The Life and Times of Robert Patterson
I’ve mentioned former curator of business and industry, Dick Cole, on several occasions in this blog. While at Minnetrista, he worked extensively with the Ball company and family collections, but he often ventured into other subjects. He wrote the following story about Robert Patterson, a little remembered but obviously accomplished Muncie citizen.
Robert I. Patterson was born on March 28, 1843 in Muncie to Samuel and Jane Turner Patterson. The family was living near Winchester at the start of the Civil War in 1861. Samuel enlisted in the 36th Indiana Volunteer Infantry and faithfully served his country until being wounded at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. He died of those wounds on September 24, 1864 at the Jeffersonville, Indiana military hospital.
Seventeen-year-old Robert Patterson had preceded his father’s entry into the service by one month, enlisting in the 19th Indiana Infantry on July 29, 1861. His regiment would become a part of the famed Iron Brigade, one of the most renowned units of the Union army. Unlike his father, Robert survived the war. He fought in fourteen major battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg. He was discharged from the service in September, 1864.
After the war, Patterson worked in his uncle’s clothing store, as a clerk for the state legislature, as a postal clerk, as a postmaster, as a custodian of the county courthouse and finally as a pension attorney. Along the way, he had married Mary A. LaFavour in 1868. The couple had three children.
In addition to his varied jobs, Robert Patterson was an incurable inventor. In 1892, he devised a unique means of fastening a fruit jar lid, for which he received a patent. Acting upon this opportunity, he founded the Patterson Glass Company in Yorktown, to produce his patented jar, which he called the Leader jar. The company was incorporated on June 18, 1892, with Charles A. Ramsey, Joseph A. Goddard, Charles E. Moore, John Hickman and Alonzo Hickman joint investors.
Leader jar, ca. 1892
Unfortunately, the glass business was not successful, and the company went into receivership on September 30, 1893. The rights to the patented closure went along with the operation. Successor companies were the Leader Glass Works and the Skillen-Goodin Glass Co., both of which continued to make the Leader jar at the factory for many years.
Patterson went back to being a pension attorney and politician. He was elected Clerk of the county in 1902, and served for four years. Afterward, he was on the editorial staff of the local newspaper. But he always continued to invent things in his spare time. Some of his ideas were successful, the most popular being a currycomb for grooming horses.
Patterson was widely known as a poet, and was named as the poet laureate of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ association. Many of the poems were published, and his daughter Pearl would recite them at GAR encampments that he attended.
Patterson died on September 29, 1916, but his legacy continues in Muncie, as the building across from the courthouse in Muncie where he had his office still goes by his name – the Patterson Block.
Patterson building, 1893
Patterson building, 1986