The Startling Personal Finances of Professor T.S.C. Lowe

A bold entrepreneur and scientist, Thaddeus S.C. Lowe (1832-1913) made fortunes and lost them. It is almost the due date for filing 2016 income taxes, so some of us are taking a hard look at our saving and spending. The story of Professor Lowe’s fortunes is a cautionary tale.

He was a scientist with little formal education. Because he ran away from home as a boy, his schooling ended with the fourth grade. Nonetheless, people called him Professor Lowe. The title Professor was not reserved for those who taught in colleges or had advanced degrees. Professor Thaddeus Lowe held over 200 patents.

A Chemist Becomes Rich and Suffers Losses

Lowe made one of his fortunes after pressurizing ammonia to make refrigerated railway cars and steamships. His first refrigerated steamship was a financial success.  He invested in more ships, but some were too large to enter shallow-water ports. Lowe’s personal losses totaled $87,000, a huge sum in the late 1800s.

The Lowe Water-Gas Process improved gas and made it more affordable. Gas was used to light homes as well as heat them. Lowe made a fortune producing and selling water gas and manufacturing appliances. These included stoves, heaters and fireplaces. The gas company he owned, however, was a financial failure. Same with a hotel he owned that showcased water gas.

A discouraged Lowe came to California and, too energetic to retire, founded a bank and invested in real estate. He lived in a mansion on Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row, at 955 South Orange Grove Avenue. It was reported to be the largest residence in the country at the time and sat on fifteen acres.

Lowe's home on Orange Grove
Professor Lowe’s home in Pasadena. For scale, note the open structure, a porte cochere, at right here and featured in the photo below.

 

Lowe's Home in Pasadena, Porte Cochere
The same porte cochere dwarfs a buggy and team of horses.

The mansion even had a four-story observatory. Lowe lived there with his wife and younger children (they had ten in all), looked out at the steep mountains, and dreamed big.

Lowe’s Railway to the Clouds

The Mount Lowe Railway was an engineering challenge because of steep grades and crumbling surface rock, but Lowe would not take “no” for an answer. The railway was built by D.J. Macpherson with Lowe as the financial backer. Visitors enjoyed the thrilling ride and ate and stayed at hotels Lowe built on the mountain. He also built an observatory near the top of the railway.

Although the railway and hotels were popular, it lost money at a time when Professor Lowe had other financial problems. It opened in 1893, at the start of a recession that would last years.

By 1898, Professor Lowe’s debts totaled over $200,000, and he had to declare bankruptcy. By then, Lowe’s huge mansion was owned by his neighbor Adolphus Busch, the beer magnate. The railroad was acquired by Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway and operated for decades.

Although he lost this fortune, Lowe counted his blessings. He explained that his Mount Lowe Railway was ten years ahead of its time. He said that he was glad he had a mountain named in his honor, something that money couldn’t buy.

Back to the lab. Professor Lowe developed a method to convert crude oil to gas and coke. He put it in production, but he did not charge enough to make and sustain profits.

The good professor died nearly penniless in his daughter’s Pasadena home. At the time, he was planning a gas-powered luxury airship.

Lowe’s Early Career:  Balloonist and Lincoln’s Chief Aeronaut

From the time he was young, Lowe was a balloonist. When the Civil War broke out, he offered to help the Union. President Lincoln wrote a note to General Scott to “see Lowe once more about his balloon.”  Lowe acquired the note and treasured it for the rest of his life. Lowe became Chief Aeronaut of the Union Forces, a civilian position.

Lowe ascended in a balloon and looked down upon Confederate troops in the distance. He observed their movements and telegraphed this intelligence information to Union soldiers below. A wire connected the telegraph in the balloon to the one on the ground.

Special thanks to the Mount Lowe Preservation Society Inc. and the Pasadena Museum of History.

I’ll post on the first of the month starting June 1.

 

 

 

 

Every Pack with a Prize Inside

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Tennis cards, like baseball cards? Yes and no.

 

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These are called cigarette cards. Not much bigger than a modern business card, these trade cards were a bonus in a pack of cigarettes. They came in a series, usually twenty-five or fifty, with a similar theme.

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Each came in a different pack of cigarettes.

Many were aimed at male smokers:  airplanes, sports and cars. These cars were modern at the time.

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Cigarette companies wanted brand loyalty from consumers, so they gave them tiny works of art.

From the 1931 series "Picturesque London"
From the 1931 series “Picturesque London”

Another good way to get customers to keep buying from their company, and not from a competitor, was to display numbers on the cards.

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Or even letters of the alphabet.

Each letter has a different flag signal.
Each letter has a different flag signal.

The cards above and below are part of a 1910 series, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

 

One of several activities of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, 1910 2016-08-28-17-57-50-640x371

Some were embroidered silk. Recently, a quilt made of many of these was on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.

I came across all of these, and many more, by accident, at a hotel near Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. All of the ones there were from Great Britain, from 1890 to 1939. The cigarette cards below of British military uniforms were issued in 1939, when the country was fighting for its survival in World War II. I like to imagine people in a bleak time appreciating the small, patriotic works of art.

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In Glorious Color

Trade card from the 1880s
Trade card from the 1880s

From black and white to color:  the invention of printing by lithography brought beauty to people’s daily lives through mass production. If you are old enough to remember when color TV was new, you remember the first time you saw a show in color. I was amazed. It was so much more lifelike and vibrant than shades of gray.

In the late 1800s, lithography brought an explosion of items printed in color. People were handed trade cards like these, picked them up in the store, and pulled them from their mailboxes. Some women and children pasted them into albums.

An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.
An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.

Handbills distributed on the street for events, illustrations in books, free promotional posters you could tack on your wall–suddenly color was everywhere.

Recognize this painting from my last post? The Crimson Rambler, named after the wildly popular rose.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale
“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

Here’s one way that rose got so popular: trade cards.

Crimson Rambler trade card

Technology also brought colorful clothes. At this time, in the last half of the 1800s, synthetic dyes were introduced and suddenly people could wear rich colors.  Here are two silk dresses from the 1890s. These are from the Pasadena Museum of History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology brought the excitement of color. “The Color Explosion” was an exhibit at the Huntington showcasing part of their Jay T. Last Collection of lithographed items. Click on that link to see some examples that really took advantage of color, and read how it changed the world.

Fashion Plates are Pages!

Scarlett O’Hara scandalized polite society a few times in Gone With The Wind.  She opened her own lumber mill and later staffed it with convicts from a local prison.   Money was scarce in war-torn Atlanta, but proper ladies had proper jobs, like painting china at home and selling it.  Scarlett pooh-poohed that.

Magazines were very popular entertainment in the days before television.  Illustrations in were often printed on smooth, heavy paper, called plates.  (Does anyone remember books with Plate 1 and Plate 2, instead of Fig. 1 and Fig. 2?)

Fashion plates were illustrations showing the latest styles, and often showed well-dressed women in (ladylike) action.

This hand-tinted fashion plate from "Les Modes Parisiennes:  Peterson's Magazine," includes a bride. 1866.
This hand-tinted fashion plate from “Les Modes Parisiennes: Peterson’s Magazine,” includes a bride. 1866.

This was printed as a black outline and dropped off at a woman’s house, and she added the color with paintbrushes.  This was a way women could work at home, because it was not considered acceptable for a woman to work in an office with men.

Later, the term “fashion plate” came to mean a woman who wore stylish clothes.

A Lavish Golden Anniversary Party

In 1861, Mr. Busch married Miss Anheuser, and the rest is history.  Budweiser became the best-selling beer in the world.

By 1905, Lilly and Adolphus Busch had a home on Pasadena’s Orange Grove Avenue,  the street that was known as Millionaire’s Row. In 1911, the social event of the season was the Busch’s golden anniversary party.

Vintage postcard of the Busch's Pasadena home, called "Ivy Wall."  The grounds, the original Busch Gardens, were open to the public.
Vintage postcard of the Busch’s Pasadena home, called “Ivy Wall.” The grounds, the original Busch Gardens, were open to the public.

At the party celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, Adolphus Busch presented his wife with a crown and placed it on her head.  The newspapers reported the crown cost $200,000.

They gave elegant party favors.

Each guest received a set of ten wine glasses to take home.
Each guest received a set of ten wine glasses to take home.

Glamor and the Great Depression: Wedding Dresses of the 1930s

Evelyn Peters Kyle later wrote a history of early Pasadena.
Evelyn Peters Kyle later wrote a history of early Pasadena.

Evelyn Peters achieved this dreamy look with lots of affordable netting, in both the veil and dress.  Other brides wore the wedding dress their mother, grandmother or other relative had worn.  Such a dress had great sentimental value, and the price was right.

Julia Hills Whitney, 1991 and Jean Eastwood Collins, 1939.
Julia Hills Whitney, 1991 and Jean Eastwood Collins, 1939.

This classic 1890s dress has leg-of-mutton sleeves.  It was worn again in 1939. Around 1930, designers began to cut silk on the bias (on the diagonal, rather than along the horizontal and vertical threads in the woven cloth).  The bias cut gave a little stretch  and a beautiful drape, so dresses became slinky and hugged a woman’s curves.

Streamlined, architectural gowns

Women were interested in what celebrities were wearing.   Actress Jean Harlow is still famous for her dress in “Dinner at Eight.”  Wallis Simpson married the former king of Great Britain in a bias-cut gown of blue silk.

 Wilma Maguire married in a reproduction of a royal bride’s gown, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, who married Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1934.
Wilma Maguire's train attaches at shoulders and ends with a fishtail hem.
Wilma Maguire’s train attaches at the shoulders and ends with a fishtail hem.

Barbara Cheesewright, the daughter of a well-known interior designer, apparently loved color.  Her wedding gown is aqua in natural light (but mint green in the exhibit gallery, which has colored walls).  She chose the same color for her veil and headpiece, at left above.  Under the brim of  the headpiece, she placed delphiniums, which are often blue.  I am not sure they were blue flowers, but I like to picture them that way, complementing  her aqua dress. Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 004 (600x800)

Barbara Cheesewright's 1936 wedding gown
Barbara’s 1936 gown has a six-foot train.

There are three seams below the neck and three at the side, where there is usually a utilitarian dart. The three seams extend under the arm to the back. These dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History until July 14.  To see more online, see the Women Writing the West blog:   http://www.womenwritingthewest.blogspot.com/2013/05/four-brides-and-their-dresses.html Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 001 (600x800)

Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 002 (600x800)

Bridal Gowns of the Early 1900s

1906-09 wedding dress “Complex works of art,” curator Sheryl Peters said of wedding gowns dating from about 1906 to 1915.

In this, our first dress, the lace around this collar is the most delicate I have ever seen.  It looks as if it would dissolve if I breathe on it.

Silk cord runs just above it, at the top of the collar, and also below the lace.  It is looped.

That same silk cord is pulled through net elsewhere on this dress to make elaborate designs on the bodice, cuffs and the belt.

And around the hem.

Long gloves would have been worn with all of these dresses, extending under the sleeve.

Wedding dress and jacket (800x600)

This bridal gown was worn in 1910, with the jacket over it.

PMH wedding dresses 006 (600x800)

This silk gown was worn by bride Louvena Grace Dolson in 1911.  The long, narrow pleated portions, like the one running down the center of this dress, were made on a separate piece of silk.  That piece of silk was pleated and stitched, then cut into strips.  The seamstress then sewed lace trim all around each strip of pleated silk before she inserted them into this opulent creation.

PMH wedding dresses 008 (800x800)

This 1914 gown has faux orange blossoms.  Orange trees bear fruit and bloom at the same time, and so are a symbol of fertility.  This gown has a beautiful train that is pleated when viewed from the side.

PMH wedding dresses 018 (800x600)

When I give tours of  “I Do, I Do, Pasadena Ties the Knot, 1850-1950,” patrons ask which of the forty-two dresses is my favorite.  My favorite, pictured below, was worn in 1915 by Margaret Whitney Collins and almost fifty years later by Julia Collins Haselton.  I would have worn this dress if I’d had the chance.

Worn 1915 and 1964 (600x800)

Swags and big tassels of faux pearls.

Handle on train (800x600)

The train has a handle on it — you can see it at the top of this photo — so the bride could hold up the train at the reception while she walked.  And danced with her groom.

These and many other beautiful dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History, only until July 14.  My next post will feature beaded wedding gowns from the 1920s, and the following post will highlight dresses from the 1930s in historical context.

Here’s information on seeing this exhibit in person:

http://pasadenahistory.org/thingstosee/IDoPartI.html