by Tom Castaldi
Ranald T. McDonald was one of the founders of the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company. He built a big beautiful home at 924 West Wayne Street in 1888 that was designed by John Wing and Marshal Mahurin, prominent Fort Wayne architects whose other works include the Old City Hall occupied by the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society and now known as The History Center.
McDonald was born in Pennsylvania in 1849 and came to Fort Wayne in 1860. He joined the Union Army in 1864, serving as a drummer boy in Company C of the 152nd Regiment of Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. After the war he returned to Fort Wayne and joined the Evans Dry Goods Store. He soon became a partner in the firm and by 1881 he had been named president of Evans, McDonald and Company located at the corner of Berry and Clinton streets.
It was in 1881 that he met James Jenney, the inventor of the “Jenney Arc Light,” one of the nation’s first electrical outdoor lighting systems. McDonald, a natural promoter and enthusiastic entrepreneur, was impressed by the potential of Jenney’s light and set up a demonstration in his warehouse. Mayor Charles Zollinger, the City Council, leading businessmen and a group of citizens watched while the warehouse was, as the news reports stated, “made as bright as the sun when the switches were thrown.” Although Fort Wayne leaders did not buy the apparatus, the idea caught on elsewhere, and the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company was formed with McDonald as its first president.
In his later years, McDonald became involved in numerous other Fort Wayne enterprises, such as the White National Bank, the Tri State Building and Loan Association, and the First National Bank. He built the Elektron Building on Berry Street and owned the Aveline Hotel, the finest hotel in Fort Wayne at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ranald T. McDonald died in 1898 and early in the nineteenth century, the Jenney Electric Light business was acquired by the General Electric Company.
In 1917, Myron Dessauer purchased McDonald’s West Wayne Street home. Dessauer and Samuel Wolf became owners of a store that became, by the mid-twentieth century, the finest and most fondly remembered department store in Fort Wayne – Wolf & Dessauer.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.