The spectacular story of C.L. Brown and the complex United Companies empire he built out from Abilene is abundantly adequate for a book in itself, a narrative of vision, faith and courage. It is so much a vital part of the history of Abilene that only the highlights can be sketchily reviewed in one chapter. It has such an important place in the community's history that it might appropriately be called the C.L. Brown Era...
A boyhood accident changed the course of life for Cleyson L. Brown, who died November 12, 1935, at the age of 63 at Wilmington, Del., following an illness of several months. Doctors had warned him of a heart condition and that he should slow down. As a youngster in Pennsylvania before moving with his parents to Kansas he was mechanically inclined and liked to make things. While helping his father grind corn one day Cleyson got too close to the grinder and his right elbow was crushed. This necessitated amputation of his arm and in that operation the future course of Brown's life was changed.
He realized that manual work would be impossible, so he trained and
studied for another line of business. He was not discouraged by the
accident; never referred to it as a misfortune and often said that if it
had not happened he probably would have been a good farmer.
As his spectacular career developed C.L. Brown became known throughout the United States as an industrialist, utilities magnate, an organizing genius, financier and philanthropist. He was president of the United Power and Light Co., which later became part of the Kansas Power and Light Co., and president of the far-flung United Telephone and Electric Co., the parent company for a large number of subsidiaries. It eventually touched every state in the union from Colorado to New Jersey, with assets running into the millions of dollars. In addition to utility enterprises, Brown was head of or interested in insurance companies, oil companies, a grocery chain (Piggly Wiggly) of sixty stores, newsstand sales store, mercantile company, lumber yards, sheet metal plant and other businesses. He helped found the United Trust Co. and sparked the building of the Sunflower Hotel in Abilene in the depth of the depression years.
At one time the United Companies represented a mass of eighty-four separate corporations doing business with over 450 banks. But the United Trust was the closest Brown ever got to the banking business.
From "Heroes by the Dozen" by Henry B. Jameson, pp. 117-118