top of page
  • tessap5

Wayne Township's Very Own Inventor

By Paul Maloney, Museum Attendant at the Wayne Museum and staff member of the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs


The Wayne Museum is celebrating “National Inventors Day” this month! The day takes place each year on February 11th- Thomas Edison’s Birthday. For our celebration, special emphasis will be focused on the township’s own “celebrity inventor”, LeGrand Parish, who lived a good portion of his life on Lower Preakness Avenue, which is now known as Parish Drive. Today, we’ll be focusing on Parish’s inventing and connection with Thomas Edison- to learn more about Parish’s life and involvement in the Passaic County Parks Commission, check out our blog post, “Getting to Know LeGrand Parish.”


Figure 1- A photograph of LeGrand Parish. From the Wayne Museum.

LeGrand Parish was born in Friendship, New York in 1866 to Photographer Julius Parish and his wife Sally Parish. LeGrand means “The Great” in his French ancestor’s language. According to Under the Sign of the Eagle, by William Berce, Parish set up a very profitable newspaper route in Friendship. In an account given in 1963, Dr. Robert Brubaker shared an interview he had with George Morgan, Parish’s executive secretary and neighbor. From this interview, it was learned that Parish graduated from high school but couldn’t afford college. He came to New Jersey and worked for Edison Laboratories in the 1880’s while going to college at night.


During this time, Edison was moving his world-renowned laboratory from Menlo Park to West Orange, New Jersey, and also obtained land in Fort Myers, Florida. From correspondence found in the Rutgers University Thomas A. Edison Digital Collection, Parish corresponded by letters to Edison from Fort Myers and Menlo Park. Two of the letters in this collection show Parish addressing Edison with the words “Dear Cousin”. From this “cousin” reference, Parish and Edison could possibly be family related but no other source can be found to confirm a connection. The Fort Myers correspondence with Parish and Edison includes information about sending palmetto and cabbage palm roots, and dealing with local tax matters. From Menlo Park, the correspondence is mostly about “tissues” for “machine works'' and discussion of “Mr. Tait” who was taking over work from Parish. (In later years before World War I, the Dayton Daily News reported that Parish and Edison continued their friendship and relationship with a joint contribution to the National Aero Club of America for the formation of the Air National Guard.)


Figure 2- Thomas Edison's Fort Myers home. From the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, https://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org/what-to-see/historic-homes/.

Parish’s future reputation as an inventor was not with the famous Edison. Dr. Brubaker reports from his interview with George Morgan that upon graduation from college, Parish left Edison Laboratories and went to work for the New York Central Railroad. (No other source reports which college Parish attended.) Berce reports that Parish had a great combination of administrative, financial, and technical talent which resulted in him advancing very rapidly in the railroad industry. He applied these triple talents to the railroad industry and developed inventions which became extremely helpful for railroad freight and passenger travel. The best known of these inventions are the following.


  • Development of steam circulation and lining systems for fireboxes which prevented breaking. From less smoke, there became decreased air emissions. According to Brubaker and Morgan, he began the American Arch Company where the fireboxes were manufactured.

  • Improvements with a coupling air brake which was designed to help slow down and stop railroad cars. (George Westinghouse patented an air brake in 1869.) The Safety Appliance Act of 1893 required rail lines to use power brake systems which would control speed without a brakeman doing it manually. Parish’s improvements with the air brake helped improve safety for brakemen and those working on a railroad line.

  • A train car door latch also improved safety for workers and passengers.

The “railroad inventor” became very wealthy with patents for inventions such as these in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries. In addition to the American Arch Company, Parish in time became President of the Lima Locomotive Works from Lima, Ohio. He was also President of the Super Heater Company which eventually became known as Combustion Engineering. (In the later 20th Century, Combustion Engineering along with related companies developed nuclear steam supply power systems in the United States.) Berge adds that shortly after relocating to New York, Parish formed a company with other associates which focused on the marketing of railroad patents.


Figure 3- The Parish home in Wayne, today located on Parish Drive. From the Wayne Museum.

Parish married Madge Little in 1896 and eventually settled in the Preakness Avenue House in 1914. The house was in Madge Parish’s family for many years. In Wayne, Parish became well known for giving to the community including being a trustee for the Passaic County Parks Commission and donating parkland for a golf course and a fire department. The land for the golf course is the Passaic County Golf Course which adjoins Parish Drive today. Mr. and Mrs. Parish are also well known in Wayne history for helping those in need during the Great Depression and being very generous to their domestic employees. Stories told often were how LeGrand kept $800.00 in his pockets at all times to give to needy neighbors and that Madge Parish left $20,000 in her will to their longtime chauffeur, Charles Brown and his family. The couple also gave away a lot of their farm produce to area families in need. Berce adds that the LeGrand and Madge Parish were very “tight lipped” and modest about their philanthropy. LeGrand Parish died in 1933 and Madge Parish passed away in 1939.


For “National Inventors Day” on February 11th, there will be a tribute all through February for the Wayne “Celebrity Inventor” and other Passaic County Inventors. Social media spotlights can be viewed on See Passaic County's Facebook and Instagram. As part of the regular tour of the Van-Riper Hopper House (Wayne Museum), a special display and discussion about LeGrand Parish and his inventions will be presented. The tribute will be during the month of February. Elementary students will be encouraged to submit their own creative inventions.


Week 1, February 1-7: Spotlight on LeGrand Parish. Display including painting of Parish will be part of regular tour.


Week 2, February 8-14: Spotlight on John Philip Holland of Paterson, Submarine

(National Inventors Day on February 11th.)


Week 3, February 15-21: Spotlight on Alfred Speer of Passaic, Endless Traveling or Railway Sidewalk, Electric Elevated Railroad


Week 4, February 22-28: Spotlight on Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes of Hawthorne, Bubble Wrap.


The Wayne Museum operates under a shared services agreement between the Township of Wayne and the County of Passaic. The County manages and operates the Wayne Museum on the Township’s behalf through the County’s Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs.


Bibliography


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, October 5th, 1886. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, October 29th, 1886. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, February 4th, 1887. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, December 10th, 1887. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, December 22nd, 1887. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, January 3rd, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, January 31st, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, February 14th, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, February 16th, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, April 11th, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, August 15th, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


Parish, LeGrand. LeGrand Parish to Thomas Alva Edison, August 18th, 1888. Letter. From the Thomas A. Edison Papers Digital Edition, Rutgers University.


George Morgan, interview by Robert Brubaker, 1962, transcript. From the Wayne Museum.



96 views0 comments
bottom of page