Category Archives: U.S. History

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.


Thanksgiving… in July?

Some of the most popular imagery associated with Thanksgiving is, of course, Pilgrims. But when we scroll back through history, the way in which those early Americans celebrated Turkey Day looks quite different from our modern traditions. For one thing, Thanksgiving was not always a Thursday (or even a November) holiday.

Some fun facts about America’s first celebrations of Thanksgiving:

  • The famous first celebration took place in mid-October 1621 (not November) and probably lasted several days (which we wish was still the case).
  • The next Thanksgiving, in 1623, was held in JULY (not November).
  • The first officially “proclaimed” Thanksgiving was held in Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony on June 29, 1676 (also not November. Seeing a trend here?)

A steaming hot plate of turkey and stuffing in July? Sure, why not.

Obviously there weren’t any hard and fast rules on when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. So how, you might ask, did we end up with a scheduled Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November?

By the time of the American Revolution, various colonies had been celebrating Thanksgiving on various days at various times of the year, but usually coinciding with the Fall harvest. In 1777 (after the Battle of Saratoga), George Washington and the Continental Congress followed the lead of several colonies and declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving on Thursday, December 18. Twelve years later, in 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26 to be the first official Thanksgiving in the newly established independent nation.

Fast forward to the 1850s and Thanksgiving had become an annual tradition in most states, along with the associated turkeys, pumpkins and big meals with extended family. However, the governor of each state determined their own Thanksgiving dates rather than relying on an official decree from the federal government. Can you imagine trying to line up your Thanksgiving get together with out of state relatives whose states celebrate on different weeks? By the time of the Civil War, frustration with this lack of unanimity and increased anxiety associated with the war encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to make George Washington’s Thanksgiving official, designating it on the last Thursday of November.

A quote from President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation (1863):

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

After that, Presidents would annually decree that Thanksgiving was to fall on the last Thursday in November (with just a couple exceptions) until 1939. That year, in an effort to get holiday spending and the associated economic boost started a week earlier, FDR decided to move Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday of the month. This really threw people for a loop and caused confusion throughout the country as people and companies tried to rearrange their calendars to fit the new date.

Due to ongoing confusion with the holiday calendar, Thanksgiving was officially designated as not the last or the third, but the FOURTH Thursday of November by Congress in 1941, making life a whole lot simpler for all of us today. Generally this means that Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday of the month, except for the occasional years which have five Thursdays in November.

So this month, when you have the fourth Thursday off from work and drive three hours for dinner at Grandma’s house, remember how long it took America to come to an agreement on when to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s another thing to add to you list of things you’re thankful for… would you really want to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner in July?

**Thanks to CHM Senior Researcher Tom Gronski (Intrepid Researcher Tom™) for pulling together this information – we’ll be back next week with some more of his research on the Campbells and Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving turkeys

An early 20th century Thanksgiving postcard from the collection of the Campbell House Museum.

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