A Historical Tribute

1244 S. Sixth St. - circa 1940s

1244 Sixth Street

The Man - The House - The Neighborhood

C. Lee Cook - circa 1926

The Inventor & The House at Sixth & Ormsby

Mr. Charles Lee Cook, known as “A Genius Who Never Walked A Step” was born in 1870, was an invalid since his first year of life, and founded the C. Lee Cook Company in 1888. His invention of a floating mechanical packing (a seal) to reduce steam leakage from the piston rods of steam engines is still used in applications today.

Infected with a form of polio after his first birthday and wheelchair bound his entire life, Cook accomplished much more than the average person. By the time he was eight he had already built a steam engine out of a thousand pieces of discarded junk. While observing a locomotive Cook noticed steam loss from the steam chest. Over the next few days he was able to develop a packing ring device that solved the problem. It worked so well that he bought a lathe and with a homemade four-horsepower steam engine produced more packing rings at a faster rate.

In 1888, at the age of of seventeen, Cook had made enough money to move his business out of his father’s stable to a small factory at 916 S. Eight Street. The Cook Manufacturing Company became the leader in the metallic packing industry producing metallic packing for the Allied Forces during World War I. The business still exists today as Cook Compression. Cook also built an efficient creosoting plant in Georgia that brought him much fame.

C. Lee Cook's self-designed collapsible buggy
Although successful in his work a lack of formal education was evident in his speech and his poor use of grammar drew attention away from a topic. In 1887 Cook began to study English and the humanities. Later he demonstrated a vocabulary of more than thirty-seven thousand words. Besides having a wide vocabulary, Cook became an authority in the fields of law, art, history, architecture and politics. In April 1920 Cook came to the attention of the American public when B. C. Forbes wrote about him in the American Magazine. The story revealed his optimistic philosophy that hard work and learning would inevitably bring success, regardless of physical handicaps.

Cook died at his home at Sixth and Ormsby Streets on April 25, 1928 and is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Elma, of 13 years. His house, which he designed in 1926, with the swimming pool in the basement, still stands today. C. Lee Cook Manufacturing Co. exists today as Cook Compression.

This website is a tribute to the man, the genius, the inventor, and the house he built in the neighborhood that is now known as Old Louisville.


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Historic photos used with permission University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections
Background image: ceramic tile on front porch of the C. Lee Cook home

All other photography and website design © 2018 john paul