J. C. BACKUS, "Father of Electricity", DIES
In Smethport, Succumbs In Buffalo
Sanitarium, Sunday Afternoon

photo credit: Mary Pierotti Family Collection

He was a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the I. O. O. F. Lodge of Smethport, the Elks of Bradford, the Masonic Blue Lodge of Olean, the Consistory of Coudersport, Zem Zem Temple of Erie, Phoenix Chapter O. E. S., Tall Cedars of Lebanon, the Smethport Hose Company and the Conopus Club.  He was a former past master of the Masonic Lodge of Smethport.
He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Lucy Backus, one son, Edward and a baby grandson, two sisters, Mrs. W. T. Seger and Mrs. Nellie Cutler of New York City and one brother, Merle Backus of Smethport.

Funeral services were held Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 o'clock at the family residence on West Main Street, Rev. W. E. Van Dyke officiating; interment was in Rose Hill Cemetery.

The many friends of J. Clayton Backus of West Main Street, were shocked and grieved to learn of his death which occurred Sunday afternoon, March 15th at 2:30 o'clock at a Buffolo sanitarium, where he had been taken last Tuesday for treatment by Dr. Eckles.

Mr. Backus had been in poor health for over a year and had been tenderly cared for by his wife who was with him constantly.  Fearing his condition was serious, he desired to be near his physician, Dr. Eckels and was taken to the Buffolo sanitarium  last week by W. H. Gallup and Fred Biever.  Here his strength gradually failed and pneumonia developed Sunday.  Fearing the worst, his wife and son Edward were notified and drove at once to Buffalo arriving there at 11:00 o'clock, and were with him when he passed away.

John Clayton Backus was born March 14, 1866 in Smethport, the son of Major John Couch Backus, a prominent lawyer of that period, and Mary Almyra Backus.  He was from a family of ten  children, eight of whom reached maturity. He was married December 11, 1899 to Lucy Blake of Eldred and had resided here all his life, where he was the owner of the Backus Novelty Works, and was prominent in all civic affairs.  His untiring and finally successful efforts in leading the campaign to secure electricity for Smethport, are important annals in the historyof the town.  He has been termed the "Father of Electricity" in Smethport, a name justly deserved. He was an inventor of note;  the Backus Pin Setter, the Backus Checkhook, and the Backus Home Golf Trainer,and many other inventions are all products of his clever mind and hands.  Genial, kind-hearted, generous to a fault, all those who knew and remember "Clayte" will be saddened by his passing.  In his home life he was a devoted husband and father, and will be greatly missed.




Death of Summons J.C. Backus, Local Inventor

McKean County Democrat May 19, 1931

Smethport residents were shocked Sunday by the news of the death of J. C. Backus, prominent Smethport civic leader, manufacturer, and inventor, which occurred in Buffalo Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock.

Mr. Backus, who had been in poor health for some time past, had gone to Buffalo on Tuesday of last week to receive medical treatment from Dr. Eckles, celebrated specialist of that city, entering a private nursing home near Dr. Eckles office. At that time his condition was not regarded as serious.

Later in the week the patient injured himself falling; but at first the injure was not considered serious until Saturday when pneumonia developed and due to his weakened condition rapidly assumed a dangerous aspect.

Mrs. Backus and son, Edward Backus, left for Buffalo early Sunday morning and were at the patients bedside when he end came.

John Clayton Backus was born in Smethport March 14, 1866, the son of Major John C. and Mary Windsor Backus. The father was a prominent Civil War soldier and one of he leading attorneys of the Northwestern Pennsylvania. The subject of this sketch was educated in the local schools and read law in his father’s office.

Although possessing the training necessary for entry to the legal profession, Mr. Backus, possessing a natural mechanical leaning, turned to invent experiments.

He invented a patent check locking system for hats, coats, and umbrellas and organized the Backus Novelty Company to manufacture the product, starting as a stock company and eventually becoming sole owner of the concern, which has operated a large factory in Smethport for many years being regarded as one of the town’s best industries. The ingenious locks found a ready market and some of the world’s largest hotels and public buildings are equipped- and are still purchased the checking locks. In addition to the check locks, Mr. Backus’ factory manufactures other novelties invented by him. One of his most ingenious inventions is an indoor golf machine which has been enjoying increased sales during the past two years.

Mr. Backus was the first man to invent a successful pin-setting machine for bowling alleys which was placed on the market in 1905, being sold by the Brunswick-Balke-Callendar Co. and manufactured at eh plant of Holmes & Gilfillan in Smethport. Most of the bowling alleys of America were equipped with this device and Mr. Backus’ royalties totaled a huge figure. He later invented a new and improved pin-setting machine and at the time of his untimely demise was engaged in litigation against the Brunswick Company, alleging that a new machine they are now manufacturing is an infringement on his new patent. Mr. Brunswick won his suit and at the very tie of his death indications pointed o a verdict favorable to him in an appeal taken by the Brunswick Company.

In addition to his successful manufacturing enterprise. Mr. Backus was one of the organizers and a large stockholder in the Smethport Garage co. and as extensively identified with the production of oil., in addition to other business ventures.

He was a prominent as a civic leader, having served as a member of the borough council for several terms and was active in securing the first Main Street pavement.
Mr. Backus took the initiative in the matter of securing electricity for Smethport in 1922. Leading a successful crusade for a local bond issue, the well known citizen was honored by the borough council in being delegated a committee of one to carry out the project, which he did in a highly satisfactory manner. His plan of building a transmission line to Mt. Jewett was carried out and he devised eh efficient street lighting and distributing system here. This great amount of labor was cheerfully give to the town.

Mr. Backus was a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, of the Smethport Conopus Club and a former president of the organization. He was also active in the McKean County Motor Club.

He was a member of the local Masonic fraternity of the Coudersport and of the Zem Zem Temple; Mystic Shrine, Erie.

With “Clayte” Backus public spirit amounted to a creed. He was indefatigable in his effort’s for the upbuilding of Smethport. It was due to his that the Smethport Fire Department was completely reorganized a few years ago along lines which make it one of he most efficient volunteer fire-fighting organizations in this section. His efficient factory force formed a nucleus of the organization and a fire alarm has a signal for complete cessation of activities at his factory, which is location a few doors from the fire station, and employees man the fire department’s motor trucks as quickly as any paid fire-fighting force could do.

Despite his many interests, Mr. Backus was one of the most democratic citizens if the town. He was kind and sympathetic and generous to a fault. He was never too busy to resist any appeal upon his time and talents. He was always eager to be of assistance even to the most humble citizen. “Clayte” Backus, in addition o his outstanding qualities of citizenship, was intensely human and his friends in all walks of life were numbered by the legion. His death is mourned in every home.

Mr. Backus was united in marriage to Miss Lucy Blake of Eldred. Besides his devoted wife, he is survived by one adopted son, Edward Backus of Smethport: two sisters, Mrs. Lucy Seger and Mrs. Nellis Cutier of new York and one brother. Merio E. Backus of Smethport.

The body was brought to Smethport on Monday.

The funeral was hold at the family residence on Main Street Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 o’clock, the Rev. w. E. Van Dyke of S. Luke’s Episcopal church officiating.

Interment was in Rose Hill Cemetery.

McKean County Democrat
Thursday, March 26, 1931
By terms of the will of the late J.C. Backus, local inventor and manufacturer whose death occurred Sunday, March 15, the Hamlin Bank & Trust Co. and Fred H. Biever, secretary of the Backus Novelty Co. are named as administrators of the decedent’s estate, which is a large one.

The will provides for the continued operation of the Backus Novelty factory, one of Smethport’s best industries, which was organized and successfully conducted by Mr. Backus for many years.

The plant manufactures the famous Backus check locks for garments and umbrellas, the Backus home golf training machines and other ingenius articles invented by the deceased prominent citizen.
Mr. Biever will direct the conduct of the big industry.

The entire estate is left to Mr. Backus’ wife, Mrs. Lucy Backus, and son, Edward Backus.