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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

I. N. TOPLIFF MFG. CO.

I. N. TOPLIFF MFG. CO.

The I. N. TOPLIFF MFG. CO.was the brainchild of Connecticut- born inventor and industrialist Isaac Newton Topliff. Though first working as a schoolteacher Topliff's mechanical penchant led him to the midwest and the carriage industry during the 1850s. After a brief stay in Elyria, OH where he worked with his brother John A. Topliff at carriage making, he went on to spend ten years running his own shop in Michigan. He returned to Elyria and his brother's firm, Topliff & Ely, in 1869 in order to pursue the patenting and manufacture of carriage parts. I. N. Topliff was the originator of the tubular steel bow socket, a carriage top component formerly made from steam-bent wood. Topliff's invention took advantage of newly available sheet steel and improved production machinery to substitute lightweight hollow metal construction for much heavier solid wood. The advantages of the device made it phenomenally popular with the American carriage industry, so much so that Topliff & Ely-- having abandoned carriage making for parts manufacture--initially had difficulty in keeping up with orders.

The lucrative nature of the venture soon fostered a bitter quarrel between the brothers over patent rights. One result was I. N.'s establishment of his own bow socket factory in Cleveland; the other was the inauguration of the longest running patent suit in the industry. I. N. Topliff founded the firm of the same name at the junction of E. Prospect (Carnegie) and the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad in 1879. Beginning with a modest two story brick structure the plant expanded during the 1880s into a hive of buildings and over 90 workers turning out carloads of bow sockets and related items. In 1887 Topliff changed the firm name to the I. N. Topliff Mfg. Co. and continued to ride a wave of prosperity and manufacturing success. Meanwhile the legal dispute continued between the brothers and their respective firms before culminating in an 1887 U.S. Supreme Court decision in I. N.'s favor. Another suit began that fall and the matter was not laid to rest until the Ohio Supreme Court rendered a decision upholding lower court rulings in I. N.'s favor in 1894.

By this time both firms had made a great deal of money selling bow sockets. I. N. had become a wealthy businessman and investor with a palatial home on Euclid Avenue and involvement in numerous banking, manufacturing, and philanthropic endeavors. But when the legal dust had finally settled several other manufacturers had added bow sockets to their lines and the Topliffs commanded a much reduced share of the market. Though both Topliff & Ely and the I. N. Topliff Mfg. Co. continued to produce bow sockets and other carriage hardware neither could claim to dominate the trade. Very much a one-man empire to the very end, the I. N. Topliff Mfg. Co. closed its doors for good after its owner's death in 1904. The E. Prospect factory buildings were eventually occupied by the Electric Railway Improvement Co.