Builder of Tomorrows, Helen Fessenden, 1940, pages 182-187:
DESTRUCTION AT HOME
REG ARRIVED IN NEW YORK on November 10. I met him at the dock as did Mr. Walker. We were all at the Astor Hotel, dined together and went to the theater afterwards, a very pleasant social evening with business touched on only occasionally and lightly.
It had been increasingly apparent in letters from Brant Rock during the past six months that work was not running smoothly there. Rivalries and petty jealousies had cropped up with all the lowered morale that comes when personal importance rather than the importance of the work is at stake. But Reg knew that as soon as he was on the job again, all this would disappear.
At long range he attributed this state of affairs to Mr. John Kelman, an electrical engineer whom he had met in the Pittsfield days in the Stanley Company. He had appeared to be a suitable man for General Superintendent during Fessenden's enforced absence in London and had been engaged for that purpose. Fessenden said to Walker on the evening of his return that he thought they would have to let Kelman go, but Mr. Walker said he did not agree with him...
On December 24 a long distance 'phone call came from Mr. Walker asking Fessenden to come to Pittsburgh for a conference. Reg answered that he would come as soon after Christmas as possible.
On December 26 came the following telegram: "On account of other engagements must know what day you will be here. Wire answer. (Signed) Hay Walker Jr." Fessenden replied "Arrive Thursday morning, telegraph if satisfactory. Had intended arriving Wednesday but delayed account important patent and other business."
Accordingly he left for Pittsburgh on the afternoon of the 28th. Everything went on as usual at the station until just before the noon hour on the 29th, when Mr. Kelman came to the office and showed the head stenographer a written order addressed to Kelman.
The authorization which he showed was signed by Hay Walker Jr., President. The instructions were to the effect that it had been decided to discontinue the Brant Rock Office. That all papers, records, etc. in the office should be packed and shipped to A. E. Braun, Treasurer as legal custodian of same. That particular care must be taken to obtain all papers in the safe and, if it could not be unlocked, to ship the safe itself.
This extraordinary notice was brought at once to my attention.
I talked with Mr. Kelman and told him that while it might be perfectly sound Company policy for the records and papers to be transferred to Pittsburgh, this order, coming as it did with such surprising suddenness, could not be carried out until we had consulted Professor Fessenden by telephone in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Kelman agreed to wait till this could be done. We immediately put in a long distance call for Fessenden at the Farmers' National Bank, Pittsburgh. Promptly the answer came back that Professor Fessenden was not at the Farmers' Bank Building and it was not known where he was.
At half-hour intervals we renewed the call, always with the same reply.
Then we put in a call for Mr. Clay, the Pittsburgh patent attorney. He answered the 'phone himself and I told him that it was extremely urgent for us to get in touch with Professor Fessenden--that he was reported not to be at the Farmers' Bank and would he personally institute a search for him and tell him to call Brant Rock. This he promised he would do.
About 2.30 Kelman came again to the office from the wireless station, this time accompanied by two strangers. These men, we afterwards learned, were detectives hired for the job, who had been introduced at the plant as construction men. He said he would now proceed to carry out his orders.
There were two stenographers and myself in the office and we knew that we could not hold three husky men at bay; nevertheless I told Mr. Kelman he would have to us force. With my back against the largest set of file shelves,
I stood with arms stretched out across them. There was some vague notion in my mind that if they used physical force some legal advantage would accrue to the victim.
Both stenographers were more than willing to help but I did not wish for any employee to run counter to a company order without permission from Professor Fessenden. So I clutched the shelves until my grip was forcibly loosened; then Kelman and his gang started to carry out the box files.
At any moment a call might come from Reg, so delay was essential, if not by force then by strategy, and I demanded that each box file should be sealed and initialled by the stenographers as a safeguard against the contents being tampered with. This gained half an hour or so and all the while our call kept going through to Pittsburgh and always with the same response.
When perhaps a third of the files had been removed the men apparently thought that we would offer no further resistance for all three of them were out of the office at the same moment. We saw our chance, slammed and locked the door in their faces and carried the balance of the files to my bedroom.
By this time the men at the station were buzzing like a hive of angry bees. They had given but scant allegiance to Kelman at best, and now still less. But what could they do? They knew of the President's order--but they took orders from Professor Fessenden--only he couldn't be reached to give orders in this emergency. What to do?
Five o'clock; work shut down; the men went home to their suppers.
About six the 'phone rang. I answered and it was Reg. He began as usual--"Hello dear, is that you? Have you pencil and paper?" meaning to give instructions about sending one of the men to New Orleans. He got no further with his instructions for I burst in with my story of what had happened and told him we had been trying to reach him all afternoon by 'phone.
"Why" he said "I've been in the room next to the telephone exchange all day." All day he had been at the Bank in conference, friendly conference as he supposed, with Given and Walker, and all telephone calls had been kept from him.
He just happened to call up Brant Rock.
When he learned of the removal of the files through Walker's order to Kelman he said--"Hold the 'phone a moment," and went back into the room to hurl at Given and Walker the charge--"Well, you've done it now." Then turning his back upon them he came again to the telephone and told me "Don't let a paper get away--get a lawyer and find out what to do to hold things till I get there."
THOSE WERE ORDERS.
The men rallied round and had themselves sworn in as special police by our landlord, Mr. Blackman, who had authority for this.
All evening they patrolled the plant with rifles and shot guns, for most of them went hunting now and then. Kelman meanwhile was packing the loot and planning for its transportation. Two local trucking firms were called; one refused point blank to touch the shipment, the other came but turned tail when I warned him that he would be a party to the theft if he transported the boxes.
At the office we were keeping the telephone wires hot in our efforts to get the necessary legal advice. A Boston lawyer who had done some minor work for the company was reached and he said we must get the county sheriff to put an attachment on the boxes of files. But easier said than done to locate a society sheriff, twelve miles away, in mid-evening of holiday week.
By dint of every urgency we could think of he was found at last and we tore an unwilling officer of the law from a dinner party. By 11 P.M. the boxes were under attachment under guard and the first skirmish won.
This may seem like melodrama at which in the 'movies' we would turn up our noses, but for us it was a desperate and crucial struggle to hold fast to the results of twelve years of supreme effort of a man who was one of the master minds of his age.
Meantime, in Pittsburgh, Fessenden was finding that this was more than a one-act play. Hardly had he returned to his hotel to fetch bags and catch the night train for Boston than he was served with notice of an injunction brought by the Company against him to enjoin him from further participation in the affairs of the Company. The papers in this action were drawn up in complete readiness in NOVEMBER 1910 in the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh and were calculated to hold him in Pittsburgh till the Brant Rock 'coup' was accomplished.
But Reg, in a whirlwind series of moves, found a lawyer, dictated a comprehensive argument to outline his case and satisfy the court and caught the night train for Boston.
I met him there the next morning having carried out our plan of the previous night to transfer our personal account from the bank where the Company also had an account. We feared that in some way our small savings might be attached and thus leave us even more defenseless.
On January 8, 1911 Fessenden received telegraphic notice of his dismissal from the Company.
He could beyond doubt count on his men, for with fine loyalty they had resigned in a body in protest. But he could not possibly run the Brant Rock station on his own funds and the only thing to do was to leave and bring suit for breach of the contract of September 12, 1908.
A judicial minded public is not interested in the details of personal fights but this much has been written to disclose the essential facts and to convince, if truth can convince.
Our feet were set on that grim road which many an inventor had already trodden.
Would it lead us at last to the heights or to the depths?