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Sonoscope, publisher products of their time

Most people know that a Victorian house is linked with the time of Queen Victoria.

But when Jerry Maurer spied a black box tucked in the corner of a cupboard in the basement of the Springfield News-Sun, he didn’t know he’d stumbled across an antique from the nearly 40-year reign and 52-year career of publisher Edgar Morris.

Because the cupboard is dark green and the black box was slid to the back, Maurer had never spotted it before. Nor when he opened it, had he ever seen anything like it.

The device looks like the listening piece of an early crank telephone, the kind that has a separate speaking piece coming out of the body of the phone box itself.

But this device had a short steel point coming out of the listening piece, a piece installed in a time long before the development of wireless technology.

Luckily, a piece of paper was inside from the sales department of W.S. Darley & Co., Chicago, informing Maurer what he’d found: a Sonoscope or Water-phone.

No, it wasn’t designed to listen to aquatic creatures.

It was designed to listen for leaks.

The first sentence gave instructions on its use.

“Place the pointed end tightly against the pipe, hydrant, faucet or shut-off key and listen. If nothing is open there will be silence; if there is a leak, you will hear it.”

The paper also gave homeowners helpful hints on determining whether a leak originated in their house, the service line or the main; told workmen how to to detect the motion of water by listening to valve stems, fire hydrants and mains; and offered handy tips on how to detect leaks in walls and floors.

“The Sonoscope magnifies sound,” it said, suggesting then that customers “take your watch from your pocket, hold the Sonoscope to the back of it and listen.

“Or try it on any pipe in the office or shop, shut everything off so no water is being used and then let one of the boys open a faucet a little.”

“Like most new things, a little practice and experience makes perfect,” it said.

Finding out when the one Maurer spied was a new thing, however, proved difficult.

The only clue on the box was an address label from 2810 Washington Blvd., Chicago, U.S.A., directing it to the attention of Edgar Morris.

“All I can tell you is that the unit is pre-1960,” said Tom Darley of W.S. Darley & Co., in an email. “That is the year we moved from Chicago to Melrose Park, Ill.

“My grandfather invented this device circa 1910,” he added. “We sold them until around 1990. Much more sophisticated products are used now.”

Morris didn’t last the 80 years the Sonoscope did, but his span as publisher of the Springfield News-Sun is, by today’s standards, nearly geologic.

As his Feb. 19, 1963, front-page obituary says the man who had died that morning of a heart attack, “began his career in the newspaper field at the age of 14 as a special correspondent.”

Born just north of Wapakoneta, he spent six years as a correspondent for various newspapers in the area and for two years studied law at the Wapak firm of Layton & Layton. (In those days before formal law schools were common, prospective attorneys often “read law” with firms that would then take them on.)

Once he got on full time in a newsroom, Morris left Layton & Layton and began a swift rise.

In 1906, he was a reporter at the St. Mary’s Leader, then served as city editor of the Lima Daily News that summer and fall. By 1908 was part-owner of the Wapakoneta Daily Times.

In 1909, he relocated to Springfield, buying in as a stockholder and serving as city editor of the Springfield Morning Times. In 1910, Gov. James Cox, who in 10 years would run for the U.S. presidency, tapped this promising young man with business sense as editor of the Springfield Daily News.

Morris was appointed publisher in 1924, then in 1928 was named publisher of the combined Springfield News and Sun. That put him at the helm in 1929 when the newspaper moved into its current building, and former President Calvin Coolidge threw the switch to start the first press run.

He had continued full time in that capacity until 1957, “but retained an active interest and worked in his office almost daily until he was taken to the hospital (days earlier),” his obituary said.

James M. Cox Jr., then chairman of the board and president of Springfield Newspapers Inc., described Morris as “one of the old time newspapermen (who) had worked at all branches of his profession. He could handle a story, sell advertising, operate the typewriter, and, in short, do anything around the newspaper office in the craft he loved so well.”

Bert A. Teeters, then managing editor of the Daily News and the News-Sun, said Morris’ “sympathetic attitude on many, many occasions were of untold help to me,” adding: “Mr. Morris carried out the responsibilities of citizenship in a way which anyone would be proud to emulate.”

The Sun’s editor, Maynard Kniskern, who had a reputation as a cantankerous wordsmith, called Morris’ passing “a grievous and irreparable loss to the whole community and most particularly to those who have known and loved this man over the years.”

Dr. Clarence C. Stoughton of Wittenberg University, where Morris had served on the board, offered an insight into the publisher’s character: “Those who knew him well were never deceived by his rugged and crusty exterior for he was a man of warmth, of deep spiritual convictions and of an unremitting concern for people, especially those in this community. He poured his life generously into one good cause after another.”

More telling was the series of laudatory remarks from presidents of the newspaper’s several unions.

James I. Gatten of the Springfield Newspaper Guild, said Morris “commanded not only the respect of his associates but also the warm affection of all who knew him. Those of us who worked for him learned to regard him as a sincere personal friend.”

Ray Laengle, president of the Stereotypers and Electrotypers Local 55 called Morris a man who “could be trusted. Any time he said he would do something it didn’t need to be in writing because we knew he would do it.”

Jack C. Straub, secretary-treasurer of the News Sun Chapel International Typographical Union agreed: “The one outstanding quality shown in his bargaining was his word was his bond. Not once, to my knowledge, did he ever renege on his word.”

Milton F. Ward, president of Local 48, International Printing Pressmen and Assistants of North America, described him as “a man whose one aim in life was fairness to all.”

Like the Sonoscope, Edgar Morris’ long career was based on being reliable, dependable and trustworthy. And at least in that way, both were long appreciated products of their times.

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