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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Life of an Inventor : Lavonious Kenworthy Wynn, OR Don't Believe Every Family Story to be Correct

In some families, there is usually a child that is named for an ancestor; be it a parent, grandparent, great grandparent, or other person that family wished to remember and honor.  My late father-in-law was named Kenworthy Henry Reif.  I knew that his grandfather was Henry Jacob Reif, so there is the repeated "Henry".  But, I did not know where "Kenworthy" had it's origin...was there someone of that name in the family?

After months of working on my husband's family history, I decided to do what I do best....think outside of the box, and work outside of the crate.  This type of research never fails me.  I always come up with something, and indeed, this time I uncovered someone with the name of Kenworthy.

I knew that great grandmother Eliza Hessler Reif had a sister, Emma.  But that was as far as I had gotten into the Hessler family.  Searching  the Illinois State Marriage Index Database, I came across the marriage of Lavonious K. Wynn - Emma Hessler in 1888.  Hmmm.  And the marriage occurred in northern Illinois, in Whiteside County.  Hmmm.  Well, this certainly looks like it could be interesting.  Now I have yet another name to research. But, this wasn't just any person.  It was THE person that I needed to follow through the many records available on-line.

Sterling Gazette, 1888

Taking this information, I searched on for Mr. Wynn.  The first result came from the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947.
Lavonious Wynn was born in Ohio, and died and was buried in Sterling, Illinois.  He was a widower in 1946 at the time of his death.  His occupation is listed as President of a Laundry Company.  This is little more information than I had before, but what I found on the rest of the page made me jump.  There were a few suggested records that thought might match this gentleman :

Do you see what I see?  L. KENWORTHY Wynn...... Here is the Kenworthy in this family that I was looking for, listed in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.  I clicked the link, and BINGO, Lavonious Kenworthy Wynn was married to Emma, living in Sterling, Illinois.

Apparently, my father-in-law was named after his great uncle, brother-in-law of his grandmother, Eliza Hessler Reif.  He must have been an important person in the family to be honored over everyone else in the family when it came to naming my father-in-law.  Now that I found him, I needed to discover what made him so special.  Back to the list of on-line databases that I frequent, I diligently searched for Mr. Wynn.

Lavonious was too young to serve in the military in the Civil War, but he may have served in later years. I searched to uncover more data results.There were no military records, but he was listed in a Cleveland directory of 1880, salesman for F. Bassett Company.  Mr. Wynn did appear in city directories of Des Moines, Iowa from 1892 to 1904.  He resided at The Iliad Hotel, which is no longer standing.

In addition, the name of  L. K. Wynn in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, in the 1914 September 7 edition, page 13, volume 38, number 113.  A full page is dedicated to the proof of business prosperity in America, with highlighted comments by leading business men in the United States.

My appears Mr. Wynn was a business owner in Sterling, Illinois in 1914...Black Silk Stove Polish Works.  More to research.  How did he get from being in Des Moines in 1904 to Sterling in 1914 as a business owner?

Newspapers are my favorite resource for researching into past lives.  I usually find very interesting information that is not noted in vital records.,, and are my favorite websites for newspaper research.  There are so many others, far too many to name.  For ephemera, I search  Additional searching may include and InternetArchives at

According to a 1963 obit of a nephew of L. K. Wynn, Lewis Wynn,  brother of L. K. invented the polish, but L. K. operated the company, as he had much more experience in sales and marketing. Lewis Wynn passed away of cancer at his home in October of 1904.

Many ads for the Black Silk Stove Polish product were found in so many newspapers.  Here are a few from 1910 posted in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer, Bemidji, Minnesota :

The trademark for the Black Silk Stove Polish was first used on October 9, 1909.  On November 23, 1909 a U. S. Federal Trademark registration was filed for the logo pictured here :

 trademark serial number of 71046083,  currently expired
Note the trademark had been renewed in 1950, as Mr. Wynn passed away in 1946.  Mr. Prescott took over the Black Silk Stove Polish Works in Sterling, Illinois. This trademark became expired on November 3, 1992.

In the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1903, Mr. Wynn is listed as having applied for a patent on a cabinet : 

 Friday, January 1, 1904  

Publication: Serial Set Vol. No.4607;  

A patent application was noted in for Mr. Wynn.  It included an image, dated January 25, 1927, patent number 1,615,319,  of the container product sketch which was submitted for the patent : 

An article from  the Rockford Daily Gazette featured L. K. Wynn and his Black Silk Polish :

Date: Saturday, September 23, 1911  

Paper: Daily Register Gazette (Rockford, IL)  

Page: 11

In other articles, Mr. Wynn was listed as a member of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Elks Association in 1916. The Sterling Illinois Industrial Association, organized in 1907, selected L. K. Wynn as chairman of the committee on Home and Foreign Industries. 

My husband had repeated a story to me, to the best of his recollection, years ago.  It was something about a grandfather or great grandfather who had invented a "shoe black", or black shoe polish, and that a patent had been obtained for the product.  I had dabbled a bit into his ancestors' lives, and found that there were a few German shoemakers, German carpenters, German house painters and German farmers. But, I found no record of a patent for black shoe polish with a connection to this family.

I guess the story became skewed, and the black shoe polish was actually Black Silk Stove Polish.  And, it was not invented by Lavonious Kenworthy Wynn, a great uncle....not a great grandfather, but his brother, Lewis Wynn.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting story, to say the least.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I came upon your site while searching for Lavonious Wynn. Today my mother purchased a beautiful cabinet at auction (Central Texas area) that was marked with patent #73310A and Wynn Cabinets from Sterling Illinois. I think there is no doubt this is your husband's ancestor. Will be happy to get some pictures for you if you want.