Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Brains Behind the Singer Fortune

The real brains and energy behind the wild success of the Singer Sewing Machine Company was Edward C. Clark (December 19, 1811 – October 14, 1882).

Clark was the LAWYER who suggested the various inventors pool their patents instead of spending decades fighting it out in court. At the time Clark came up with this ingenious never-been-done-before-plan, Isaac Singer was broke.  Singer lived an elaborate lifestyle, and was mired in court cases to defend his patent.  Because Singer couldn't pay Clark for all the legal work -- Clark accepted stock in the Singer company.

Isaac Singer lived a publicly scandalous life, with his various wives and numerous children.  Edward Clark was a well respected lawyer who lived a quiet life, and his wife would not allow Singer to visit their home.  Clark soon became the face of the Singer Company. 

The Singer Sewing Machine Company was an unbelievable success by any standard. Edward Clark had a vision of putting a sewing machine in every home -- and he made that happen when he created the hire-purchase plan, which was the first American installment plan. Housewives in Iowa and Kansas could order a Singer sewing machine, and make $2 monthly payments with their egg money.

The Singer Company was headquartered in New York City, and the Edward Clark family enjoyed the same prominence as the Astor's or the Vanderbilt's. When Edward Clark died in 1882, he was worth $25 million dollars. ($600 million in today's money)

From the New York Times:

Edward Clark had a phenomenal grasp of power. He recognized the possession of patents as a key to triumph in commerce; and he had rare acuity about the needs and desires of ordinary citizens. With nerves of steel, and his finger on the pulse of the average American housewife, this well-situated business lawyer in New York City had at a young age burst beyond the confines of his milieu. On the surface he appeared to be an ordinary civic leader of correct bearing. When he died after thirty years of growing his money into the stratosphere, one of his business associates interviewed for his obituary simply called him "quiet and undemonstrative." A manager in one of his businesses credited him with a bit more aplomb as "a delightful companion, genial, entertaining and witty," but no one seemed to know what a fighter he was. The realities of Edward's professional life, however, were grounded in the rough-and-tumble: nasty litigation, and an affiliation with one of the most uncouth people who ever lived.

Edward Clark invested in real estate, and he developed a family compound in Cooperstown, New York, where the family's fortune and influence continues to this day. Residences, business, and properties related to the Clark family are all over Cooperstown. From the original family seat of "Fernleigh" to the 1928 Georgian manor of "West Hill", the properties are exceptionally well cared for.  The original garden at Fernleigh, located to the south of the mansion, included a servants' house and Turkish bath.

And, yes, it was the Singer fortune, via the Clark family, that funded the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York....

Also -- sidebar -- Edward Clark also built The Dakota, a visionary apartment house at 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City. This building was completed in 1884 and was the place where John Lennon was shot in 1980.

By the time Edward Clark's son, Alfred Corning Clark,  inherited the Singer fortune, it was simply wealth beyond any expectation.

And, the question becomes -- if you didn't have to work a day in your life -- what would you do??

The story of the incredible Singer Sewing Machine Fortune is far from over...

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