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Lamson (North America)

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Cash Balls

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Label showing "Lamson Company Inc., Syracuse"Lamson was the best-known manufacturer and was in the business from the start. A brochure of ca 1912 stated that "of all store service carrier systems in existence 90% are of the Lamson make." The American Patent Reports for 1897 stated that in 1895, three leading firms (which must been headed by Lamsons) were renting out 30,000 cash carriers. (Blackburn Standard, 11 Feb. 1899, p. 10)

William Stickney Lamson was born in Newburyport, Mass. in 1845. He married Marianna Abbot in 1869 and had two sons, William and Frank. After working as a painter and a soldier, he opened a shop in Merrimack Street, Lowell, Mass. in February 1879. (Today in Science History, 13 July.) His first experiment in saving the assistants going to-and-fro between the counter and the cash office is said to have been wrapping the cash in a handkerchief and throwing it! Then he had the idea of using hollow balls rolling along tracks - the Cash Ball system.

The Lowell Sunday Sun, 9 June 1963, p. 52, had an article headed "Lowell Inventor's Hollowed-Out Orange Led to World Success." It reported that his daughter-in-law recalled William Lamson breakfasting one morning and digging out the contents of two halves of an orange with a spoon. "Why wouldn't a hollowed-out ball", he mused, "make a good carrier for change to and from the cashier? It could travel over the heads of the crowds!"

A Lamson advertisement of March 1915 (Review of Reviews, Advertising section, p.41) claims that the original equipment consisted of a hollowed-out croquet ball and a wooden trough. One of the first balls (kept by the Lamson company) is known to have been made by Mr Colby, a shuttlemaker in Lowell. On 14 February 1881 he filed a patent for a system with inclined rails. His system soon attacted the interest of other shopkeepers and in January 1882 the Lamson Cash Carrier Company was incorporated. The initial stock capital was $65,000 and was later increased to $130,000. The factory was on Walker Street, Lowell and the office was at 175 Devonshire Street, Boston. There is a good photograph of the factory from Frank P. Hill's Lowell Illustrated of 1884 on Flickr.

By the beginning of 1884 Lamson carriers were used "in over 250 of the busiest stores in the United States" (New York Graphic, 10 Jan. 1884, p.523) and between 1 March and 1 July a further 95 systems were installed (Boston Post 1 Jul. 1884). The offices were at 178 Devonshire and 33 Federal Streets, Boston; 11 Central Block, Lowell; 54 East Twenty-third Street, New York; 67 Washington Street, Chicago, and 120 Sutter Street, San Francisco.

Lamson's priority was disputed in an article in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 21 Jan. 1886, p. 7, claiming that "some thirty years ago" Mr Calvert had a cash carrier in his ironmonger's and general dealer's shop on High Street, Sunderland using "a little wagon" rather than a ball. The writer's source did not know whether it was Calvert's invention or someone else's. There seem to be no records of the idea being taken up by anyone else.

As the Lamson company grew and absorbed rivals there were several changes of name. In March 1883 it was consolidated with the Holbrook manufacturing company of Chicago "which owned the West" and the Automatic parcel delivery company of New York to form the Lamson Cash Railway Company, making the capital $1,600,000(?). It paid a 2% quarterly dividend on 8,800 shares on 1 October 1883 and then, with orders in hand, had 270 stores using the system. Several of them paid yearly rentals of over $2,000 - all in advance. Frank W. Fitts was president and W.S. Lamson was treasurer. (Lowell Courier, ? Oct. 1883). In Commerce, manufacturers & resources of Boston, Mass. (Boston: National Pub., 1883), p. 153, the address is given as 105 Summer Street. The officers were Frank W. Fitts, W.S. Lamson, and Charles A. Cox, General Agent. The Annual Report in 1885 states that there were installations in nearly 600 stores in the United States. In June 1885 Charles Storey travelled to Europe to erect systems - presumably including the system of 37 stations ordered by a store (Arnotts?) in Belfast in May (Lamson Daily Courier, 12 Jun. 1885). The factory in Lowell had "a novel method of heating... Cold air from out doors is to be taken into the basement." (Fibre & Fabric: a record of American textile industries in the cotton and woolen trade, date unknown, p.7). The "Lamson Construction Store Service Co" is listed in "500 representative buildings heated and ventilated by the Sturtevant system" (B.F.Sturtevant Co., 1890).

In 1885, after buying out the Continental Cash Car company of Baltimore and the New York Store Service company, it became the Lamson Store Service Company with a capital of $5M. It then had all the business in the US and in the world in cash and parcel carriers with the exception of five or six small companies and its foreign business comprised 60 or 70 stores. It owned 125 patents and offered three systems - the original ball system, the level wire system and the bundle-carrying system (Lowell Weekly Sun, 19 Dec. 1885, p.8). Shareholders received two shares in the Store Service comapny for each share in the Cash Railway Company. By 1888 there were offices in Boston, New York, Chicago, Lowell, San Francisco, Berlin, Paris and London (agent appointed in 1885).

In 1888 it became the Lamson Consolidated Store Service Company. The Boston Stock Exchange (1893) reported that over 5,000 firms had already been served with Lamson devices, either on a rental or sale basis. Frank Ames was president and Arthur Temple was manager. The Otago Witness (16 May 1889) gave a figure of nearly 4,000 in use. An agency in Sydney, Australia was opened on 28 September 1889.

In 1900 Mr D.M. Patterson was the Southern agent (for the United States) based in the Baltimore office in the Atlantic Trust Building. The cable system at Sherwood Higgs and Co. in North Carolina was installed by "operators" T.C. Sauerwein and J.P. Treanor of Baltimore. News and Observer (Raleigh), 7 Nov. 1900, p. 5.

According to the Manitoba Daily Free Press of 24 May 1889, p.1, "The patents for all the various kinds of cash railway have come into the hands of one concern, which never sells the rattling machinery, but lets it at an annual rate for each 'station' or stopping place for the ball or basket bearing the money." Later that year, Books and Notions (Aug., p. 16) carried an advertisement by the Barnum Wire and Iron Works Ltd. of Walkerville, Ont. stating that they were "sole agents for Lamson Store Railway System". Three years later, the Manitoba Daily Free Press (3 Nov. 1902, p.19) bore an advertisement with the name of another Canadian agent: "Lamson Consolidated Store Service Company. Manufacture and sell outright Pneumatic Tube, Electric Cable, Rapid Spring and Ideal Cash Carriers; special carriers of all kinds; twenty-seven styles. Write for illustrated catalogue. Ask for list of Western Canada firms who have installed services during 1902. S.A.Erskine, Winnipeg. Man., sales agent for Manitoba, Territories, British Columbia and Western Ontario."

The cash railway was also sold in the West Indies. Pinnock, Bailey & Co. were appointed agents in Jamaica in 1892 and had seven railways erected in their drapery and grocery departments. However, a system with four stations was offered at "considerably below cost" in the Kingston local paper in 1903.

Lamson's cash register business was transferred to the National Cash Register company at Dayton, Ohio along with the Kruse Cash Register company of New York in March 1893. Lowell Daily Sun, 8 Mar. 1893, p.8

Lamson adopted an agressive policy toward rivals. There were prolonged arguments in 1884 with the Dennis Cash Carrier Company over ownership of the patents for the ball and switch (point) with Dennis threatening to prosecute users who had systems installed by Lamson. The Martin & Hill Cash Railway Company wrote that "a certain Store Service Company, having been defeated in a lawsuit with us, is obliged to take desperate methods to keep its customers from exchanging their systems and to prevent merchants from leasing the Martin & Hill Cable Cash Railway... Brag and bluster may influence the value of its stock, for which we care not, but it cannot establish any claim upon us or our cash railway." (Boston Evening Transcript, 4 June 1887). The Boston Journal reported in 1889 that 'reputable bankers' aserted that the deal with English parties was practically arranged but the company would deny that. There was no question, however, that the company had a floating debt of about $700,000 and had agreed on terms for the purchase of rival patents, the acquisition of which would tend to confirm and perpetuate its monopolies. (Portland Daily Press, 23 Nov. 1889, p. 1)

Thomas Lawson gives this account of Lamson's attempt to consolidate his company: "The Lamson Store-Service Company, with $4,000,000 capital, was blunderbussing all who dared oppose it - all who refused to be bulldozed into consolidating with it... Its arrogance, audacity, and crimes were the themes of the newspapers and courts of the day." [He cites Osgood vs. Lamson and The New York Store-Service Company vs Lamson.] He wrote to the shareholders: "I deem it my duty to say to you .. that your Mr. Lamson and his agents have opened up my company, and with their usual criminal methods are endeavoring to ruin us." Day after day there were broadsides in the [New York] World relentlessly denouncing the rascalities of the Lamson outfit... Finally, however, on condition that Lamson should be thrown out, the management of the company reorganized, its criminal methods abandoned, and all records and trace of the indictment against myself and the others removed from the district attorney's books, I consented [to let up on Lamson]. Thomas Lawson: Frenzied finance. Vol. 1: the crime of Amalgamated. New York: Ridgway-Thayer, 1906, pp. 501-504.

An Indenture of Trust between the American Pneumatic Service Company (which owned 64,978 shares of the capital stock of Lamson) and the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company, dated 1 October 1903, states that the Lamson Consolidated Store Service Company, by reason of its ownership of stock, owns and controls the following companies:

Bostedo Package and Cash Carrier Company
Bostedo Pneumatic Tube Company
Barr Cash and Package Carrier Company
Martin Cash Carrier Company
Meteor Despatch Company
Automatic Delivery Company
Standard Store Service Company
Fuller Cash Carrier Company
McCormick Cash Carrier Company
Martin and Hill Cash Carrier Company
Lovejoy Store Service Company
United States Store Service Company
Transit Apparatus Company
Algie Company
American Cash Railway Company
Gilman Cash Railway Company
Merchants Store Service Company
Rapid Service Store Railway Company
Skinner Cash Transmitter Company

The directors chosen at the stockholders' meeting on 22 May 1908 were W.H.Ames, Oakes Ames, Gilmer Clapp, George H.Chandler, Atherton Loring, Oliver W.Mink, F.P.Royce, John Shepard, Charles Hayden, Henry C.Jackson, Charles F.Ayer, F.A.Webster and F.Q.Keasby. Messrs Shepard, Hayden and Jackson were to be elected on the board of the American Pneumatic Service Company. Lowell Sun, 23 May 1908, p.5

Oakes Ames was born in Canton, Mass., in 1863 and died in 1914. On the death of his father he became president of the Lamson Store Service Company. He recognised the possibilities of pneumatic transmission and Lamsons became connected with the American Pneumatic Service Company, of which he was elected Vice President. At the time of his death he was also President of the Martin Cash Carrier Company and the Air Line Carrier Company, Director of the Batcheller Pneumatic Company, Chicago Postal Pneumatic Tube Company, etc. Massachussetts Genealogy Trails website.

The name was simplified to the Lamson Company Inc. in 1912. The booklet Lamson wire line carriers of ca.1917 states that over 100,000 stations of wire carriers were in use and lists 23 sales and service offices throughout the US plus two in Canada. The General Office was 100 Boylston Street, Boston and there were works in Lowell and Toronto, Canada.

William Lamson died in 1912. The New York Sun of 17 August printed the following obituary notice: "He left school at an early age and entered a dry goods store as a salesman, later opening a store of his own. In 1879, while proprietor of a small dry goods store here, he conceived the idea of lessening labor and the confusion incident to receiving cash and making change by his device for the transfer of money. He was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the Union army for four months in 1864. He was a member of the 272 Descendants of William Lamson, of Ipswich, Mass. Masonic fraternity and joined Kilwinning Lodge of Lowell about twenty-five years ago. In religious life he was affiliated with the Unitarian Church."

From 1915 the Company maintained a library, primarily for the use of its employees, but available "as a last resort" to those seeking information in the area. Ralph L. Power. Boston's Special Libraries (New York: Prentice Hall, 1917), p. 54

Lamson Service logoWilliam Fessenden Merrill became vice president and general manager of Lamson in 1916. The following year he became president and in 1922 he moved the business from Boston to to Syracuse, NY. By then it was a subsidiary of the American Pneumatic Service corporation (Lowell Sun, 4 Aug. 1921, p.9). He resigned in 1927, having raised the annual profits from about $50,000 to $600,000. (The history of New York State: Biographies, part 35). At he time of leaving Lowell, the company was "employing nearly 1,000 skilled mechanics" (Lowell Sun, 4 Aug. 1921, p.9). In 1941 the company became the Lamson Corporation of Delaware.

Lamson gained control of the Rapid Service Store Railway Company of Detroit in 1887, which manufactured wire systems based on the inventions of Robert McCarty. Lamson also took over the Air-Line Company, which manufactured a system designed by Gipe with multiple pulleys. Air-Line systems had supplanted the Rapid Wire system in the United States by the time of the Wire Line Carrier brochure of ca.1917: it shows exclusively Air-Line systems. The corresponding brochure of ca.1932 shows very similar equipment and states that over 500,000 stations were in use.

Lamson became involved with pneumatic tube systems through the purchase of several specialist companies and were exhibiting their own systems by 1893. One of the competitors they bought out was the Bostedo Package and Cash Carrier Company. An advertisement of 1926 in the Dry Goods Economist stresses the value of pneumatic tubes or carriers for conveying charge slips for credit authorization."With Lamson tubes direct responsibility is instantly traceable... there is no tossing of blame [for errors] from salesperson to authorizer and back again." This "has caused hundreds of America's greatest retail stores to place their reliance in Lamson carriers."

Lamson works at Lowell Mass. The company was acquired in 1965 by Diebold, which produces automatic teller machines for banks. In 1980 it was purchased by two French brothers, Jacques and Louis LePage. In 1986, Jacques was president and Louis was vice president. Louis' principal responsiblity was Lamson-Saunier-Duval in France, which was also started by William Lamson. The Syracuse Herald Journal of 22 January 1986, p. 109, recorded that Lamson was increasing its workforce by another 12, raising the total to about 350. Revenues in 1985 were $30.4 million. The plant and offices were on James Street in Eastwood. On 31 May 1990 the same paper (p.43) reported that Lamson now produced only centrifugal blowers and employed 150 in Syracuse and 186 worldwide.

On the Louisiana Registry website (updated 14 Feb. 2021) the Lamson Corporation is still registered at Lamson Street, Syracuse NY, but recorded as "inactive".




Lamson Consolidated Store Service Company works from Lamson 1893 catalog.

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