Brilliant Tradition

Freeport, Ill., mogul Daniel Stover’s inventions encompassed almost all aspects of everyday life

| February 2006

Daniel C. Stover (1838-1908) was a brilliant man in at least two fields of endeavor: inventing and manufacturing. As a mechanical inventor, he had over 100 patents when he died. At the end of his life, he was the richest person in Freeport, Ill. Stover built an industrial empire that encompassed 11 different manufacturing companies. Starting with Stover Experimental Works and ending with Stover Steel Tank Co., his empire spanned over 100 years. During that time, Stover brought jobs and prosperity to Freeport and shipped products all over the world. Daniel Stover was also involved in local politics and served as a bank president.

At 22 years of age he started a manufacturing company in Lanark, Ill., making agricultural products for the local trade industry. He moved his business to Freeport in 1866 and established the Stover Experimental Works. Stover initially rented small factory buildings around town but his business was so good that by 1872 he built a large factory complex on the banks of the Pecatonica River.

We get glimpses of Stover's personality by looking at how he handled his estate. For instance, he cut his son and daughter out of his will. He was "not satisfied with his son's business ability or application." Stover's daughter eloped with her local sweetheart at age 17 without her parent's permission. His grandchildren had to wait until 1967, when they were in their 60s and 70s, to collect the huge estate. Stover's son and daughter, however, did get an annual allowance of $2,500 a year with extra monies available from the estate for emergencies. So they were far from destitute.

The Town

Freeport is an old town in northwest Illinois. Located on the banks of the Pecatonica River, it was incorporated in 1837. It is on the busy route between Chicago and the Galena lead mines, which allowed the village to thrive. Initially Freeport was an agricultural center but it soon developed an industrial manufacturing base. After the Civil War, several railroads converged at Freeport and the town grew fast. Freeport was also heavy in banking and insurance. The extra capital must have been good for early industrial development. Many mansions still line the older residential areas of Freeport.

Stover was proud enough to put his town's name on almost every article he manufactured.

The Products

Compared to other engine manufacturers, Stover almost surely had the most diversified product lines of all. Daniel Stover created a fortune by inventing and manufacturing everything from agricultural machinery to everyday household items. In some cases Stover would sell the product lines or just license the rights to manufacture those lines. Whatever the case, he was a prolific inventor.