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Collection Number: 04827

Collection Title: James F. Mays Papers, 1890-1931

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the section for more information.


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Size 1.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 700 items)
Abstract James Francis Mays (1860-1938) was trained as a civil engineer and accountant, but worked as a salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine and other companies in Atlanta, Ga., Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., from the 1890s until 1918. At that time, Mays moved with his wife, Maud Walton Mays, and their children to Lexington, N.C., to pursue full time his hobby of inventing and his dream of manufacturing one of his inventions. Mays had returned to sales by 1923 with the Fuller Brush Company. Papers documenting the career of James F. Mays, especially his inventions and his attempts to manufacture one the Mays Calculating Machine. Included are many diagrams, drawings, notes, and blueprints. There is also a large correspondence from Washington, D.C., patent attorney, James L. Norris, who handled most of Mays's patent applications. There are many items documenting business problems of the three companies organized to produce the Mays Calculating Machine, especially a lawsuit between Mays and Baxter Shemwell, president of one of the companies. There are also contracts and sales reports from Mays's sales jobs, two copies of a "Ledger Proof System" by Mays, poetry written mainly by Maud Walton Mays, and some genealogical and other notes.
Creator Mays, James F. (James Francis), 1860-1938.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the James F. Mays papers #4827, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Purchased from Carmen D. Valentino, Dealer in Rare Books and Manuscripts, of Philadelphia, Pa., in August 1996 (Acc. 96126).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

James Francis Mays was born in 1860 to a well-connected Southern family. His parents were lawyer and Confederate army Captain Samuel E. Mays and Catherine Toombs Mosely, cousin of the first Secretary of the Confederacy, General Robert Toombs. James Mays married Maud Eliza Walton of Kingston, Ga., a member of another established Southern family, in 1887. Mays was trained as a civil engineer and accountant, but his passion was inventing. He seems to have earned his living mainly as a door-to-door salesman in Atlanta, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Birmingham, until 1918 when the prospect of manufacturing his "Mays Calculating Machine" took him and his family to Lexington, N.C. James died in 1938 and Maud died in 1955; both are buried in Lexington.

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Papers documenting the career of James F. Mays, especially his inventions and his attempts to manufacture one the Mays Calculating Machine. Included are many diagrams, drawings, notes, and blueprints. There is also a large correspondence from Washington, D.C., patent attorney, James L. Norris, who handled most of Mays's patent applications. There are many items documenting business problems of the three companies organized to produce the Mays Calculating Machine, especially a lawsuit between Mays and Baxter Shemwell, president of one of the companies. There are also contracts and sales reports from Mays's sales jobs, two copies of a "Ledger Proof System" by Mays, poetry written mainly by Maud Walton Mays, and some genealogical and other notes.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Inventions, 1908-1931.

About 320 items.

Arrangement: by type of material and subject.

Papers documenting James F. Mays's various inventions and his patent applications for them, his correspondence with patent attorneys, and a few other letters related to manufacturing some of his lesser inventions. Mays invented a number of devices, including a filtered tobacco pipe, a folding "cooling board" for the use of undertakers, a calendar watch, an elapsed time indicator, and a calculating machine. The calculating machine dominated his career and this collection. This series contains Mays's applications for patents on his devices and some of the results of those applications. It contains many diagrams, drawings, and blueprints of the devices, mainly of the calculating machine. (Some of these are oversized and are stored separately.) It also contains Mays's extensive correspondence with three patent attorneys, C. A. Snow, James L. Norris, and Charles A. Munn, whose letters are in chronological order separated by writer. There are about ninety letters from Norris and around ten each from the other two attorneys. At the end of this series is a folder containing correspondence with various companies related to Mays's attempts to have his pipe, undertakers' cooling board, and watch manufactured. Attempts to have the calculating machine manufactured are the subject of Series 2.

Folder 1

Patent Applications, 1908-1927 #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 1

Folder 2

Patent Applications and Notes, undated #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 2

Folder 3-4

Folder 3

Folder 4

Drawings and Blueprints of Calculating Machine #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 3-4

Folder 5

Drawings and Diagrams of other Inventions #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 5

Folder 6

Correspondence C.A. Snow, 1904-1925 #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 6

Folder 7

Correspondence James L. Norris, 1918-1919 #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 7

Folder 8

Correspondence James L. Norris, 1920-1921 #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 8

Folder 9

Correspondence James L. Norris, 1922-1928 and undated #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 9

Folder 10

Correspondence Charles A. Munn, 1921-1927 #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 10

Folder 11

Correspondence Relating to other Inventions #04827, Series: "1. Inventions, 1908-1931." Folder 11

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927.

About 250 items.

Arrangement: by type of material; correspondence arranged by writer and chronologically within writer.

Papers related to the three interrelated companies organized to produce the Mays Calculating Machine: the Mays Manufacturing Company, the Mays Accounting Machine Company, and the Mays Calculating Machine Company. This series contains promotional material to attract stockholders, contracts, agreements, accounting information, and Mays's correspondence with other officers and stockholders in the companies, notably Baxter Shemwell, A. M. Kistler, and A. C. Avery. It also contains some other documents related to litigation between Mays and Shemwell, including letters from J. G. Merrimon of the American National Bank which held some of the papers disputed in the lawsuit, some of Mays's notes for statements he made against Shemwell, and other related documents. The Miscellaneous Correspondence folder contains mostly other business correspondence, but also a few letters from Mays's wife, Maud Walton Mays, which also discuss business matters, and a very few other personal letters. Mays's drafts of his own letters are also included in the series.

Folder 12

Companies' Promotional Materials #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 12

Folder 13

Contracts and Agreements #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 13

Folder 14

Accounts and Stockholders #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 14

Folder 15

Lawsuit #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 15

Folder 16

Correspondence Baxter Shemwell, 1912-1919 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 16

Folder 17

Correspondence Baxter Shemwell, 1920-1921 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 17

Folder 18

Correspondence Baxter Shemwell, 1922-1925 and undated #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 18

Folder 19

Correspondence A. M. Kistler, 1922-1925 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 19

Folder 20

Correspondence A. C. Avery, 1922-1925 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 20

Folder 21

Correspondence J. G. Merrimon, American National Bank, 1913-1917 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 21

Folder 22

Correspondence Miscellaneous Correspondence #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 22

Folder 23

Correspondence Letters from Mays, 1913-1927 #04827, Series: "2. Manufacturing Ventures, 1912-1927." Folder 23

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925.

About 120 items.

Arrangement: by type of material.

Materials unrelated to Mays's career as an inventor, including various documents from sales jobs Mays held with the Singer Sewing Machine Company and the Fuller Brush Company; two copies of a bookkeeping system called the "Ledger Proof System" which Mays copyrighted in 1916; and various notes, bank statements and checks, and receipts. Mays's wife, Maud Walton Mays, put together two booklets of poetry she had written (including one poem by James Mays), which are also included. There is a folder of genealogical notes, most of which appear to trace the descendants of Pocohontas. Lastly, there are thirty-five pictures of people not mentioned anywhere else in the collection, which are in three separated folders.

Folder 24

Sales Jobs, 1890-1925 and undated #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " Folder 24

Folder 25

Ledger Proof System, c. 1916 #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " Folder 25

Folder 26

Notes, Bank Statements, Receipts #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " Folder 26

Folder 27

Poetry Booklets #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " Folder 27

Folder 28

Genealogical Notes #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " Folder 28

Image P-4827/1

Photographs of identified people #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " P-4827/1

Image P-4827/2

Photographs of unidentified children and groups #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " P-4827/2

Image P-4827/3

Photographs of unidentified adults #04827, Series: "3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1890-1925. " P-4827/3

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Processing Information

Processed by: Meg Phillips, October 1996

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

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