Three Generations of Lee at Challenge Machinery

J. Edgar, J. Wesley and James L. Lee, circa. 1911.

From its founding and through several decades, the Lee family ran the Challenge Machinery Company. Challenge, which began as the successor to Shniedewend & Lee, became one of the largest printing equipment manfacturers with a wide range of products. Among their many innovations were the first paper drilling machine, the first hydraulic paper cutter and their ubiquitous high speed quoins. While a distant second to Vandercook in the manufacture of flatbed cylinder proof presses, Challenge also made the Lee production cylinder press. Challenge E, G and K series proof presses featured reciprocating beds and stationary carriages. The M series introduced in 1964, with a fixed bed press and rolling carriage, is considered by many to be a knock-off of the Vandercook SP series.

James L. Lee (1839-1917), the family patriarch, was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, and apprenticed in printing at age twelve. In 1853, his parents brought the family to America where they settled in LeClaire, Illinois, just past where the railway had ended. Soon after, Lee had to move to Davenport to finish his trade and graduated as a journeyman printer. After briefly working in the mines at Pike’s Peak, then for the Denver Mountaineer, he moved to Chicago in 1863 and worked for several companies until 1870, when he went into business with Paul Shniedewend handling type, presses and printing materials, and running an electrotype foundry. Their business was destroyed in the Great Fire, but soon after they were in temporary quarters and their electrotype foundry was running eighteen hours a day. The partnership continued until 1893, when Lee organized Challenge. The company remained in Chicago until 1903, when it was moved to Grand Haven, Michigan. He retained the title of company president even after retiring to California. He died suddenly, at age 77, while visiting his son in Grand Haven.

J. Edgar Lee (1866-1958), began at Shniedewend & Lee as an errand boy. He advanced through the business departments, then in the factory mastered the principles of machine construction and design. At Challenge, he was made assistant manager and eventually president after his father’s death. He held this post until his death at age 92. His name appears on ten US Patents for printing equipment. In 1922, he revived the house organ Printer’s Album, started by his father in 1894, and edited it through 1931.

J. Wesley Lee (1892-1966) was the son of J. Edgar Lee. His career mirrored that of his father. He died after a heart attack, while on vacation at age 73. He was succeeded as president by his son-in-law Robert Gould.

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