Updated 26-XII-2018

Albon P. Man

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

Albon Man5

An earlier write-up on Albon Man that appeared on this website was removed. The reason for the removal is that it was discovered that the person written about was not the intended subject. This error was made because an obituary that appeared in an electrical periodical in 18911 mistakenly identified Albon Platt Man (1811-1891) as the associate of William E. Sawyer. The Albon Man of interest in this writing was, instead, a nephew of the said Albon Platt Man3,13.

A name that is well-known in the history of the electric incandescent lamp is Albon Man. However, little appears to have been written about him. Albon Man (Jun 29 1826 - Feb 18 1905) teamed up with William Edward Sawyer in 1878 to pursue incandescent lamp development. Much of the discordancy that existed in that relationship is revealed in an article by Charles D. Wrege and Ronald G. Greenwood8.

In 1878 Sawyer was about 28 years of age; Man, a New York attorney, was about 52 years of age. Thus, there was a difference of about 24 years in their ages. In Jul 1878 Sawyer, Man and five other individuals formed the ill-fated Electro-Dynamic Light Company2. One of the other five persons, Hugh McCulloch, was, apparently, an uncle of Albon Man. The Electro-Dynamic Light Company ceased to exist after about 1881.

A biographical sketch of Albon Man appeared in the book Success and How to Attain It, which was published in 18953. Man also contributed a section, titled "Is Electricity Energy or Only Matter?", pages 197-261, to the book. The portrait of Man shown above was scanned from that book (opposite page 195). The biographical sketch is given below:

"Albon Man was born in Westville, Franklin County, N. Y., June 29th, 1826. His father and mother were both born in Vermont and were descended from old Puritan stock. Mr. Man's father was Dr. Ebenezer Man; his grandfather, Dr. Albon Man, and his great-grandfather, Dr. Ebenezer Man, the name of the eldest son alternately being Ebenezer and Albon. He fitted for college at the academies in Fort Covington and Malone, Franklin County, and entering Union College in 1845, graduated in 1849 in both the literary and scientific courses, and was elected a member of the Phi Beta Society. After studying law with his uncle, Albon P. Man of New York, he was admitted to the bar of New York, February, 1852. He was admitted as attorney and counsellor of the Supreme Court of the United States in January, 1871. Soon after his admission to the bar he became partner with his uncle, Albon P. Man; but by reason of the sickness of his father was obliged to return to Franklin County and establish his office at Malone, N. Y., where, in addition to practice of the law, he was employed as a local engineer upon the Northern New York Railroad. He was elected district attorney of Franklin County in 1860, and in 1861 went out to the war as major of the 98th New York Volunteers. His health was completely broken down by the hardships of the peninsular campaign, and after the battles about Yorktown, the Battle of Williamsburgh, and the first Battle of Fair Oaks, in which he participated, he was obliged to resign his commission and return to Franklin County, where he had still been kept in the office of district attorney by the kindness of the inhabitants. Finding, however, that his health was insufficient for the practice of his profession, in the month of December, 1862, he went to Washington and was employed in the Treasury department in various positions of trust in the office of the Treasurer of the United States, the Comptroller of Currency, and the Secretary of the Treasury. In 1866 he returned to New York City as treasurer and general manager of the National Bank Note Company and as the legal advisor of that company. During this period he made several inventions in aid of the work of the Bank Note Company, including a machine for gumming postage stamps by air pressure and a safety device for checks, bonds, and other securities. He resigned this position in 1869 and engaged actively in the practice of his profession. In 1871 he became the general manager of the Lorillard estates in New York, for which his legal education, as well as his varied business experience, rendered him well qualified. He continued in the management of these large estates for between thirteen and fourteen years, when he resigned the general management, being still continued as a trustee, executor, etc., for several of the estates and as legal and business adviser. During all this period, and indeed from his youth up, he had kept well advised of the current of scientific progress, particularly in the matters of electricity and chemistry. In youth his private room was in his father's office, a detached building where, in addition to a large business office, was another in which were all kinds of chemicals and apparatus. With these he and the medical students of his father were accustomed to perform many kinds of experiments, and when the announcement of practical photography by Daguerre was made, they endeavored with the camera obscura to get pictures, and succeeded in getting a picture of the yard adjoining the office on paper moistened with nitrate of silver, but were not able to fix the pictures which were thus quite evanescent. Perhaps this was the first photograph upon paper. In 1878 he united with the late William E. Sawyer in producing what is believed to have been the first practical system of incandescent electric lighting. Many inventions having reference to this subject were patented by Sawyer and Man conjointly, and by Mr. Man and Mr. Sawyer separately. A fierce legal contest arose in 1879 between the owners of these inventions and those of Thomas A. Edison, which has continued to the present time. The first electric-lighting company ever organized, the Electro-Dynamic Light Company, was formed by Messrs. Sawyer and Man in 1878. In July, 1892, the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy was granted to Mr. Man by Union College. Since leaving the general management of the Lorillard estates, Mr. Man has continued the practice of the law and the management of his own business affairs, much of his time having been given to the legal contests in regard to electricity. Inventors and men of science, among whom he has many friends, are accustomed to call upon him, discuss matters of invention and science, and to take his advice thereon."
An obituary of Albon Man also appeared in the Malone Palladium4, a newspaper in upper New York State. It read:
"Major Albon Man, well known to many in Northern New York, died at the Hotel St. George, Brooklyn, on last Saturday night, as the result of a stroke of paralysis, in his 79th year.

"Mr. Man was born in Westville, this county, in June, 1826, and was the elder son of Dr. Ebenezer Man, and grandson of Dr. Albon Man, who was the first supervisor of the town of Constable. Mr. Man graduated from Union College at Schenectady with high honors, after which he studied law in New York city with his uncle, Albon Platt Man, at that time an eminent lawyer in that city. About 1850 he came to Malone to reside, and entered upon the practice of law, and was at one time while here a law partner of the late Hon. Joseph R. Flanders. He also did some work here as a surveyor and civil engineer, and it is said that in that capacity he was instrumental in securing considerable land for the St. Regis Indians, for which the tribe conferred upon him an Indian name and made him one of their chiefs, the highest honor they could bestow.

"When the civil war broke out he was active in the organization of the 98th regiment, enlisting in November, 1861, and was promoted to the rank of major of the regiment Dec. 20, 1861. His record during the war was of the highest, and he was a prime favorite with the officers and members of the 98th. He was discharged for disability June 8, 1862. Shortly after the conclusion of the war Major Man was placed in charge of one of the most important bureaus in the treasury department at Washington, where he remained for about three years, and then went to New York and resumed the practice of law, in which he was eminently successful.

"He was one of the most prominent citizens of Northern New York during his residence here, and in 1859 was elected district attorney of this county which office he held when his regiment was ordered to the front. During his absence the affairs of office were administered by Hon. Wm. P. Cantwell, who assisted him largely upon his return in prosecuting cases then pending.

"Major Man married Miss Josephine Watkins, a sister of Mrs. C. L. Hubbard, of Malone, and daughter of the late Zephas Watkins, who, with one daughter, Mrs. Edward M. Ives, of Brooklyn, survives him. The deceased was a corresponding member of the Franklin County Historical Society, and was deeply interested in the welfare of Franklin county. He was for years a visitor to Malone, where he had many warm personal friends, and to these the news of his death was received with sincere sorrow. He was a man of superior education, and was possessed of an unusual fund of general and accurate information. He was greatly interested in electricity, and his work in connection with the invention of the Sawyer-Man incandescent light will preserve his name to posterity if no other action of his be remembered. He was also identified with the developing of the great water power at Massena.

"Beside his wife and daughter, Mr. Man is survived by one sister, Mrs. Marshall Conant, of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The remains will be brought to Malone for interment."

Because Albon Man was a lawyer one could hastily conclude that his knowledge of science and electricity might have been limited during the Sawyer-Man relationship. Such a notion would be quickly dispelled, however, after a reading of his article that appeared in Success and How To Attain It. Indeed, while Sawyer and Man were granted several U.S. patents conjointly, Man was granted patents in his name only. Two patents were issued to Man in 1880. One, No. 227,118, issued May 4, 1880, was for an electric lamp. The second, No. 227,370, issued May 11, 1880, covered joining pieces of glass, porcelain, &c.;

The ancestry of Albon Man can be traced back to William Man of England, who emigrated to Cambridge, MA in the year 1634. The family tree is not traced to that extent in this writing. We start the descent from the great-grandparents of Albon Man, namely Ebenezer and Anne Man10. One of their sons was Albon3 (1769-1820). Albon was a doctor who married Maria Platt in 1810. Albon and Maria had several children, one being Ebenezer3,11,13. The Albon Man of interest in this write-up was a son of Ebenezer3,13. As already stated, the son, Albon, was born Jun 29, 1826. Also of interest for this write-up is a sister, Susan Maria Man (1818-1898), of the latter Ebenezer. It was mentioned in the quoted article above that in December, 1862 Albon Man went to Washington to work in various positions as well as for the Secretary of the Treasury; it was in 1866 that he returned to New York City. Albon Man's aunt, Susan Maria Man, married Hugh McCulloch9, who was appointed by President Lincoln in 1865 to be Secretary of the Treasury12. As mentioned above, it is also believed that Hugh McCulloch was one of seven incorporators of the Electro-Dynamic Light Company in 1878.

Albon Man had a law office in the Morris Building at 68 Broad Street in New York City6. His body was taken to Malone, New York for interment4,5.

The mistaken identity of Albon Man in the earlier version of this write-up was revealed after the writer received photocopies of material from Nancy Cataldi, Queens, New York. The original material had been sent to her by Albon Platt Man IV for clarification purposes for a book being written about Richmond Hill in Queens. Needless to say, the writer is greatly indebted to Ms. Cataldi and Mr. Albon Platt Man IV for this information; it was key to correcting the mistaken identity. The writer is also indebted to Mr. David Minnich, Director of the Wead Library in Malone, NY for a biographical sketch7 as well as an obituary4 of Mr. Man.

  1. "Obituary - Albon P. Man", The Electrical Engineer, Vol.XI No.153, Apr 8 1891, p.430.
  2. "The Electric Incandescent Lamp", Franklin Leonard Pope, Boschen & Wefer, New York, 1894, p.10.
  3. "Albon Man", Success and How To Attain It, Andrew C. Carnegie and others (including Albon Man), F. Tennyson Neely, Publisher, New York, 1895, p.195.
  4. "Death of Major Albon Man", Malone Palladium, Feb 23 1905.
  5. "Obituary - Albon Man", Electrical World and Engineer, Vol.XLV No.8, Feb 25 1905, p.414.
  6. "Obituary - Albon Man", Electrical Review, Vol.46 No.8, Feb 25 1905, p.353.
  7. "Historical Sketches of Franklin County and Its Several Towns with Many Short Biographies", Frederick J. Seaver, J. B. Lyon Co., Albany, 1918, p.759.
  8. "William E. Sawyer and the Rise and Fall of America's First Incandescent Electric Light Company, 1878-1881", Charles D. Wrege and Ronald G. Greenwood, Business and Economic History, Second Series, Vol.13, 1984, pp.31-48.
  9. http://www.carlinmedia.com/CVHistory/March/march21.htm
  10. http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/county/franklin/1812/ka-ma.htm
  11. http://web.stlawu.edu/library/mss.html (Mss. Coll. 17)
  12. http://genforum.genealogy.com/cgi-bin/pageload.cgi?hugh,mcculloch::mcculloch::581.html
  13. Private communication from Albon Platt Man IV to Nancy Cataldi; this information was conveyed to the writer.