The Jamestown Machine By Noah Storer

The home of the Fenton History Center, Jamestown N.Y., is known for an assortment of things, chief among them is Lucille Ball and furniture making. What many people do not know, however, is that Jamestown used to be one of the country’s largest manufacturers of lever-based voting machines — the Automatic Voting Machine Co. and its predecessor companies called Jamestown Home for almost a hundred years, from the late 1890s until bankruptcy in 1983. At one time, it had controlled 80% of the mechanical voting machine market. New York City, in fact, used Jamestown made machines in their elections until 2010. There is even a nickname for the Automatic Voting machines among voting machine enthusiasts and collectors. They’re simply referred to as the “Jamestown Machine”.

The first successful use of a mechanical voting machine in an election was in Lockport NY in 1892. Invented by Jacob Myers of Rochester NY, it was initially embraced as a foolproof way to prevent voter fraud. It was enthusiastically praised and was installed in many town polling places. The machine was eventually besieged by internal problems in the design though, causing it to lose hundreds of votes. The Myers machine was therefore abandoned, but would happen to generate a slew of imitators, including the ancestors of the Automatic Voting Machine Company. The first was American Voting Machine Company, formed by former Myers employee Sylvanus E. Davis. The second was Standard Voting Machine Company, founded by Iowa inventor Alfred J. Gillespie. After a series of patent disputes, both companies were merged into one company by investors called the United States Voting Machine Co., which became the Automatic Voting Machine Co. years later when it was renamed.

The Smithsonian Institution currently possesses and has exhibited a voting machine manufactured in Jamestown NY in the late 1890s. This machine, along with one manufactured in Rochester NY, was donated by the Jamestown based Rockwell Manufacturing Company, the makers of the Automatic Voting Machine, in 1961. This donation was in response to a 1959 request by the Smithsonian, then called the United States National Museum, for voting machines that could help with explaining the history of voting. Below are the documents detailing the transfer of these machines from Jamestown NY to Washington D.C.

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