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Packard brothers sparked businesses with incandescent lamps

While the history of Packard’s automobile and automotive cable businesses are well documented, very little has been written about Packard incandescent lamps — the Packard brothers’ first business venture that they founded in 1890.

Like their automobiles, Packard lamps were prized for their quality, winning the gold medal for incandescent light at the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. I hope you enjoy a few brief excerpts about the birth of Packard lamps.

The Packard brothers were a dynamic duo in 1890. James “Ward” Packard, 26, was a prolific inventor whose cutting-edge technology improved upon Edison’s light bulb patent. For the prior six years, he had been employed as an engineer by the Sawyer Man Company in New York City.

Older brother William D. “Will” Packard, 28, had joined Ward in New York in 1886 as assistant superintendent of Sawyer Man’s lamp department. Will Packard was a persistent promoter, eager to sell Packard lamps all over North America. The Packard brothers broke ground for their Dana Street lamp factory just five days after signing the charter to incorporate the Packard Electric Company on June 4, 1890.

The following week, Will traveled to New York City to purchase equipment and meet with John Peale, a wealthy investor. On the trip home, Will stopped at the Corning, New York glass works to order glass needed for lamp production. Construction proceeded quickly that summer.

Will Packard moved into his office on Aug. 4, and the factory’s power plant was up and running 10 days later. Machinery was installed and tested on Aug. 22. The first good bamboo filament was made on Sept. 9, and lamp production began three days later.

On Sept. 15, Will wrote in his journal that they had “finished first lamps.” The new lamp was called the “Packard High Grade Lamp” and was manufactured in different sizes and styles. Once lamp production began, the brothers divided their duties based on their strengths and talents.

Ward largely remained in the laboratory and factory in Warren, managing research, development and production, while Will hit the road as the company’s chief salesman. Will sold the first Packard lamps to Walter Kauffman, the manager of the American Tube & Iron Co. of Youngstown, a wrought iron and steel tube manufacturer. Early sales were brisk, which required the addition of a night shift to meet demand on Oct. 2, 1890.

The Packard brothers’ lamp factory was notable for its state-of-the-art manufacturing process. All the machines ran by separate electric motors, as opposed to a series of belts and pulleys used by most factories of that era. The lamp factory’s workforce was predominately women, as much of the manufacturing was done by hand, and women possessed better finger dexterity.

In 1965, Packard Electric’s first female employee, Clara Gledhill, described what it was like working for the Packard brothers: “One day, a belt broke on one of the machines. Those Packard boys came right over and began taking apart the equipment to repair it. And what a sight they were,” she laughed. “By the time they were finished, they were covered from head to toe with oil and dirt.”

The Packard Electric Company was originally organized as both a lamp manufacturer and an electrical contractor. Packard Electric’s first contract was to install lamps at the Griswold Linseed Oil Works in Warren’s old Flats section. The second contract was to light the Neracher Sprinkler factory (later ITT Grinnell) on Paige Avenue in Warren. In 1897, Packard Electric installed electrical wiring and Packard lamps at the Trumbull County Courthouse then under construction.

Wealthy Akron-area businessmen expressed an interest in purchasing the Packards’ newly launched lamp business. “America’s Match King,” O.C. Barber, along with Albert Paige and others toured the factory in October 1890. Will Packard wrote that they “wanted a proposition for us to go to Barberton.” Packard Electric remained in Warren, but Albert Paige gave Will Packard the contract to light the new Albert Hall then under construction in downtown Akron.

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