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Manufacturers Index - R. H. St. John
Last Modified: Oct 21 2018 9:20PM by Jeff_Joslin
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In 1857 and again in 1859, inventor and mechanical engineer Roswell H. St. John patented improvements to watchmaker's lathes. Under the name of R. H. St. John he manufactured his lathes plus a variant aimed at dentists. His first patent lathe was reportedly the first foot-powered lathe for watchmakers, and was sold as "St. John's Universal Chuck Lathe".

Roswell H. St. John, from the 1900 book, "History of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellefontaine, Ohio"

Information Sources

  • November 1859 The Dental Register of the West has an article on the St. John's adjustable dental lathe.
  • From the 1874 book, Memorial Record of the County of Cuyahoga and City of Cleveland, Ohio

    "R. H. St. John.—Among the representative citizens of Cleveland is R. H. St. John, the well-known inventor and vice president of the St. John Typobar Company. Mr. St. John is a native of the Buckeye State, having been born in Cincinnati, in 1882. He is of English lineage, his ancestors having come to America from England about 1700. His father was Ebenezer St. John, who was born in 1803 and died in 1859. His wife was born in 1805 and died in 1888.

    "While our subject was a boy his family removed from Cincinnati to Springfield, Ohio, where he received a common-school education and learned the trade of watchmaker and jeweler. He followed wachmaking and jewelry business in Bellefontaine, Ohio, until 1860, in the meantime having invented and placed on the market, in 1855, the first foot lathe for watchmakers, known as St. John’s Universal Chuck Lathe, which had quite a sale.

    "Upon the breaking out of the Civil war Mr. St. John closed out his business and was appointed by the Governor a member of the County Military Committee, in which capacity he served throughout the war. In 1863, he was appointed Provost Marshal for the Fourth district of Ohio, a position he held until the close of the war. After the war he engaged in the sewing-machine business, and in 1870 patented the St. John Sewing Machine. He organized the St. John Sewing Machine Company, at Springfield, Ohio, and was superintendent of that company’s works until 1880, when he sold out his interest in the company and removed to Toledo, Ohio. In the latter city he organized the Union Sewing Machine Company, and had charge of the works of the company for five years, when he sold out and removed to Cleveland, and engaged for several years in the sewing-machine business in this city.

    "Many years ago Mr. St. John’s attention was directed to the necessity and advantages of a type-setting machine, and much of his time after coming to Cleveland was devoted to the origination of such a machine. In 1889 he commenced the construction of a machine on an entirely new principle, making a line of type by cold pressure. In 1890 he patented the machine known as the St. John Typobar, and the same year organized the St. John Typobar Company, of which he is the vice president. The machine has been a success in every particular, and will work a revolution in type-setting by machinery. It is operated somewhat upon the principle of the type-writer, by means of which the characters are produced in lines upon cold metal by compression, which may be used repeatedly without waste of material. By the use of this machine, one operator can within eight hours set from 30,000 to 40,000 ems, or about four times the amount a man can set up in the same length of time, and do it as correctly, if not more so than can the man. The plan of the machine is simple, practical and automatic. It is the first of its kind with which the line of type may be made by compression. Mr. St. John is a mechanical engineer and a genius, and has given to the world many useful and practical inventions, those in the sewing-machine line having won him recognition all over the industrial world.

    "While a citizen of Bellefontaine, Mr. St. John served as Coroner of the county, and was recognized as one of the deservedly honored citizens of the community. He is a prominent member of the Odd Fellows’ fraternity, being a member of the Grand Lodge of Ohio. In politics he is a staunch Republican. Mr. St. John was married in 1852, to Miss Rebecca Poland, and to their union four children have been born, two of whom are living. The children are as follows: Charles P., of Chicago; Ida, the wife of E. A. Shafer, of Cleveland; Sallie S. and Edmund, the two latter deceased.

    "Mr. and Mrs. St. John and family are members of the Presbyterian Church."

  • December 1900 Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies, in the Obituaries section.

    "Roswell H. St. John, a member of the Civil Engineers' Club of Cleveland, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1832. He was of English lineage, his ancestors having come to this country from England in 1700. While he was yet a boy his parents removed to Springfield, Ohio, where, after receiving a common school education, he learned the trade of watchmaker and jeweler. He was engaged later in this line of business in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and perfected various inventions applicable to his trade. Among these was the St. John universal chuck lathe, said to be the first foot lathe used by watchmakers.

    "At the breaking out of the war of the Rebellion, he was appointed member of the county military committee and later provost marshal for the fourth military district of Ohio. He continued in the latter position until the close of the war.

    "On the return of peace he again devoted himself to business, and became interested in sewing machines both as an inventor and manufacturer. He developed a number of valuable improvements in this line, and in 1877 the St. John sewing machine was perfected and a large factory for its manufacture was established at Springfield, Ohio.

    "Mr. St. John took up his residence in Cleveland in 1885, and shortly after commenced work on the typobar. He conceived the idea of making a type bar by what he termed the cold process, the bar being produced by pressing a solid body and a strip of flowing type metal together against assembled matrices, no heat being used. The operation forces a strip upon a tongue on the body of the bar and at the same time imprints the assembled characters upon the strip. The development of the process and a machine for its execution wholly engrossed Mr. St. John’s time for the past ten years.

    "Mr. St. John took his completed machine to New York late in the year 1898, and the St. John Typobar Company, capitalized at $8,000,000, was organized by New York and Washington capitalists. A factory for the manufacture of his invention is to be built in Cleveland. Mr. St. John had just returned to the city‘ and was engaged in the purchase of machinery for the plant a day or two before his death. He died of heart failure at his residence on Case avenue’ July 27, 1900, after an illness of but a few hours...

  • June 1903 The Inland Printer had an article that describes St. John's Typobar machine.