The Casbon Electric Company

I haven’t posted a new blog in quite some time as I have been busy with other genealogy projects. When I learned that the October theme for the Guild of One-Name Studies Blog Challenge would be “Family Business” I decided it was time to write a long overdue post about the Casbon Electric Company of Valparaiso, Indiana.

My knowledge of the company is incomplete: some of it is gleaned from childhood memories and some from conversations with Dave and Don Casbon, my late second cousin and uncle. Dave’s Facebook page, which includes a photo album dedicated to the company along with valuable commentary, has been an especially valuable resource.

During my childhood years, my family occasionally travelled to Valparaiso, Indiana, to visit my dad’s relatives. A highlight for me was spending time at the Casbon Electric Company. I could wander through the store, look over the repairman’s shoulder, and check out the amazing new gadgets, such as portable transistor radios. I continued these visits off and on through my college years.

The Casbon Electric Company storefront at
123 Lincolnway, Valparaiso, Indiana, in 1981
(Dave Casbon, Facebook)

According to Dave Casbon, “Lynnet [Casbon (1899 – 1983)—Dave’s father and my great uncle] started this business while working at Western Electric in Chicago in the early 20s. He scavenged parts from the trash bin and made a radio with a crystal he purchased elsewhere. When someone offered a week’s wages for his radio – he reluctantly parted with it. Of course, he then gathered more parts and made another and so it began.”[1] Soon after, Lynett and his brother Loring (1896 – 1970) were selling radios and Delco batteries from the basement of their parents’ (Lawrence L. (1865 – 1950) and Kate (Marquart, 1868 – 1959) Casbon) home at 103 Morgan Street in Valparaiso.

An early advertisement from the time Lynnet and Loring were operating from their parents’ home on Morgan Street (The Vidette-Messenger,
9 December 1927, p. 5)

Most of rural Porter County, where Valparaiso is located, did not have access to the electrical grid in the 1930s. Without electricity, clothes were washed by hand, food was kept cold in iceboxes, stoves were fueled by wood, and light was provided by lanterns. If rural households wanted access to electricity, they had to install battery systems along with generators—usually gas-powered, but sometimes powered by windmills—to charge them. It was a luxury to be able to turn on the lights for a few hours after dark, or to operate a radio or other appliance using the power supplied by these battery systems. The Casbon brothers capitalized on this growing demand by selling and servicing the batteries, generators, and appliances. In addition, they installed home wiring, making it easier to use (and sell) more appliances. After the electrical grid arrived, the brothers continued to provide these services for homeowners and businesses.

The young business made a giant leap in April 1934 when Lynnet and Loring opened their retail storefront at 121 Lincolnway in Valparaiso. A letter announcing the grand opening stated: “We are showing a complete line of Delco Light products, which includes a light plant in operation with batteries, also both shallow and deep well pressure pumps, 32 and 110 volt radios, irons, vacuum cleaners and other electric appliances for the home.”[2]

Advertisement for the Grand Opening of the store at 121 Lincolnway (The Vidette-Messenger, 6 April 1934)
A business card from the early 1930s, before Leslie Casbon joined the firm (Dave Casbon, Facebook)
Interior of the store at 121 Lincolnway, 1934; on the right-hand wall is a bank of batteries powering a console radio (Dave Casbon, Facebook)

Meanwhile, my grandfather, Leslie Christy Casbon (1894 – 1990), had been dabbling in electronics on his own, selling radios and musical instruments out of a small store at 3955 Irving Park Road in Chicago. His business failed in the early 1930s and he moved back to Valparaiso, where he joined his brothers at Casbon Electric.

This being the time of the Great Depression, it was a risky time to start a new business, but somehow the brothers hung on. They received an unusual boost in 1939, when they sold three power plants, each consisting of a gas engine and a generator, to the island of Tahiti. According to the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger, the deal brought electrical power to Tahiti for the first time in history.[3]

Lynnet Casbon delivering a refrigerator, ca. 1940 (Dave Casbon, Facebook)

In 1940, the brothers purchased the building at 123 Lincolnway and opened a new larger showroom.

Advertisement for the Grand Opening of the new store at 123 Lincolnway (The Vidette-Messenger, 19 Jun 1940)
The new storefront at 123 Lincolnway (Dave Casbon, Facebook)

From that point on the business continued to grow. In addition to selling and servicing appliances, Casbon Electric became a major electrical contractor in northern Indiana. They also sold bottled gas for several years.

Leslie’s son, Don, became involved in the business in the 1950s and Lynett’s son, Dave, joined the firm about 1960. The retail store more than doubled its space by expanding into the original building at 121 Lincolnway. This allowed the company to have separate large showrooms for appliances and electronics, including a sound room for stereo systems. In the early 1970s, Don became sole owner of the contracting business, and also sold wholesale electrical supplies. Dave remained as co-owner of the retail business, including the Casbon Electric store name.

A sale at the electronics side of the store, 1988 (Dave Casbon, Facebook)

Casbon Electric shut its doors for good in the early 1990s. The three brothers—Lynnet, Loring, and Leslie—passed away in 1983, 1970, and 1990, respectively. Don and Dave both retired from their businesses. Sadly, Dave passed away earlier this year. The storefront on 123 Lincolnway is now occupied by Papa Johns Pizza. Many “Valpo” residents have fond memories of the Casbon Electric Company, a downtown fixture that served the city and county for most of the twentieth century.

In memorium:

Richard L. (Rick) Casbon passed away on October 8th, 2021. Born December 14, 1952, Rick was the son of Herbert (1910 – 1989) and Evelyn (Stupeck, 1914 – 1978) Casbon and a grandson of Amos J. Casbon (1869 – 1956), who came to Indiana from England when he was only a year old. Rick lived and farmed at the home that Amos built near Boone Grove, Indiana. I was fortunate to meet Rick at a family reunion in 2017. His obituary can be viewed here.

[1] Dave Casbon, posted on Facebook, 28 Sep 2011.
[2] Dave Casbon, posted on Facebook, 28 Sep 2011.
[3] “Local Firm Sells Plant to Tahitians,” (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 14 Jul 1939, p. 1, col. 4; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 22 September 2018).

2 thoughts on “The Casbon Electric Company”

  1. I purchased a Sony transistor radio, in 1965, when I attended VTI, down the street. I have that radio, still working in its leather case. Many fond memories of the store, town, and VTI. (submitted 12-13-2021)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.