and March 27, 1937, the date of his death, he applied for more than 60 patents.

Barr left Remington in 1923 to go to work for Morse Chain Co., the manufacturer of power transmission equipment. This move led to the establishment of Barr-Morse Corp. of Ithaca, N.Y.

A competitive environment existed in the world of portable typewriters beginning in 1926 with Barr-Morse, Remington, Corona, Royal and Underwood as the major players.

Barr-Morse was the only one to use a basket shift, a feature otherwise available only in standard non-portable typewriters.

The Barr Portable was built in Ithaca until 1937. After John Henry Barr’s death, Barr-Morse sold its typewriter production business, including the tooling and rights to the “Barr” name, to a new corporation: Barr Typewriter Corporation, owned by men whose last names were Koret and Kingsbury.

The new company moved operations to an industrial facility in Weedsport, N.Y. Salvatore Leonardi managed the factory. The firm boasted two slogans: “Small enough to carry off, sturdy enough to carry on” and “You can use the Barr wherever you are.”

For a while, Barr portable typewriters were sold by the Macy Department Store, using the Macy label. Production of typewriters at the Weedsport plant apparently terminated in 1939.

For many years the Barr Portable typewriter was made in only one model. In 1929, Barr-Morse began making (1) the Barr Universal, the “standard” machine; (2) the Barr Special, a stripped down, budget machine; and (3) the Barr Wide Carriage Portable, with a 13-inch writing line.

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