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John Cromwell Lincoln

July 17, 1866 - May 24, 1959

john cromwell lincoln
John Cromwell Lincoln

As a noun and as an adjective, "John C." has become an enduring part of the Valley's vocabulary. The nickname grows increasingly familiar in our community with each day, as John C. Lincoln Health Network continues to meet the health care and social needs of the community it serves.

Even so, for John Cromwell Lincoln — a publicity-shy contemporary of Thomas Edison — the prevalence of the John C. name today would no doubt have come as a surprise.

In fact, Lincoln long resisted the idea of having a hospital named for him. It was only at the urging of his headstrong wife that he finally agreed — after more than 20 years as a major benefactor of the hospital's founding organization: Desert Mission.

Publicity and acclaim were never motives of Lincoln, the self-made millionaire son of a preacher. However, by all accounts, he was thrilled when his money and influence could effect positive social change and aid those in need.

Ohio Roots

Born in Painesville, Ohio, on July 17, 1866, a year after the "Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln (no known relation) was shot, Lincoln demonstrated a great social conscience at a young age.

During his high school years he became interested in electrical engineering and entered Ohio State University.

Because there was no electrical engineering department at Ohio State University at the time, Lincoln absorbed information through mechanical engineering classes, chemistry and metallurgy. By the end of his third year, he decided to leave school without a degree to seek his fortune in industry.

In 1913, some 25 years later, Ohio State University awarded Lincoln an honorary degree (honoris causa) of electrical engineer in mechanical engineering, predated to 1888.

An Early Pioneer of the Electrical Industry

Lincoln's first position was with the Brush Electric Company in Cleveland. Less than a year later he was hired by Sidney Howe Short of Denver, who was becoming well-known in the electric railway field. In 1891, while working on a job for Short in Rochester, N.Y., Lincoln devised, on his own time, an electric brake for street-railway cars, for which he earned his first patent.

In 1893, General Electric bought out Short and Lincoln's position was terminated. Lincoln soon joined Elliott Electric Company, for which he designed an electric motor. In 1895 the firm's name was changed to the Elliott-Lincoln Electric Company, and Lincoln was elected president. By the late summer of that same year, however, a nationwide depression was deepening and money was scarce; Lincoln again found himself jobless.

Yet, Lincoln was not dismayed. He set up a small shop in his home and took on a variety of small jobs dealing with electricity. One of his clients, Herbert Henry Dow (who later founded the Dow Chemical Company), paid Lincoln $200 to redesign a motor. That sum capitalized the start of the Lincoln Electric Company. Lincoln's company was based on a new motor, which he designed and patented in 1895.

Inventions and Patents

Lincoln was an imaginative, yet practical, inventor. His experimentation knew no bounds. Over the next 64 years he acquired 54 patents, ranging from electric brakes for street-railway cars, to variable-speed electric motors, to electric arc lamps, to ways to cure and preserve meat. His arc-welding innovations transformed many industries and were critical to America's winning war efforts.

A 55th patent, resulting from his partnership in the Universal Wire Spring Company, was granted in Lincoln's name in 1961, two years after his death, for a spring cushion used today in automotive seats.

Thanks to an inquisitive mind that conceived and developed his patents, Lincoln had the money to fund many programs throughout his adult years.

Moving to Arizona

After Lincoln's wife, Helen C. Lincoln, was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in 1931, she recalls her husband taking exactly six minutes to decide to make the move from Cleveland to Phoenix. Arizona was known for its clean air and warm weather — the right elements to help TB patients heal themselves in an era when today's pharmaceuticals had yet to be invented. Helen had been given just two years to live, and her entrepreneurial husband was willing to do whatever it took to change that prognosis. His decision was successful — Helen lived to be 103.

The family of five made their home near 32nd Street and Camelback Road. Land was cheap, and Lincoln bought 320 acres, at $20 per acre, in the area known as Paradise Valley. Lincoln was convinced that Arizona had two assets — minerals and climate — that were destined to make the state an important part of the nation. True to his nature, he immediately set out to promote them.

Land and Development

Lincoln became affiliated with Arizona copper interests and later became president of the Bagdad Copper Company. At one time, he leased the old Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, but abandoned mining efforts there during World War II. He continued to invest in real estate: 2,400 acres near Higley, 70 acres of citrus near Mesa and a 2,000-acre ranch with 197,000 acres of range land rights in Yuma County.

Lincoln was instrumental in the development of Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley. He sold 300 acres of his land to the corporation, receiving stock in payment, and contributed the cash necessary for the initial construction of the resort.

Lincoln took an active interest in the Phoenix YMCA and was a member of the board of directors. The Lincolns were the largest contributors to the new YMCA building in downtown Phoenix, and their gifts built the main lodge at the Sky-Y Camp in Prescott in 1938. He also served on the boards of several charitable organizations, in addition to long service on the John C. Lincoln Hospital board of directors.

Intellectual Pursuits

Lincoln's productivity also was notable in the literary field. He was the author of several monographs and books, particularly on land and land taxation. He lectured widely as an economist and established the Lincoln Foundation, which contributes substantially to the Henry George School in New York and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass.

Characterized by many as a man of quiet genius, Lincoln was strong in his beliefs and conducted his life and his many business interests according to his high moral principles. He practiced Christian values in everything he did. His insights and vision, plus his boundless energy, meant much to the Sunnyslope community, Presbyterian Church and the Desert Mission.

Community Legacy

Lincoln's financial contributions to the Desert Mission and the hospitals that bear his name today are immeasurable. Herbert Hancox, North Mountain Hospital administrator during its early years, described an occasion when someone suggested that the hospital apply for assistance under new federal legislation. Lincoln was reluctant, but finally agreed to accept the aid. His reluctance was born of a desire to avoid federal control over the project. Hancox said that Lincoln took "keen delight" in personally providing money for the hospital.

Never one to be idle, John C. went to work on the day he died in 1959 — just short of his 93rd birthday.

In his nine decades, he'd formed strong opinions on how people should look out for one another. In his Arizona years, it's difficult to find a community project or cause he wasn't involved with. But his contributions were not only financial, and not only in name. He was an involved and opinionated leader.

For example, Lincoln decided children should be charged 15 cents to use the community pool because "they'll appreciate it more than if it were free." Of course, after funding the community pool, he also made provisions to help out those children who couldn't afford the 15 cents.

He believed people took pride in being self-sufficient, but he also knew there were times when a helping hand was needed. To this day, the mission of John C. Lincoln Health Network reflects our founder's legacy: "Our mission is to assist each person entrusted to our care to enjoy the highest quality health care possible and to work with others to build healthy communities."

The name "John C." continues to resonate richly with the values of a man who had the genius not only to make millions but also the compassion to use his wealth for good.