August 1994

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Book Review

Fred M. Locke, A Biography

by Elton N. Gish

342 pages, over 200 photographs and illustrations, 8.5" x 11", soft bound, Ontario County Historical Society, $35

reviewed by Paul S. Worboys

This book documents the work of a multi-talented genius, his equally interesting family and the evolution of an industry that led to Locke's tag, "The Father of Porcelain Insulators."

Born in Honeoye Falls in 1861, Fred Morton Locke became a telegrapher as his father had been. While working in Canandaigua in 1883, he was perturbed by regular disruptions of telegraph service caused by the failure of the primitive glass insulators used to support telegraph wires, and he sought to improve insulator design. Initially he worked with his boyhood friend, John S. Lapp, Sr., and obtained two patents for an improved insulator. Converting a Victor, New York, sawmill into his first factory, Locke became an international success. From 1890 until about 1900 he had glass and porcelain insulators manufactured by other companies to his designs.

In 1894 he introduced a porcelain insulator to carry high-voltage electricity. This insulator made possible electric power transmission. Millions of insulators were manufactured for use in this country and abroad. Today three companies: Victor Insulator, in Victor, New York; Porcelain Insulator in Lima, New York; and Lapp Insulator in Leroy, New York, can trace their beginnings from the work of Fred Locke.

Mr. Locke retired from manufacturing insulators in 1904 to continue experiments in his laboratory that was attached to his East Main Street home in Victor. There he developed heat-resistant glass still used for glass stovetops. In his lifetime he acquired 61 patents, each of which is discussed in detail in the book. Drawings and photographs of all the styles of Fred Locke's glass and porcelain insulators are shown in the book along with about 150 illustrations and advertisements from 1890-1900 trade journals.

Author Elton Gish's passion for collecting insulators and four years of research resulted in this biography that includes almost 100 photographs of Fred Locke, his family and home with many turn-of-the-century scenes from the Victor-Honeoye Falls area. Mr. Locke was also an accomplished photographer, fly fisherman, astronomer and maker of artificial gemstones. Mr. Gish's achievement in researching this book and locating so many illustrations is remarkable, especially since he lives closer to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico than the Crooked Lake Review is to Fred Locke's Victor!

© 1994, Paul S. Worboys
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