25 September 2012

Clement Clawson's "Capitalism", Part One

Although the 1900 United States Federal Census for Newark's Second Ward boldly lists Aurelia Clawson's occupation as "Capitalist",  the irony of this declaration wouldn't be made clear until after her death less than two years later. 

It was in February 1902, in an attorney's office in Newark for the reading of the will, that prolific inventor and entrepreneur Clement C. Clawson first learned how his widowed stepmother Aurelia had "capitalised" on his good nature, reaching out from the beyond to cheat him out of his father's inheritance.


1883 Ad for the Clawson Automatic Weighing and Filling Machine Co.


Henry T. Clawson and his only child Clement began their business partnership in their native North Carolina in the 1870s.  The elder Clawson had manufactured tools and implements for the Confederacy during the Civil War - but it was his son's inventive prowess that brought the business to a whole new level.

One of his first inventions was a mechanical device to automatically measure and cut paper in one step.  He followed this up with a machine to shave ice.  Things really started to take off when he delved into solving more complicated problems with more complex contraptions.

The launch of their Automatic Weighing and Filling Machine Company in the early 1880s necessitated a move to New York City, and their most successful venture, The Clawson Slot Machine Company, found the family - Henry, second wife Aurelia, Clement and wife Lillie - living and working near their new factory in Newark.

In a later interview with the New York Evening Telegram, Clawson told the paper that the key to his financial success was to first invent and then manufacture his own machines - to not rely on outside investors who invariably reap most of the rewards.  He certainly took his own advice, being the first to invent coin operated vending machines for items such as pencils or gum, a fortune telling machine, and most notably the gambling slot machine.  Machines were manufactured in Newark at a plant ostensibly owned and managed by Henry Clawson, and then sold at a set price to Clement.

Sounds like a good setup - until you realize that father Henry had practically no role in any part of the business other than having his name on the books. 

More tomorrow....

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