The Mystery of Samuel R. Scottron

The Campbell House Museum blog dated August 28, 2013 introduced our readers to Samuel R. Scottron and his Adjustable Mirror. Now, in honor of Black History Month, we revisit Samuel R. Scottron and attempt to clarify some biographical misconceptions rampant on the Internet.

Samuel R. Scottron

Samuel R. Scottron was born in February 1841 (though some census list 1843) in Philadelphia, PA, the second son of Samuel J. Scottron and Jane Maria Robinson. The family moved to New York in 1849 and to Brooklyn, NY in 1852. Prior to the Civil War, Samuel J. Scottron (the father) worked as a barber and a baggage master on a boat that travelled the Hudson River between New York City and Albany. Soon after the Civil War began, the firm of Statia, McCaffil, & Scottron was sutler for the Third U. S. Colored Infantry, a black regiment stationed at Morris Island, South Carolina. In 1863 Samuel R. Scottron (the son) went south with the regiment as his father’s representative. While in Fernandina, FL in 1864, Samuel R. Scottron assisted in the first general election that allowed the new freedmen to vote. He won the right to represent them in the National Colored Convention held in Syracuse, NY in 1865. In addition, he opened grocery stores in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Lakeville, Tallahassee, and Palatka, FL, but he soon left the struggling ventures and returned north.

Following one of his father’s trades, Samuel R. Scottron opened a barbershop in Springfield, MA. As he observed the difficulty his customers experienced trying to get a full view of the sides, rear, and top of the head in hand-held mirrors, he invented a mirror to provide the view desired. He described the “Scottron Adjustable Mirror” (patent #76253, dated 31 Mar 1868) as “mirrors so arranged opposite each other as to give the view of every side at once.” This was, in his opinion, new, useful, and simple – “we can see ourselves as other’s see us.”

Scottron’s Adjustable Mirror was seemingly his most popular item and was always mentioned prominently in any biographical account. In 2009, Terry Kovel of Kovel’s Antiques and Collecting was asked if the Scottron Adjustable Mirror was “rare.” He stated “a complete and restored Scottron mirror is on display at the Campbell House Museum in St. Louis. Scottron’s mirrors sold well in the late 1800s, but that doesn’t mean they’re not rare today. We have never seen one.”

“Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper”, 12 November 1870

Since his first patent for the adjustable mirror, Scottron went on to patent five more devices:

  • 1880 Feb 17, #224732, Adjustable window cornice (filed 08 Aug 1879)
  • 1883 Jan 16, #270851, Cornice (filed 28 Feb 1882)
  • 1886 Sep 21, #349525, Pole tip (filed 11 Feb 1886)
  • 1892 Aug 30, #481720, Curtain rod (filed 06 Feb 1892)
  • 1893 Sep 12, #505008, Supporting bracket (filed 13 May 1893)

In 1894 Samuel R. Scottron perfected a way to make glass look like onyx and other attractive stones – called “porcelain onyx.” He envisioned making the porcelain onyx into pedestals, but “we shall not stop at pedestals and tables,” he wrote, “but in a short time, hope to have the porcelain onyx tubes used inside architectural decorations, such as are made for church ornamentation, bar room and barbershop mirrors, mantle mirrors, pier mirror front and many ways too numerous to mention.” Colored American Magazine, v. 7, no. 10, Oct 1904

“Colored American Magazine”, volume 7, number 10, October 1904

Samuel R. Scottron died at Brooklyn, NY on 14 October 1908.

Nearly every biographical account regarding Samuel R. Scottron, especially the condensed versions readily available on the Internet, refer to Scottron’s relationship to the actress Lena Horne. Terry Kovel, in his article, stated, “by the way, Samuel Scottron is the maternal grandfather of Lena Horne, the famous singer and actress.” Lena Horne herself believed that Samuel Scottron was her great-grandfather, a conclusion she apparently derived from her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, who wrote a book entitled The Hornes: An American Family in 1986.

However, neither of these relationships is accurate.

It appears that Ms. Buckley confused Samuel J. Scottron (the father) with Samuel R. Scottron (the son) when trying to untangle her family’s genealogy. Ms. Buckley, in her biography of the Horne family, states that Cyrus L. Scottron was the youngest son of Samuel R. Scottron. In reality, Cyrus L. Scottron was the youngest son of Samuel J. Scottron (and therefore the youngest brother of Samuel R. Scottron).

Our evidence is as follows:

Samuel J. Scottron was born about 1816 in Philadelphia, PA. He married Jane Maria Robinson and they had 9 children. Samuel & Jane’s second child was Samuel R. Scottron, born in February of 1841. Samuel & Jane’s ninth child was Cyrus L. Scottron, born 13 Sep 1866 in Springfield, MA. [Note the 25-year age difference between the two brothers.]

Birth record of Cyrus Scottron

The 1870 Federal census from Springfield, MA shows the family of Samuel J. Scottron living next door to his son, Samuel R. Scottron. The Samuel J. Scottron household lists his wife Jane, daughters Melissa & Clara, and son Cyrus (age 3) living together. In the Samuel R. Scottron household we find wife Anna, son Oscar, and daughters Alice & Rowena.

1870 U.S. Federal Census – Springfield, MA
#179 – Samuel J. Scottron & family
#180 – Samuel R. Scottron & family

The 1900 Federal census from New York City shows Oscar A. Scottron, the son of Samuel R. Scottron, as the head of the household, with his uncle, Cyrus L. Scottron (age 34) living with the family.

1900 Federal Census – New York City
Cyrus L. Scottron (uncle) living with Oscar A. Scottron – his nephew and oldest son of Samuel R. Scottron, Cyrus’ brother

On 28 Dec 1889, Cyrus Scottron married Louise Ashton Logan.

“New York Age”, dated 04 Jan 1890, pg. 3

They had one daughter, Edna Louise Scottron (born 31 Oct 1894). For whatever personal reasons, Cyrus and Louise are never shown living together in the 1900 or 1910 census. Cyrus died 29 May 1913 at Springfield, MA.

1910 Federal Census – New York City
Louise Scottron, the wife of Cyrus L. Scottron, is living with her daughter, Edna, and grandmother, Louisa Ashton. Note that the census lists Louise as married for the past 20 years.

On 17 Nov 1915, Edna Scottron married Edwin (“Teddy”) Horne, Jr., and their one daughter was the actress and singer Lena Horne (born 30 Jun 1917).

Ms. Buckley felt that Samuel R. Scottron was the great-grandfather of Lena Horne. Actually, Samuel J. Scottron is the great-grandfather of Lena Horne, and Cyrus L. Scottron, his son, is Ms. Horne’s grandfather. Samuel R. Scottron, the inventor of the adjustable mirror and brother to Cyrus, is the great-uncle of Lena Horne.

We hope this information is of value to the Horne family and all the fans of Scottron family and Lena Horne.

“Brooklyn Daily Eagle”, 21 Feb 1897, pg. 11 – a biography of Cyrus that specifically lists him as brother to Samuel R. Scottron.

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