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Scottron, Samuel R.(1843–1905) - Inventor, entrepreneur, Inventions, Chronology

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Aprominent entrepreneur and inventor, Samuel R. Scottron was an important member of Brooklyn’s elite black community. From the 1870s through 1894, he concentrated on inventions and secured a number of patents for items that led to his becoming a wealthy man. A Republican, Scottron was prominent in political circles in the borough. He became the first African American member of Brooklyn’s board of education and held the prestigious post for eight years. His work as an activist was seen in the articles on race that he published widely, and in his work as co-founder of the Cuban Anti-Slavery Society.

While some sources claim that he was born in Philadelphia sometime in 1843, Samuel Raymond Scottron, according to Gail Lumet Buckley in The Hornes , was born free in New England. He and his parents, whose names are not known, came from Springfield, Massachusetts. Buckley says that “his antecedents were probably West Indian-born Gold Coast Africans and the poorest of the British emigrants.” They may have been “indentured servants, seamen, small farmers, and artisans,” writes Buckley. Their lineage also included Native American, of the original inhabitants of eastern Massachusetts, from the Pequot tribe of the Algonquian nation. The Scottrons moved to New York in 1849 and then relocated to Brooklyn in 1852. Young Samuel enrolled in the public schools in New York City and later in Brooklyn; when he was fourteen years old, he graduated from grammar school in Brooklyn. His ambition was to continue his education, as many of his schoolmates had done, but much to Samuel’s disappointment, his father had other plans for the course his son’s life would take. He would not continue his education until later, when with great determination he entered night school on his own.

The elder Scottron was a barber, barkeeper, and baggage master on a boat plying the Hudson River between New York City and Albany. While on the New York to Albany journey, he often took Samuel with him to serve as his helper. Now with the possibility of additional education behind him, his son would gain practical experience instead. Soon after the Civil War began, the elder Scottron entered a partnership with a man whose name is known simply as Mr. Statia to form Statia, McCaffil, and Scottron. The firm already had a commission as a sutler for a black regiment, the Third U. S. Colored Infantry that had begun in Pennsylvania. In 1863 young Samuel went South with the regiment as his father’s representative in the partnership. The regiment was stationed at Morris Island, South Carolina, in what was called the Department of the South. The small schooner on which they traveled was loaded with barrels of apples and other perishables, canned goods, and other items. The perishable items decayed as bad weather extended to six weeks what should have been a one-week trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Following that, they lost their deck load while traveling up the St. John’s River to Jacksonville, Florida. The two-year ordeal was unprofitable for the firm.

While in Fernandina, Florida in 1864, Scottron assisted in the first general election that allowed the new freedmen to vote. He endeared himself to the black residents and won the right to represent them in the National Colored Convention held in Syracuse, New York in 1865. Scottron also sought out other ways to make money. He opened grocery stores in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Lakeville, Tallahassee, and Palatka, but he soon left the profitless ventures and returned north.


Following one of his father’s trades, Scottron opened a barbershop in Springfield, Massachusetts. His customers used hand mirrors to examine their haircuts. As Scottron observed the difficulty his customers experienced in trying to get a full view of the sides, rear, and top of the head, he decided to invent a mirror to provide the view desired. Thus, he invented what was known as Scottron’s adjustable mirrors. In a 1904 article in the Colored American Magazine , he described his first invention as “mirrors so arranged opposite each other as to give the view of every side at once.” This was, in his opinion, new, useful, and simple. So successful were the mirrors that Scottron soon took on a white partner and the new firm began at 658 Broadway in New York City, operating under the name Pitkin and Scottron. Thomas Richmond bought Pitkin’s interest in the business and almost immediately lost all of his property in the Great Chicago Fire; this was disastrous to the mirror business as well.



Born in New England or Philadelphia


Family relocates to New York City


Family relocates to Brooklyn, New York


Travels to South Carolina with the firm Statia, Caffil, and Scottron


Assists freedmen in voting in first general election, Fernandina, Florida


Attends National Colored Convention in Syracuse, New York; opens grocery stores in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Lakeville, Tallahassee, and Palatka, Florida around this time


With Henry Highland Garnett, founds Cuban Anti-Slavery Society and serves as secretary


Graduates from Cooper Union


Elected grand secretary general of the Masons


Obtains patent for adjustable window cornice on February 17


Obtains patent for a cornice on January 16


Co-founds the Society of the Sons of New York


Obtains patent for pole top on September 30


Obtains patent for curtain rod on August 30


Obtains patent for supporting bracket on September 12


Perfects “porcelain onyx”; becomes first black member of Brooklyn board of education



Scottron traded his services as bookkeeper for looking-glass manufacturer W. A. Willard for space in his store located at 177 Canal Street in New York City. This arrangement gave him an opportunity to reestablish himself. After four years and a brief and unsuccessful business partnership with a man named Ellis to form Scottron and Ellis, Scottron decided to work alone. He opened his new firm at 211 Canal Street, where he invented several household objects, including an extension cornice. These items were so popular that he gave up the looking-glass business and concentrated on cornices. By then he had an agreement with the firm H. L. Judd & Co., located in New York City. That business employed forty men who worked constantly to manufacture Scottron’s cornices. The business prospered, but as curtain poles became fashionable the cornices were no longer in demand. Then he diversified and began to manufacture curtain poles.

In 1882 Scottron became a traveling salesman and general manager for John Kroder, a German American whose export-import business was located at 13 Baxter Street in New York City. During his twelve years with Kroder, Scottron invented and patented an extension curtain rod. He bought and sold carloads of goods, which made both men prosperous. Scottron traveled throughout Canada, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia. In the states he avoided the South due to segregated housing accommodations, but his work took him as far away as San Francisco.

Fortunately, Scottron patented at least some of his inventions and gained royalties from them. He obtained patents for an adjustable window cornice (February 17, 1880), a cornice (January 16, 1883), a pole tip (September 30, 1886), a curtain rod (August 30, 1892), and supporting bracket (September 12, 1893). Some of his inventions were never patented. One of these might have been what Gail Lumet Buckley in The Hornes called a “leather hand strap device” that trolley car passengers used for support when standing. It was this device that made him rich, according to Buckley.

In 1894 Scottron perfected a way to make glass look like onyx and other attractive stones; he called his product “porcelain onyx.” By now his daughters were mature young ladies who, along with his wife, helped him in the production. Together the Scottrons manufactured several thousand tubes to be mounted into brass lamps and candlesticks. Four large firms in Connecticut manufactured the items. Scottron never sought a patent for this process. He envisioned making the porcelain onyx into pedestals. “We shall not stop at pedestals and tables,” he wrote in Colored American Magazine , “but in a short time, hope to have the porcelain onyx tubes used inside architectural decorations, such as are made for church ornamentation, bar room and barbershop mirrors, mantle mirrors, pier mirror front and many ways too numerous to mention.” In time, onyx went out of fashion and he stopped the process.

Still in business after the turn of the century, Scottron continued to promote his company and his products. An advertisement for Scottron Manufacturing Company in the Colored American Magazine for October 7, 1904, noted that the company made pedestals, tabourettes, lamp columns, and lamp and vase bodies. For these items they used imitation onyx, agate, fossil wood, and various pottery finishes from the United States and abroad. This prosperous business was located at 98 Monroe Street in Brooklyn and, of course, carried items he had patented.

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Part of her story is correct he was a black man