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
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.
After 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.
It 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, 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 Calgarys oldest theatres remains to give evidence to
the profound impact of his life.
Copyright © 2003
Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved