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Behind the big themes, celebrated figures, and dry dates of history are the interesting stories of life in the past and ordinary people. Southeast Missouri has a varied and rich history that you often don’t hear about in history classes. Join Bill Eddleman of the State Historical Society of Missouri to hear about these stories with “Tales of Days Gone By.” Listen in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

James L. Dalton and the Dalton Adding Machine: Made in Poplar Bluff

 Dalton Adding Machine
Dalton Adding Machine

Among the many useful inventions developed at the turn of the 20th Century was the adding machine. One of the most widely-used of these was invented in Missouri and initially manufactured in Poplar Bluff—the Dalton Adding Machine. Hubert Hopkins invented the machine in St. Louis, which featured among other innovations a 10-key keyboard. Hopkins and his brother William needed capital to develop the invention, so William traveled to Poplar Bluff in December 1901 to convince James L. Dalton and other potential investors to fund the manufacture and marketing of the machine. The investors agreed to provide $2500 to produce a prototype. Dalton traveled to St. Louis the following month to view the prototype, was impressed, and in June 1902 provided an additional $1250.

James L. Dalton was a commercial genius by many accounts. He was born in Ripley County in 1866, and left home at age 14 to attend school in Arkansas. He taught school for a year, then got a clerk job in a Doniphan hardware store. Mr. Dalton came to Poplar Bluff in 1885 to co-manage a hardware store. He purchased a partnership in the business, then called the Wright-Dalton Store. The business quickly expanded to employ 125 people with sales of $750,000 annually. It weathered the 1893 economic downturn, and moved to a new four-story building at Main and Poplar in Poplar Bluff in 1894. At that time the name changed to the Wright-Dalton-Bell Anchor Department Store, or W-D-B-A Department Store. By 1900, voters sent Dalton to the Missouri legislature, where he served one term.

The Dalton Adding Machine was to be an even greater commercial success than the store. The Hopkins brothers finished the machine by September, and the partners founded the Addograph Manufacturing Company to produce it. The Hopkins and Dalton each owned half the company, with Dalton as President. The company applied for a patent in January 1903, and due to shady manipulations by the Hopkins, Dalton eventually bought out their share and became sole owner. Dalton eventually renamed the company the Dalton Adding Machine Company, and by 1909 built a factory in Poplar Bluff to manufacture the machines. Businesses found the machine to be very useful, and within a short time the company had opened 200 sales offices world-wide. Sales ran up to $1 million per month at its peak.

The success of the Dalton Adding Machine meant that by 1914 it outgrew the available workforce in Poplar Bluff. The company moved to Cincinnati in that year to allow expanded production. The family retained the W-D-B-A Department Store and other commercial ventures in Poplar Bluff.

Eventually the Dalton Adding Machine Company became a $10 million company manufacturing nearly 60,000 machines a year and employing 2500 people. Dalton headed the company until 1926, when he succumbed to acute appendicitis on January 11. The following year, his Dalton Adding Machine Company merged with other companies to form Remington Rand.

The legacy of James L. Dalton in Southeast Missouri remains in the form of the Moore-Dalton House, also known as the Margaret Harwell Art Museum. Dalton remodeled the 1883 house in 1896. The City of Poplar Bluff purchased the home in 1980 using funds bequeathed in 1977 by Margaret Harwell, an amateur artist, businesswoman, and civic leader, to establish a center for art classes and exhibits. The city renovated the house and opened it as a museum in November 1981. Interest from invested funds from the bequest, donations, and grants support the museum. Its significance merited listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.