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.

 

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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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The Artist’s Garden: Impressionists and the Garden Movement

Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.

Book published in 1901
Book published in 1901

Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.

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

“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,

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the pink in the multicolor grass,

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and the veil that is in sun and shadow.

Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.
Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.

 

"A Breezy Day," 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.
“A Breezy Day,” 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.

This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Can you see the banner of the painting "The Crimson Rambler?"
Can you see the banner of the painting “The Crimson Rambler?”

I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.

"My House in Winter" by Charles Morris Young
“My House in Winter” by Charles Morris Young

The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.

The artist's home. "Snow" by John Henry Twachtman.
The artist’s home. “Snow” by John Henry Twachtman.

At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.

Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.

Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective

TV murder mysteries with 1920s fashions–including cars–that are to die for.

Australian Broadcasting’s “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” features fabulous 1920s clothes and hats, as well as strong personalities.

“I’m not the marrying kind,” says the uninhibited Miss Fisher. I love that line! She uses that charming euphemism for a woman who sleeps around, and she’s at ease with herself. She loves to drive her own “motorcar,” and she has such an adventurous spirit that I was not surprised when she jumped into the cockpit of an “aeroplane” and flew it. Of course Miss Fisher can fly.

The next clip is from the first show, where she meets the prickly Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.

As Phryne solves crimes, Jack’s irritation turns to respect. He isn’t the man you saw in her boudoir, and much as we want it, that scene may never come to pass. Instead, he and Miss Phryne Fisher share affection and a crackling sexual tension.

Based on novels by Kerry Greenwood, at the end of the day, each 55-minute 1920s extravaganza is a solid whodunit, in my opinion, and I usually watch a TV whodunit at the end of the day. I get my Phryne fix on Netflix, on Watch Instantly, but I get it on Acorn, too. I just finished the 2015 season and will have to wait for more while I re-watch the old ones.

Mostly set in Melbourne, the Australian buildings are sumptuous, as in the opening frames of the next clip. Speaking of frames, love the 1920s sunglasses, too.

Restored Film of 1906 San Francisco

This is before the earthquake, but Market Street looks chaotic:  cable cars, autos, horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians dodging all of them. You see the Ferry Building, which still stands, at the end of the street. The camera was mounted on the front of a cable car, so the people and cars crossing the tracks are crossing in front of a cable car.

This was shot only about four days before the catastrophic earthquake and fire, but by that time the film was safely on its way to New York to be developed. I wish all the people in the film had also been out of town.

This excerpt is sharper than the longer versions on YouTube.

Snapshots of Fourth of July, 1903

Happy Fourth! In 1900, town picnics and other community events, like church picnics, were the order of the day.

I love zooming in on online digital photographs.  Below is a link to a candid shot of people enjoying the Fourth of July at Alpine Park in Salida, Colorado, in 1903. The lone man in the bandstand may have just finished reading the Declaration of Independence aloud, which was usually part of July 4 celebrations. Two women talk under a parasol. People are dressed up, and girls wear ruffly dresses.

Click here  to open the link to the photo. (Trouble linking? See end of this post.)

Zooming in amazes me.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Locate the yellow bar with a minus and plus sign at each end. Beside the plus sign is an icon that says Full Browser when you scroll over it.
  • Click on Full Browser. (If you want to return to previous view, just click this again.)
  • Move the blue square along the yellow bar, toward the plus sign, but not all the way. This enlarges the center of the photo.
  • Hold the mouse key down and drag the picture up. As you move, wait for the new parts of the photo to load. You can drag from side to side.

Here’s another photo of the same celebration with a carriage draped with flag bunting and the decorations on the horses’ heads. Check out the little girls in their best hats!

I will start posting on Thursday mornings. Happy Fourth of July!

Trouble linking? Type in digital.denverlibrary.org and search for:  City Park Salida 573 and Alpine Park Salida 574

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 2

They contemplated enemy invasion every day and carried their gas masks at all times, recalled a worker in the underground Churchill War Rooms in London.

A broom closet in these Cabinet War Rooms was converted into the Transatlantic Telephone Room, where a phone, connected to a scrambler at another London location, could call the White House. It was the first hotline. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals spoke to President Franklin Roosevelt and American generals.

Transatlantic Telephone Room

You hear a recording from this hotline, Churchill and Roosevelt discussing an offer of surrender from one of the nations they were fighting. (Only one nation offered, and that was the problem.) I was fascinated to listen to their familiar voices reach a decision together and it made me think of the dark days of the war. What if they hadn’t had this secure phone connection?

Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.
Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.

Many men and women slept on bunks in the sub-basement, which they called the dock. The ceiling was so low that nobody could stand up straight as they walked, and it was brightly lit, with noisy ventilation, all night long.

A corridor has chests with large, flat drawers; I think they contained hundreds of maps. The Central Map Room, show below, is a highlight of the war rooms.

Map Room, Churchill War Rooms

The large map at the far end was used to track convoys, Allied fleets that carried ships full of men and materiel and were sometimes destroyed and sunk. Below, a detail of this map, showing the east coast of the U.S.

Detail of Convoy Map, Churchill War Rooms

Each pinhole was the location of a convoy. This is part of the map above, used every day of the war.

Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.
Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.

The officers who worked in the Central Map Room gathered data and delivered daily reports on every front to an office above ground. This room was staffed 24/7 until the lights were turned off the day after the war ended in Asia, and the room is the same today.

I hope you enjoyed these two posts about London’s Churchill War Rooms, also called Cabinet War Rooms. I sure enjoyed my visit, and I wished I’d left time for the attached Churchill Museum.