Friday, 3 January 2014

George Solon Ladd, Kensal Green

John Gay's photo of the Ladd memorial taken
 sometime in the 1980's
George Solon Ladd of San Francisco was just passing through London when he died in 1889. His doctors had ordered the 47 year old president of the Pacific Bell Telephone Company, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company and the Edison Electric Light Company to the Bohemian Spa of Karlovy Vary (better known to non Czech speakers as Carlsbad) for the sake of his health. He never made it to the hot springs of Bohemia, the 5772 mile journey across two continents proving to be too much for his ailing constitution. His wife Elizabeth was presumably with him when he died (the couple had no children) and must have taken the decision to bury him in London before she left to return to the estimated half million dollar estate he left in the U.S. The angel sitting on George’s tomb managed to keep his head for the best part of a hundred years – photographs by John Gay taken in the 1980’s show him in all his undecapitated glory. At some point in the last 25 years vandals beheaded him.

George Solon Ladd was born in Michigan in 1841 but moved with his parents to the mining town of Iowa Hill in California when he was 15. He worked as a telegraph operator for the Alta Telegraph Company as a 15 year old before moving on to Sacramento, Stockton and eventually San Francisco. Ambitious, hardworking and intelligent he rose rapidly in the incipient  telecommunications industry, initially as an employee in the California State Telegraph Company but eventually setting up the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Company of San Francisco, specialising in the construction of private and commercial telegraph lines. In 1877 he formed the American speaking Telephone Company and brought the telephone to the West Coast. Two years later another of his ventures, the Western Electric Light Company carried out the first tests of electric street lighting in San Francisco. He was a prominent member of San Francisco society and despite the heavy work commitments that undermined his health also found time for civic and social activities. There were many obituaries in the American newspapers once the news of his death was cabled across the Atlantic but he was virtually unknown in England and his demise went completely unreported in the British press. 

George Solon Ladd by Fritz Kettenburg, Reprinted from "INSULATORS - Crown Jewels of the Wire", February 1978, page 4:

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