Nathaniel Baldwin House
The Nathaniel Baldwin House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Nathaniel Baldwin House, located at 2374 Evergreen Avenue, was built in 1923. It is a large, one-story Prairie style bungalow. Typical of Prairie style bungalows in Utah, it has a low pitch hip roof, wide overhanging eaves, a projecting front porch, a concrete foundation and brick exterior walls. Simple decorative exterior features of this house include the multi-color brick, cast concrete Prairie style elements on the porch columns, and bay windows on both the west and east sides. Bands of casement windows are in the bay windows and in various other window sections of the house. The interior of the house is more expressively elaborate than the exterior, featuring an abundance of woodwork, primarily oak and fir, on the floors, window frames and surrounds, doors, built-in bookcases, chair rails, and baseboards. Minor alterations have been made on the interior, particularly in the kitchen, which has recently been remodeled. The only exterior alterations of note are the additions of a 9'x12' greenhouse on the rear and a covered porch on one of the rear corners. Those alterations do not affect the historical integrity of the house.
A two-bay garage located to the rear of the house is also included as a contributing building. Judging from its materials and styling, the garage was apparently built at the same time as the house. It is virtually unaltered.
The Nathaniel Baldwin House, built in 1923, is significant for its association with Nathaniel Baldwin during the years of his greatest success as an inventor and manufacturer of highly advanced electronic sound transmission devices. Between about 1914 and 1930, Baldwin's company was among the most successful and innovative companies of its kind in the United States, and was one of the largest employers in Utah. His wireless headphones were a major breakthrough in the radio electronics industry, and their success propelled him into a position of prominence both locally and nationally. Although his business eventually failed, his contribution to the field of electronics was significant and lasting.
The large bungalow at 2374 Evergreen Avenue was built in 1923 for Nathaniel Baldwin at the zenith of his career as an inventor and manufacturer of electronic sound transmission devices. Shortly after the Nathaniel Baldwin House was completed his business suffered a number of reversals that eventually led to the demise of his company and his prosperity. Although he and his family lived in this house for only six or seven years, it is the house most closely associated with his impressive career and was the "dream home" that accompanied his success. His factory buildings, located nearby at 3474 S. 2300 East, have lost their integrity through recent alterations.
Nathaniel Baldwin was born in Fillmore, Utah, December 1, 1878 to Nathan Bennett Baldwin and his second polygamous wife, Margaret Oler Baldwin. Nathaniel attended Brigham Young Academy, the Utah Agricultural College, and Stanford University, concentrating on science studies. After completing his college work, Baldwin worked at a number of different jobs, ranging from physics professor at BYU to operator of an electric generating plant, during which time he worked at inventing and perfecting sound equipment and other devices. In 1910 he patented his first and most important invention, radio headphone receivers. He was unsuccessful at attracting attention to his device until, acting on a suggestion from the Smithsonian Institution, he contacted the U.S. Navy and received a positive reply. After testing the headphone they ordered a few sets and soon after several more sets. Then, anticipating perhaps the entrance of the United States in the European war, the Navy requested one hundred sets "at once." In order to meet the demand, Baldwin quit his job as power plant operator and built a twelve-by-fourteen-foot wooden factory in the Salt Lake area at 3477 South 2300 East. In 1915 he added a second building, and for a time the power for both buildings was generated by another of his devices, a hydro-electric generator on adjacent East Millcreek.
Baldwin's factory transformed this rural area, East Millcreek, into a manufacturing center. The high wages he offered four dollars a day for a forty-eight hour week attracted people from all over Utah to his factory. His business continued to expand and by 1922 it employed 450 people, who worked in three shifts around the clock, producing 150 headsets per day. The cost of his headsets ranged from 50 to 200 percent higher than those of many of his competitors, but the quality was apparently commensurate with the price, and demand almost always exceeded supply. Baldwin also produced loudspeakers, hearing aids and other sound transmission devices at his factory.
A fire in one of his factory buildings and increasing demand for his products led to the construction of a large brick factory near the old one at 3474 South 2300 East. Even the capacity of this new factory was not enough, however, to meet the growing demand of his products. He therefore contracted with another firm to produce Baldwin equipment, constructed another factory in the nearby community of Holladay, and signed contracts with companies in Canada and Japan. Baldwin was reportedly offered over a million dollars for his business, but he refused to sell, afraid that the operations would be moved out of state and his employees and friends would lose their jobs. Such generous and altruistic tendencies eventually contributed to the downfall of Nathaniel Baldwin's business.
In the mid-1920s events began to transpire that marked the beginning of the end for Baldwin. A number of bad investments brought financial stress, and his lack of business savvy led to poor management decisions. Legal battles ensued when a group of his former employees began operating a competing business, and the affair was further complicated by the fact that many of those people were religious associates of Baldwin. In 1930, after a near-fatal incident of receivership, the company folded when Baldwin and a number of other directors of the company were convicted and sentenced to five years in federal prison for fraudulent use of the mails for promoting and selling the company's stock. Nathaniel served two years of his five year term, then returned to the East Millcreek area where he lived until his death in 1961. He was never able to regain his position as a prominent inventor and businessman.
Baldwin had supported and helped nurture the growth of a Fundamentalist Mormon group which espoused the principle of polygamy, a former, but by then forbidden, tenet of the Mormon church. Many of Baldwin's employees and directors were members of that religious group, and Baldwin used much of his money to aid the large families of his polygamous friends. He even constructed for them a dozen or so houses near his own, and the area became known locally as polygamy alley. It is unknown for certain whether Nathaniel ever took a plural wife himself, though it is rumored that he did marry a Mrs. Steed, a widow, who lived for a time in one of the houses on the north side of Evergreen Avenue. That "Mrs. Steed" may have been Lily S. Steed, who worked for Baldwin's company for several years and who lived for a time on Evergreen Avenue.
The Nathaniel Baldwin House on Evergreen Avenue was purchased in 1931 by James Vernon Glade, a prominent Utah businessman, who lived there for over 25 years. Glade was founder and president of Glade Candy Company, one of the largest candy firms in the Intermountain West. Baldwin and his family moved back into the frame bungalow which he had built in 1916 at 3471 S. 2300 East, where they remained for two or three years before moving elsewhere.
Dunyon, Joy F., and Walker, F. Earl. "Part I: East Mill Creek History." The Pioneer (Sept. Oct.1971):7. Salt Lake City: Sons of Utah Pioneers.
"Nathaniel Baldwin." Utah Since Statehood Vol. 3:887-888. Chicago-Salt Lake City: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1919.
Singer, Merrill. "Nathaniel Baldwin, Utah Inventor and Patron of the Fundamentalist Movement." Utah Historical Quarterly 47:1 (Winter 1979). Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1979.
Baldwin, Jared. Interview with Roger Roper, March 22, 1985, Salt Lake City, Utah.
† Roger Roper, Historian, Utah State Historical Society, Nathaniel Baldwin House, Millcreek Township, Salt Lake County, UT, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.