J. Casale W2NI
Part One

L. G. Tillotson & Co.

Luther G. Tillotson

Luther G. Tillotson
L.G. Tillotson & Co. and its successor, The E.S. Greeley & Co. companies were successful manufacturers, importers and dealers of telegraph, railroad and electrical products during the years of 1865 through 1897. Prior to the establishment of J.H. Bunnell & Co., L.G. Tillotson & Co. was considered the largest independent telegraph manufacturer in the U.S.

Back on June 10, 1871, a day of celebration was planned in New York City to honor Samuel Morse. That Saturday morning, up to 200 telegraphers crowded into the showrooms of L.G. Tillotson & Co's. store at 8 Dey St. in New York. The Tillotson Company was sponsoring a boat excursion around Manhattan for the celebration and handed out free tickets at their store.

The shelves in Tillotson's showrooms were packed with relays, keys, sounders, registers and every telegraph item imaginable to take advantage of the increased exposure to hundreds of telegraphers and telegraph officials in town for the Morse celebration.

Standing in the showroom that morning was Franklin Pope, who was a prominent telegraph engineer and author. One telegrapher came up to him and asked the question: What do you suppose becomes of all the telegraph instruments? A question that was asked because of the incredible amount of instruments that were then being manufactured not only by Tillotson, but by several other U.S. manufacturers.

Just a few years earlier, in the late 1840s, less than five firms located in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Utica, N.Y. were engaged in the manufacture of telegraph instruments. It was a challenge to convince Makers then to produce even a half a dozen telegraph instruments in advance--they were all fearful that they would never be sold.

L. G. Tillotson & Co., 8 Dey St. New York.

An artist's sketch of the L. G. Tillotson & Co.
store at 8 Dey Street in New York City.
By 1871, the country's largest telegraph company, Western Union, was being supplied instruments from their own manufacturing structure using company-owned machine shops. For the rest of the telegraph industry, independent shops formed to supply the needs of smaller telegraph companies, railroads and the related telegraph markets that were emerging.

At the time of the New York Morse celebration in 1871, the instruments manufactured from the independent shops such as L.G. Tillotson & Co., Charles & John Chester, Charles Williams Jr., and Gray & Barton, combined with the three big Western Union shops of George Phelps, Robert Henning and William Johnson were being produced in the thousands annually.

Luther G. Tillotson and the Railroad
The success of L.G. Tillotson and Company and their lead as an independent telegraph manufacturer was directly related to the growth of the U.S. railroad industry and its new reliance on the telegraph to handle the flow of trains and their business. It is not surprising when looking back at the roots of the railroad's first use of the telegraph, to find the founder of the Tillotson company, Luther Gere Tillotson, there at its beginnings.

Tillotson was born in Ithaca, New York, March 1, 1834. When he was 15, he went out "West" to work with his father, Daniel T. Tillotson, who was a superintendent of the Erie and Lake Michigan Telegraph Co. Young Tillotson first learned about telegraphy and became a telegrapher while he was working with his father. The following year, he returned back East and was hired by the New York and Erie Railroad.

The New York and Erie was the first railroad in the U.S. to use the telegraph. The railroad's route went across southern New York state. Its general superintendent, Charles Minot, promoted Luther Tillotson when he was only 19 to be the superintendent of telegraphs in charge of the eastern half of the route. Tillotson became one of the pioneers in utilizing the telegraph for train dispatching.

Seeing the future demand by railroads for telegraph and railroad supplies, Tillotson, then 28, became a merchant and started the business, Tillotson & Company in 1862 with a short term associate, James S. Keeling, initially occupying a small part of a store at 262 Broadway in New York. Three years later, on November 1, 1865, he formed the firm of L.G. Tillotson & Co. with General E.S. Greeley and W.H. Holt and began operations at 26 Dey St. Holt, who previously was a dealer in railroad supplies, retired the following year.

Key components for L.G. Tillotson & Company's success was to offer high quality instruments manufactured by their own machine shop and have it run by an accomplished and respected superintendent. Tillotson recruited the services of Edward M. Pierson to be his shop superintendent in a move that ensured Tillotson's instruments were of the highest quality, equal to any other telegraph shop. Pierson's background was as a master machinist and the former superintendent of Western Union's Cleveland shop. It appears the timing of the start up of L.G. Tillotson & Company and Pierson's move to New York were directly related.

With Tillotson's experience and railroad connections, his business took a firm grip on the growing railroad/telegraph market. He ran full page ads in telegraph journals advertising railroad supplies and telegraph instruments not only of his own manufacture but by manufactures such as: Clark, Hall, and Williams. His company was able to supply an entire railroad or telegraph company with everything needed to start a telegraph operation including instruments, wire, batteries, insulators, chemicals, construction tools, etc. During these early years he maintained his position with the Erie Railroad as superintendent of telegraphs and as head of L.G. Tillotson & Co. simultaneously until 1866, when he finally resigned from the railroad to devote his full time to his business.

Tillotson's Manufacturing
Tillotson Relay

A Morse relay made by L. G. Tillotson & Co. during 1870s
with railroad markings, Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
Tillotson's machine shop, under the direction of Pierson, was located at 137-139 Elm St. in New York, and in 1869, employed about 30 workers. It was not uncommon for telegraph shops to lay-off workers during the slower winter months. Yet, in order for Tillotson to retain his highly experienced work force, he maintained his production levels during the winter. This move gave him an inventory advantage against competitors at the start of the spring construction season.

Tillotson was also a strong proponent and possibly the first of the independent telegraph shops to manufacture many of their parts for their instruments using models. Every part that was made was a duplicate of the other and his machinists specialized in making particular parts. Items such as binding posts, levers, armatures, magnet cores, keys, parts of keys, wheel trains, axles springs, screws, rollers, etc. were all made this way. Besides having the advantage of improving quality and increasing productivity, it simplified the ordering of replacement parts. Complete instruments no longer needed to be sent in for repair to have a specially fitted part made. Tillotson's products gained the reputation of being of high quality and even drew compliments from Samuel Morse: Your beautiful instruments compare favorably with the best Morse apparatus in Europe.

Tillotson Sounder

An earlier sounder design by L. G. Tillotson & Co.
With the advance of population and business opportunities in the "far west," Tillotson opened a branch in Chicago in June of 1868 at 126 So. Clark St. by establishing a partnership with George H. Bliss forming the firm, Bliss, Tillotson & Co. Bliss was a former telegrapher the superintendent of telegraphs for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and, like Tillotson did earlier, simultaneously held his position with the railroad during the partnership. The Chicago operation also provided repair work for Tillotson's instruments saving the need to ship them to New York. Tillotson also recruited agents in Cincinnati and San Francisco.

In Franklin Pope's 1871 article, "Brief Notes of Western Travel," Pope stated the favorite instruments found in the "far west" at this time were of the "caton pattern." These were instrument designs that originated from the John D. Caton Shop of Ottawa, Ill. and later manufactured by Gray and Barton of Chicago. But Pope also stated that most of the railroad lines out "West" were using instruments made by L.G. Tillotson & Co. (Later, Tillotson also manufactured some instruments of the popular "caton patterns.")

By 1874, L.G. Tillotson & Company was considered the largest independent manufacturer of telegraph instruments in the U.S. Only the New York shop of Western Union, and the Western Electric Manufacturing Company in Chicago were larger. In addition to their Morse instruments, they manufactured burglar alarms, dial telegraphs, and gas lighting apparatus. Their store and catalogs also offered railway supplies including: hydraulic jacks, wrenches, spikes, ties, headlights, steam gauges, lanterns, etc.
Jesse H. Bunnell joins L.G. Tillotson & Co.
In November of 1874, L.G. Tillotson & Co. opened another branch at 54 South Fourth Street in Philadelphia. During 1874, Jesse H. Bunnell, was in a partnership in the firm of Partrick, Bunnell & Company in Philadelphia with James Partrick and Franklin Carter. Both Partrick and Bunnell were former Civil War telegraphers. Bunnell, then 31 had designed several new telegraph instruments and was building a solid reputation as an inventor.

Giant Sounder Ad- 
Jounal of the Telegraph, June 1, 1876

The popular "Giant Sounder" incorporated improvements by Jesse H. Bunnell
and was sold by several competing makers who claimed exclusive manufacturing rights.
In the spring of 1875, Jesse H. Bunnell ended his partnership with Partrick and joined L.G. Tillotson & Co. During the previous year with Partrick, he applied for a patent for an "Improvement in Telegraph Sounders." It included some important improvements that enhanced the way a sounder resonates. The design placed a "stroke-screw" at a point near the middle of the sounder's lever so it could strike the center of a vertical arch that was attached to a hollow base. The result was a clear, well defined sound that was heard even with weak strokes by the lever. This combination and familiar "arch" design became the standard in sounder designs from this time forward.

This patent was granted to Bunnell in February of 1875 but was assigned to the Partrick, Bunnell Company. Partrick, meanwhile, at the beginning of 1875, formed a new partnership with Franklin Carter creating the successful firm of Partrick & Carter of Philadelphia.

Both L.G. Tillotson & Co. and Partrick & Carter claimed exclusive rights to manufacture instruments with Bunnell's improvements. The competing claims forced Bunnell himself to state in Tillotson's ads that L.G. Tillotson & Co. was the only company authorized to sell products that incorporated his improvements. Today you will find sounders from this period that look identical in appearance manufactured by Partrick, Bunnell & Co., L.G. Tillotson & Co., Partrick & Carter and later E.S. Greeley & Co. Jesse Bunnell left L.G. Tillotson & Co. in the spring of 1878 to start his own firm in New York, initially named simply as, "J.H.Bunnell."

In part two of this article, I will cover the end of L.G. Tillotson & Co. and its transition as the E.S Greeley & Co.

To Part Two: E.S. Greeley & Co.

Follow this link to see ads from L. G. Tillotson & Co. ---->      L.G. Tillotson & Co. Ads

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A version of this article was originally
published in the October 2008 issue
of "The AWA Journal," the quarterly journal of
The Antique Wireless Association.
( A nonprofit historical society )

Copyright (c) by John Casale - W2NI
Troy, New York