Louis T. Glass, 1845-1924

Nickel-in-the-Slot Phonograph Pioneer

Louis T. Glass was born in New Castle County, Delaware, on the 6th August, 1845. His father was Samuel Gustavus Glass (1800-1871), and his mother was Susan Glass, born Springer (1815-1864), and they were married in 1836. Louis was the third of four children. Siblings: Sarah C. Glass Kirby (1838-1900), Susan E. Glass Hendricks (1843-1921), and Maria L. Glass Sawyer (1848-1929). Louis T. Glass came to Butte County in California while still a boy in September, 1851, and he started out as a Western Union telegraph operator in 1868, and remained with the company for ten years. In 1879 he had accumulated sufficient capital to buy an interest in the Oakland and San Diego Telephone companies, but was also secretary of the Spring Valley Mining and Irrigating Co., operating the Cherokee mine in Oroville, California. Later the company became the Spring Valley Hydraulic Gold Co. with Louis Glass as president and secretary, and at the time Thomas Edisonˈs good friend Frank McLaughlin got involved in mining in California to help finding platinum for Edisonˈs electric lamp project. Platinum is often found in black sand, a byproduct of hydraulic gold mining. In 1881 Frank McLaughlin wrote a letter of introduction for Louis Glass, who visited Thomas Edison to obtain rights to his electric light in California, and in the following years Louis Glass continued his effort to become involved in electric lighting in California. After visiting the Edison Machine Works in 1884 and again spending some time at the Edison West Orange laboratory in 1888, Louis Glass became general manager of the Edison General Electric Company in San Francisco, also known as the Pacific Phonograph Company (founded on the 7th January, 1889). In addition he was director of the Spokane Phonograph Company, Spokane Falls in Washington, and director of the West Coast Phonograph Company, Portland in Oregon.

On the 23rd November, 1889, Louis T. Glass and his business associate William S. Arnold (born in Warwick, Rhode Island) demonstrated the first nickel-in-the-slot phonograph in the Palais Royal Restaurant, 303 Sutter Street in San Francisco. They had been permitted by the proprietor Frederic G. Mergenthaler (born in Strasbourg, France) to demonstrate the music machine in the restaurant. The machine, an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph with oak cabinet, had been fitted locally in San Francisco with a coin mechanism invented and soon patented by Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold. In a patent infringement case vs. Ezra T. Gilliland and Frank W. Toppan in July, 1890, both Glass and Arnold stated that they made the first sketches and explained the invention to others in July, 1889. In the spring 1890 the patents for coin mechanisms for both cylinder and disc playing machines were assigned to stationary engineer Robert W. Smith in San Francisco, who apparently was the local representative for the New York based company Automatic Phonograph Exhibition Company headed by Felix Gottschalk. Before the patents were assigned to Robert W. Smith and sold, Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold produced and operated about 15 nickel-in-the-slot machines in San Francisco during the six months from November/December, 1889, until May, 1890. The first nickel-in-the-slot machine was, as mentioned above, installed in the Palais Royal restaurant on the 23rd November. The second coin-op phonograph was installed in the same restaurant on the 4th December due to the immediate success. On the 10th December, 1889, Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold installed another machine in the White Wings saloon, and the following machine was installed on the 10th January, 1890, in the inner waiting rooms on the ferry between Oakland and San Francisco. The fifth machine was installed in the Conclave saloon on the 18th February, 1890. Before the "First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States", held on the 28th-29th May in Chicago, the first 15 coin-op machines in San Francisco had brought in $4,019. At the convention Louis T. Glass as the official inventor of the coin-op phonograph concept accurately said: "...Nevertheless, gentlemen, there is money in the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph. There is an immediate result for every company in the United States. If you will look over the income that we have had there you will see that where you furnish interesting material, the receipts do not materially drop off, and I believe that for three or four years there is an enormous amount of money right in the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph...".

In 1892 Louis T. Glass went over to the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co., and in 1894 the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Co., and in 1898 he was elected vice-president and general manager of both companies. The last two phonograph patents by Louis T. Glass were filed in February and May, 1894. Louis T. Glass was one of the originators and developers of the 'express switchboard', which came into general use on the Coast in the early 1890s, and he also made the first installation of the harmonic party line system for selective party line service. Louis T. Glass was unfortunate as the vice-president and general manager of the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. to be indicted for bribing supervisors after the Great Earthquake of the 18th April, 1906. The aim of the bribery was according to the investigations of the Oliver Grand Jury to prevent other telephone companies from obtaining telephone franchise in San Francisco.

In 1905 Louis T. Glass and his brother-in-law John Ira Sabin (1847-1905) formed the Philippine Telephone and Telegraph Co. to develop telephones in the islands. He became the first president of the company with office address at the Shreve Building, and was in fact president until the company was dissolved in 1922. Also involved in the company was his son-in-law Richard Fred Beamer (1880-1926) married in 1905 to the daughter Frances (1888-1959). She was one of three children, two siblings died young prior to 1900. In 1912 Louis T. Glass withdrew from active service with the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. and the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Co. to devote all his time to the Philippine project. For decades he was supported in business by his wife Sarah Frances Glass, born Perkins (1850-1911). Louis and Sarah Frances were married in 1872.

Louis T. Glass died 79 years of age on the 12th November, 1924, after a long and interesting life as a pioneer and major corporate player in the San Francisco area. According to the obituary in the "San Francisco Chronicle" Louis T. Glass passed away in his home on 375 Fourteenth Avenue in San Francisco, by then also his daughter Frances Glass Beamerˈs family home. The grave marker of Sarah Frances and Louis Glass can be found at the family monument at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park (Garden, Section D, Lot ES-D 61) in Colma, San Mateo County, California.

Gert J. Almind