Charles Perkins Cottrell

Biography of Charles Perkins Cottrell

In keeping with the traditions of a long established and notable New England family fully alive to its duties in the way of business and civic leadership has been the career of Charles Perkins Cottrell, of Westerly, Rhode Island. He is president of C. B. Cottrell & Sons’ Company, famous for the manufacture of printing presses and appliances over a period of seventy-five years. He also occupies executive positions with other enterprises and with community organizations.

The Cottrell family has been prominent in Rhode Island for two and a half centuries, originating with Nicholas Cottrell, listed as a free inhabitant of Newport in 1638. He was one of the company purchasing the Misquamicut Purchase from the Indians in 1661, a tract which became Westerly and two other townships. Nicholas Cottrell gave his land to his son (II) Nicholas, who settled there, and served as a deputy to the Colonial Assembly in 1670 and again in 1696. He was also a volunteer in the Narragansett Indian War in 1675. His son (III) John Cottrell, had a son (IV) John Cottrell, known as major, who had a son (V) Elias, whose son was (VI) Lebbeus. The son of Lebbeus Cottrell, seventh generation of the family in Rhode Island, was Calvert B. Cottrell, father of the subject of this record. He was born in Westerly August 10, 1821, and died June 12, 1893. In fifteen years of employment with Lavaley, Lanphear & Company, manufacturers of cotton machinery, Mr. Cottrell displayed great inventive ability in devising labor-saving tools. In 1855 he formed a partnership with Nathan Babcock, and they launched a business of their own at Westerly known as Cottrell and Babcock. Manufacturing machinery in general at the start, they soon came to specialize in printing machinery, and by virtue of Mr. Cottrell’s inventions revolutionized the industry. When Mr. Babcock retired in 1880, the concern became a strictly family business, with Mr. Cottrell and his sons owning and operating it. Today every cylinder press built in this country and every copy of American presses built in foreign countries contain features originally patented by Mr. Cottrell, an inventor of the first order. Cottrell presses have come to be important and dependable factors in most of the magazines and newspapers in the country today. In 1893, the enterprise was incorporated under the name of C. B. Cottrell & Sons Company with a capitalization of $800,000. Calvert B. Cottrell married, May 4, 1849, Lydia Whitman Perkins, who died in 1896. She was the daughter of Elisha and Nancy (Russell) Perkins, a descendant of John Perkins who lived at Ipswich in 1632. They were the parents of six children:

  1. Edgar Henry.
  2. Charles Perkins Cottrell, the subject of this review.
  3. Calvert Byron, Jr.
  4. Arthur Maxson Cottrell. [1]See separate sketches of the brothers.
  5. Harriet Elizabeth Cottrell, who makes her home in Westerly.
  6. Lydia Anngenette Cottrell, now deceased.

Charles Perkins Cottrell, son of Calvert Byron and Lydia W. (Perkins) Cottrell, was born March 9, 1858, in Westerly, Rhode Island. When he was nineteen years old, on completing his schooling, he became associated with his father’s plant, and has maintained that connection unbroken throughout his life. He was admitted to the firm in 1880 and played an active part in its development during its most prosperous years. When his father died, Mr. Cottrell was made treasurer, and now he is president. He has been personally in charge of the great works and has been of especial value to the company because of his inheritance of his father’s inventive genius. Mr. Cottrell is still perfecting the products manufactured in his plant. Not printing processes alone, but the tools used in their manufacture, have been improved through his genius. Becoming manager of the business at twenty-one, he has really been at the helm for half a century.

Mr. Cottrell is also chairman of the board of the Washington Trust Company, a director of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, and a trustee of the Memorial Library of Westerly. He is a Republican, but not interested in accepting office. In the Misquamicut Club he is a charter member.

Charles Perkins Cottrell married, May 26, 1886, at Stonington, Connecticut, Harriet Morgan, daughter of John Avery and Susan (Pendleton) Morgan. Mrs. Cottrell died October 18, 1913. They had four children: I. Calvert Byron Cottrell, 3d, born December 4, 1888, who was educated at Fay School and then graduated from St. Mark’s School, both at Southboro, Massachusetts, graduating later from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale, with the class of 1911. Since then he has been actively engaged in the management of the plant of C. B. Cottrell & Sons’ Company, being now secretary and plant manager. He married Mabel Billings of New Haven and has two daughters, Harriet and Barbara Cottrell. 2. Anngenette, wife of Rev. John M. Gorton, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and they are the parents of four children: John, William, Anngenette and Calvert Byron. 3. Margaret, who married Frederick Buffum, Jr., of Westerly, and has three children: Frederick, Jr., Robert and Charles Cottrell Buffum. 4. Charles Perkins, Jr., born May 11, 1899, who was educated at Fay School and St. Mark’s School, both at Southboro, Massachusetts, and then was graduated from Sheffield Scientific School of Yale, with the class of 1921 , being now associated with C. B. Cottrell & Sons’ Company as vice-president and production manager. The family resides in Westerly and takes a leading part in progressive movements and all forward-looking activities.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.


1See separate sketches of the brothers.

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