A quick summary of Fox

The Fox Typewriter Company

“The greatest thing about Mr. Fox is his unwavering hope, faith, courage, and cheerfulness in the face of the most trying circumstances. No difficulty daunts him, and he always finds a way out.”
Fox Factory Employee, ca. 1908

By the end of 1923, after years of strenuous legal battles and lackluster sales, the once renowned Fox Typewriter Company was no more. The landmark factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was foreclosed and its assets were seized and liquidated to appease stockholders. But before such an end could occur, a prosperous beginning had allowed the company to survive through the incredibly competitive early years of the struggling typewriter market. Standing firmly at the helm of that success was none other than William Ross Fox.

In 1853, in the small city of Middletown, Connecticut, William Ross Fox was born. His life was quickly interrupted at the age of 9 by the death of his father, and the enlistment of his two older brothers into the Union Army. His unexpected experience as the only male left at the Fox household would incidentally start him down the road of success as he began peddling root-beer at a local general store where he would soon become the primary manager.

Despite his experiences as a manager and salesman, Fox found considerable interest in the field of machinery and between the ages of 16 and 21 worked in the areas of tool making, machine tending, and steam engineering. By the age of 21, he desired to enter into the Technological Institute of Worcester, Massachusetts, but was at that time unable to do so due to a lack of knowledge in required topics such as algebra and grammar. Determined to gain admittance, he utilized his free time in the evenings to study those necessary topics, and was successful in passing the entrance examinations. His educational prospects were cut short when he contracted typhoid-pneumonia, which he was barely able to survive. After recuperating, he gained employment at the American Thread Co. in Willmette, Connecticut.

While he was in Willmette, he stumbled onto the path which would lead him into direct manufacturing. He had married, and helped his wife create wooden frames for mottos. In doing so he was forced to use a poorly made miter box, which he despised. Utilizing his mechanical knowledge and ambition, he set about creating a superior design, eventually designing the Fox trimmer which in later years would gain incredible success within the market. Over the course of two years, he perfected the trimmer, invented a rotary steam pump, and designed a steam chime whistle.

In the fall of 1879, Fox chose to head west and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gaining employment at the factory of Perkins and Co. as a draftsman and pattern maker. At the same time, he continued to make arrangements with businesses back in the East to produce his trimmer and sell it on a royalty basis. After two years at Perkins and Co., Fox gained employment at the Michigan Tool Works, and soon after at the Farmers Roller Mill Co., gaining valuable knowledge regarding machinery along the way. While at the Farmers Roller Mill Co., he was able to make improvements to roller-mill machinery that had been beyond the abilities of some of the largest manufacturers in the field. He was also able to attain the use of water power and machinery in the factory, and utilized such to produce a few of his trimmers which he subsequently sold via correspondence.

He soon went to work at the Berkey and Gay Furniture Company, where he invented the Fox furniture caster. In 1886 he sold his half-interest in the caster to the company, getting in exchange 18 month’s rent of a few square feet of floor space where he began working actively on the manufacture of the Fox trimmer. At this point, he had capital of $1,545.48, of which $800 was in cash and second hand tools. Thus was born the Fox Machine Company.

The venture quickly grew, with Fox himself superintending the work, designing the machinery, making new tools, selling the product, maintaining the books, attending to the correspondence, creating the advertisements, and planning the extensions. Within two years, the company was successful enough to afford the creation of a new two-story brick building built specifically for it, with an additional two stories added shortly thereafter. With new and expansive quarters, business grew at an accelerated rate. In 1892 the enterprise was finally incorporated, having on the books tangible assets of $75,000 and capital of $150,000 [29].

In 1893, when the bicycle market began to unfold due to better general designs, Fox began to manufacture high grade wheels (eventually also producing a limited number of complete bicycles). Believing the initial output to be unsatisfactory, Fox worked on improving the machines which produced the wheels, and was successful at that endeavor to the point that other bicycle makers demanded Fox’s machinery designs to make their own parts. However, when the bicycle craze of the 1890’s ended, Fox was left with very specific and specialized machinery for fine work and nothing to use it for. Ever the entrepreneur, Fox set his gaze upon the relatively new typewriter market, deciding that his equipment could very well manufacture such a machine.

In 1896, Glenn J. Barrett was hired to help design the machine. Barrett brought with him a functional prototype machine which he had already been working upon, greatly helping the effort. Fox himself spent an astounding amount of time studying and researching the field of typewriter design, covering almost every patent that had ever been made regarding typewriters, and conducting a long course of experiments. After months of hard work and dedication, the first viable Fox Typewriter was produced. After spending time improving the design as needed, the Fox Model 1 was introduced to the market in 1898, soon followed by the Fox Model 2. Shortly afterwards, continued improvement and innovations saw the Model 3 and Model 4 entering the market, the direct successors of the Model 1 and Model 2 accordingly.

By February of 1902, Mr. Fox was working to secure capital and stock subscriptions to provide for expanded facilities for the typewriter enterprise [18]. On April 30th, 1902, the Fox Typewriter Company was officially formed, succeeding the business of the Fox Machine Company, and taking possession of its assets and workforce. It was organized with initial capital of $1,000,000 [29], and had a corporate board consisting of Mr. William Fox as president, C. H. Hollister as treasurer, George Clapperton as secretary, and James R. Wylie and C. W. Post [33]. Though limited production of miter trimmers and other machinery would continue, the majority of the enterprise was dedicated to the production of typewriters. Over the course of 1903, roughly $50,000 was spent on enlarging and improving the facilities.

After having established the success of the blind machines, and with the market successes of the Oliver, Underwood, and other visible designs, Fox set about designing his own visible machine. With the aid of a small group of talented individuals, which included his son W. H. Fox, a working prototype was developed by hand within twelve months, at a cost of $1,000. Once the prototype was improved as needed, it was subjected to a merciless and thorough trial, which it completed handedly.

Within twelve months of the first prototype being perfected, and the launch of the Model 23 in 1906, over two thousand special tools were made for building it, and over $80,000 worth of finished typewriters were sold. The reputation Fox had created for quality helped ensure the immediate success of the visible machines. The Model 24 quickly followed the Model 23 to market, as improvements were continuously made.

As his company continued to grow and thrive, Fox still took the time to conduct interviews, write and respond to correspondence, plan promotions, work on machine designs, attend to legal matters, work on typewriter improvements, promote the business, and conduct general management within the company. Fox made it the company’s continuing goal to improve the quality of the product, regardless of cost, and to reduce manufacturing costs without detriment to quality. Despite the paradoxical nature of this idea, it was achieved in innovative ways; by having employees scrutinize every last screw and spring, quality of every machine was achieved as no inferior product was allowed. At the same time, the implementation of a special cost system of accounting allowed the cost of any action or production to be reported to a manager within two hours, allowing for any issues to be immediately dealt with [11].

Despite the continuing advances occurring at the Fox factory, 1913 and 1914 would be the apex for the company in regards to employment levels and machine production. As the company had grown, it had come to rely heavily upon foreign trade to support its business, and had endeavored to establish dealers in Europe and South America. Fatefully, in 1914, the world plunged into war, and as the fragile peace of Europe shattered so too did the level of typewriter exports from the United States. With its foreign business crippled, and the world economy slowing down due to the war, Fox quickly found itself unable to sell all the machines it was producing and by August of 1914, the factory was formally closed. Prior to the wars outbreak, plans had been in place to separate the machine company from the typewriter company and expand them both, with Mr. Fox still working directly with both companies. Due to the closure of the typewriter factory, however, William R. Fox decided to leave the typewriter enterprise entirely, and took a majority of the skilled workforce with him as he split the machine company off [19].

Accordingly, the typewriter enterprise was reorganized under new management. In July of 1915, a shareholder meeting occurred in which it was decided to create a new enterprise from the ashes of the old. At the time, there were liabilities of $46,000 on the books [32], which were easily surpassed by the newly paid-in capital of $100,000 of the $150,000 authorized [4]. Mr. Fred Chichester was elected President, Mr. Howard Baxter was elected Vice-President, Mr. Earl Stokes was elected Treasurer and General Manager, Mr. Irving Franks was elected Secretary and Sales Manager. Alongside Mr. W. Shaw, these officers constituted the new directorate of the company.

With new management in place, it was decided the company would enter into the portable typewriter market, and so they looked to the genius of Henry P. Nordmark to create a new typewriter design. Originally hired by the company in 1912 as a toolmaker, Mr. Nordmark had quickly risen to the positions of works superintendent, chief engineer, and designer [42]. The result of his effort was the Fox Portable typewriter, which folded its carriage behind the main body when not in use and was in many ways comparable to the other major portable on the market at the time, the Corona 3 portable typewriter. This new portable was launched in 1917, after a vigorous advertising campaign.

By the end of 1918, when the First World War finally came to an end, the Fox Typewriter Company was still trying to build itself back up to what it had once been. However, a lack of innovation regarding their desktop models had left them lagging behind their competition, and the factory was still working to ramp up production of the new portable. Also plaguing the entire industry at the time was a severe shortage of materials such as steel, due to the war effort and the steel strike which took place in late 1919. The company was on an uphill climb, but the progress was slow going, and it would take time to truly become financially secure again. Time, however, was not on the company’s side as on July 16th of 1919, the Corona Typewriter Company filed a Bill of Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. A subpoena was issued that very day and was served to the Fox Typewriter Company, requiring it to answer within twenty days. The primary charges were for patent infringement concerning the folding carriage, the escapement mechanism, the ribbon vibrator mechanism, and for the sale of typewriting machines that copied the form and appearance of Corona’s machine, namely relating to the frame surrounding the keyboard.

Though the company continued to produce its portable machine, in June and July of 1920 the court session between Fox and Corona played out. Corona attempted to persuade the court that the patents it held, though in some cases rather vague to the ideas protected, were infringed by Fox, who in turn attempted to prove that said patents were either defunct based on being so vague as to cover more than a reasonable amount of possible invention, or were at the least expired based upon original publications. The final hearing took place on August the 2nd and 3rd of 1920, with the final decision rendered on August 27th. The ruling found Fox as having infringed 6 of the 8 patents brought forth by Corona, and ordered an accounting of the profits derived from infringing machines. The court also ordered an injunction against Fox’s manufacturing of offending machines.

Fox would not be so easily beaten, and on December 9th of that same year made an appeal to the court to reopen the case. The appeal was granted, and in the subsequent court case, many prior infringements were overturned; the Petermann patent, No. 1064372, was held invalid for want of invention. The Hazen patent, No. 1121094, was held lacking in invention. Hazen patent No. 1121097 was held valid for certain claims, and invalid for others, and overall held infringed for 3 specific claims. The Rose reissue patent No. 13935 was held as insufficient as basis for an injunction against a device not infringing the original patent, and was separately held invalid as double patenting. The Latta reissue patent, No. 14495, was held valid and infringed. The Petermann reissue patent, No. 1459, was held lacking in invention for certain claims, and for others rendered invalid by inclusion of common element [3].

The damage had already been done, however, and an injured revenue stream coupled with a high cost of manufacture crippled the company. In May of 1921, Walter A. Papworth was appointed as Receiver and General Manager to comply with creditor demands [2]. An attempt by W. Bennington to purchase the enterprise for the production of the Bennington typewriter was unsuccessful, and in July of 1922 the company lowered its capitalization from $450,000 to just $45,000. At the same time, due to the company defaulting on interest payments, the creditors of the company began to call for action. The First National Bank of Chicago filed against the company on a $100,000 mortgage, followed quickly by the Shaw Association which foreclosed on another $100,000 mortgage due to its ownership of a large amount of bonds [1].

Ultimately there was little that the Fox Typewriter Company could do against such overwhelming demands as its factory remained at a near standstill. An attempt was made by William Bennington [21] to secure the factory and assets for the amount of $300,000, but this deal fell through [22]. On September the 15th, 1923, the District Court ordered the sale by receiver of all assets and property [20]. By the end of 1922, the proud makers of the Fox typewriter were but a memory in the business world after 25 years, though their wonderful machines still lived on as beautiful reminders of the grand enterprise which was proudly located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.