James Lewis Dalton – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

James Lewis Dalton

James Lewis Dalton – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

James “Jimmie” Lewis Dalton was born December 28, 1866, on Dalton Farm, a homestead near Ponder, in Ripley County, Missouri. Ponder is now an extinct town. He was a successful businessman and amateur mechanic who would go on to own and operate the largest department store in the Midwest. He also became a member of the Missouri legislature. He is best known for the Dalton Adding Machine.

Jimmie was the son of William Marion Dalton and his second wife, Mary Caroline (Myatt) Dalton. Mary Caroline was born October 9, 1838, in Dickson, Tennessee, and died April 12, 1890, in Ripley, Missouri.

Quick Facts

Full Name
James Lewis Dalton
December 28, 1866
January 11, 1926
Net Worth
Place of Birth
Ripley County, Missouri
Fields of Expertise
The Dalton Adding Machine

William Marion Dalton was born in Missouri on May 30, 1834, to Elijah Dalton and Zillah Gaines. He was the first postmaster of Dalton, Arkansas. On November 18, 1855, William Dalton married Mary Caroline Myatt and together they had nine children. He passed away on September 7, 1873, in Ripley, Missouri. In 1875, Mary Caroline remarried Asebel Arnold and they had two children.

James Lewis Dalton

The life story of James Lewis Dalton is truly a rags-to-riches story. He started his life as a poor backwoods boy and became the owner of the largest department store in the Midwest. He also headed one of the world’s largest business machine manufacturing plants that produced the Dalton Calculating Machine.

Early life

When Jimmie was a small child he was constantly engaged in experimenting with machinery. An older member of the family even once said James was “all the time fooling with wheels.” In 1880, at age 14, he made an exact model of his mother’s sewing machine in wood, and, surprisingly, it worked.

As a boy, Jimmie attended the country schools near his home. These included schools at Bakerden, Warm Springs, Doniphan, and Dalton. In the early 1880s, he was educated at the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute in Izard County, AR. Later, at the age of 16, Jimmie taught school for a time at Dalton, Bakerden, and seven months at Elm Store, assisted by his sister, Neeta.


Phase 1

In 1884, when he was 18, Jimmie decided to go forth into the world and seek his fortune. With $60 that he obtained from a bale of cotton that he grew in the hills of what is now Baker Township, Randolph County, he ventured out to make a name for himself.

After heading to St. Louis and not finding any work, he went on to Chicago. When he didn’t find anything to his liking, he came back to St. Louis and found a job in the old William Barr Dry Goods Company at a salary of $5 per week.

After a short time, he came back to Doniphan and found work in a hardware store operated by relatives of his future wife, Clara. There he earned $12 per month plus board. He was soon made a partner and later became the sole owner. He built this business up to where he saw greater possibilities in the larger town of Poplar Bluff. He moved there in 1885. This business grew to be the largest department store in the whole Midwest. One year the retail sales even reached $765,000.

Besides business ventures, Dalton was also interested in civic groups and politics at a young age. At the age of 22, while living Doniphan, Dalton was elected Master of the Masonic Lodge. At 26 he was District Deputy Grand Master of the State of Missouri. He was the first Republican ever elected to the State Legislature of Missouri from Ripley County. 

The house of Dalton in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, (now Margaret Harwell Art Museum), where he lived 1896-1914.

Phase 2 

In 1904, after becoming an accomplished businessman, Dalton turned the store over to his son and other individuals, although he still retained controlling interest. He then devoted his entire time to promoting the Dalton Adding Machine. In 1909, the company relocated to a new factory. 

Dalton was known as a hard worker. He worked at least 14 hours a day, and sometimes more, filling the roles of bookkeeper, paymaster, timekeeper, factory manager, general manager, and chief salesman. The machine began to sell on the market and 200 sales offices were eventually opened up in various parts of the world. Sales came up to $1,000,000 a month. 

James Lewis Dalton was also a brilliant speaker and writer, and he received many requests from chambers of commerce leaders and other civic clubs throughout the country to address their banquets and conventions. 

The 1909 factory building of Dalton Adding Machine Co. in Poplar Bluff, MO.

What Did James Lewis Dalton Invent? 

James Lewis Dalton worked along with brothers Hubert and William Hopkins to bring to market the Dalton Adding Machine. It started in the early 1900s when the famous adding machine constructors William and Hubert Hopkins desperately needed money to manufacture and put on the market their invention. In December 1901, William Hopkins went to Poplar Bluff and succeeded in interesting Dalton and others in the city in financing his enterprise.

Dalton, his associates, and the Hopkins brothers entered into a contract in which funding would be provided for William and Hubert Hopkins. Shortly thereafter, the Hopkins brothers built the invention in St. Louis. In January 1902, Dalton went to St. Louis and Hubert Hopkins showed him the prototype of an advanced 10-key adding machine. Dalton was impressed, and in June 1902, he put up an additional sum of $1,250 to finance the venture.

In exchange for more funding, the Hopkins brothers were to assign Dalton a half interest in a company that was soon to be organized. The machine was completed in September 1902 and in December 1902 the Addograph Manufacturing Company was founded. Half of the $50,000 shares were owned by the Hopkins brothers and the other half by Dalton. Dalton was the president of the new company and Hubert Hopkins was the director.

Dalton Adding Machine

All seemed to be going well until 1903 when Hubert Hopkins secretly sold his stock in the Addograph Co. to American Arithmometer Co., the manufacturer of the famous Burroughs Adding Machine. This gave it control of the Addograph Co.

When the patent application for the invention was filled in January 1903, (US patent No. 1039130) it was assigned to the Addograph Co. This action threatened investments of Dalton. To regain control, Dalton paid American Arithmometer $40,000 for the stock.

After this Dalton was granted the exclusive right to make and sell the machines. In July 1903, he founded a new company called the Adding Typewriter Company in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. The company later changed its name to Dalton Adding Machine Company

The first model of the invention was released in 1907. After an extensive advertising campaign in 1909, it was a great success.

The earlier models had glass inserts that allowed customers to view the gears while calculating the answers. By the 1920s, over 150 different models of the Dalton Adding Machine had been designed and more than 50,000 machines had been sold. 

By 1915, the price for the machine was $125. By 1926, the price was down to $100. It was stated that in 1919 the US government had over 3,000 Dalton Adding Machines.

A complete description of how the machine operated can be found in the Dalton Instruction Book.

During his lifetime, Dalton managed to progress from $12 a month working as a clerk in a hardware store to the president of the Dalton Adding Machine Company. This was a 10,000,000 company that manufactured upwards of 60,000 machines each year. They also had agencies throughout the world and employed approximately 2,500 people.

A description of the Dalton Adding Machine.

James Lewis Dalton: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life

Net Worth

It is unknown exactly how much Dalton was worth, but he was likely very wealthy after his many business successes.


James Lewis Dalton married Clara Beatrice Wright of Doniphan, Missouri (February 27, 1869-December 12, 1940) on October 25, 1887. 


The union of James and Clara produced four children: Grover Wright (1889-1959), Charles Lewis (1891-1926), Phoebe Clara (1893-1970), and Mary (1899-1979).

James Dalton died of acute appendicitis on January 11, 1926, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was buried in Poplar Bluff.

James Lewis Dalton: Achievements

Even though he started as a poor boy and an amateur mechanic, James Lewis Dalton went on to become a successful businessman and is perhaps best known for the Dalton Adding Machine. He was also successful when he ran for political office.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was James Lewis Dalton?

James Lewis Dalton grew up as a poor country boy who enjoyed tinkering around as an amateur mechanic. He eventually became an extremely successful entrepreneur and businessman.

What did James Lewis Dalton invent?

James Lewis Dalton patented and marketed the famous Dalton Adding Machine.

How did James Lewis Dalton invent the Dalton Adding Machine?

James Lewis Dalton worked in conjunction with inventors, William and Hubert Hopkins. He financed the invention that would eventually become the Dalton Adding Machine.

When was James Lewis Dalton born?

Dalton was born on December 28, 1866.

When did James Lewis Dalton die?

He dies on January 11, 1926.

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