Above: Guth Lighting Company representatives at National Sales Conference held in St. Louis, February 25-27, 1963.
Right: View of plant operations, 1963.
National Register of Historic Places Listing
Edwin F. Guth, Sr., was born in St. Charles, Missouri in 1875. According to the 1906 and 1912 Book of St. Louisans, he began his business career in 1893 with the Interstate Electric Company. Nine years later, Guth and three associates (including his brother, Oscar) formed the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company in May of 1902; the company was incorporated in that year with a capital of $50,000. The company designed, engineered and manufactured electrical light innovations and lighting fixtures in addition to brass and bronze castings for hand rails, mantels, andirons and grates. At the time of incorporation, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., was treasurer, his brother Oscar was a salesman. Two associates, George S. Watts and Charles M. Wempner served as president and vice-president. (After 1903, Edwin, Sr, was president and Oscar was treasurer; Watts was listed as vice-president and Wempner as secretary.) Within eighteen months of incorporation, the firm’s assets were gone. (St. Louis Commerce. [St. Louis: July 1959] v 33, p 22.) Shortly before the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 St. Louis World’s Fair), Watts and Wempner lost interest in the company and Edwin, Sr., bought them out with assistance from his father, Frederick. Guth soon won a contract for 20,000 feet of polished brass hand rails for the Fair. In addition, Guth’s specially designed electric lights with hand-wrought light fixtures lit the Tyrolean Alps exhibit building at the Fair. This particular project of the Swiss government was daring in construction and lighting treatment for the time. (“Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” [St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002].) Apparently, the job was so successfully executed that it resulted in Guth securing a similar lighting contract at the Fair for an exhibit for the Brazilian government.
Due to the demands of the Fair and prospects of future business, Guth’s company was running to full capacity and soon outgrew its original manufacturing facility at 1112-1120 Market Street (demolished). In the 1906 Book of St. Louisans, Guth was credited with building up the largest chandelier business west of Chicago.
Elaboration: The Guth firm
In 1907, Edwin’s father, Frederick, commissioned St. Louis architect John L. Wees to design a three and five-story factory, warehouse and salesroom at 2611 Washington Avenue (later changed to 2615) for the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company’s second and final home. Three years later, Guth began a fifty-two year career in electrical light and lighting fixtures in St. Louis with the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company—”the largest manufacturer of lighting fixtures in the U.S.A.”
In 1910, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., invented the first of over one-hundred influential lighting products that would influence the lighting industry forever—the “Brascolite.” The decorative, yet functional Brascolite, introduced commercially in 1912 and patented in 1913, sold in the millions for the next eleven years. (“Brascolite” lighting fixture. Patent #1,076,418. Oct. 21, 1913. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for 1913, p. 199. And U. S. Patent Office Gazette, v. 195, p. 685.) The invention was an early semi-indirect light combined with a glass bottom bowl; the unit was delivered ready to be wired onto the lighting circuit. It was the first such self-contained packaged unit in the lighting industry. (St. Louis Commerce. [St. Louis: July 1959] v 33, p 22.) The Brascolite was so successful that it led to the formation of a subsidiary company, the Brascolite Company; the company was incorporated in 1914 with a capital of $2,000, Edwin F. Guth was listed as president. Also in 1914, Guth founded the Luminous Unit Company to handle electrical supplies; the company was incorporated in Missouri in 1914 with a capital of $2,000. Both companies listed the same officers (per St. Louis Brass Mfg. Co. incorporation) in the same positions except Charles M. Wempner and George S. Watts were listed as VP and secretary respectively.
Numerous lighting inventions continued up to 1912 when Guth and an internationally known local surgeon, Dr. Willard Bartlett, Sr., (Missouri Historical Society Bulletin. July 1950, v. VI, n. 4, p. 556. Dr. Bartlett, Sr., [1868-1950] a founding member of the American College of Surgeons, past president of the Southern Surgical Association  and vice-president of the American Medical Association  was the first American to teach pathology at the University of Berlin. While in Berlin, Dr. Bartlett, Sr., proved for the first time that cerebral hemorrhage was caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain [ironically it killed him].) invented the “Noshodolite” (also known as the Bartlett “Noshodolite”). This invention eliminated hand shadows during surgery by combining a series of eight reflectors giving 360 degrees of illumination. A 1921 Guth publication, Brascolite Bulletin for Hospitals, contained a list of 36 hospitals representing eighteen states and three countries that endorsed the Noshodolite’s medical superiority. Further, in 1929, the Noshodolite was advertised as “the most scientifically designed fixture for the illumination of the surgical operative field that has ever been offered the medical profession.” (Guth, Edwin F. Co. “The New Noshadolite.” Catalogue # 24. Missouri Historical Society collection.)
In 1923, the St. Louis Brass Manufacturing Company (merging with the Brascolite Company) changed its name to the Edwin F. Guth Company to honor the original founder and brilliant inventor. In that year Guth invented his “Guthlite,” a thin blown glass globe used with a perforated enamel reflector for both upward and downward light. The invention of the “Guthfan,” followed in 1928. This patented Guthfan Conditionaire was considered the first real improvement in fan design and principle since 1898 and the only fan that scientifically provided complete cooling, refreshing air circulation and good lighting in one complete unit. (Guth, Edwin F. Co. Catalogue # 6, 1935. Missouri Historical Society Business Catalogue Collection.) The fan’s ability to draw cool air from the floor and circulate it throughout the room without disturbing hot upper air was then an entirely new principle. (St. Louis Commerce. [St. Louis: July 1959] v 33, p 22.) Guth’s fan earned the first patent on a fan in thirty years and was a prototype of today’s ceiling fans. Hotels, architects, businesses, restaurants and hospitals from New York to Kansas City endorsed the superiority of the Guthfan well into the mid-1930s.
A joint venture of the General Electric Company and the individual utility companies during the early 1930s, known as the “Better Light—Better Sight” campaign, kept the Edwin F. Guth company busy during the Depression. Of the eight companies listed as lighting equipment manufacturers in the 1930 Gould’s St. Louis city directory, three companies were Guth-owned and operated; only the Edwin F. Guth Company was listed as a lighting fixture manufacturer. The Edwin F. Guth Company was the only company listed in the 1929 Gould’s Classified Business Directory of the City of St. Louis under lighting equipment. In 1931, three of seven lighting equipment manufacturers were Guth-related. In 1932, one of two was Guth-related and out of eleven lighting equipment dealers, two were Guth-related. In 1933, one of three lighting equipment manufacturers was Guth-related; two of eight lighting equipment dealers were Guth-related. In 1935 and 1936, three of six lighting equipment manufacturers were Guth-related. During this period, Guth announced his latest invention, the “Super Illuminator” which provided indirect light with a luminous exterior glow. Shortly thereafter in 1937 came his “Optilux,” another indirect lighting fixture. The “Optilux” had an enclosed top of prismatic glass effective in reducing brightness in normal viewing angles in schoolrooms. One year later in 1938, he invented the “Diagonal Spectral Assimilation” fixture, a lamp that combined the efficiency of a mercury-vapor lamp with an incandescent lamp for both direct and indirect lighting units.
The first fluorescent lamp was introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; an instant success, it ensured the coming of the fluorescent light era of the 1940s. Guth’s version (his 1940 “Jacknife Guthlite”) included a light fixture hinged downward so it could be serviced from the floor. During World War II he invented “The Cadet.” Six thousand and six hundred of these four-foot long units, each limited by the government to three pounds of steel, were installed in the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. (St. Louis Commerce. [St. Louis: July 1959] v 33, p 22.) Guth continued to develop incandescent and fluorescent lighting fixtures through the 1970s, expanding the company into the institutional and industrial lighting markets.
In 1950, Guth revolutionized the food industry with “Plascolume.” For the first time, a one-piece PVC gasket was integrated into the stainless steel lens frame to achieve the ultimate seal of FDA approval. (“Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” [St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002].) Still in 1952, Edwin F. Guth, Sr., announced his “Gratelite Louver Diffuser,” a 3/8-inch cube plastic molding that shielded lamps and hid them from all normal angles. By 1959 his “Prismoid Louver” appeared on the scene to permit a two-fold prism control of light. This complicated louver was made of plastic with tiny apertures on one side flaring out to larger openings on the other; with the apex up, a concentrated distribution of light was achieved and turned over, a wide beam of light resulted.
While many companies were leaving downtown St. Louis for St. Louis County during the 1960s, Guth chose to remain in the city, and expand his business there. On its sixty-year anniversary (January 22, 1962) the Edwin F. Guth Company broke ground on a new 100,000 square foot addition (addition to building C). Designed by St. Louis architects, William B. Ittner, Inc., and Wedemeyer and Hecker, the column-less “60th Anniversary Building” cost $800,000. In a press release on the ground breaking ceremonies, Mr. Guth stated: “The new Guth plant addition is built with faith in the continued growth of the city of St. Louis… at a time when St. Louis has lost many businesses it is important to reaffirm our belief that downtown St. Louis has tremendous business potential.” (Edwin F. Guth Company. Press Release, January 22, 1962. Missouri Historical Society Collection.)
This addition housed new production machinery and finishing equipment; smaller adjoining buildings housed paint mixing facilities, baking ovens, and storage. With the new addition, The Edwin F. Guth Company had a total of 350,000 square feet of productive manufacturing area. The addition was recently separated from the Guth complex by the installation of a permanent interior wall approximately thirty feet inside the addition. (see site map)
Edwin F. Guth, Sr., died on January 31, 1962 with 160 U. S. Patents in the lighting industry field to his name; most of which were issued during the period of significance. (Donald Hencke. Edwin F. Guth Company, News release. January 31, 1962. Also confirmed in Salute to St. Louis Industry, 1963. Landmarks Collection.) In addition to his accomplishments as an inventor, Guth was included in the Gould’s Blue Book, a social registry of the city’s most prominent citizens, as early as 1905. He held a number of important local company directorships including: Celotex Corp., National Gypsum Co. and the Jefferson Bank. Guth was also a member of the Shrine and he held active memberships in the Liederkranz Club, Missouri Athletic Club, Latin American Club, Algonquin Country Club, Rotary and the St. Louis Metal Trades Association. He was awarded the “Modern Pioneer” award by the National Association of Manufacturers around 1959 which honored him for being “a Modern Pioneer on the frontier of American Industry.” The award was given in recognition of “distinguished achievement in the field of science and invention which has advanced the American standard of living.” (St. Louis Commerce. [St. Louis: July 1959] v 33, p 22.)
After his death, Guth’s son Edwin F., Jr., took over as president. Remaining true to his father’s desire to stay in the city of St. Louis, in 1963 Jr., commissioned a second production building. This 8,000 square foot building (building E) at the west, was built to house a new Hi-Production Hydroform machine (a product of the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company). Frank Currans, one of the six original engineers who developed the machine, was in charge of the Guth Company’s Hydroform operations. This machine enabled Guth Lighting to fabricate extremely intricate reflector designs that had not yet been considered cost-effective. The machine was so versatile that Ford sent Guth molds and had the company form some of the tail light assemblies used on the 1965 Ford Mustang. (“Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” [St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002].)
Guth lighting illuminates the Missouri State Capitol, the Soldier’s Memorial, Kiel Auditorium, the St. Louis Police Headquarters, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Civil Courts Building, and the Municipal Opera. Nationally, the Government Printing Office at Washington was relit three times with Guth lights (before 1959). Nearly 20,000 Guth fixtures were installed in Chicago’s U. S. Post Office. Numerous other projects (before 1959) included the Presidential News Conference Room in Gettysburg, twenty-eight Steam Plants of TVA, the Philadelphia National Bank, the First National Bank of Mobile, the Glenn L. Martin Company drafting room, and the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation drafting and design room in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
The Edwin F. Guth Company’s immeasurable contribution to the American lighting fixture industry extended over sixty years; from 1907 onward, products were invented, designed and manufactured by his firms at 2615 Washington Avenue. The company remained under Guth ownership until it was sold to JJI Lighting Group in 1966 (after the period of significance); Guth Lighting remains in business at this same address today, bears the Guth name and continues to manufacture and distribute Guth products worldwide. Today, Guth’s parent company, JJI Lighting Group, is the largest privately-held lighting manufacturer in the country and the ninth largest worldwide. (Sorkins Directory of Business & Government. St Louis Region Edition, 2003. v 2, p 817.)
- A Preservation Plan for St. Louis. Heritage and Urban Design Division. (St. Louis, 1995)
- Book of St. Louisans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Men of the City of St. Louis. (St. Louis: St. Louis Republic, 1906 and 1912)
- City of St. Louis building permit records. St. Louis City Hall, Office of the Assessor.
- City of St. Louis deed abstracts. St. Louis City Hall, Office of the Assessor.
- Edwin F. Guth Company catalogues and bulletin. Catalogues #6; #10, 1923; Brascolite Bulletin for Hospitals, 1921; #24, 1929; #40, 1942. (St. Louis: E. F. Guth Co.).
- Guth Celebrates 100 Years of Lighting Innovation. (St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002) and featured in Lighting Design + Application. (May 2002).
- “Guth Lighting: Enlightened Solutions for 100 Years.” (St. Louis: JJI Lighting Group, 2002).
- “Guth Lighting Moves Forward with St. Louis.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Sunday Magazine. (Feb 3, 1963).
- Jensen, Dana D., ed. Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society. (St. Louis: MHS, July 1950) v. VI, n. 4, p. 556.
- Maril, Nadja. American Lighting: 1840-1940. (Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1995).
- Missouri Historical Society Archives: Corporations and Industry Collection. “Salute to St. Louis Industry,” 1963; “Welcome to Guth Lighting,” 1962; “Guth Builds New Hydroform Plant,” 1963; “Release on Ground-Breaking Ceremonies,” 1962; “Founder of the Edwin F. Guth Company Dies,” 1962.
- St. Louis Chamber of Commerce News. (St. Louis: Chamber of Commerce) December 18, 1929. v. 1-3, Nov 12, 1928–Dec 31, 1929. St. Louis Public Library Collection.
- St. Louis City Directories: Gould’s Blue Book, Gould’s Red-Blue Books, Gould-Polk.
- St. Louis Commerce. “Edwin F. Guth, Sr., St. Louis Inventor” (St. Louis, July 1959) v 33.
- St. Louis Daily Record. St. Louis Public Library, microfilm department.
- St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “Edwin Guth is Still an Inventor at 85” (Oct 31, 1960); “Lighting Firm Starts $800,000 Addition” (Jan 23, 1962); “Lighting Equipment Outlook Bright for ’63” (Jan 5, 1963); “Success— A Father and Son Tradition” and “Guth Firm to Hold Sales Conference” (Feb 23, 1963); “Guth Starts Building New Hydroform Plant” (Oct 19, 1963); “E. F. Guth Lighting Company” (Jan 9, 1971).
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Guth Plans Major Expansion” (Sept 24, 1961); “Edwin F. Guth Jr.” (May 8, 2001).
Text from National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for “Guth, Edwin F. Company Complex”, 2004.