Whoa! It’s time for Mr. Culture‘s birthday – and here he comes, Mr. Culture himself, Francis Robbins Upton! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DUDE!
(We’re all sorry you’re dead man, we’ll have a drink in your honor. Sorry you didn’t make it to 2011. I bet you’d be flipping your lid.)
The title of “Culture,” as he was called by the rest of his colleagues was kind of an awesome nickname given to him because of his wealth of knowledge. Francis Upton here was one of Thomas Edison’s Muckers – the guys who did all of the work for which Edison grabbed the credit. Upton was the most educated of all of his Muckers, and at one point he was made President of the Muckers! What a weird title. From the Smithsonian:
Upton was the best educated of Edison’s Menlo Park assistants, having graduated from Bowdoin College and taken graduate work at Princeton and in Germany. He was recruited by investors who felt it couldn’t hurt to supplement Edison’s wizardry with some advanced scientific training. They were right, and Upton’s understanding of mathematics and physics was of critical assistance in the development of the light bulb, the dynamo, and other elements of Edison’s system. Nicknamed “Culture” by his colleagues, he was placed in charge of the Edison Lamp Works in 1881. In 1918, Upton became the first president of the Edison Pioneers.
A bit more about Francis from About Inventors:
Francis R. Upton was born in Peabody, Massachusetts on July 26, 1852. He studied mathematics at Bowdoin College, Princeton University, and the University of Berlin (under Hermann von Helmholtz) before joining Edison at Menlo Park in December 1878. At Menlo Park he worked as Edison’s chief scientific assistant, preparing blueprints, performing calculations, and solving mathematical problems associated with Edison’s incandescent electric lighting system. He also helped design incandescent lamps, dynamos, and the electric railway.
Following the perfection of the incandescent lamp and Edison’s consequent expansion into lamp manufacture, Upton became general manager of the Edison Lamp Co. in Menlo Park and later in Harrison, New Jersey. There he combined his managerial duties with experimental work on lamp improvements.
Upton traveled to Europe in 1886 to inspect Edison’s financially-troubled electric lighting companies. While there, he examined a transformer used in alternating current electrical delivery systems and advised Edison to purchase the American rights. Edison did so, but later allowed his option to lapse, preferring the direct current delivery system. During the 1880s Upton also served on the board of the Edison General Electric Co.
He left the Edison Lamp Works in 1894 but returned to Edison’s employ in 1898 as an efficiency engineer at the New Jersey & Pennsylvania Concentrating Works. Upton’s talent for selling sand (a by-product of ore-milling) to cement manufacturers helped persuade Edison to enter the cement business himself. Following the collapse of the ore-milling venture, Upton joined the Edison Portland Cement Co., eventually serving as company representative for northern New Jersey. He left that position in 1911, continuing to sell brick and crushed sand independently.
Upton married twice and had three children by each wife. He served as first president of the Edison Pioneers (1918). He later retired to California, but died in Orange, New Jersey, March 10, 1921.
Something that is not well publicized for some reason was Upton’s writing for journals like Scientific American and Scribner’s Monthly. Upton wrote about Edison’s invention of electric light, and apparently he really impressed Edison, because Edison wrote a note to Scribner’s Monthly saying that Upton was the authority on the subject:
Ah, good times. Happy Birthday, Francis Robbins Upton!