July 29, 1849 - June 11, 1908
Joseph Lee, best known for inventing the automatic bread kneading machine and the automatic bread crumbing machine, was a longtime resident of Newton, Massachusetts. Though born into slavery on July 29, 1849 in Charleston, South Carolina, Lee became a well-known and successful inventor, entrepreneur, hotelier and restauranteur. In May 2019 he will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Lee’s parents, Henry Lee, a blacksmith, and Susan Lee, a cook were both enslaved on the Lee plantation. Joseph Lee worked in the kitchen as a child and then became a blacksmith during the Civil War. He witnessed the bombardment of Fort Sumter. At age 16, at the end of the Civil War in 1865, he was freed. Lee left South Carolina, worked his way north, working on ships, by providing meals for the ships’ crews.
Using his experience working in various kitchens, Lee was able to secure a job in a bakery upon his arrival in Newton. In the 1870s Lee opened a restaurant and then in 1883 opened the Woodland Park Hotel at 1761 Washington Street, on the corner of Woodland Road in Auburndale. The upscale hotel was a venue for lavish parties and weddings and advertised steam heat in the winter months, a bowling alley and billiards rooms. In addition, Lee’s catering service offered ice cream delivery in Newton and custom fancy cakes. During the 17 years that he ran the hotel, Lee welcomed President Benjamin Harrison and his family, as well as Presidents Chester Arthur and Grover Cleveland.
Joseph Lee married Christiana Howard, a schoolteacher from Baltimore, Maryland, in 1875. They had three daughters, Genevieve, Therese and Narka, and a son, Joseph Howard Lee who went on to graduate from Harvard University in 1900.
But Lee was not only a hotelier and caterer; he patented a bread kneading machine in 1894 that not only mixed dough faster than manual mixing, the machine kneaded the dough more efficiently. The user saved money by using less ingredients and less time. The use of the machine resulted in a higher quality bread due to the thorough kneading that the dough received. He also patented a bread crumbing machine in 1895 that transformed stale bread into a useful ingredient—a coating for chicken or fish. He sold the patent to the Royal Worcester Bread Crumb Company.
Economic hard times during the depression of 1893-96 forced the closure of the Woodland Park Hotel. However, Lee built a large, new restaurant called The Pavilion in Norumbega Park. Then, in 1897 Lee moved to Boston and opened the Lee Catering company. He also opened The Squantum Inn, an upscale hotel and summer resort, in Quincy that welcomed another President, Theodore Roosevelt.
Joseph Lee died in Boston on June 11, 1908 from tuberculosis. Joseph and Christiana Lee are interred at Newton Cemetery.
- “Joseph Lee.” Bay State Banner. April 3, 1975.
- Chamberlain, Gaius. “Joseph Lee.” The Black Inventor Online Museum. November 26, 2012. Accessed January 7, 2019. http:// Blackinventor.com/joseph_lee/.
- Lee, Joseph. Kneading machine. U.S. patent 524,042. August 7, 1894.
- Lee, Joseph. Bread Crumbing machine. U.S. patent 540,553. June 4, 1895.
- Neal, Anthony.” Joseph Lee: famed hotelier, restaurateur, inventor.” Bay State Banner. February 27th, 2014.
- Obituary of Joseph Lee, Newton Graphic, June 19, 1908.
Written by Adrian Bresler, Friends of Newton Cemetery volunteer.
Special Thanks to Newton Historic for access to their archival material.