William Coffin Coleman
Inventor, founder of the Coleman Company. Born: May 21, 1870, Chatham, New York. Married: Fanny Sheldon, 1901. Died: November 2, 1957, Wichita, Kansas.
From a small one-room shop in Wichita, the inventive mind of William Coffin Coleman blazed forth. Today his creations chase darkness from every corner of the globe.
W. C. was born in New York in 1870. The Coleman family moved to Labette County, Kansas in 1871. When he was just 11 Coleman's father died. In addition to helping on the family farm, W. C. found work as a salesman, which often interrupted his early education. He aspired to be a lawyer and depended on sales jobs to pay for his schooling.
While selling typewriters in Alabama to advance his education, he saw a bright light, which came from a lantern that used gasoline instead of kerosene. He was so impressed with the device that he decided to switch his sales efforts to lanterns. He began by marketing the company's lighting to local merchants and eventually obtained the rights to sell the lanterns. Then he began to perfect his own lantern, which was marketed under the name of the Coleman Arc Lamp.
In 1901 Coleman married Fanny Sheldon and the couple moved to Wichita. Coleman later added stoves to his inventory and the business became known as the Coleman Lamp and Stove Company. During World War II, Coleman stoves became a blessed item for thousands of G.I.s fighting overseas. Today they have become commonplace to millions of campers in the outdoors.
Coleman's managerial style was well respected and during his life, workers never went on strike. He knew his employees by their first name and he maintained "peaceful and progressive labor relations." In addition to his business leadership, Coleman became a civic and religious dignitary.
He saw his lighting and heating business grow from a handful of employees to more than 2,500 in Wichita, La Porte, Indiana and Toronto, Canada. W. C. Coleman died in 1957 at the age of 87.
Entry: Coleman, William Coffin
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: August 2013
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