Sometimes you whack the pinata and all kinds of tasty stuff comes out. Such is the case of the “was it ever even built?” Bennington and Xcel, where we left off a couple of days ago smugly munching our Scooby Snacks — when Agent Polt dashes by and tosses a letter on Bennington letterhead, from the Bennington office itself into our laps. Date: May 15, 1903. Subject: Your Investment.
As I read the letter, I experienced that moment in the mystery novel about 4/5ths the way through, where the detective suddenly realizes the deeper plot that he’s missed all along, the one bit of evidence he’s missed that makes the whole thing clear.
Because now, I see a pattern: The Bennington and Xcel machines *do not* fail in the marketplace, because they never made it to the marketplace. It’s not a failure of the idea, because Bennington’s design and innovations are sound. It’s not a failure to demonstrate the machines can be made because it seems clear that at least one working, polished unit of each of 3 designs was made. It wasn’t a failure of attracting capital, because Bennington seems to have been able to attract investors – once to the tune of $3.3 million in valuation.
The failure, 3 times in a row, was Bennington’s “inability” to obtain a manufacturing site and actually produce the machines for market, despite being well-financed and having a few years each time to look. Bennington was a serial con man.
Sure, it could have just been tough to find a factory location in Dayton, Ohio in 1903-05, but Bennington was sure sopping up the investors money being choosy about it. We don’t know how much his investors put in during this time period, but we do know that the Bennington Co. is bankrupt by December of 1905.
Doesn’t stop old Wesley Bennington, though (alias “William” at times). by February of 1906 he’s scouting locations again, and by 1907 he’s got plans drawn up for a factory and a brand new prototype to show investors. We don’t know how much investors put in this time either, but by 1908-09 Geo. Mares expresses his incredulity at the patience of Bennington’s investors in his 1909 “The History of the Typewriter”. The company appeared to still be going at that time.
Between 1908 and 1922 there’s a big gap. Did Bennington go bankrupt again around 1909-1910 after spending fruitless years looking for a place to build a factory? We don’t know. I do know that the Typewriter Topics compendiums from 1915, 1917, 1818, 1919 and 1920 are silent about Bennington’s schemes. He appears to have dropped off the radar for a decade. Prison term for fraud, maybe? I’d love to dig up the Typewriter Topics issues from 1908-1914, because I’m certain there’d be delicious detail there.
Then suddenly in 1922, Bennington appears again with a brand new prototype, this time a frontstrike of modern appearance rather than an old-style downstrike. He forms a new company valued at $3.3 million and attempts the angel takeover of Fox Typewriter. Despite having roughly seven times as much cash as he’d need to buy Fox, he fails. The deal falls through. Presumably it’s because a shyster patent troll filed an infringing patent for a syllabic typewriter the same month, but I’ve looked at the patents and it seems to me that Bennington’s 1904 patent would have held up in court (the shyster’s patent looks nothing like Bennington’s machine), and Bennington had the cash to fight if he wanted to.
What happened after the Fox deal falls through, again we don’t know. My coverage of Typewriter Topics stops with December 1922, and no other source seems to know. Another bankruptcy sometime in 1924-25? In the months after the Fox deal fell through, the Xcel executives are still painting a rosy picture of the health of the Xcel Typewriter Co., and nothing seems to indicate they gave up trying to find or build a factory after the Fox deal collapsed. Did the pattern repeat? Did Bennington live large on investor money and then vanish again with his pockets lined? We just don’t know.
But I sure wouldn’t invest in a Bennington enterprise, that’s for sure.
Anyway, Bennington/Xcel page is updated at the TWDB: