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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Lennox, David
(April 15, 1856–February 15, 1947)

–machinist, mechanic, inventor, and businessman—was the first of four children born to immigrant parents Martin and Ellen Lennox. At the time of David's birth, Martin, a machinist, worked in a Detroit railroad shop. In the late 1850s the family moved to Aurora, Illinois. During the Civil War, Martin Lennox enlisted in Company H, 124th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and was killed May 16, 1863, at the Battle of Champion Hill, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

    Young David Lennox was sent to the Soldiers' Orphans Home in Springfield, Illinois, for two years, where he attended public school. Then he rejoined his mother in Aurora, Illinois, and gained employment as a rivet beater in the shops of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, earning 50 cents per day. In 1868 the family moved to Chicago, where David helped his mother operate a small grocery store. In addition, he sold newspapers to supplement the family's meager income. The Lennox family moved back to Aurora before the great Chicago Fire of October 1871.

    After the conflagration, the Lennox family moved back to Chicago, taking advantage of the economic rebuilding of the city. David worked during the day, continued his education at night, attending the Bryant and Stratton Business College, and taught Sunday school at a Baptist church. The Lennox family's economic opportunities evaporated as a result of the Panic of 1873. Lennox eventually found employment as a lather's assistant and repaired sewing machines in the back of his mother's grocery store.

    Following the recommendation of two store customers, in July 1880 Lennox moved to the burgeoning central Iowa city of Marshalltown. Arriving with his tools, Lennox rented a room and a building for a machine shop. He struggled to support himself during his first few months in Marshalltown until he was hired by the Iowa Steel Barbed Wire Company to make barbs for their barbed wire fencing. Lennox fabricated a custom machine that rapidly cut the steel barbs. Concurrently, the remainder of the Lennox family moved from Illinois to Marshalltown.

    Assisted by his brother Talbot Lennox, David Lennox continued to develop his machine shop and began to manufacture boilers and steam engines. In 1884 the shop moved to a larger facility and, with two other investors whom Lennox later bought out, incorporated as the Lennox Machine Company. In addition, the Lennox brothers patented several inventions. The Lennox Throatless Shear and a pitless wagon scale were the products most widely marketed throughout the United States. During the 1890s, the Lennox Machine Company manufactured mason trowels until that part of the business was sold. From 1902 to 1914 the company produced a line of portable gasoline engines. Lennox supported other Marshalltown manufacturers (the Fisher Governor Company, Cooper Manufacturing, and the C. A. Dunham Company) by consulting on the design of custom fabrication machinery.

    A riveted steel furnace was the most widely recognized product to bear the Lennox name. Patent holders Ernest E. Bryan and Ezra Smith consulted Lennox in 1896 to install in their shop the machinery to manufacture steel furnaces. Sales of the first few furnaces did not enable Bryan and Smith to pay Lennox for the work he had performed. As a result, they sold the furnace company and patents to Lennox in 1898 and assisted in the production of the furnaces. After several modifications, Lennox began production of the "Torrid Zone" steel furnace. The furnaces were immediately successful and sold throughout the United States, with 1,500 furnaces produced in 1903. In 1904 David Lennox sold the Lennox Furnace Company to local investors for $57,000. The company later became the largest furnace manufacturer in the world.

    David Lennox continued to manage the Lennox Machine Company, consisting of numerous buildings occupying a square block and employing 100 men with an annual payroll of over $70,000. Profits increased through the continued sales of an improved "rotary shear," portable gasoline engines, boilermakers' tools, safes, wagon scales, and pressured pipe taps. Lennox retired at age 56 and in 1912 sold the Lennox Machine Company to the Ryerson Brothers of Chicago for $110,000. David Lennox enjoyed an active retirement, working in a small machine shop behind his home. There he manufactured replacement parts for some of his products and experimented with new manufacturing designs and techniques while maintaining an active correspondence with other inventors, designers, and machinists. He died at his home in Marshalltown, accurately described in his obituary as the father of Marshalltown industry.
Sources include Marshalltown city directories, 1884–1905; Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, vol. 6 (1900); Marshalltown Times-Republican, 3/7/1908, 2/15/1947, and 6/30/1953; Marshalltown Times-Republican Past Times, 3/7/1999; Marshalltown Herald, 5/27/1907; Past and Present of Marshall County Iowa (1912); History of Marshall County Iowa (1955); The Continuing History of Marshall County (1999); Lennox Industries Archive, Marshalltown; and Marshalltown Public Library and Historical Society of Marshall County reference files.
Contributor: Michael W. Vogt

Cite as: Voght, Michael W. "Lennox, David" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 December 2017