While researching the family of my third great-grandparents, Ransom Dudley and Jency Lyon Dudley, whom I wrote about last week, I found many surprises. I had no idea that we had ancestors who were genuine inventors! (Ransom Dudley and Jency Lyon: Searching Beyond the Records!
The first inventor I came across was the first born son of Ransom and Jency, James Lyon Dudley. Just to give some background on him, James was born in Surry County, North Carolina on 23 July 1819. His family moved about 1828 to Pulaski County, Virginia where James spent his childhood. His father, Ransom, was a blacksmith by trade and no doubt, James spent time with his father learning from him. By time he was an adult, James was a skilled workman with the tools of a blacksmith. He was also a devoted father. He married Harriet J. Pratt before 1842 and they had eight children. Harriet died 9 November 1862 in Pulaski at about age 37.
In 1861, the Civil War had begun and James, about age 42, enlisted as a private in Company C, the Virginia 4th Infantry Regiment of the Confederate Army. He was a member of the Reserves, enlisted to defend their homes from war’s ravages. He served four months and was in one engagement. He enlisted again in 1863 in the Fort Lewis Volunteers, afterward called Company B of the 4th Virginia Infantry. James was discharged after 2 years for disability and had attained the rank of Sergeant.
But the real tragedy of the War came when his young sons also enlisted. His oldest son, Guilford Madison Dudley was 18 and a blacksmith and was in the Confederate Army from beginning to end and came home safely. Guilford enlisted in Co. D, Virginia 4th Infantry Regiment on 18 April 1861 as a Private but had been promoted to full Sergeant by August of the same year. The 4th Infantry Regiment saw a lot of battles including the first and second Manassas, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Charleston, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Guilford married Emma Victoria Shelton after the war and lived until 1923, dying and being buried in Roanoke, Virginia.
However, another of James’ sons, Charles Thomas Dudley, age 17, enlisted 1 July 1861 in Company H, Virginia 21st Infantry Regiment but did not survive the war. Charles was slightly wounded at Sharpsburg and went on to fight at Chancellorsville with General Jackson. He was taken sick soon after and sent to a Confederate Hospital in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg, to recover. Unfortunately, Thomas died and his burial place is unknown.
In 1864, James Lyon Dudley remarries to Mary J Kerkner on 27 February and they had a son, Walter, in 1867. James invented a wheel brace for buggies and wagons and patented it on July 9, 1878 as Patent No. US205845A. The invention related to certain improvements in devices for bracing or strengthening vehicle wheels. He had state and county rights for sale of his wheel brace. He lived in Snowville, Pulaski County, Virginia. James died 6 March 1905 in Pulaski, Pulaski County, VA at about age 86.
It was pretty exciting to find an inventor in the family and even more surprising to find 2 more inventors in the same family! James’ sister, Eliza Hogue Dudley, was born 30 May 1838 in Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia and was about 19 years younger than James. Their parents, Ransom and Jency, had 12 children over a span of 30 years from 1819 to 1849. On 14 September of 1858, Eliza Dudley married Charles Phillip McWane. Charles McWane was and interesting person of Scotch-Irish parentage who was a carpenter, patternmaker and inventor. He was born 4 May 1833 in Nelson County, Virginia.
Charles Phillip McWane was granted a patent #484043 on October 11, 1892 for his Hillside Plow. According to the written description from the United States Patent Office, “The invention relates to improvements in reversible plows. The object of the present invention is to simplify and improve the construction of the mechanism employed for securing the mold-boards of reversible plows to either side of the latter and to enable the mold-boards to be readily detached from such securement at one side of the plow for turning and to be quickly secured at the other side.”
Further research revealed that Charles McWane’s father, William McWane, was a millwright and skilled mechanic and a close personal friend of Cyrus McCormick of reaper fame and he had actually assisted largely in perfecting the first practical harvesting machine. Charles had started an Iron Foundry business after the Civil War and all the sons of Eliza and Charles worked in the business. Eliza and Charles had nine children from 1859 through 1884, five sons and four daughters. In 1908, four generations of their McWane family gathered in Radford, Virginia to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of Eliza and Charles. The four generations comprised 65 persons! Eliza died 13 March, 1913 and Charles died eleven years later on 15 April 1924 in Blacklick, Wythe, Virginia. They were buried in the East End Cemetery of Wytheville, Wythe, Virginia.
But that wasn’t the end of the McWane story! Charles Phillip McWane had entered the foundry business in 1871 and his sons, Henry and James Ransom (J. R.) McWane managed various parts of the family business. In 1903, J. R. McWane settled in Birmingham, Alabama and began a modest foundry enterprise and in 1904, Henry set up a subsidiary, McWane Pipe Works, to make cast iron pipe and fittings. Eventually, the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company was established by J. R. which grew rapidly, even expanding to the west coast in 1926 and later into Canada and world wide! It is still in operation today as McWane, Inc., and is led be Chairman Phillip McWane and has more than 25 plants in North America and the World. Pretty impressive for a company that traces its roots to the ingenuity of a family who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and are my ancestors! You can find out more about the McWane Co. on the web by searching on Google or Wikipedia.
The third inventor I found was the son of Walter Figot Dudley – recall that James Lyon Dudley, (the first inventor above) had married a second time after his first wife, Harriet, died. With his second wife, Mary Kirkner (Kerkner), he had one son, Walter. Below is a family photo of Walter and his family taken Thanksgiving Day 1915 at their home in Glen White, West Virginia. Pay attention to the second boy from the left standing in front named Frank.
This was Frank Edward Dudley born in 1909 in Blue Jay, Raleigh, West Virginia. He became Dr. Frank Dudley and was one of the top men in the nation in the field of radiation control and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles for his accomplishments. He had a lifetime of accomplishments and was a versatile inventor and owned and operated with his wife, a million dollar a year business in Westmont, New Jersey.
Frank ‘s first job was in the coal mines as a “coal picker” and worked his way up to mining engineer and later became an electrician. He learned electrical engineering from a two year correspondence course and got a job with the Naval Shipyard in Virginia. By 1946, Dudley was placed in charge of radiation measurements for the atom bomb tests on Bikini Island. He established and headed the first U. S. De-contamination Laboratory on Bikini Atoll. He organized the Franklin Manufacturing Company in 1947 to market his inventions. He holds 38 foreign and U. S. Patents on his inventions which are varied and used not only in ships and refineries and atomic reactors but also used for sea rescues, on school bus warning lights, and for the blind and the disabled. His accomplishments are many and too numerous to write about here and more information can be found on theFind A Grave, memorial ID 75509300 or by searching for him by name on the web. Dr. Frank Dudley died on 4 Oct 1971 at aged 62 after suffering an apparent heart attack at the Westmont hospital. He was buried in the Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio.
In searching my ancestry, I have found a few scoundrels but finding these inventors was rewarding! After all, each and everyone has a story to be discovered and told!
- Historical Data Systems, comp. U. S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry Operations Inc., 2009.
- United States National Archives. Civil War Service Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 1999.
- Virginia Compiled Marriages, 1851-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2000.
- Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com, database and images. Dr. Frank Edward “Doc” Dudley, Memorial 75509300.
- United States Patent Office, C. P. McWane, Hillside Plow; Patent No. 484,043; Patented Oct. 11, 1892.
- United States Patent Office, J. L. Dudley, Vehicle-Wheel; Patent No. 205,845; Patented July 9, 1878.
- A Brief History of the Dudley Family, Contributed by Naoma Dudley Slone, Ancestry.com; Ancestry Operations Inc., Provo, UT, USA.
- Virginia Deaths and Burials, 1853-1912. Index; FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010; FHL microfilm 553181.