Civil War Survivor: Sanford S. Burr


Sanford S. Burr

Winnetka’s most inventive Civil War veteran was Sanford S. Burr, who was born in Foxborough, Massachusetts in 1839. He attended college at Dartmouth, where he was still a student when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted on June 20, 1862 as a Captain with the Rhode Island Volunteers, 7th Squadron.

While relatively little is known about his short military service, records indicate that Burr was likely wounded in battle. He was mustered out of the Union army after only three months.

After his short military service, Burr returned to Dartmouth. He married Eliza J. Osgood on December 6, 1863 in Dunbarton, New Hampshire. The couple moved to Dedham, Massachusetts and had four children: Carrie (born in 1866), Hermon, Mabel, and Frank.

While living in Massachusetts, Burr worked in the furniture business and started drawing designs of household inventions. In 1868, he received a patent for the Burr Folding Bed, likely the first folding bed invented in the U.S. (invented decades before the popular Murphy wall bed hit the market). After receiving his first patent, Burr became a full-time inventor and furniture dealer, inventing creative designs such as a folding cabinet bed, a convertible crib/table, and a collapsible bathtub, to name a few.

Sanford S. Burr’s first U.S. patent for the Burr folding bed, 1868. This patent is now located in the WHS archives.

Portrait of Sanford S. Burr, c. 1870s

In 1880, the Burr family moved to Winnetka, purchasing the newly built house at 560 Elm. Burr continued his career as an inventor while becoming increasingly involved in Village government. He served as Village president from 1888 to 1891, and became the first president of the Winnetka Library Board. Burr’s oldest daughter, Carrie, married prominent Winnetkan Carleton Prouty. Notably, in 1932, she co-founded the Winnetka Historical Society.

Once their children were grown, Sanford and Eliza Burr spent more time at the family’s home in South Haven, Michigan. They eventually sold their house in Winnetka and moved to South Haven full-time. Shortly after, Burr’s health deteriorated, and he moved into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He died of cardio hypertrophy in Milwaukee on July 20, 1901. He was buried near the family’s home in South Haven.

Thanks to Carrie Burr Prouty’s early involvement in the Winnetka Historical Society and her generous donations, WHS now houses several of Sanford S. Burr’s original patents. In addition, WHS is home to the first prototype of the Burr Folding Bed, which he presented at the Philadelphia World’s Fair in 1876.

Carrie Burr Prouty c 1935

Read about Winnetka’s extraordinary women, including Carrie Prouty Here!

Original prototype for the Burr Folding Bed, c. 1868. This prototype is now located in the WHS archives.