Burroughs Road is north of Lowell, running between Lincoln Lake Ave NE on the west end and going east to Flat River Dr. While it is interesting to learn the names and stories behind places and streets, sometimes there is also a hidden gem.
James and Rosetta Burroughs settled on 75 acres in 1848. He was a farmer, built a grist mill on the Flat River, and was one of the founders of the Lowell National Bank. He later sold to the Fox family, of “Fox’s Corners” fame, which includes the area along Lincoln Lake Ave NE from Vergennes north to Burroughs. The grist mill was on Flat River at Burroughs, and there was a schoolhouse on the northeast side of the Lincoln Lake and Vergennes intersection.
James and Rosetta’s son Edward and his family moved to Lowell in 1860. James died in 1865 and was buried in Fox’s Corners Cemetery on Lincoln Lake Ave, just south of Vergennes St. Around 1871, Edward and his family, along with his mother Rosetta, moved back to Auburn New York.
The hidden gem was the inventive genius of Edward’s son William. William was born in 1857 and spent his childhood on the banks of the Flat River, running around with the other boys of that era, including Bert Quick and Ernest Graham. According to an 1894 article, “he was educated in the Lowell area schools and with an inventive genius inherited from his father, has made a successful stroke in the mechanical field.” Bert Quick said of his childhood friend, “Will displayed his predominant talent early in life. As a young man, he constructed a rowboat with an oar device so that the oarsman could face the direction in which the boat was proceeding. In this craft he took myself and other friends for rides on the Flat River.”
Back in New York, William worked as a clerk at the Cayuga County National Bank at Auburn when he conceived the idea of a ‘practical’ adding machine to assist those in his profession. A Burroughs Company Employee magazine explains, “Burroughs didn’t actually invent the adding machine in the sense that he created it from nothing. Calculation devices had existed for centuries, at least since the abacus. But Burroughs combined existing technologies to build the first practical adding machine. It could be mass produced, and it promised to eliminate hours of boring human toil.”
The first working model was completed in 1884 and the patent was granted in 1888. He founded the American Arithmometer Company in 1886 to market the machine. Later his company became the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.
In 1897 the Franklin Institute awarded William the ‘John Scott’ medal. The award is given to inventors who are particularly deserving because their invention contributed to the “comfort, welfare, and happiness” of humankind.
The Burroughs Corporation was built on the wisdom of William Burroughs’ idea, that with the aid of precision office machines, men and women can accomplish more with less effort in less time. In 1986 the Burroughs Corporation merged with the Sperry Corporation to become the Unisys Corporation.
William had been in poor health from tuberculosis for many years. He ignored the advice of doctors by working in the machine shop to perfect his ‘dream’ machine. With the success of his machine and the Arithmometer Company, he retired in 1897 to Citronelle Alabama, a town known as a health center because of the pure water and high altitude. The whole town loved and respected Burroughs. After his death on September 14, 1898, the First Presbyterian Church had a stained-glass memorial window placed in their new church along with his favorite verse. To this day this is the only memorial window in the church.
Burroughs was taken to St. Louis for burial, and a marble marker was erected by his associates in the Bellefontaine Cemetery. His wife Ida and sons Horace and Mortimer are buried there also.
Posthumously Burroughs was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986.
Though he was only here during his childhood, William Burroughs left his mark on the world. That generation of young people, including Bert Quick and Ernest Graham also left their mark. Quick documented local history through photos and writings. Graham built now famous buildings in Chicago, London, and Washington D. C. Burroughs invented and mass produced the first practical adding machine, radically changing banking and accounting.
Photos courtesy of Michael Hancock, at burroughsinfo.com