Frederick C. Brower

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Frederick C. Brower
Born c. 1851[1]
Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, United States
Died July 14, 1931 (aged 80)
Syracuse, Onondaga County, United States
Occupation Inventor, locksmith and businessman
Children Carolyn Brower Hensel (born 1892)
Parent(s) Hiram C. Brower (October 28, 1826 – November 18, 1911)
Sarah A. Davis (October 15, 1828 – December 16, 1911)[2]

Frederick C. Brower (c. 1851 – July 14, 1931), a safe expert and locksmith by trade, was an inventor from Syracuse, New York. He built a one-of-a-kind automobile, called the Brower between the years 1884 and 1895, although the exact date is not known. If the automobile was built before 1893, it might have been one of the first successful automobiles made in America.[3]

Brower also introduced the telephone to the city in 1878 after seeing the device exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and secured the rights for Central New York from the Bell system. Later, he installed private phones in the city.[3]


Fire and burglar proof new and second hand safes. Experts in opening safes; also locks and keys. H. C. Brower & Son, 317 East Genesee Street - February 2, 1902

He was the son of Sarah Ann Davis (October 15, 1828 – December 16, 1911)[4] and Hiram C. Brower (October 28, 1826 – November 18, 1911) and was born in Syracuse. A locksmith by trade, he joined the business with his father at 317 East Genesse Street where the two worked together for more than 50 years[3] under the name of H. C. Brower & Son.[5]

His father originally began in business with William R. Agar in a copartnership in the locksmith, bell hanging and brass foundry business; however, the establishment, known as Brower & Agar, was dissolved by mutual consent on June 23, 1855. The accounts of the late firm were settled by Brower and he continued business "at the old stand, No. 75 East Genesee Street."[6]

Together, father and son specialized in safe work and consulted in the installation of bank safes in all parts of the State. The company was "called in frequently" for their expert knowledge to unlock the complicated mechanisms of "modern" safes and vaults. Frederick Brower installed all the early burglar alarm systems in Syracuse. He wired the Yates Hotel and the Bastable Theater and the Grand Opera House for electricity, "in times when electrical wiring was mysterious to all but a few."[7]

Brower was known throughout his life as a pioneer in electric installation and in gasoline propulsion but the "inventive spirit moved him more than the commercial sense and he did not go beyond making the machine" and proving it would run in most of his inventive endeavors.[7]

Brower automobile[edit]

Carrie Brower in 1890

The Brower was a one-of-a-kind automobile, built by Frederick C. Brower of 624 South Crouse Avenue. Brower, a locksmith, spent his spare time building the machine and it took several months to complete. Brower's father, felt it was foolish and a waste of time. The automobile was a two-passenger, one-cylinder gasoline operated "affair"[3] and was built largely of bicycle and buggy parts, but it caused quite a lot of comment in the community.[8]

The actual date of completion is unknown and ranges anywhere from 1884 to 1895. If the automobile was built before 1893, it might have been one of the first successful automobiles made in America, predating the automobile built by J. Frank Duryea of Duryea Motor Wagon Company, which is the current record holder.[3]

Research by local historian, Richard N. Wright, in 1954, "revealed that the car was first road tested on September 22, 1893." City founder, William S. Teall remembered seeing it as early as 1895. Dr. Horatio B. Williams of Greenwich, Connecticut reported riding in the car that same year[3] when, as a boy of 18, during a visit to the Brower family, he rode in the car from the Brower locksmith shop at East Genesee Street to the family home on Crouse Avenue.[8]

The Onondaga Historical Society in Syracuse has been trying to find proof for several years that the vehicle was running before September 22, 1893, when J. Frank Duryea had the first road test of the car that later bore his name, since considered the first vehicle in operation in the United States.[8]

He was ahead of his time and the vehicle "caused many protests from city officials, who claimed they could not move it in case of fire." Even in his first car, Brower installed a lock to thwart thieves. Brower used the vehicle for several years.[3] Although there have been some claims that the automobile had trouble navigating the steep hill on Crouse Avenue, Dr. Williams noted that the car made the grade without assistance.[8]

About 1927, he was offered US$300 for it by an automobile company that wanted to use it for advertising; however, he wouldn't part with it.[3]

Brower did create a number of copies of the photograph and passed them out to his relatives and friends. Pictured seated in the car with her foot and hands on the controls, as if about to operate it, was his daughter (although more than likely his sister), Carolyn ("Carrie" Brower). The caption on the picture, in Brower's words, read; "Commenced to make this in 1884. As it is today, 1890."[8] Residents as late as 1955 remember seeing the car exhibited as a curio in the locksmith shop front window half a century earlier.[9]

Later, Brower bought a Duryea, which had been exhibited in Paris. It was in this automobile that author, Franklin Chase wrote about Brower in Syracuse and its Environs when he was the first automobile rider in the city on May 29, 1899.[8]

Telephones in the city[edit]

Brower also introduced the Bell telephone to Syracuse in 1878.[9] after seeing it exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876.[3] Though he brought back only two phones from the exposition to connect his home and shop, Brower also procured New York State rights (north of the Pennsylvania state line) for a Bell system,[7] for a short-time period. He offered lease of the instruments for US$40 per year, plus another US$3 for magnetos.[10]

He installed the first phone line in the city in between his shop and home at Clinton and Jefferson Streets. According to local newspapers at the time; "the phenomena was met with mixed criticism, some terming it a miracle, others calling it haunted." As example, Western Union operators overheard a man in Oswego, New York, 36 miles (58 km) away, playing a violin one night "when their wires were accidentally adjusted the wrong way."[5]

Hiram Brower was unimpressed with his son's new venture and regarded the new "noise transmitter" a waste of time and money and refused to give his son any time off from his regular shop work to string the line. Consequently, Brower worked from 4:00 am to 6:00 am each morning and after 7:00 pm each evening until "well after dark" to accomplish the job. In the end, his father remained "unimpressed" with the finished connection because "it was just too difficult to hear through."[11]

The sight of Brower's telephone wire "crossing barns and tree tops," aroused the humor and curiosity of Syracusans. After he demonstrated the device at the Wieting Opera House in Clinton Square, on February 28, 1878, and showed that "music could be played in Auburn and transmitted by telegraph wire and heard in Syracuse, the city was convinced."[10]

Next Hamilton S. White, head of the fire department, installed a line from fire headquarters to his home. Many businesses followed including the Robert Gere Bank and lawyer, George K. Collins. Mathew J. Myers, who operated a local telegraph and messenger service in the city, opened an exchange in the tower of the Gridley Building after sub-leasing the rights from Brower. Not long after he set up a second exchange in the Onondaga County Savings Bank Building. Myers employed a male operator and had 16 subscribers. Mrs S. Gurney Lapham "put through the first call." Both companies merged into the Syracuse Telephonic Exchange in 1880.[10]

His father, Hiram C. Brower, was credited with installing the first "speaking tubes" in Syracuse and also the first enunciators. He sold his enterprise to the Bell Company after obtaining about 1,000 subscribers.[12]


It was also part of "local lore" in the telegraph field that Brower had wireless telephone apparatus in operation before Marconi, demonstrating it to close friends at Cross Lake while speaking to them from a boat. The circumstance is unauthenticated, and no patent claim has ever been made in the case. The story of the wireless equipment was told by Brower himself in an interview with, Thomas G. Alvord, who interviewed him in 1923.[13]

In a simple experiment, Brower discovered that no wires were needed for conversing long distances over land and water, save the wires connecting the instruments and batteries with the ground at the ends, in essence, a radio "It was hit upon by Brower" in 1880, "but nothing came of it."[13]

The supporting evidence was taken from Brower's books, diaries and papers in which he "recalls all incidents through running dates and other entries." In his record book of telephone leases, there was an entry for D. McCarthy & Company on June 17, 1880, which expired on June 17, 1881, for account number 7649. This was a private line, they were all separate and independent then, as there was no central telephone exchange. The line ran from the retail store at South Salina and Fayette Streets, to the McCarthy wholesale store at Washington and Clinton Streets. One day, the retail store could not call up the wholesale department because the bell would not ring. Both Brower's, father and son, went to investigate. Hiram Brower stayed at the South Salina store and Frederick Brower went over to the wholesale operation. Frederick Brower found that the bell was disconnected and was about to fix the break in the line, when he distinctly heard his father speaking to him, and "in astonishment replied." The two acknowledged they could hear each other.[13]

This was disturbing to the younger Brower and he exclaimed; "Yes, but it's all wrong, we shouldn't hear each other and I don't see how in Sam Hill we can." He took a piece of wire from the elevator and rigged it up on the store line and found that conversation with his father was fully as clear as when the phone line bell was in order. The two next visited the roof of Milton S. Price's store over which the McCarthy line ran. There, their astonishment increased. The wire was broken in several pieces, yet, conversation "could be carried on as before."[13]

According to Brower; "That was wireless telephony, then and there, but we didn't know it. We didn't know whether we were talking through the ground, but thought so, and I still think that may have been possible, for who knows yet whether these radio waves of today are carrying sounds by that means or through the air? I'm asking who knows this for certain. Signals from California were heard in New York recently 50 feet (15 m) below ground in a subway car."[13]

Brower continued the experiment and by 1883 he had constructed a "simple apparatus to give it a good trial over miles of space." The outfit consisted of a small case containing a set of telephone instruments, a reel of fine wire and a small battery. He had "another outfit of a fishing rod, baitbox and lines for camouflage" so as to not cause any undue attention. Brower invited a friend named Brown to go fishing on Cross Lake near Jordan, about 18 miles (29 km) from the city. When he arrived there, Brower rented a boat "with a piece of iron as an anchor." This he attached by wire to his battery and threw overboard. The other end was connected to the instruments. Back in Syracuse, his father was waiting in their store in South Warren Street "at the sign of the golden key," listening for a ring of his telephone at the hour which a card left by his son told him to "watch out." There was no wire between the two men.[13]

The actions of Brower in the boat gave his friend Brown "grave concern." As he watched Brower connecting the wires he asked him "what in thunder he thought he was doing; rigging up a new way to fish, perhaps." Brower told him; "no, I'm going to talk to my father" and Brown demanded to know if he was "nutty." Brower rang the bell of the instruments in the boat and the bell also rang in Syracuse. He acknowledged his father with the question; "How are you, father? Can you hear me?" and his father replied "I'm all right son; I get you clearly; wonderful isn't it?"[13]

After some coaxing, Brower was able to convince Brown to put the phone to his ear. At the first sound of the voice of a man he knew was miles away, he fell back in the boat and "nothing could coax him to try it again" although Brower himself tried again that night ashore. He positioned himself next to a drain pipe at the local hotel that ran to the Seneca River. From this, he was able to ground his instrument and "had no difficulty in calling his father up and talking with him."[13]

Brower continued his story;

"I thought that there was a formation like a leyden jar somewhere in the ground caused by the big horseshoe magnet inside of the instrument and the coils of wires revolving around it. I wondered a great deal over the fact that talking without any wire was very simple and easy to do. I couldn't understand how I did it nor what I had accomplished. Years after, when I heard of Marconi's success, I knew it was wireless I had discovered. I knew enough to have gone ahead and developed it. I ought to have started at it, I intended to do so, but I was too much rushed convincing people that they could talk over wire. To tell them that I could talk over none at all would have made more than Brown question my sanity; so I played with wireless a little but never made anything out of it."[13]

U.S. Patents awarded[edit]

Brower was granted U.S. patent 384,076 for an automatic electric gas cut-off for railroad cars on June 19, 1888. He applied for the patent on April 25, 1887. The invention was described as for use "in case of accident and derailment of a car, an electric circuit is closed, which releases a weight, allowing it to fall and cut off the supply of gas to the burners."[14]

Burglar alarms[edit]

Brower also experimented with electric burglar alarms and by January 1906, his residence contained a "network of wires connected with burglar alarms." Every window and door in the house was protected. Inside the house, Brower even had some of the flooring wired so that when stepped on, an alarm would go off. There were two "indicators" installed; one in Brower's room on the second floor and another in a hallway on the lower floor. The main switch was located on the second floor. By "throwing the lever" Brower could discharge a "dynamite cartridge in the front of the house" and by throwing it another way he could make an explosion occur in the rear of the house. Additionally, "all kinds of guns and revolvers" were loaded and ready for use.[15]

Later years[edit]

Hiram C. Brower in 1911

He ran for public office as Inspector of Election for the Fifth District as a Democrat in February 1892, while living on Crouse Avenue.[16]

Daughter, Carolyn Elizabeth Brower (born 1892), was married on May 9, 1910 to Phillip Charles Hensel in Zion Lutheran Church.[17] During August 1910, Brower purchased the home next door to his residence at 608 South Crouse Avenue for US$10,000. The home had fourteen rooms and bath and was "equipped with all conveniences."[18]

His father, Hiram C. Brower, died on November 18, 1911, in his home at 122 West Jefferson Street where he had lived for 44 years. He was one of the oldest businessmen in the city. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on October 28, 1826, and came to Syracuse at age eight and went to work as an apprentice in the old Onondaga Chief and Weekly Standard offices. Later he took up the trade of locksmith. In 1882, he built an office on the site which is now known as 317 East Genesee Street and had been in that location until his death.[2] He was one of the oldest members of Syracuse Lodge No. 501 of Masons and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. The elder Brower left an estate of US$36,000 to his wife, Sarah A. Brower, who died in December that same year and left the estate to their only son, Frederick C. Brower.[12]

Frederick Brower retired in 1919 when he was almost 70.[3] His wife died on October 1, 1920, in the family home at 610 South Crouse Avenue and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.[19]

By 1927, he was living with his daughter at 108 Kensington Place[3] where he died on July 14, 1931. He was a charter member of the Citizens Club, the Automobile Club of Syracuse, the Anglers Association and the New York State Fair Association. He was survived by his daughter and grandson, Frederick C. Brower Hensel. Interment in Oakwood Cemetery.[7]

During 1954, Philip C. Hensel, of the office of the secretary of the Masonic Temple, who was married to Brower's daughter, Carolyn, did not know what became of the car.[9] As late as 1984, the Onondaga County Historical Society had notified the community they were still looking for it and asked for help from residents.[3]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "H. C. Brower Dies. In Same Place of Business 64 Years". Syracuse Journal. Syracuse, New York. November 20, 1911. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Automobile Spurred Growth of Central N.Y. Industry". Farber and Associates, LLC 2009-2011. January 10, 1984. 
  4. ^ "Funeral of Mrs. Brower". The Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. December 19, 1911. 
  5. ^ a b "Telephone Exchange Joins Bell System". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. May 25, 1955. 
  6. ^ "Dissolution". Syracuse Daily Standard. Syracuse, New York. June 23, 1855. 
  7. ^ a b c d "F. C. Brower, 80, Telephone Pioneer, Dead". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. July 15, 1931. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Morgan, Jennie A. (May 6, 1956). "Anybody Seen This Vehicle?". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. 
  9. ^ a b c "F. C. Brower's Auto May Predate Duryea". Syracuse Herald-Journal. Syracuse, New York. September 26, 1954. 
  10. ^ a b c "Phones Here Soon After Invention". Syracuse Journal. Syracuse, New York. March 20, 1939. 
  11. ^ "Telephones Had Halting History". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. September 20, 1979. 
  12. ^ a b "News of Syracuse". The Auburn Citizen. Auburn, New York. December 28, 1911. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Syracuse Fooled With Radio in 1880". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. February 11, 1923. 
  14. ^ Our Illustrated List of Electrical Patents. The Electrical world, Volumes 11-12, June 30, 1888, p.337. Retrieved August 15, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Burglar Alarms All Set But Intruder Turns Back". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. January 26, 1906. 
  16. ^ "Election Notice". The Syracuse Daily Journal. Syracuse, New York. February 10, 1892. 
  17. ^ "Miss Brower Married". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. May 10, 1910. 
  18. ^ "House in South Crouse Avenue Sold". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. August 19, 1910. 
  19. ^ "Mrs. Brower Dead". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. February 10, 1920.