With Atascadero’s Colony Days celebration slipping away for another year, I want to pen one more thought about the community’s founder, E.G. Lewis.
He obviously suffered from some kind of attention deficit disorder. He dropped out of college at least twice. He just didn’t like formal schooling.
He tried a number of different jobs and more often than not invented some kind of product that made him a lot of instant cash.
He got hooked on cigars while in college and went to work for a tobacco company, selling a lot of them to his college friends. Then, learning the habit was damaging to his health, he came up with a product he called “Corroco,” or “Anti-Tobac.”
Lewis claimed he had traveled to South America and talked with a tribe of Indians who gave him an herb that had secret powers to cure the desire for nicotine. But the enterprise eventually went broke.
Following a trip west, Lewis became an amateur taxidermist and spent many hours in his dorm room stuffing and mounting birds after returning to college for only another year.
He dropped out of school again, went to work for a diamond company and sold watches. At the time, he also developed one of his most popular products, “Anti-Skeet” or “Bug Chalk.”
But Lewis soon became successful after purchasing a small newspaper and changing its focus to women’s interests. With money from the sale of that newspaper, he developed a brand-new city on the outskirts of St. Louis, Mo.
Early in his new career as publisher and land developer, he and his wife were soon living quite well off in a mansion in University City, Lewis’ new town.
Lewis wrote that as the new paper was growing and he was wrestling with “the financial problems involved in such an enterprise,” he ordered a Bell telephone in his home. “I had a number of neighbors who found it convenient to join with me in the use of the telephone,” Lewis wrote, adding that they did not help pay the monthly bill.
He rigged up an attachment whereby the receiver could not be lifted off the hook until a nickel had been deposited. “I was not bothered so much thereafter,” Lewis wrote, saying he saved himself a good deal of inconvenience. He founded the Controller Co. of America in 1904 and tried to market his coin-operated device.
But the Bell Co. already had one on the market and forced Lewis to cease and desist from marketing his own.
So Lewis did what he did best — he just went on to other projects, such as his People’s United States Bank and expansion of his publishing empire, soon to leave it all behind and come out west to the Central Coast of California in 1912.
He was 45 years old, completely broke, but not ready to rest.
Lon Allan can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.