Charles W. Kennard
Charles Wesley Kennard was born on December 24th 1857 in New Castle, Delaware and attended boarding school in Wilmington about six and a half miles away. He was the second child of successful merchant John S. Kennard and Mary A. By 1880 Charles Kennard had moved to Massey, Maryland joining other family members already there. In Massey he began working on a fertilizer recipe and struck gold by creating a phosphate fertilizer from crushed bone. Kennard would then form the first of his many partnerships with Henry Clay Chase naming their fertilizer business Kennard & Company. With their secret recipe and a four-thousand dollar loan the two began their new business venture. By 1892 they moved their business from Massey to the port of Chestertown, Maryland a mere eighteen and a half miles away. This gave them easy access for shipping and helped with the actual manufacturing of the fertilizer. Since William H. A. Maupin worked for the Old Dominion Steamboat Company that passed through the area, it is likely this is how they met. Chestertown is also home of E. C. Reiche a furniture maker and undertaker who in 1920, along with Kennard himself, would also be credited with inventing the Ouija board through an article that appeared in the New York World Magazine and ran on May 23rd 1920. To date we have yet to uncover the direct relationship between Charles Kennard and E. C. Reiche.
Kennard & Company did well, and Kennard and Chase had the first telephones installed in Chestertown to connect the main office to the plant located on Burchinal’s wharf. Kennard did so well that rather than looking local, he hired a New York architect to draw up plans for his new house which was located on 210 Washington Avenue in Chestertown which was built in 1886. Incidentally, This is the same house which was featured in two articles that appeared in the New York World Magazine and ran on May 23rd 1920 where one myth relates that it was Kennard who actually invented the Ouija board in his kitchen and another that the board actually named itself with the help of Kennard and his lady friend. The claim the Kennard invented the Ouija board has widely been discredited with the discovery of a New York Daily Tribune article titled “The New Planchette” which originally ran on March 28th 1886 and was reprinted in many other papers across the country. This article recounts how a mysterious talking board was sweeping through Ohio years before the myth credits Kennard as inventing it.
While their fertilizer business began with a strong start it simply wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately for Kennard and Clay, all the money they spent building their business couldn't overcome the fierce fertilizer competition to come or help them anticipate the weather not cooperating. In 1886 a drought had crippled their business and by 1889 Charles Kennard couldn't make his loan payments and he lost his plant in public auction.
In 1890 Charles W. Kennard moved to Baltimore, Maryland and began another fertilizer business named C. W. Kennard & Company located at 220 South Charles Street. The business never took off, yet this location would be made famous by his third business venture. He would also found Kennard & Company which handled real estate in the Baltimore area. Though Kennard entered into many business ventures throughout his life, he would remain in real estate until his death.
Charles became a member of the Masons on April 7, 1880. Perhaps it was at one of their Masonic meetings that Harry Welles Rusk, William H. A. Maupin, Col. Washington Bowie, and John F. Green agreed to go into business together. On October 30th 1890 the above mentioned men appeared in a Baltimore court to sign and register the incorporation papers of The Kennard Novelty Company which were certified on October 30th 1890. Kennard would offer his former fertilizer business's address of 220 South Charles street as the new company's home where it would remain until 1892.
On February 10th 1891 the first talking board patent (No. 446,054) was registered by Elijah Bond and he in turn assigned it to Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin. On February 28th 1891 Kennard and Maupin sold their rights and interest in the Bond Ouija patent to the Kennard Novelty Company. Though there were early accounts that Kennard or Reiche had invented the Ouija board these remain unfounded. In fact, an article which ran in the New York Daily Tribune on May 28th 1886 goes on to describe how a new talking board craze swept Ohio some four years before Ouija board's launch in Baltimore in 1890.
The Kennard Novelty Company's incorporation papers read “the said corporation will be managed by five directors...who will manage the concerns of the said Corporation for the first year.” Taken literally, Col. Washington Bowie would dismiss the other founders of the company sparing only Harry Welles Rusk. He then renamed the company the Ouija Novelty Company, physically moved the company, and put his close friend William Fuld, at the helm.
Though excluded from the company which once bore his name, his association with the talking board would not end there. Just before his separation with the company he filed for and was granted his own talking board patent on February 18th 1891 (No. 462,819). It highlights improvements on its use and mentions being less expensive to manufacture. Charles W. Kennard would go on to create two different talking boards. The first was the Volo board shortly after his split. In 1892 he would take the Kennard Novelty Company’s former branch factory located at 212 Illinois Street in Chicago, Illinois and start up yet another business named the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately for Kennard neither his new talking board or his company would survive. The Ouija Novelty Company, held the original Elijah Bond patent (No. 446,054) which gave them the exclusive right to make a talking board which operated similarly to their Ouija board. A “Bill of infringement” was immediately filed against the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois and it wasn’t long before both the Volo and Kennard’s new company were history.
Patent No. 498,905 on a water motor by Richard M. Shaffer was assigned to Charles W. Kennard and Col. Washington Bowie and is also the last patent tying Kennard and Bowie together. It was filed on October 23rd 1891 just seven days before Bowie reorganized the Kennard Novelty Company forcing out Kennard and registered on June 6th 1893 a year after Bowie and William Fuld had shut down Kennard’s Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois.
The second was the Igili talking board produced in 1897. This was manufactured under the company’s name, the America Toy Company, which resided at 222 South Charles Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Both attempts at manufacturing talking boards as competition to the Ouija were met with fierce marketing and lawsuits from Col. Washington Bowie and William Fuld effectively putting Kennard out of the talking board business once and for all.
On August 23th 1893 he would be granted three design patents on walking canes (No. d22720, d22721, and d22722.) On closer inspection of the papers filed Jacob Krebs Rusk Jr., Harry Welles Rusk's brother, is listed as Kennard's lawyer. On November 11th 1919 Kennard was granted his last trademark named WEIRD-A. Could this also be a talking board? To date nothing WEIRD-A has been recovered. The registration of this mark states that Charles is doing business as the Kennard Novelty Company again.
Charles W. Kennard married twice. His first marriage to Caroline Barney Wickes in Chestertown, Maryland resulted in the birth of his first son, Charles Wesley Kennard Jr and his only daughter, Adelaide G. He would later divorce Caroline and marry Katherine Hilbert. His second marriage to Katherine produced two more sons, John Hilbert Kennard in 1915 and Edward Gordon Kennard in 1916. Charles W. Kennard died on January 14th 1925, and is buried in his second family's plot with his wife Katherine and two sons in Druid Ridge Hill Cemetery, Pikesville, Maryland. His first wife Caroline, son Charles Jr., daughter Adelaide and her husband and family are also buried at Druid Hill Cemetery in a separate family plot shared with their Robinson relatives.
(Special thanks to Kevin Hemstock for his research on Charles Kennard's Massey and Chestertown, Maryland years.)
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