Friday, July 16, 2010

Flint Portraits: Lloyd Copeman

Lloyd Copeman contemplating the boot that inspired one of his greatest inventions.


Like many great inventors, Lloyd Copeman didn't limit the scope of his imagination
when he was living at 1416 Calumet off East Court in Flint. He is credited with inventing a self-extinguishing cigarette, an early form of the microwave oven, and the first electric stove. Along the way he revolutionized how we make toast and patented dozens of other ideas.

Copeman's best loved invention may be the flexible rubber ice cube tray, which earned him $500,000 in the late twenties.


"Copeman had been gathering sap 'just for the fun of it,' and slush collected and gradually froze on his boots," Anita K. Clever wrote in a 1954 Popular Mechanics profile. "When he returned from the jaunt he sat down and dreamily regarded his footwear, an act of contemplation, which lead to the ice-cube-tray idea. It was one of the many to be conceived by Copeman which would ease the daily burdens of the house-wife and others."


Copeman brought a touch of class to a familiar Flint pastime — drinking — with this beer chiller. A center cylinder filled with dry ice released carbonic gas through the beer.


Copeman, who once admitted that
“some of my neighbors are certain I’m balmy," was fond of using family members to refine his inventions.

"After buying his wife a new car for Christmas, Copeman proceeded to cover the exterior with a coating of rubber latex, cutting the latex out of the windows," writes Marsha J. Davenport. "For the life of that car, it went everywhere with the mud colored coating of latex. Perhaps it was due to the unseemly appearance the latex lent to the automobile that the process never received a patent, but for whatever reason, this was one of Copeman’s inventive ideas whose time had not yet come, due perhaps to inadequate technology."

Copeman knew Edison, Ford, C.S. Mott and J.D. Dort, but his granddaughter is also a household name — Linda Ronstadt.

In his later years, Copeman turned his creative energies to birdhouses.

22 comments:

  1. According to an old copy of a book that was titled something like "Michigan Social Register" found at a garage sale, Lloyd Copeman lived parts of his life on a farm near Hadley on Baldwin Rd. (the Baldwin Rd. that goes from Pontiac to Lapeer). The entry stated that the Copeman family vacationed in Tucson, Arizona. From what can be extrapolated, this is apparently how the Copemans met the Ronstadts. Tucson was a small town then.

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  2. Mr. Copeman is my kind of guy. I wonder if he is the one that Copeman Blvd. was named for. I used to hunt pheasants on some of those farms out on Baldwin Rd. when it was all ag. country 60 years ago. Good story Gordie.

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  3. It was definitely the "Michigan Social Register", but the book was boxed up to make room for other books on the bookshelf, and I can't lay my hands on it, Unclebuck. It gave the address. As I recall, it was north of Pratt Rd. on Baldwin Rd. Pratt Rd. is the road that Hill Rd. turns into as you travel from M-15 past the Genesee-Lapeer County Line and into Hadley. Someone told me recently that they thought the farm was still there with a bright red barn.

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  4. I note the "1416 Calumet" reference at LloydCopeman.com, but for those who are interested, the pictured house at that website is actually at 1458 Calumet. That's the south side of the street, at the corner of Beard.

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  5. According to the Google Books copy of Who's Who in Engineering, 1922 edition, Copeman was then living at 1715 Martin Luther King Avenue (then Detroit Street). That's near the corner of Stockdale, a block north of Welch. At that time, he already had licensed the electric stove to Westinghouse, and was employed by them as a consulting engineer in addition to his ongoing Copeman Labs activity.

    Copeman's name also shows up in a number of patent enforcement legal actions. Apparently he was aggressive about infringement.

    The only info I've found for the location of Copeman Laboratories during the '10s and '20s is for 424 N. Saginaw Street. Anyone know of any other leads?

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  6. A clarification of my comment above about the Copeman home. It's at 1458 Calumet **in Google Earth**. Probably 1416 is the actual street number, but Google Earth's Street View system is regularly off by small amounts.

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  7. He was a very interesting person. His stove co. in Flint was an original Durant-Dort factory. Durant-Dort Factories East of Saginaw Street.

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  8. Interesting about the ancestors of at least three singers being Physicists/Engineers/Inventors. Olivia Newton-John's grandfather was Physicist Max Born. Joan Baez's father was Physicist Albert Baez. I've heard of a Musical Ability/Mathematical Ability link since I was at Longellow, JWilly.

    One of the website's said that Lloyd Copeman's wife had allergies and asthma, explaining both the air conditioning patents and the Tucson, Arizona vacations common at that time for those so afflicted.

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  9. I had seen that Flint City Directory before online from 1922 before, JWilly. It's interesting to look up surnames of people you knew over the years. Sometimes there's just a small bit of infomation that confirms or adds to other knowledge you may have had about a person or family. For example, if a person worked for a certain smaller company, and their same surnamed possible descendants worked for the same company, that may be a good indication of a connection. And the information rolls in from the strangest sources sometimes.

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  10. Wow, that is pretty cool. I live in that house currently, and it is 1416 Calumet. I better get inventing.

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  11. BTW, the blog is great Gordie. I check it from time to time, but my sister Mary Ebbott emailed this to me today. Keep up the good work. Chris

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  12. Chris, you should hunt around in the attic in case there are any undiscovered inventions up there. I stayed near your house when I was in Flint this summer. It's in great shape.

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  13. I forgot to add that Lloyd Copeman's clothing in the top photo matches the weekend work clothes my grandpa always used to wear. He was pretty much in a suit or those work clothes every time I ever saw him in Flint.

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  14. djkoolchris, you'll never be able to play a Linda Ronstadt track again without telling people that you lived in her Grandparents' house in Flint, especially when all we hear about is that her ancestors were from Mexico!

    From what I have read in the past, in a Flint Journal article from the 1980s, she used to visit her Grandparents in Flint when she was young.

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  15. I just learned of the Linda Ronstadt connection while doing research. I have 14 6x8 inch photo negatives of the farm on Baldwin Rd. They were taken about 1938 by a local photographer (David Chown?). Shows farm, fields, house, barns, dairy herd, hay stacks, etc. Not sure yet if 1416 Calumet St house in included.
    Good stuff!!

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  16. Daryl, if you ever get around to digitizing those large format negatives, feel free to send them my way. I'd love to update this post with some photos. Thanks.

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  17. I wish I had a way to do that. I have hundreds of old negatives but I can not find a large format scanner that I can afford.

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  18. I have hundreds of old negatives. I would love to digitze them but can not find a scanner that I can afford.

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  19. I went by 1416 the other day. 1416 is at the corner of Beard St and Calumet St. It is on the SW corner.

    By the way, I have acquired a scanner and have scanned the Copeman negatives. I am selling prints. I have many Lapeer area images from the 30s and 40s. I have been listing them on Ebay. If you are interested I can send you a contact sheet showing all that are available at this time. 8x10s are $12.99 and 11x14s are $19.99. S&H is $4.95. Contact me at sofasurferlinux@charter.net

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  20. A Biography of Linda Ronstast appears online and other places that refers to the Copeman farm as being on Sashabaw Rd. I believe what Linda Ronstadt may have said at a concert at Pine Knob was that her grandfather's farm was just down the road, not Sasahabaw Rd. You could get there from Pine Knob by heading up Sashabaw Rd., but you'd have to cut over to Baldwin Rd. at some point. I thus believe that the Biography is inaccurate. As a famous Clarkston area landmark which appears in "Roger and Me" reads, "Are you on the right road?".

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  21. I was saddened to hear this evening that Linda Ronstadt has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, and may never be able to sing again. I hope and pray that she and others with this horrible disease have a miraculous recovery or cure.

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