Ingenious Inventions: An Entrepreneurial History of St. Joseph Innovations
Empowered by the Second Industrial Revolution from 1870 to its punctuation of the Great War in 1917, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were embodied by the spirit of invention and innovation. In half a century, transportation evolved from horse-driven carriages and rail lines to automobiles, airplanes, and submarines. The means of mass production revolutionized manufacturing, improving prices and productivity, but led to social upheaval. Advanced communication and transportation technology resulted in a globalization that would bring the imperial world to its inevitable culmination of the Great War, showcasing the mechanical and chemical advancements of the age. What made St. Joseph the ideal location for industrial innovation was its unique location along the Missouri River and at the furthest western point of rail travel during the westward expansion of the early nineteenth century. Those who remained realized the entrepreneurial opportunity of manufacturing and outfitting settlers who continued west. The ease of shipping freight and transporting citizens empowered businesses from wagon manufacturers to grocers, wholesalers, pharmacists, and textile producers. The wealthy entrepreneurs who succeeded during westward expansion were able to invest in further innovations in the later half of the century, creating a Gilded Age in St. Joseph that saw the construction of its greatest buildings and most enduring inventions. St. Joseph was one of the earliest cities to be equipped with electricity, exemplified by its early electric street cars and its lighted “City Worth While” sign atop its tallest skyscraper. The local automobile club, founded and supported by enthusiasts who recognized the shifting transportation market, literally blazed the trails by marking out the best locations for our modern paved highways. The St. Joseph Public Library, opened in 1900, provided access to information on the most modern technologies and techniques, inspiring astute citizens to invent revolutionizing products. The Buchanan County Recorder of Deeds Trademark Registry and the United States Patents and Trademark Office are both filled with innovative ideas created locally. Some of these products would fade into obscurity while others remain as internationally renown products, whether their St. Joseph origins have been remembered or lost through corporate acquisitions.