Samuel T. Carnes

... the Telephone, Electricity, and the Automobile  



An 1899 Memphis Newspaper states,
"Perhaps no man in all the city of Memphis is better, more widely or more favorably known than Samuel T. Carnes."  But today ask any Memphian about Samuel T. Carnes, and they most likely will reply "WHO?"  Yet this generally unknown Memphis businessman  was the gentleman responsible for bringing Electricity to the city ... and then the Telephone ... and then introduced the first automobile.  And there's more ... This page hopes to bring attention to this pioneer who was the architect of his own destiny and rose from "nothing" to accumulate a large fortune.



Click on small photos to see an enlargement


Samuel Tate Carnes was born in Hardeman County, West Tennessee, in 1850 and spent his life in Memphis.  By birth he was a soldier.  His father was General James A. Carnes who was a  merchant and land owner as well as brigadier-general of the state militia before the Civil War.  When war broke out, he was made a General.  He died in 1863 at Charlotte, South Carolina leaving an insolvent estate.  Samuel's mother Elizabeth M. (Jones) was the only child of General William Watts Jones of North Carolina, a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  Samuel's older brother William, was a Captain in the Confederate Army. 

Hardeman Co, Tennessee  

Bio 1891

Bio 1898 Bio 1899 S. T. Carnes Bio 1899 Bio 1899 Bio 1912

Wm W.Carnes

Samuel was in school when the war began and his studies were halted.   After his father's untimely death, he was penniless and was forced to give up all thoughts of schooling,  By 1866 he had moved to Memphis where he would seek employment and remain for the rest of his life.   Although now virtually uneducated, 16 year old Carnes was bright and quickly found employment at the Savings Bank of Memphis, where he began as a "runner" and was quickly promoted to
collection clerk, and then to Bookkeeper,  Other jobs followed about every year or two, and each was accompanied with a salary increase  


Samuel T. Carnes

In 1868 he was bookkeeper for Copperthwaite, Chapman & Co , and then the Gage & Fisher Cotton Firm;  G. Falls & Co Cotton Buyers;  bookkeeper for Hill, Fontaine & Co, and in 1877,  Clark, Johnson & Co Grocers and Cotton Factors.   Memphis was going through "reconstruction" as well as major "growing pains" during this period.  And Carnes was getting richer.


Clark,Johnjson 1874 Carnes Cotton 1880 Poultry 1898 Memphis 1870s Memphis 1870s





In 1881 S. T. Carnes married Miss Katherine Burke Kerr.   They moved into a beautiful mansion at 451 Linden Avenue (at Wellington) and named it Lindencrest.  It was considered one of the show places of the last generation.  In 1882 and 1884 the Carnes welcomed daughters Kate and Juliet.  Katherine and Samuel were very active socially and their names were frequently mentioned in the social columns ... as well as all of Samuel's business activities.    They  lived at Lindencrest until their deaths.

Katherine Kerr

In 1941 the Commercial Appeal reported the home was scheduled to be converted into a "Negro clinic and headquarters for the Memphis Department's Negro Activities".  The home has since been demolished.



1900 Census



Lindencrest c 1932





1878:  Carnes brings the Telephone to Memphis ...

In the fall of 1878, S. T. Carnes secured the right from the Bell Telephone Company for an exchange in Memphis, and he built the exchange that same year  - one of the first in the country.  In 1881 he organized the Memphis Telephone Company and was made president and general manager of the company.  He carried on this business for five years, selling out at the end of this period to Cumberland Telephone Co.


1880s Telephone

When the first telephone call was made in Memphis, it was from the railway office of Col Michael Burke to the home of Henry A. Montgomery  on Poplar Avenue.  Montgomery owned a telegraph service and had laid the first telegraph cable across the Mississippi. Thus he had the area's first and only telephone.  The second and third phones were later installed in Col Burke's home and in his office.

1890s Telephone


1883 Directory

Montgomery Home

H. Montgomery

Montgomery Park

H. A. MONTGOMERY HOME:   Located on the Corner of Poplar-Montgomery, it was built in the 1860's. The beautiful home was the site of many lavish parties, including an 1882 reception for Oscar Wilde.  Montgomery was also the founder of Montgomery Park.   His home was demolished in 1928  to provide additional space when Memphis Technical High School was built.

Sadly, with the rising demand for business and home telephones,  some of the world's most unsightly telephone and electrical poles were installed on the Memphis streets.


    Telephone Poles

1895 1895 1900 1940 1912 1906 1895 1895 1906 1895


The unsightly "pole situation" was so bad that the National magazine McCall's did a photo feature on them in 1906.






1882:  Carnes brings Electricity to Memphis ...

The paving of streets in Memphis with asphalt improved transportation in the city.  Carnes created a new asphalt company to provide this service.  And he had sold his Telephone Company to take charge of the new Electric Co of Memphis which he had organized.  In 1882 the Electric Co. was incorporated as Brush Electric Light and Power Company of Memphis and Carnes was elected president and general manager.  Within a year it was serving 35 customers and Carnes guided this large plant he had created, through its experimental stages.  This new business secured a 10 year charter from Memphis to provide local service, and monopolized electrical service in the city for the next 20 years.


Brush Electric ... Bulb Street Lighting Building Lighting 1900

Memphis 1910 


As early as 1881 a generator operated one light over a door of one Memphis Business.  But after Carnes built his electric plant in 1884 on Jefferson Avenue, the lighting of Memphis began.  There suddenly appeared amazing lighted signs above downtown businesses.  Folks would stand for hours and stare at them.  And then came electric streetlights making the downtown area as bright as day.  By 1895, the street cars were no longer pulled by horses.  They were now electric.  And electric motors revolutionized local industries ... 

Amazing electrical signs  

Electrical letters St. Lights Horses - Electrical Memphis Elec Trolley Electric Power




1901:  Carnes introduces the first automobile to Memphis ...

S. T. Carnes took a daily streetcar from his home on Linden to his office at 300 Second Street.  It's not surprising that in 1901 he would purchase the first automobile to appear on the streets of Memphis.  And since that auto looked exactly like a carriage without the horse it was referred to as a "horseless carriage".   But the machine was actually called "MOBILE" and it sold for $750, an outrageous price considering that an average yearly wage was $500.  But now, Carnes was rich, and he looked to the future.  It must have been a sight seeing the Carnes family in their mobile, on the streets of Memphis with all the horses, carts, wagons, and carriages.  The top speed was 5 miles per hour.  The rest is history.


Carnes Family 1901 Memphis Carriages 1895 Memphis 1895 Memphis 1899 Memphis 1902



Carnes and the Chickasaw Guards ... Carnes and the Coal Creek riots ...

In 1878 Carnes began an association with the Memphis Chickasaw Guards, and from 1878 to 1891 was Captain of the Guards.  He served with the Guards for 13 years and during this period this military company had a record second to no similar organization in the United States.  The company was more successful in drill contests in various cities, north and south, and was better known than any other drill organization in the United States.  Even Gen. Sherman pronounced them "... superior to anything in or out of West Point."


When the National Guard law was passed, Carnes was made colonel of the 2nd Regiment.  In 1892 he was made brigadier general and was placed in command of the state troops - a position he resigned in 1896.  During this period he took part in the Coal Creek riots, and with no instructions and by acting on his own judgment helped resolve the unrest with the miners of East Tennessee - without blood shed. 

Chickasaw Guards 1895

Guards 1895 Guards 1881 Guards Page 1... Guards Page 2...

Coal Creek Riots


1895 NY Times

Rules of the Inter-state Drill Competition - 1895



Samuel Tate Carnes lived a full and by all accounts an honorable life.  This truly self-made man died in 1932 at the age of 81.  The cause of death was pneumonia.  Burial at Elmwood Cemetery.


S. T. Carnes

Death notice - 1932

Certificate 1932



The Carnes Extended Family

William W. Carnes  William, the brother of Samuel, was born in Somerville, Tennessee in 1841.  He was a student at the US Naval Academy when the Civil War began and he resigned and joined the Confederacy as a Lieutenant.  He was soon promoted to Captain and achieved some fame as an artillery officer for his heroism.  After the war he made Macon, Georgia his home and lived there for 21 years, running an insurance business.  In 1888 he returned to Memphis, and at one time was elected sheriff of Shelby County.  Other times he was associated with the businesses of his brother Samuel Carnes.   William and his first wife, Kate had 3 children.  After her death in 1872 he married her sister Lila.  They had 8 children.  He died in 1932 and is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia.

Wm. W. Carnes  

Katherine Kerr Carnes Livermore
 and Dr. George Robertson Livermore:
Katherine was two years older than her sister Juliet.  Both girls married well and Katherine married Memphis Dr. George Robertson Livermore.   They had two children.  Dr. Livermore was the attending physician at the death of Samuel Carnes.   (Bio from University of Virginia and.  Bio from Who's Who in Tennessee)




Juliet Carnes Collins  Juliet married her childhood sweetheart Memphis Millionaire Barron Gift Collier in 1907.  They lived in NYC because of his business interests there.  The couple had three sons who would later carry on their father's empire.   That empire had begun to take shape in 1911 after Barron and Juliet visited Florida and fell in love with the place.  He immediately started buying Florida property.  At the time, the state wasn't the tropical paradise it would later become.  Collier's buying continued and he acquired over a million acres in the undeveloped wilderness.   He then worked with the state to get roads to these areas.  This undeveloped wilderness was now ripe for development and Collier was ready..

Juliet Collins  

Barron Gift Collins *  Barron was born in Memphis in 1873. At 16 he quit school and worked full time soliciting freight for a railroad.  By the age of 20 he was very successful and by 26, had amassed his first million.  Collier's first Memphis business was street lights powered by gasoline.  He acquired the patent  and  convinced the Company  to give him franchise rights for Memphis.  And then he sold Memphis on his ability to light suburban streets that were beyond the reach of the gas mains.  It was successful and then Collier negotiated contracts in Hot Springs, Raleigh, and other cities.   He was  only 17. 

Barron G. Collins  

 In 1892 collier acquired a print shop which sold advertising cards to Memphis streetcars.  This became the foundation for his immense empire.  At the age of 19, he secured an exclusive contract for streetcar advertising in Memphis.  Barron also helped found the Boy Scouts...helped found Interpol...and invented the white and yellow dividing lines on highways.  Another enterprise was subway gum machines and also owning Luna Park in Coney Island. 

* Barron Gift Collier has comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here


Graves of Katherine, Samuel, Kate, George at Elmwood Cemetery and of Barron and Juliet at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx NY.





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