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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Volusia County

Solving the mysteries of the Hotchkiss House
Rating: 2.1 / 5 (21 votes)  
Posted: 2013 Oct 18 - 06:08

Those of you who have been with me for a while, know I am a fan of history.

The unanswered questions from the past that seem to constantly arise never fail to intrigue me. Perhaps you took the journey with me when I tried to trace the history of the 1931 Pierce Arrow racecar.

Trying to discover the car's achievements and who may have built it took me to Buffalo, N.Y., and to Indianapolis as well as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Finally I was able to trace it to several local spots, but never could quite pin down its exact origins. I'm still working on that one and I can assure you the project is flat out fun.

Not too long ago, I read with some interest about the plan to restore the Hotchkiss House that stands next to Lillian Place near the intersection of Silver Beach Avenue and Peninsula Drive in Daytona Beach. The home is a large Victorian built in 1905 and is in poor shape.

What really sparked my interest is the name. You see as a beach racing historian, I knew early on a Hotchkiss racecar ran our beach. For a while I pondered the chances of that being just a coincidence, but soon I was delving into my automotive history books. Sure enough a very cool looking Hotchkiss racer ran the beach in both 1908 and 1909.

The original publicity I read stated the Hotchkiss House was built by Eli Hotchkiss who had invented the stapler.

Could a stapler and a motorcar cross paths? As an amateur history detective, I had to find out. It was not long before I discovered the staple guy, Eli, and the car guy, Benjamin, were both from Connecticut. It was getting interesting. The cars were built in France from 1907 until the 1950s, but the owner of the company, Benjamin had passed away in 1885, just before the automobile was invented.

It seems Benjamin Hotchkiss was born in Watertown, Conn., and moved to Sharon, Conn., with his family early on. His dad owned a hardware store where he honed his inventing skills. Just after the Civil War, Benjamin came up with a machine gun and a cannon, but his timing was off. The U.S. government was not in the market for weapons after just enduring so much war. With that in mind, he found a willing buyer in France and moved his company there. After his death, the company was incorporated and began producing automobiles.

While Benjamin Hotchkiss was busy producing arms in France, Eli Hotchkiss, with assistance from his dad, George, patented the Hotchkiss Stapler in 1897. While it was not the first stapler, it was by far the best and it made the family wealthy.

My job was not getting easier. Trying to get the weapons, the cars and the stapler to intersect on our beach was tough.

A trip to Halifax Historical Museum to discuss my thoughts with director Fayn LeVeille and her assistant, Kelly Cross, assured me I was the only one trying to put them together. When we began going through the photos of racers on the beach, I was able to identify a Hotchkiss pretty quickly. It is a very distinctive car with a cylindrical hood and perfectly round grill. The car's emblem is a pair of crossed cannons to honor the parent company.

I also discovered the Hotchkiss stapler is so revered around the world that until this day in Japan and Korea the word for stapler is "Hotchkiss."

I consulted with local experts and went to the Internet but nowhere could I find a complete family tree of the Hotchkiss family of Connecticut. Digging ever deeper, I eventually learned that Eli's dad George was the brother of Benjamin. The two inventors were uncle and nephew. No doubt when the Hotchkiss racers ran the beach in 1908 and 1909, the stapler family was on hand to cheer them on. Mystery solved. Now isn't history fun?!

Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to fishwdan@att.net or call (386) 441-7793.




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