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© 2018-2019 by The Typewriter Gazette

Odell and His Typewriter



Although we purchased our Odell in 2017, it wasn't until we purchased our Emerson in 2019 that we started digging into the history of both machines. Our curiosity piqued when we noticed that both the Emerson and the Odell were at one time made in Momence, IL. Given that Momence is a small city, we wondered whether the two companies ever crossed paths. Thanks to some help from Ms. Nancy Porter at the Momence Historical House (http://www.momencehistoricalhouse.com) and some research in Newspapers.com, we found that these two companies actually shared the same manufacturing building (albeit at different times)! Since quite a lot of information exists for the Emerson once it moved to Woodstock, IL, we were intrigued to discover its pre-Woodstock history. Instead what we unraveled was the surprising history of the Odell family and the typewriter that carried their name. We shall start from the beginning.


Called a “patent genius” by The Inter Ocean newspaper (Personal, 1887), apparently Levi Judson Odell’s first patent was at the age of 16, which would have been around 1871 (Find a Grave, 2012). Although I was unable to find such an early patent in the US, it appears he did have a patent assigned at the age of 20 (Odell, 1875), and amassed a total of 17 US patents over his lifetime (United States Patent Office, 1876; Commissioner of Patents, 1883, 1884, 1886, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1904, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1915, 1917). Son of a farmer (US Census Bureau, 1860), not surprisingly the first of these patents was for farm equipment (see check-rower to the right), followed by typewriters, a bread cutting machine, and lastly, razors and affiliated machines. His first typewriter patent was granted on March 5, 1889 (Odell, 1889). It had a distinctive long body, four paw-shaped feet, and is typically referred to as the model 1a (Rehr, 1994). 75% of the patent was assigned to a Mr. John E. Burton, an entrepreneur and investor who owned mining businesses at the time (Brief, 1887), and Charles H. Odell, Levi's brother (Find a Grave, 2012).


Courtesy of Tony Casillo, typewritercollector.com

On April 24, 1887, the same year that the patent application was filed, the Odell Type-Writer Co. was established in Lake Geneva, WI (The Odell Typewriter Co., 1887; Simmons, 1897), at 529 Main Street (Mehitebal the Office Cat, 1992) with 50% of the business owned by the same Mr. Burton (Brief, 1887) to whom that first patent was partly assigned. It appears that Levi Odell moved from Fairbury, IL to Lake Geneva, WI the same year, likely to be near this new manufacturing plant (Brief, 1887; Around Home, 1887). An early trade catalog advertising the model 1a lists Lake Geneva, WI as the location of both the factory and the home office, with several branch offices scattered around the country, including at least one office in Chicago (Odell Type Writer Co., c. 1887). This confirms Lake Geneva as the manufacturing site, that manufacturing was company-owned, and that they had an early branch office in Chicago.


Apparently there is some dispute as to how Mr. Odell came up with his “original” idea for a new index typewriter. On March 3, 1884, Lee S. Burridge and Newman R. Marshman of New York, NY, filed for a patent for their Sun Index Typewriter, granted April 7, 1885 (Burridge & Marshman, 1885). This machine was almost identical to the patent granted to Levi J. Odell four years later. If you are curious about the overlaps, see Robert Messenger’s article in his blog, ozTypewriter (Messenger, 2011). This would not be the first time the originality of one of Odell's inventions was questioned. In a lawsuit between two agricultural equipment companies, one company was blaming the other for infringement of Odell's fifth US patent on a check-rower attachment for corn planters. Although in the original lawsuit, "the patent was sustained, and the defendants were held to infringe" (Blatchford, 1899, p. 302), in an appeal, the court upheld that the machine that was claimed to be an infringement on the patent existed and was used at least two years prior to the date Odell applied for his patent (Blatchford, 1899). This causes one to consider Odell's other patents.


While the Odell Type Writer Company was in the process of constructing their 2-story factory in Lake Geneva, they set up machinery in a nearby oat meal mill, apparently to respond to an influx of orders (Odell Typewriter Co., 1887). This influx of orders was backed by at least one claim that the company could not keep up with the orders (Those of Our Citizens, 1888). An example of one big sale was a cigar company that apparently purchased 500 Odell type-writers to be used as an incentive for the purchase of that company’s cigars (Town and Country, 1888). It is possible that these briefs in the newspaper were advertising ploys to make the machine seem more popular. Given that their target market was businesses and typewriter vendors, rather than the average user, making the machine seem already popular would have been important to establish themselves with their targeted customer. This is evidenced by their early trade catalog that claimed, "The sales of our type writer in the past six months, are sufficient proof that it will sell on presentation, to any person who has use for a typewriter." (Odell Type Writer Co., c. 1887). Regardless of the reality of their popularity vs. ads set to pump up popularity, setting up shop in the oatmeal mill would have been beneficial as a temporary measure to be able to respond to large bulk orders rather than the slow trickle of unique orders placed by users.


On March 15, 1888, before the patent for the first typewriter model was granted, Levi Odell filed another application for a US patent of what we now know as the model 1b, easily seen in the round base in the patent’s specification drawing, and distinguished by a new inking mechanism (Odell, 1890). This second patent was fully granted to Levi Odell on October 7, 1890 (Odell, 1890; Wisconsin Patents, 1890), a year after the first typewriter patent was granted. This model is often distinguished by a Native American-looking motif, as opposed to the later models’ art deco design (Rehr, 1994). The machine is typically gold-colored, and an ad from 1890 stated the typewriter was nickel plated (Odell Typewriter Co., 1890). Their trade catalog also indicates the work was completed in their own factory (Odell Type Writer Co., c. 1887). Pictures of nickel plated machines without the gold coloring have apparently been found with the same Native American-looking motif. The relationship between these unpainted and painted models is unknown. Is it possible that these unpainted models were sold by third party companies, as it seems later models were, and served as a stop-gap between the model 1b and the model 2?


The Odell Type Writer Company’s early transition can be seen in this model 1b. Whereas it seems the model 1a's were all stamped with "patent pending", listing Lake Geneva, WI, some of the model 1b’s mimicked the 1a, some were stamped "patented", listing Lake Geneva, and some were stamped "patented", but listed Chicago, IL (Rehr, 1994). The second patent shown above was around 1890, so this second model, 1b, must have been made around 1890. The face plates on this model also seem to track well with the timing of when the Odell Type Writer Company seems to have moved out of Lake Geneva; a newspaper article announced on August 15, 1890, that the Odell Type-writer Co. had moved out of their Lake Geneva factory (Brick Building and Water Power to Rent, 1890). This suggests that any model 1a and 1b stamped with patent pending were manufactured 1887-1890. The model 1b stamped patented, listing Lake Geneva, would have been manufactured in 1890. The model 1b stamped patented, listing Chicago, would have been on or after 1890, and it is possible that the model 1b was only manufactured in 1890, even if "Chicago" accompanied the word "patented". When Levi moved out of Lake Geneva, that would have been a good time to break from the model 1b to start manufacturing the model 2. I personally found no source for a patent plate on a model 1b that lists Chicago, so it is difficult to tell whether it was listed as simply the Odell Type Writer Company from Chicago, which would be consistent with this hypothesis, or states that it was manufactured in Chicago.



It is interesting to note here that from 1887 through the late 1890s John E. Burton’s mining businesses failed and he eventually lost his fortune (Quinn, 2019; Hirt, 1998; Beckwith, 1912) along with all his properties, including the Odell Typewriter Factory (P. M. Quinn, personal communication, February 1, 2020). It is unclear whether the Odell Typewriter Company helped or hurt his situation at the time, but unfortunately, this is not the last of bad fortunes that will come to those that have some kind of association with the Odell Typewriter.


As late as 1890, the company advertised its home location as Lake Geneva, WI (Stenographers, Typographers, Etc., 1890), but ads as early as 1889 list 85 and 87 Fifth Ave., Chicago, IL (Odell Type Writer, Dec 1889), and "The Rookery" (Odell Type Writer, Sep 1889). By January 1890, the majority of newspaper ads list the company’s location as “The Rookery” (Odell Typewriter Co., 1890). The Rookery was an 11 story building built in Chicago in 1888 as a business building for the city (The Rookery, 2019). Given the timing of the move, the appearance of The Rookery in ads around the same time, and the nature of The Rookery, it is likely that The Rookery became the new corporate home office for the company. By 1891, another Chicago address was listed: 358-364 Dearborn St, Room 702, Chicago, IL (Odell Typewriter, 1891; Chicago Directory Company, 1892, p. 1139; The Odell Type-Writer Co., 1892; Odell Typewriter Co., 1895). In 1899, this site was listed as a store or office, and as having only 12 employees (Factory Inspectors, 1900, p. 168), so at least room 702 was unlikely a manufacturing facility. A mystery still remains as to where the new manufacturing facility was established.


Interestingly, 358 Dearborn also correlates with an ad for asbestos-lined Cake Griddles, sold by the Odell Manufacturing Company (Cake Griddle, 1895). Here we see evidence that Odell expanded beyond typewriters as early as 1895. If you remember, Levi Odell's first patents were in farm equipment, so it seems Levi was never tied specifically to typewriters. As early as 1891, an Odell Manufacturing Company was located at 343 S. Dearborn, Chicago, selling sharpening machines for safety razors (Hendricks Co., 1891). I suppose this means his experience with razors, which were the last of his patents, started much earlier than the patents themselves. Back to Dearborn St., given the proximity of these locations it is likely that Odell rented or bought out a large section of those buildings to house both businesses. Later in this article you will see why this company may have actually been family-owned.


On top of having a branch already in Chicago, perhaps the choice to move the company to Chicago was linked to a personal connection to Illinois? Although born in New York (Find a Grave, 2012), Levi only lived there for up to 15 years (US Census Bureau, 1860). By 1870 he was living in Fairfield, IL (US Census Bureau, 1870), and his wife, Mary, was born in Illinois. Although it seems he lived in Wisconsin around 1880, since that is where his first daughter was born, he either lived in two places at once, or moved back to Illinois by 1883, since that is where his second daughter was born (US Census Bureau, 1900). In 1887, the year his company was established, he lived in Chicago, IL (Personal, 1887), but lived for a time in Beloit, WI, around 1889 (Odell, 1889), and Lake Geneva, WI, around 1890 (Odell, 1890), likely to be near his manufacturing facility. He is back in Chicago, IL, at least by 1892 living at 4314 Berkely Ave. (Chicago Directory Company, 1892, p. 1139), and at another address in 1900 renting a house at 4417 Indiana Ave. with his wife, daughters, a servant, and his sister-in-law (US Census Bureau, 1900). As a side note, none of the Odell brothers are listed in the Lakeside Chicago City Directory in 1902 (Chicago Directory Company, 1902, p. 1531), even though they had been listed there in 1900 (Chicago Directory Company, 1900, p. 1440). At some point before 1906 he lived at 4727 Prairie Ave, Chicago, IL (Tells Her Secret, 1906). Assuming source accuracy, all these different places suggest he either potentially rented places for very short periods, or that he lived in multiple places at the same time. Nevertheless, it is clear that he had strong roots in Chicago and Illinois on the whole that would keep his home office there as the company got off its feet.


1890 was a busy year. Aside from the aforementioned company move, on March 24, 1890, Odell applied for yet a third typewriter patent while his second patent was pending. This time he added the feature of the double-case (upper and lower case type) and a bell you can see pictured on the right (Odell, 1891). They wasted no time in advertising this new model 2. Whereas the single-case machine was advertised by the Odell Type Writer Co. in 1889 (Odell Type Writer, Dec 1889), a double-case model was advertised by the Odell Type Writer Co. as early as 1890 (Odell Double Case Type Writer, 1890). The patent was assigned to the Odell Type Writer Company of Chicago, IL, and was granted on August 18, 1891 (Odell, 1891). The anticipated expiration date for this third patent was August 18, 1908 (Odell, 1891). This meant that, to be lucrative, Levi Odell either had to come up with a new design before then, or make sure he had a plan in mind before the generic market took over. The clock was ticking.


There is one clue that Odell tried to sell off the old model via third party; a face plate with the name Hoffheimer & Fish was discovered and shown in the ETCetera newsletter (Niemann, 2006) attached to a model 1b, as evidenced by the round base, Native American motif, and single-case. The face plate revealed that the machine was patented in 1889, which matches the later 1b models. Unlike the typical model 1b, the machine shown in the ETCetera article had no gold color painted on top, no characteristic lip, and had a stamped serial number on the base, unlike any Odell machine available. It is possible Hoffheimer & Fish specially requested their models to be stamped with serial numbers to distinguish them from other Odells being sold on the market. After a bit of digging, we discovered that Hoffheimer & Fish, Gen’l Mgr’s. were located at the Temple Court Building, an office building built 1881-1883 at 5 Beekman Street, with an annex built 1889-1890 at 119-121 Nassau Street (Temple Court Building and Annex, 2019), in New York City. Pictured here is a rare ad we found showing that they also advertised the Double Case Odell, (Odell Type Writer, 1890), which means they must have sold both models. Hoffheimer & Fish was officially listed at 119 Nassau, the newly built Temple Court Annex, as selling "machines", and appears to have been managed by Herbert L. Hoffheimer (Milstein & Milstein, 1890, p. 591). I could find no evidence of Hoffheimer & Fish in the New York City Directory for the year prior to or the year after the reference listed above. Perhaps it was a pop-up company that was only around for one year, or at least only in New York for that year.


Another collector turned up a machine branded as the Hanford No 2 (Sweigart, 2017/18), which looked surprisingly like the Odell round-based typewriter with a different pattern on the base. Was Odell getting tired of selling his own machine, or looking for other ways to make money on the same invention?


It was as early as 1892 that we start to see lawsuits related to Odell's typewriters. There was a case for $500 between L. J. Odell and George S. Knowles (Superior Court – New Suits, 1892), and an appeal from a lawsuit between L. J. Odell and W. S. McCollugh over $47.50 (City and Vicinity, 1892). One lawsuit appears to be related to a search for a new investor after Odell seemingly broke ties with his first investor, Mr. Burton, in 1890. Around 1892, Frank Reynolds, president of the Stone Lake Ice Company, had agreed to purchase stock from the Odell Typewriter Company, notes that would have been payable to James, Levi's father, Charles, his brother, and Levi himself, but Frank never paid (Blatchford, 1895). Apparently the purchase would have enabled the Odell company to become a stock company, and had plans to set up headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio (A Big Suit, 1893). They were either very sure of, or at least excited about, the new headquarters, as evidenced in an advertisement for The Odell Type-Writer Co. (see above): “Will open branch in Cincinnati Monday, April 18, 1892" (Odell Type-Writer Co., 1892). In 1893, James H. Odell raised a case against Frank Reynolds for $25,000, the total sum of the promised stock. Although the Odells won the case, Lauretta Reynolds, the guardian of the Frank Reynolds estate, appealed and a new lawsuit was awarded to Reynolds. It is unclear whether the Odells ever ended up receiving the money, but it appears a site in Ohio was never established. It is interesting to note that the lawsuit was raised by Levi’s father, not Levi himself. Given his brother’s name on his first typewriter patent, and this lawsuit connected with the company filed by his father, it seems the typewriter company may have been a family business. Is it possible that the Odell Manufacturing Company, previously mentioned as sharing a building and possibly an office with the Odell Type Writer Company, was owned by the Odell family, and that the two businesses were financially linked? Perhaps this was where the new manufacturing site was located after the move out of Lake Geneva, but no evidence to solidify this theory has yet been uncovered.


In March 1899, Odell brought Sears to court in another lawsuit, this one claiming that Sears had contracted to purchase 100 typewriters at $9 each when their catalog was furnished, but never fulfilled their end of the deal (Newell, 1900). By 1898, the year prior to this lawsuit, the Odell typewriter had made its way into the then new Sears Catalog, depicted on your right (Sears, Roebuck & Co., Spring 1898, p. 345). By the shape of the name plate and the design on the base it appears they advertised the model 2. As per the details in this lawsuit, it seems that Sears managed to sell, or at least display, two machines since they did purchase $18 worth of typewriters. Odell lost the case and their appeal since no contract could be proven.


Perhaps the lawsuit was an act of desperation for a failing company. By August 15, 1900, a petition in involuntary bankruptcy was filed for the Odell Typewriter Co. by L. J. Odell, C. H. Hanson, and the Osgood Company (Odell Company Sued, 1900). This seems to mark the end of the Odell model 2, the longest model in production, lasting from 1890 until 1900.


Within the bankruptcy announcement, the Odell Typewriter Company explicitly states that it had no relationship with the Odell-Young Typewriter Company, the vendors of the next Odell model 3. The previous year, on Nov 23, 1899, Odell-Young, made up of Nathaniel L. Young, William S. Miller, and Robert L. Sheppard, had been granted a license (Secretary of State, 1900, p. 71; New Illinois Corporations, 1899). Also a Chicago company, they were located in Room 710 of 171 La Salle Street (Chicago Directory Company, 1900, p. 1440). In 1900, they apparently had a second address, likely another office since it employed only 6 people, at 42 W. Jackson Blvd. (Factory Inspectors, 1901, p. 121). The Company persisted at 171 LaSalle St. through 1902 (State Board of Equilization, 1903, p. 152; Chicago Directory Company, 1902, p. 1531) and 1903 (Recorder of Deeds, 1904). I found it interesting that only one month after incorporating the Odell-Young Typewriter Company, a man named Nathaniel L. Young dies in a hotel room at only 59 years of age (Obituary, 1899). No information was in the paper regarding cause of death, and no link to Odell-Young was explicitly stated.


Odell-Young began advertising the model 3 in 1900, and on June 15 we found the first reference (Odell Typewriter, 1900). The only difference between the model 2 and the model 3 is the shape of the name plate (Rehr, 1994) and the name of the company stamped on the plate. As referenced earlier, the Odell Type Writer Company made a point to deny any connection with Odell-Young, even though Odell-Young planned to sell the very same machine. The comment could have been for legal reasons. Having no legal relationship to the then bankrupt Odell Typewriter Company would make the new Odell-Young Typewriter Company unaccountable to any lingering legal action. It is interesting that they chose to keep the name "Odell" as part of their company name. There appears to be no evidence that Levi Odell had anything to do with this company, as he so made clear in the bankruptcy announcement, other than that it was located in the same city, and that the company sold his invention.


By 1903, another model was released, the model 4, this one sold by Farquhar & Albrecht, differing only from the model 3 in the model number and the name of the company listed on the plate. Meanwhile, also in 1903, Levi Odell patented a bread cutting machine (Commissioner of Patents, 1904), suggesting he had moved on to other endeavors for the time being. Farquhar & Albrecht was a bookseller located at 378 Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL, at least since 1900 (Chicago Directory Company, 1900, pp. 141 & 624; Chicago Directory Company, 1902, p. 148; Farquhar & Albrecht, n. d.). Two years later, in 1905, they incorporated, and seem to have expanded into selling school supplies (Moses, 1905, p. 930). At least in 1905, the company was owned by George A. Chritton, Gustave A. Albrecht, and James D. Farquhar. It seems these new manufacturers were ready to give Sears another chance. The Odell typewriter was advertised in the 1903 Sears catalog, and twice in 1904 with a picture that appears to have a face plate reading No 4 (Sears, Roebuck & Co., Winter 1903, p. 112, Spring 1904, p. 141, and Winter 1904, p. 260).


As revealed by another collector (Kerschbaumer, 2019), the model 4 was also associated with "Balthazard Co., Chicago, USA". It is difficult to say what this company was or what they sold since research has been difficult to turn up anything related to typewriters and this company’s name. There was one reference to a Balthazard Co. of Chicago in a Pittsburgh newspaper advertising that they were seeking agents. There is no information on what the agents would be selling, but claim “Our proposition is a revelation. What we have is new, artistic, wonderful.” (Wanted: Help and Agents, 1906). There is also a reference to a Balthazard in the Lakeside City Directory of Chicago from 1902 (Chicago Directory Company, 1902, p. 207), one Joseph M. Balthazard, listed as a director, at 17 Vanburen. In 1904 there is a Mr. J. Balthazard who advertised having lost a parcel on the elevated train in Chicago. The ad places him at 352 Dearborn St. (Lost and Found, 1904), just 6 numbers down from one of the sites of the Odell Type Writer and the Odell Manufacturing Companies. The main Balthazard references around this same time relate to a school for learning languages, "The Balthazard Modern School", located at Steinway Hall in Chicago (Balthazard Modern School, 1902), but there seem to be no direct link between that school and the Odell typewriter.


It was in 1904 that the Odell-Young Typewriter Co., sellers of the model 3, followed a similar fate to the Odell Type Writer Co., and sold its assets in a Master’s Sale (Legal Notices, 1904). Odell-Young failed to report in 1904, thereby legally cancelling their incorporation in the state (Recorder of Deeds, 1904). Although manufacturing likely ceased on the model 3 at the same time, advertisements can be found into 1905 (Odell Typewriter, The, 1905), likely to sell off the remaining inventories sitting with selling agents.


Although previously thought that the last advertisement known of the model 4 was in 1904 (Cincotta, 2002), advertisements can be found late into 1905 (Odell Typewriters, 1905), and by 1906, the final Odell branded typewriter, the model 5, started to be advertised as the “New Odell” (New Odell Typewriter, 1906). The only differences between models 4 and 5 were the printed model number, the listed manufacturer, and that on some machines, Momence, instead of Chicago, was printed on the base. The new manufacturer, America Company, was essentially a tolling facility (For Sale, 1906), manufacturing miscellaneous “novelties” including fishing reels (Gast, 1997-2020), and had also recently purchased rights to the Pixie Sewing Machine (Moves to Momence, 1905). At least as early as 1904, America Company was located at 660, 662, and 672 Race St. in Rockford, IL, (Gast, 1997-2020). In 1905, “The American Company”, now manufacturers of the Odell typewriter according to the article, announced that they would build a factory in Momence, IL in May 1906 (Moves to Momence, 1905; Momence Gets a Factory, 1905). The new 2-story (Moves to Momence, 1905) “White Factory on the Uplands” (N. Porter, personal communication, September 4, 2019, from a personal letter from W. J. H Strong, president of America Company, to Momence, dated February 2, 1906) sat at one of the following addresses: 700 N Market, Momence, IL (N. Porter, personal communication, September 4, 2019), or 91, 153 (Gast, 1997-2020), or 587 North St. (New Odell Typewriter, 1906). Given the number of different addresses, it seems the operation was bigger than just one building. Research revealed that the same Gustave A. Albrecht, president and director of Farquhar & Albrecht Co., was listed as the director of America Company in 1906 (Audit Company of New York, 1906, p. 4). It is unclear if this is when Mr. Albrecht started with America Company, but it is likely more than a coincidence that the same year the new factory was built happened to be the year the Odell Typewriter started being sold by America Company, and stopped being sold by Farquhar & Albrecht.


A very similar looking typewriter to the Odell model 5 exists with the name “America Type Writer #5” (Cincotta, 2002). The only distinguishing feature, outside of the difference in brand name, is a generic pattern used on the round base of the typewriter. You can find a picture of this machine at the website, the Virtual Typewriter Museum, at https://www.typewritermuseum.org. It seems likely that America Company was given permission to sell their own generic branded Odell Typewriter when they made a deal to sell the Odell model 5.


Consistent with his previous move to Lake Geneva to be near the manufacturing facility, Levi Odell moved to Momence around 1906 (Tells Her Secret, 1906). While all these changes were occurring in business and residence, a more personal change popped up unexpectedly. Around May 1906, Levi finds out that his daughter, Grace Venetta Odell, became Mrs. Zach C. Eldowney via elopement in September 1905 (Tells Her Secret, 1906). It seems that a chapter in Levi’s life was starting to come to an end, and a new one was beginning. The last model of his typewriter was just released to the market, and his daughters were growing up and starting to make their own independent life choices.


Sadly, the Odell Typewriter seems to have been the touch of death for its owners. America Company filed for voluntary bankruptcy the same year they built the new factory (Typewriter Company Fails, 1906). On May 25, 1907, America Company was forced to sell off the factory and equipment, including the letters patent for the Odell typewriter (Forced Sale of Factory and Equipment, 1907; Too Late to Classify, 1907). Here we find Sears possibly taking advantage of the bankruptcy, or perhaps America Company tried to partner with Sears to sell off its remaining stock, as we find the Odell typewriter, which appears to be the model 5, advertised for the last time in 1907 (Sears, Roebuck & Co., Spring 1907, p. 1032).


1907 was a tragic year for the Odells. In the midst of the bankruptcy of the last manufacturing company of the Odell Typewriter, another of his daughters, Madelyn Odell Clayton, makes the newspapers. Mrs. Madelyn Clayton, aka Maude Odell, a professional clairvoyant, left her husband, F. J. Clayton, also a clairvoyant, shortly before she went missing around Thanksgiving in 1907 (Seek a Missing Mind Reader, 1907). Sadly, she was found dead at Rock River in Janesville, WI, just two days after Christmas 1907 (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907). Strangely, her body was found "free of water", meaning she had not drowned (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907), which suggested murder.


Frederick J. Clayton, Maude’s husband, claimed that his wife had tried to leave him once before (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907), and claimed that she was “despondent” and had previously attempted to commit suicide (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907). As an aside, it seems that at least marital separation was not foreign to the Odell family. Levi and his wife Mary had apparently left each other less than seven years earlier (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907; US Census Bureau, 1900). I was unable to pin-point the date of separation, but there must have been a divorce due to a second marriage you will read about later in this article. The day he was told about his wife’s death, Frederick was apparently attempting to put up a sign advertising himself as a Clairvoyant at 2966 Indiana Ave in Chicago, but the landlady, Mrs. Jackman, would not permit it, so he left the house, apparently to finally try to find his wife. When he found out about his wife’s body, he went to voluntarily give his statement with the police (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907). Both husband and mother confirmed to the police that, although prone to a despondent demeanor, Maude and Frederick seemed to be happy together (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907).


Much intrigue surrounded this case. One theory was that Maude committed suicide, this time succeeding in the attempt (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907). Another was that her body was thrown into a manhole and washed into the river (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907); however, supposedly that theory was debunked based on the measurements of the sewer (Clayton Puzzle Unsolved, 1907). With missing teeth (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907), two broken ribs (Mrs. Clayton’s Death, 1908), it seems likely she was either assaulted prior to her death, or that her body was beaten up while floating in the river. Another theory was that she had intended to drown herself, but became entangled in something and died from exposure to the elements (Clayton Puzzle Unsolved, 1907). According to reports, animals ate the skin around her neck, so it was impossible to detect if the cause of death was from strangling (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907).



The theory that she was assaulted would correspond with an account that she had been concerned about a man that she did not know who was rumored to have been hanging around and following her (Crime Indicated in Clayton Case, 1907; Clayton Girl Slain, 1907). It is interesting to note that a man from Fond du Lac, WI, named J. F. Lanauette had claimed to be her husband, and later told a jury that he had lied about his claim (Mrs. Clayton’s Death, 1908). We find out that Frederick J. Clayton had changed his name from F. J. Lanauette due to "theatrical custom", and that only his wife, and not his mother-in-law, knew his real name (Jury, Baffled, Drops Show Girl Tragedy, 1908). This "J. F. Lanauette" must have discovered this fact to have made up his strange lie. Another interesting rumor was associated with a potential inheritance; supposedly there were papers she needed to have signed to receive an inheritance from an uncle as advertised by her sister, Grace McEldowney (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907). The investigation finally closed unsolved (Jury, Baffled, Drops Show Girl Tragedy, 1908).


It seems there was a suspected serial killer associated with Maude's case. Another woman, Miss Josephine Malone turned up missing (New Clayton Mystery Up, 1908), and was also later found in Rock River, about 100 feet downstream from where Maude’s body was found (Woman Found Slain, 1908). In this case, evidence was sufficient to suspect murder by strangling (Woman Found Slain, 1908). Supposedly, the police claimed that if Josephine was murdered, it was likely by the same "maniac" who may have killed Maude (New Clayton Mystery Up, 1908). This reminded me of the strange lie told by J. F. Lanauette, claiming to be her husband. The explanation he gave when asked why he lied was to be a part of the intrigue around the murder mystery case. The newspaper stated that after it was discovered that he had perjured himself, he had been given an hour to leave town, yet hung around (Clayton Girl Slain, 1907). Either that man was craving attention, or was a little touched in the head, and makes one wonder, if he was given an hour to leave but was able to stay around, how easy would it have been to come back into town after the case of Mrs. Clayton was closed.


A third woman was mysteriously found dead, and her case was loosely connected to these two tragic deaths in the papers; however, one key difference was that she was found dead in her boarding house, not in the river, and another was that her throat was found slit rather than strangled. It is strange that the newspapers claimed she was thought to have committed suicide when she was not only found with a slit throat, but with a door that looked like forced entry, and witnesses downstairs who state they heard rapping, followed by crashing of glass (likely the door), followed by a woman shrieking (Another Janesville Mystery, 1908; May Lead to Trouble, 1908). To put these murder mysteries into perspective, they occurred only a decade after the Jack the Ripper case in London. The newspapers claim the police are calling the murder of Miss Josephine Malone a second Jack the Ripper Case (Woman Found Slain, 1908).


Often to move on, people find it easier to believe a suspect has been caught and convicted than to find the real perpetrator. Living nearby in a shack as a "hermit" was a “half-witted Norwegian”, a supposedly demented outsider to the Janesville, WI, community. He was described as wearing two sets of clothing and carried catskin, steaks, and potatoes in his pockets. This man broke into the former mayor’s house. It seems somewhat convenient that he was subsequently blamed for all three murders and a series of other crimes (Janesville Hermit, 1908). Since he never confessed, the police couldn’t directly implicate him in the murders (Police Can Prove Nothing, 1908). Sadly, we may never know what happened to these three women.


Although a tragic year for the Odells, 1907 also marked the introduction of our original muse, the Emerson. In 1907 the Emerson Typewriter Company organized in Kittery, Maine (Messenger, 2013). That same year is said to be when Emerson Typewriter Company formed at Momence (N. Porter, personal communication, September 4, 2019, from a photographed newspaper article published September 5, 1947). According to Robert Messenger (2013), the first Emerson was sold in 1909. In 1910, Sears purchased Emerson and decided to move the company to Woodstock, IL, the same city that was home to the Oliver Typewriter Company. Sometime between 1910 and 1911, Emerson physically moved over the entire stock and sold the building to America Ladder Co., which moved in in 1911 (N. Porter, personal communication, September 9, 2019, scanned newspaper article “Ladder Factory” from September 2, 1910).


After much research and correspondence with the Momence Historical House, we were finally able to draw the link; in 1908, a newspaper article stated that the “American Typewriter Factory” was sold to Emerson Typewriter Company (Around Home, 1908). As mentioned previously, our search started when we realized both companies were from the same city, Momence, IL. Ms. Porter from the Historical House had discovered America Co. listed in a Momence Yearbook in 1911 that had the same logo as on the Odell model 5. The strange thing was that we thought that an article showing that a “Novelty Factory” had shut down two years before Emerson bought their Momence, IL, factory in 1908 (Absorbed by Company, 1908) was about America Co., which would make the 1911 picture somewhat anachronic. Upon further probing, it was clear that the picture was of the same building, due to the logo, but in 1911 it actually housed the America Ladder Company. So our theory still held. Furthermore, a newspaper article shared by Ms. Porter stated that the America Ladder Company purchased the building from Emerson, placing Emerson in the same building. Between the undeniable logo, these links, and the final newspaper article, the chain of history of the building is undeniable. (Thanks also to Ms. Porter for supplying the pictures below.)



Several other businesses moved in and out of the old America Company building over the years, including Blackstone Motor Co. in 1916, Whole Grain Wheat Co. in 1917, and after a tornado took out the second floor, the Strongheart Dog Food Factory (N. Porter, personal communication, September 12, 2019), which then became the Doyle Packing Co., which was around at least until 1947 (N. Porter, personal communication, September 4, 2019, from a photographed newspaper article published September 5, 1947). Thanks to Ms. Porter, we know that the building was laid to rest around 2017 when the building was considered unsafe. The last known company to reside in that building was the Van Drunen Farms, which still inhabits the surrounding land (N. Porter, personal communication, September 4, 2019, photograph).


The story of the Emerson Typewriter Company ended shortly later as the name was changed to Roebuck Typewriter Company, and finally to the well-known Woodstock Typewriter Company. They changed the design of the machine to a more standard model and eventually phased out the original Emerson machine completely.


Before the Odell family tragedy struck, on April 15, 1907, Levi applied for a new typewriter patent of an extremely similar looking machine (Odell, 1907). If you remember, this happens to be around the time of the expiration of the original patent that sustained the same basic design through the last four models. The new patent was granted on August 24, 1909 (Odell, 1907; Cincotta, 2002). With this, the seller of this typewriter had patent protection until 1926. This new typewriter was sold as the “New American Typewriter” model 5, the same model number as the last Odell, and now under another newly formed company, New American Manufacturing Company. The patent picture to your left reveals the square base that differentiated the New American from the Odell.


The assignee of this patent was Gustave A. Albrecht of Chicago, IL. Does that name sound familiar? In 1909, Gustave A. Albrecht was still listed as the president or manager of Farquhar and Albrecht Company located at 378-388 Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL (Illinois Recorder of Deeds, 1909, p. 135), which manufactured the Odell 4 prior to the last Odell 5, manufactured by America Company, of which Mr. Albrecht was also a director. Interestingly, an A. A. Albrecht (Chapman, 1907, p. 55), or by another source, a Gustave A. Albrecht (Moses, 1907, p. 557), was listed as one of the incorporators of New American Manufacturing Company when it was formed in Chicago, IL, in 1907, note, the same year that Odell applied for his patent, and the same year America Company went bankrupt. New American Manufacturing Company was listed as manufacturing typewriters and office supplies. As the America Co. was going under, and the patent was coming due for expiration, it seems Mr. Albrecht must have contacted the original inventor to write up a new patent for the same typewriter, tweaked just enough to extend the patent life. It would have been 1908 when any generic models of the Odell could have been produced by any other company, but the new square base which used less metal and would have required less work, since it was pin striped and decaled rather than stamped, would have provided a better way to meet the price point to compete with generics, while offering the same basic tool to customers.


It was in 1910, the same year Sears purchased the Emerson, and a year after the patent granted for the New American typewriter, that Levi Judson Odell incorporated the Odell Manufacturing Company in California with brothers Jerome A. Odell and Frank E. Odell (New Incorporations, 1910). Plans for a new 1-story brick factory building were completed in November 1910 by The Richards-Neustadt Construction Company. The building was to be constructed in Los Angeles on the corner of Hunter and Lawrence Streets (Lively Week, 1910). It seems the company would not focus on typewriters, but rather on safety razors. Much as he did with his other sites, he moved out to Los Angeles near the new site. This would be his last move across states.


This same year, 1910, Odell, age 54, proposes to and marries a second woman 20 years his junior, Lula Branstatter, age 34 (Marriage Licenses, 1910). According to the papers, the woman showed up for an ad to sell “the machine his company manufactures”, and on the third training he gave her an ultimatum, that she either marry him or can’t work (Head of Typewriter Concern, 1911). This woman had divorced another man in 1906 and sent their two sons to their father in 1908, the same year she moved to Los Angeles, CA. Apparently the alimony paid by her former husband was discontinued around the same time she married Levi. (Former Audrain Countyans, 1911). As you can imagine, a marriage that starts with an ultimatum might not go so well, and three years later Lula files for divorce on the grounds that Levi was being “cruel” (Fails to Show, 1913). It seems the divorce went through as "Mrs. Bryant" was granted $50 per month in alimony. Somewhat amusingly, whereas in 1910 Lula claimed she wanted to work and could not given Levi's ultimatum, for the divorce she claims he forced her to work selling razors when she did not want to.


By 1911, Odell has two new patents, this time for those items that Ms. Brandstatter did not want to sell, Safety Razors (Commissioner of Patents, 1912). The company also tries to sell a razor sharpening machine (see picture to your right), and advertised that the operator could make money by providing the service of sharpening the safety razor blades (Razor Sharpening Machine, 1915; Big Profits Sharpening, 1917; Odell Automatic Razor Sharpening Machine, 1917) sold with the safety razors. Odell’s last seven patents all revolve around razors and sharpening machines (Commissioner of Patents, 1912, 1914, 1915, 1917). It seems these were a success, as the Odell razor seems to be another antique cherished in the collecting world.


1917 would be Levi’s last patent. On June 10, 1919, at the age of 64, Levi Judson Odell passed away at 1800 Middleton Place, Los Angeles, CA (Deaths, 1919). He was buried in California, and his name was engraved into the headstone on his family’s plot in Illinois (Find a Grave, 2012). The Odell Manufacturing Company went on to show his razor sharpening machinery at the L. A. industrial trade show, held August 15-20, 1921 (Rush, 1921). His inventions, manufactured and sold over 100 years ago, live on today in the hands of collectors all around the world.

References


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Annual Meeting, The (1888, October 5), The Lake Geneva Herald, p. 4. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/35840375/odell_is_1_year_old_in_1888/


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Around Home (1908, July 11), Paxton Daily Record, p. 2. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/34710605/american_sold_to_emerson_momence_odell/


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Cincotta, R. (2002, June). The last breath of the Odell. ETCetera, (58). Retrieved from https://etconline.org/backissues/ETC058.pdf


City and Vicinity (1892, August 5), The Times, p. 3. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/35840555/mccullough_odell_lawsuit/


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Odell Automatic Razor Sharpening Machine, The (1917, September 14), The Lompoc Record, p. 4. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/image/540145124/?terms=odell%2Brazor%2Bsharpening%2Bmachine%2BLompoc


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