Alexander T. Brown (November 21, 1854 - January 31, 1929) was an inventor, engineer, businessman and entrepreneur in Syracuse, New York and was credited with over 100 inventions. He invented the Smith Premier typewriter, the L. C. Smith breech-loading shotgun and the two-speed Hi-Lo Bi-Gear for bicycles.
He was one of the founders of the Brown-Lipe Gear Company, a manufacturer of bicycle gears and later Brown-Lipe-Chapin Company, a manufacturer of automobile gears, differentials and transmissions, which merged with General Motors in 1922.
In the field of public life and commercial and industrial activity, Alexander Timothy Brown was numbered among the leading influential citizens of Syracuse, and among the "captains of industry" in the city. He belonged to a small group of "distinctively representative" businessmen who were the pioneers in inaugurating and building up the chief industries in Central New York. Throughout his career, he was connected with many extensive and important business interests.
He was born in Scott located in Cortland County in Southern New York State on November 21, 1854, and was the son of Nancy M. Alexander (August 16, 1826 - January 26, 1907), of Leyden, Massachusetts, and Stephen Smith Brown (March 22, 1827 - March 19, 1893), also a native of Cortland County, and a farmer by occupation. He was one of three children, one who died at a young age and a brother, William H. Brown, also of Syracuse.
The family came from "Revolutionary ancestry" and the line of descent can be traced back to Thomas Brown, of Lynn, Massachusetts, and Charles Brown of Rowley, Massachusetts. Another of his maternal relatives was an early settler of Onondaga County and one of its pioneer teachers.
Paternal grandfather, Timothy Brown, settled in Scott in Cortland County in 1800. His wife's family at one time owned the land on the site of the city of Cortand.
Brown obtained his early education at the district school in Scott at later at academies in Homer and Cortland, New York, when he wasn't needed on the farm and spent his free time tinkering with his father's farm implements to make them more efficient. While still in his teens, he applied for his first U.S. patent, a "self-binding" harvester, however, found that someone else had already applied for the patent. Brown credited James T. Leland, a neighboring farmer, for nurturing the inventor in him. Leland had a small workshop on his farm where he worked on machinery and it was here that young Brown spent his spare time.
He entered business life as a salesman of agricultural implements in Auburn, New York in 1878 at the D. M. Osborne & Company in the manufacture of harvesters.
During 1879, at the age of 25, he secured employment in Syracuse as a lathe operator with W. H. Baker Gun Company, later secured by the L. C. Smith Company, manufacturers of firearms, where he worked in the mechanical department. While in the employment of the company, he perfected the modern breech-loading shotgun which was called the L. C. Smith Gun and later sold to Hunter Arms Company.
Some would say that Lyman C. Smith was the father of the L. C. Smith shotgun, however, "the heart of the gun," its rotary bolting mechanism was invented in March 1883, by Brown. It is suspected by some that Brown was given the task of "circumventing" the Baker patents. On July 13, 1886, he was issued patent 345,362 on which the hammerless L. C. Smith shotgun was based. His last known gun patent was 381,109, issued on April 17, 1888 for an air rifle.
Smith Premier typewriter
Smith Premier Typewriter - advertisement 1896
In 1889, Brown, along with George F. Stillman, turned their attention to devising a typewriter machine that incorporated their own design ideas and the Smith Premier typewriter was the result. The machine was manufactured by Smith Premier Typewriter Company in Syracuse, were Brown was "inventor in charge of mechanical construction." He was also president of the company for several years.
Wilbert Lewis Smith, who owned the L. C. Smith Company gun factory in Syracuse first "engaged" Brown after he was recommended "as a person with considerable inventive talent." Smith was one of the Smith brothers, famous for their typewriters, along with Lyman Cornelius Smith. Brown not only improved the Smiths' guns, but he also involved the brothers in his new venture, the Smith Premier typewriter.
Smith Premier Typewriter - Syracuse plant in 1904
Brown had first become interested in the typewriter at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, which was the first official World's Fair in the United States and held in Philadelphia. Brown had seen a "single case" typewriter there built by Sholes and Glidden and "was convinced he could design a better one." Wilbert L. Smith personally financed the construction of a working model and liked it so well he "decided to put it into production" at his gun works.
In addition to designing the typewriter, Brown also designed the machinery needed to manufacture the typewriter. Syracuse in those days was soon known as the "typewriter city."
Brown and Stillman are best known for their invention of the pneumatic tire for vehicles, patented on December 20, 1892. The tire was manufactured at the Hartford Rubber Works in Hartford, Connecticut in 1895. In July of that year, auto manufacturer, Charles Duryea used the Brown-Stillman tires on his "motorized wagon" and won the $5,000 first prize in the automobile race which was reported as the first automobile race held in the United States. Duryea "covered the distance in 7 hours, 53 minutes at an average speed of .
The two men established their tire business while still employed by the Smith brothers. They formed an association in Syracuse in 1888; one year after Brown patented his typewriter. Stillman acted as assistant superintendent to Brown at the Smith gun factory where he was employed as consulting engineer until 1903.
Brown also invented the "clincher" tire for bicycles from which the manufacture of the Dunlop tire was founded.
He also was drawn to the telephone design and there are several patents pertaining to this and accredited to him. Brown designed an automatic switchboard for the telephone that allowed for a "change from manual transmission of calls to a dial phone system" which eventually led to the rotary dial phone. The patent was sold to the Strombert-Carlson Company.
Lipe machine shop
Brown-Lipe transmissions - Brown-Lipe Chapin differentials - 1917
Brown worked with Charles E. Lipe in the C. E. Lipe Machine Shop at 208 Geddes Street, considered an early business incubator and referred to as "the cradle of industries" in Syracuse.
Together, Brown and Lipe designed and built the two-speed Hy-Lo Bi-Gear for bicycles. In 1895, the men established the Brown-Lipe Gear Company, and although the bicycle gear failed to catch on during the days of the two-wheelers, the gear soon found a lucrative market in the automobile industry. In January 1904, the Brown-Lipe Gear Company moved to the former offices occupied by the Franklin Automobile Company. According to manager, H. W. Chapin, the factory had been running nights to keep up with demand and "gears and transmissions made by this concern are being used by a large number of manufacturers."
Brown and Lipe turned their attention to the automobile and their work can be seen in the improvements of operation. Brown-Lipe Gear Company was the parent company of the Brown-Lipe-Chapin Company, a manufacturer of differentials, clutches and transmissions, where Brown was president.
He was also one of the founders of the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company and was at one time its president and later director. The Franklin automobile was manufactured complete with Brown's differential (equalizing) gear.
Alexander T. Brown - Transmission - U.S. Patent 819,334 - 1906
In all, Brown was awarded over 300 patents in his lifetime.
- L. C. Smith shotgun - Granted U.S. Patent 345,362 on July 13, 1886.
- Air rifle - Granted U.S. Patent 381,109 on April 17, 1888.
- Pneumatic tire - Granted U.S. Patent 488,494 on December 20, 1892 (Stillman and Brown).
- Sliding-gear transmission - Granted U.S. Patent 819,334 in May 1906.
Brown was active in many civic organizations in the Syracuse area and was well known for his philanthropy.
He was a contributing director to the Hospital of the Good Shepherd and the Women's and Children's Hospital, both in Syracuse.
He was a life member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and of the National Geographic Society. He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Society of Automobile Engineers. Brown was a thirty-second degree Mason. Through his ancestry he was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.
He was an avid sportsman and "sports of field, forest and stream" appealed to him and he "maintained a boat" on the St. Lawrence River. He held memberships in many clubs and associations, among them; the Angler's Association, Stony Island Club and Adirondack League Club.
Other clubs in which he held membership included; The Transportation Club of New York City, The Citizens, Century and Automobile of Syracuse, the City and Automobile clubs of Auburn, New York, and Wolverine Automobile of Detroit, Michigan. Additionally, he belonged to the Onondaga Golf and Country Club and the Bellevue Country Club of Syracuse.
Throughout the years, Brown was director of the Remington Typewriter Company, the Globe Malleable Iron and Steel Company, the First National Bank of Syracuse and the Syracuse Journal Company.
While he never took an active part in political affairs, he was civic minded and was chairman of the New York State grade crossing commission and a trustee of Syracuse University as well as New York State College of Forestry. He was a Republican.
Alexander T. Brown of Syracuse, New York - entrepreneur
On April 2, 1883, Brown was married to Mary Lillian Seamans (died 1933), daughter of Julian C. Seamans of Virgil, Cortland County, New York. Together, the couple had two sons; Charles Seamans Brown (April 20, 1885), and Julian Stephen Brown (March 29, 1887). Both sons were also known for their ambition, mechanical abilities and "keen business sense."
The Alexander T. Brown home, located at 726 West Onondaga Street in Syracuse, is an example of "domestic" Romanesque Revival architecture. It was designed by Gordon Wright and built of Potsdam sandstone and was completed in 1895. The home came complete with a hydraulic elevator "that ran from basement to attic."
In later life, he was drawn to Shackelton Point and Oneida Lake and he acquired several farms adjacent to his lakeside property. He maintained horses on the property and had barns filled with farm implements. Many of his later patents were related to farm equipment, including improvements for tractor frames and a mower sickle bar for tractors.
He was a modest man and was an art lover and enjoyed collecting paintings, rare books, and rifles. He was a crack shot and had one of the largest private collections of military rifles in the world at the time of his death.
He died at his home in Syracuse after an illness of several months. Cause of death on January 31, 1929, was bronchial pneumonia.