James Dalton

What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.
Confucius

James Lewis Dalton (1866-1926)
James Lewis Dalton (1866-1926)

James Lewis Dalton (1866-1926) was a successful businessman and amateur mechanic from Poplar Bluff, Butler county, Mo. He was the owner of the largest department store in the Mid-West, member of Missouri legislature and District Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge of State of Missouri. How this venerable businessman and public figure entered the world of mechanical calculators?

In early 1900s, the famous adding machines constructors William and Hubert Hopkins desperately needed money in order to manufacture and put on the market their inventions. So in December, 1901, William Hopkins went to Poplar Bluff and there succeeded in interesting Dalton and others of that city in financing his enterprise. The result was that a contract was entered into by and between the Hopkins brothers and Dalton and his associates by which the latter agreed to furnish $2500, a part of which was to go to the former and a part of it was to be expended in the manufacture of the first machine, so as to demonstrate its practicability.

Shortly after this agreement was made the Hopkins brothers built the machine in St. Louis, using a part of the $2500 for that purpose. In January 1902 Dalton went to St. Louis, and Hubert Hopkins show him the prototype of an advanced 10-key adding machine. Dalton was impressed by this machine, and in June 1902 additional sum of $1250 was put up by Dalton. In consideration of money granted, Hopkins brothers were to assign to Dalton a half interest to a company thereafter to be organized. The machine was completed in September, 1902, and in December 1902 the Addograph Manufacturing Company was founded (50000$ shares), half of shares owned by Hopkins brothers, the other half owned by Dalton. Dalton was the president, and Hubert Hopkins was the director.

The purpose-built in 1909 factory building of Dalton Adding Machine Co. in Poplar Bluff, MO
The purpose-built in 1909 factory building of Dalton Adding Machine Co. in Poplar Bluff, MO

However, in 1903 Hubert Hopkins began an unfair game and secretly sold his stock in the Addograph Co. to American Arithmometer Co., the manufacturer of the famous Burroughs Adding Machine, and with additional shares it had bought, gave it control of the Addograph Co (for this and for other similar cases later on American Arithmometer will be sued for “Conspiracy, Attempt to Monopolize and Monopoly”). As the patent application for the machine, filled in January 1903 (see the US patent No. 1039130), was assigned to Addograph Co., this action threatened the investments of Dalton. To regain control, Dalton paid to American Arithmometer $40000 for the stock (Hopkins had sold this stock for only $5000, and this prove to be a very bad decision, because using his patent Dalton will become a millionaire later). Thus Dalton was granted the exclusive right to make and sell the machines, what he did, founding in July 1903 a new company—the Adding Typewriter Company in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. The company later changed its name to Dalton Adding Machine Company.

Since 1904 Dalton gradually turned the store over to his son and others and devoted his entire time to the adding machine, engaged as a “president, general manager, factory manager, timekeeper, paymaster, bookkeeper and chief salesman”, always working at least 14, and sometimes more, hours daily. The first factory was in a side room and during that period the three or four mechanics who built the first machines watched Dalton leave on a sales trip with great interest, because, if he didn’t make a sale they didn’t get paid. But after a few years, aided with the capital of friends, and a refusal to become discouraged and quit, success came his way. In 1909 the company relocated to a purpose-built factory building (see the upper image). The machine began to sell on the market and 200 sales offices were ultimately opened up in different parts of the world, and sales ran up to one million worth a month.

Dalton Adding Machine
Dalton Adding Machine (© National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.)

First model was released in 1907, and after extensive advertising campaign in 1909 it became a market hit. Earlier models had glass inserts to allow customers to view the gears actually calculating the answers. By the 1920’s over 150 models of Dalton Adding Machines had been designed and over 50000 machines were sold. In 1915 the price was 125$, while the 1926 price was $100. In 1919 it was stated that the US government had over 3000 Dalton machines.

A full description of the operation of Dalton Adding Machine can be found in the Dalton Instruction Book.

Many people might consider it humiliating to start out selling adding machines with a heavy sample bag packed under his arm and interviewing the same people whose merchandise purchases had helped swell his former business to the $750000 mark. Perhaps it was hard but James Dalton did it just the same. During his lifetime, he managed to progress from $12 a month clerk in a hardware store to the presidency of the Dalton Adding Machine Company, a ten million dollars concern manufacturing upwards of 60000 machines a year and with agencies throughout the civilized world employing 2500 persons.

After the death of James Dalton on 11 January 1926, Dalton Adding Machine Co. merged with other companies to become Remington Rand in 1927.

Dalton Adding Machine in booklet from 1917
Dalton Adding Machine in a booklet from 1917

Biography of James Dalton

James Lewis Dalton (Jimmie) was born on 28 December 1866, in Dalton Farm (a homestead near Ponder, Ripley county, Missouri, then managed by his grandfather Elijah Dalton). He was the son of William Marion Dalton and his second wife Mary Caroline (Myatt) Dalton (b. 9 October 1838 in Dickson, Tennessee—d. 12 April 1890 in Ripley, Missouri). James was named after his uncle, James Lewis Dalton (1835-1924), an energetic and thorough man of business, a merchant miller and farmer of Dalton, Arkansas.

William “Billy” Marion Dalton was born in Missouri on 30 May 1834, the second (of seven) children of Elijah Dalton (1807-1884), a farmer and owner of water-mill, and Zillah Gaines (1810-1855). William Dalton was the first postmaster of Dalton, Arkansas. On 18 November 1855, he married to Mary Caroline Myatt and they had nine children (Zilpha, Zillah, Rufus, Zimriah, Mary Elizabeth, James Lewis, Sarah, Lively, and Ascenith). He passed away on 7 September 1873 in Ripley, Missouri. In 1875 Mary Caroline re-married to Asebel (Asel) Arnold and they had two children.

The life story of James Lewis Dalton would be appropriate subject matter for a “rags-to-riches” story. He rose from the position of a poorly educated backwoods boy to become the owner of the largest department store in the Middle West and head of one of the world’s largest business machine manufacturing plants, devoted to the manufacture of the Dalton Calculating Machine.

When a small child, living with his mother and other children, Jimmie was constantly engaged in experimenting with machinery. An older member of the family once said that James was “all the time fooling with wheels.” In 1880 at age 14, he made an exact model of his mother’s sewing machine in wood, and surprisingly it worked.

As a boy Jimmie attended the country schools near his home. Some of these schools were at Bakerden, Warm Springs, Doniphan and at Dalton. In the early 1880s he was educated at the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute in Izard County, AR. Later Jimmie (at the age of 16) taught school for a time at Dalton, Bakerden, and seven months at Elm Store, assisted by his sister, Neeta.

In 1884, when he was 18, Jimmie decided to go forth into the world and seek his fortune. With $60 which he obtained from a bale of cotton which he grew in the hills of what is now Baker township, Randolph county, he set forth. He first went to St. Louis. Finding no job he went on to Chicago. Finding nothing to his liking he came back to St. Louis where he obtained a job in the old William Barr Dry Goods Company at a salary of $5 per week. After working there a short time he came back to Doniphan, where he went to work in a hardware store of his future wife’s Clara relatives (hardware store of J.R. and E.W. Wright) at $12 per month and board. He was soon made a partner and later became sole owner. He built this business up to where he saw greater possibilities in the larger town of Poplar Bluff, to which town he moved in 1885. It grew to be the largest department store in the whole Midwest and one year the retail sales reached $765,000.

At the age of 22, while living in Doniphan, Dalton was elected Master of the Masonic Lodge (just like his grandfather Elijah and his uncle James Lewis). At 26 he was District Deputy Grand Master of the State of Missouri. Dalton was the first Republican ever elected to the State Legislature of Missouri from Ripley county.

The house of Dalton in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, (now Margaret Harwell Art Museum), where he lived 1896-1914
The house of Dalton in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, (now Margaret Harwell Art Museum), where he lived 1896-1914

In 1904 Dalton turned the store over to his son and others (although he retained controlling interest in the concern) and devoted his entire time to the adding machine. Soon the machine began to sell on the market and 200 sales offices were ultimately opened up in different parts of the world, and sales ran up to $1,000,000 worth a month.

James L. Dalton was a brilliant speaker and writer, the recipient of requests from leading chambers of commerce and other civic clubs throughout the country to address their conventions and banquets. In his only effort to seek public office, Dalton was elected to the Missouri legislature by a large majority of votes in 1900.

On 25 October 1887 James Lewis Dalton married Clara Beatrice Wright (b. 27 Feb. 1869—d. 12 Dec. 1940), the sister of his business partners Wright. To his union were born four children: Grover Wright (1889-1959), Charles Lewis (1891-1926), Phoebe Clara (1893-1970), and Mary (1899-1979).

James Lewis Dalton died of acute appendicitis on 11 January 1926, and was buried in Poplar Bluff City Cemetery.