Charles Thomas Mason Jr.: 'The Edison of the South'

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Charles Thomas "C.T." Mason Jr., who led a life filled with outstanding accomplishments, was known better by his fellow scientists than by his friends and neighbors. Many of his important contributions are mentioned in his 1928 obituary, a comprehensive overview of his life. Numerous articles from The Sumter Item archives provide additional information, minimally edited for length.

Mr. Charles Thomas Mason Jr. died at his suburban home, which was one of the showplaces of Sumter County, at 4 o'clock on Dec. 27, 1928, following an illness of several months. He was 73 years old. While Mr. Mason's condition was known to be serious, he did not give up and take to his bed, but with remarkable fortitude continued until the end to (show) an interest in his affairs and to receive visits from friends. Only a few days ago he drove downtown and greeted many of his friends whom he saw on the streets. During the past week, his condition gradually grew more serious and in the early hours of the morning his long, active and successful life came to a peaceful end.

Mason was unquestionably the most remarkable and outstanding native son of Sumter. His fame and record of achievement in mechanics and electrical development were more highly appreciated and better understood by the leaders in these lines of modern development than by his friends and neighbors. He was born in Sumter, the son of the late Charles T. Mason Sr., a skilled watchmaker and jeweler, who conducted business here many years prior to and after the War Between the States.

The elder Mason was not only a skilled craftsman, but a student of and original experimenter in the then almost unknown science of electricity. He is said to have been years ahead of his time and developed devices and apparatus for the utilization of electricity as a source of power in an experimental manner. Years later when he had long passed, Mason's designs were developed on a commercial scale and have now become the commonplace of electrical engineering.

Growing up in this environment, the younger Charles T. Mason early showed that he possessed mechanical aptitude of an unusual and original character. One manifestation of this ingenuity was the construction of a model steam engine from odds and ends from his father's shop or wherever he could find something adaptable to his purposes. This engine was perfect in every part, and although very minute, its over-all length being less than 18 inches, it worked perfectly for many years.

In his teens Mr. Mason went to New York and Pennsylvania, and there served a full apprenticeship in a big machinery manufacturing plant. Returning to Sumter, he was engaged in saw-milling, but gave this up because of an accident in which he lost his leg. One result of this misfortune was the stimulation of his inventive genius. Finding it impossible to find an artificial leg that met his exacting requirements, he designed and made an artificial leg, which was an improvement on anything then on the market. This model he patented and for a time manufactured artificial legs on a small scale, finally selling the business to a Northern concern engaged in that line of manufacturing.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.