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Jacob Bell Barron (1888-1965)

Born in Winnipeg in 1888, Jacob Bell Barron attended primary and secondary school in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. His family had moved north in 1898 and his father, Joseph, became a local trader and opened a mercantile store.

During their time in Dawson City, the Barron's business caught fire three times and each time, Joseph Barron ordered new stock and started anew, even more remarkable than it sounds given the absence of insurance in Dawson City at the time.

Jacob Bell BarronAfter graduating from high school, Jacob moved from Dawson City to Illinois to attend law school at the University of Chicago. Upon completing his studies, he moved to Calgary and opened the law firm Barron and Barron with his brother Abe.

From 1923 to 1927, Barron managed the Palace Theatre in Calgary, and in 1937, he bought the Grand Theatre, moving into the theatre business full-time. The Grand, as it was known, had hosted live concerts, theatre and vaudeville acts, though by this time, it was predominantly a film house. A major proponent of the movie theatre business in Calgary, Barron continued on to design and build the Uptown Theatre at 610 8th Avenue SW.

Barron and his coin rolling machineIt was Barron's passion for theatre that brought him to inventing. In 1928, he received a patent for a stereopticon machine he had designed. The invention, an attachment for projection booths, quickly became obsolete due to technological advances in the film industry. After receiving a patent for his tobacco pipe, Barron created a coin rolling machine, designed to quickly fashion coins into tightly packed rolls.

His most successful invention, Barron's coin rolling machine, was borne out of need in his own business. Not realizing the commercial appeal of the coin rolling machine until patrons of his theatre, upon watching the box office cashier use it, made the suggestion, Barron secured the Canadian, American and English patent for the coin roller and set about manufacturing and marketing it.

Barron BuildingBarron, a wise businessman, understood the place of his coin roller. It was not intended to compete with more expensive coin rollers that, say, a bank would use. It was manufactured to be used by small business owners or individuals who dealt with large amounts of coins.

In 1949, Jacob "Jack" Barron invested $1.25 million in the construction of what would become known as the Barron Building. It was the first large-scale construction undertaking in Alberta following the Second World War. Construction was completed in 1951 and Mobil, Shell and Sun Oil, all looking for office space, immediately moved in. The Barron building, aside from its obvious aesthetic impact, featuring a gorgeous art deco façade, succeeded in establishing Calgary as the oil capital of Alberta, at least in the corporate sense.

Mr. Barron passed away in 1965. His sons maintained the family theatre business until 1969, when they sold it to the Odeon Corporation. However, a brief survey of Calgary’s oldest theatres remains to give evidence to the profound impact of his life.

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