- "The Ralph Sprague Genealogy", by E. G. Sprague, page 161.
Charles Ezra Sprague was president of the Union Dime Savings Bank, 54 W. 32nd Street, New York.
"Dictionary of American Biography", edited by Dumas Malone, Volume XVII, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, 1935, page 471.
SPRAGUE, CHARLES EZRA (Oct. 9, 1842 - Mar. 21.1912), banker, writer on accountancy, teacher, was born at Nassau, NY., the son of the Rev. Ezra Sprague and his second wife, Elisabeth Brown (Edgerton) Sprague. He was a descendant of Ralph Sprague who emigrated from Dorsetshire, England, and arrived in Salem, Mass., in 1628. At fourteen he entered Union College, Schenectady, NY, where he took all prizes for which he was eligible and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at graduation in 1860. Later he received the degree of M.A. in course from Union University, for which he acted as alumni trustee, 1894-1898, and as life trustee from 1906 until he resigned shortly before his death. In 1862, after teaching at Greenwich Union Academy, he enlisted in the New York National Guard and saw active service in the Civil War until he was wounded at Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg. For meritorious service in that battle he was made a brevet colonel of the New York Volunteers. He served again in the New York National Guard, 1870-72, and 1897-1901; during the latter period he was assistant paymaster-general for the state of New York with the rank of colonel. From 1864 until 1870 he taught at Yonkers (N.Y.) Military Institute, Peekskill Military Academy, and Poughkeepsie Military Institute. He wrote numerous articles on military tactics, on which he became an expert, and because of his knowledge of British and Prussian methods was asked to aid the commandant of the United States Military Academy in revising the book of tactics used there.
In 1870, his career as a banker began. At that time his ability as an interpreter -he spoke sixteen languages, studying obscure ones and unusual dialects as a hobby - brought him a position as clerk with the Union Dime Savings Bank in New York City; seven years later he became secretary, then treasurer, and in 1892, president, the position which he held at his death. Becoming a skilled accountant during his clerkship, he was one of the first to qualify as a certified public accountant. He introduced from Great Britain the idea of having a board of examiners for public accountants and served as chairman of the New York board, 1896-98. Savings bank bookkeeping owes much to the systems which he devised or adapted. Always in search of new and more efficient ways of performing routine tasks, he introduced the use of the small check book and pass book, and loose-leaf ledger, designed the first machine (which he never patented) for the making of ledger entries, and worked out amortization methods that are widely used in savings banks. He was a moving spirit in the establishment of the New York University School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance, and found time in the midst of numerous other activities to teach evening classes there as professor of accountancy from 1909 until his death. Since his subject was without methods, texts, or other materials, he himself provided them for his students. Between 1900 and 1910 he wrote "The Accountancy of Investment (1904), "Extended Bond Tables (1905), "Problems and Studies in the Accountancy of Investment" (1906); "Logarithms to 12 Places (1910), "Amortization" (1908), "Tables of Compound Interest (1907), and "The Philosophy of Accounts" (1908), a fifth edition of which was published in 1922. His "The Algebra of Accounts" has appeared as early as 1880. Though he contributed articles on business to magazines and newspapers, he was interested also in such widely divergent matters as croquet, simplified spelling, Esperanto, Volapuk, and the revival of Gaelic, and wrote occasional articles on them as well. His wife was Ray Ellison of New York City (d. May 17, 1931), whom he married Apr. 2, 1866. Of their four children, all daughters, two survived his death. He died of pneumonia in New York City.
[Who's Who in America, 1912-1913; Who's Who in N. Y., 1911; Helen S. Mann, "Charles Ezra Sprague", 1931, with portraits; A. V. V. Raymond, "Union Univ", (1992), Vol. II; E. G. Sprague, "The Ralph Sprague Geneal.", (1913); obituary in N. Y. Times, Mar. 22, 1912.]
"Who's Who In American History", page 1165.
SPRAGUE, Charles Ezra, banker; b. Nassau, N.Y., Oct. 9, 1842; s. Ezra and Elisabeth B. (Edgerton) S.; A.B., Union Coll., 1860, A.M., 1884, Ph.D., 1893; Litt.D. Olivet (Mich) College, 1910; m. Ray Ellison, Apr. 2, 1866. Served in Union Army, becoming bvt. col. N.Y. Vols.; wounded and disabled at battle of Gettysburg. Certified pub. accountant under law of 1896; pres. Bd. Examiners for Public Accountants, 1896-98; connected with Union Dime Savings Bank, New York, 1870-. pres. 1892--, Prof. of accountancy, New York U. (Sch. of Commerce, Accounts and Finance), 1900. Inventor of devices and systems for savings bank and other bookkeeping. Mem. Am. Bankers' Assn. (pres. Savings Banks Sect. 1904-05). Author: Hand-Book of Volapük, 1888; The Accountancy of Investment, 1904; Extended Bond Tables, 1905; The Philosophy of Accounts, 1907; also many articles on lang. and bookkeeping. First Am. advocate of Volapü. Home: New York, N.Y. Died Mar. 21, 1912.
From Cecil R. Sprague III, correspondent, note of February 13th, 2008
Website with photo and story about Charles Ezra Sprague
Charles Ezra Sprague
In the Company Street Reminiscences of Gettysburg Poem composed for 50th regimental reunion, 1911 Sprague originally enlisted for three months service in Company R, 25th New York National Guard Infantry, in May of 1862. The three months expired before the young man's appetite for war had been satisfied, so at age 19, he enlisted as First Corporal in Company E. (1)
Charles Ezra Sprague was not a graduate of the Normal School. Born in Nassau, New York on October 9, 1842 to the Reverend Ezra Sprague, a Methodist Minister, and Elizabeth Brown Edgerton Sprague, he displayed a keen intelligence and appetite for learning very early in his childhood. At age of 8, he taught himself Hebrew by comparing English Bibles with Hebrew Bibles- beginning a lifelong affinity for language. (2)
Sprague enrolled at Union College at age 14, and at the time he was the youngest to ever attend the school. At Union, Classical Greek was his specialty, and in this area he was "years ahead of the nearest competitor." (3) He also learned Modern Greek later in life. He developed a novel method of learning new languages: he met new, and while talking with them, immersed himself into their language and forced himself to learn it.
Sprague attended Union with the benefit of the Nott Scholarship, which provided full tuition and fee coverage, plus a $10 stipend if certain standards were maintained. These conditions included: academic good standing, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. Charles Sprague observed these conditions to the fullest and maintained his scholarship throughout his years at Union. (4)
At Union, Sprague became active in fraternity life. He joined Alpha Delta Phi, an organization to which he remained close for the rest of his life. He served as National Secretary for the fraternity between 1896 - 1901, and as president ad interim in1897-'98 and 1901-'03. He also joined Phi Beta Kappa, an honorary scholastic fraternity, upon graduation from Union. Fellow student George W. Brown described Sprague as one of "the brightest and best equipped,despite his youth. He was never haughty or arrogant." (5) Sprague received his Master's degree from Union in 1862 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1893.
Charles Ezra Sprague, 1860 Union College graduate, in uniform, from Eugene Nash, A History of the Forty-Fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 384Sprague had been promoted to sergeant in January 1863. He remained with Company E until he was wounded in the left shoulder at Gettysburg. The injury, while not terribly serious, served as a painful and partially disabling reminder of the war. He was discharged for his wounds in March 1864, and in 1868 he was brevetted a Colonel in the New York Volunteers for "meritorious and gallant service at Gettysburg." (6) Despite this brevet, he enlisted as a private in the New York National Guard in 1870. In January 1872, Sprague won a lieutenant's commission, and was promoted to captain that June. He was honorably discharged from the National Guard on August 28, 1873. Sprague's final taste of military service came in 1897 when he was commissioned a Colonel to serve as Assistant Postmaster General for the State of New York. He left National Guard service for the last time in June, 1901.
The war exposed Sprague to military tactics, in which he became proficient, and he began teaching in military schools. After his discharge in 1864, and as soon as he was physically able, he joined the faculty of the Yonkers Military Institute, where he taught for two years. He also taught at the Peekskill Academy and the Poughkeepsie Military Institute. During this period of teaching, Sprague's proficiency in tactics grew to near levels of mastery. He published several articles in the "Army and Navy Journal," discussing and comparing U.S., British and Prussian tactics. He was also asked to confer with the Commandant of the United States Military Academy on the proposed revision of the Academy tactics manual. (7)
Sprague married Miss Ray Ellison of New York City on April 2, 1866. Together they had four daughters. Two of the girls died before reaching adulthood. Mr. and Mrs. Sprague traveled extensively to Europe, a total of 27 trips, and was primarily focused on Great Britain, where he observed and learned new business practices and improvements.
His interest in language continued, and he developed an interest in simplified spelling and universal languages like Esperanto and Volapuk, that would simplify communication in a world where communication and dealings between countries was becoming more important, especially in business. He made a special trip to Bavaria to visit the German priest, Father Johann Schleyer, who invented Volapuk. Since Sprague spoke sixteen languages at this time, Volapuk was not necessary for him, but he could see the larger impact such a language could have on society.
In 1870 Sprague began what was to be his true calling. He took a clerkship at the Union Dime Savings Bank in New York City. He obtained the job primarily because of his multi-lingual interpretive ability. In 1877 he became Secretary, and in the 1880s became Treasurer. Finally, in 1892 he became the Bank President, a position he held until his death in 1912. During his clerkship he had become skilled in accountancy. He was therefore one of the first to qualify as a Certified Public Accountant. His pioneering efforts in the certification process allowed him to sit on the Board of Examiners for CPAs in 1896-1898.
Sprague introduced many innovations to savings bank bookkeeping, including: the small bank passbook and checkbook; the loose leaf ledger; amortization methods; and the "automalogothotype," a machine that made automated ledger entries, thereby speeding and simplifying routine work and reducing errors of hand-made entries. Sprague failed to patent the creation, and its design was copied unashamedly. (8)
Also while connected to the Union Dime Savings Bank, Sprague recognized the need to train young men for life in business and commerce. He became instrumental in the founding of the School of Commerce, Accounts and Finance at New York University. He became a member of the faculty of this new school, teaching at night and without compensation. In class he was known for punctuality, precision and carefulness. His lectures were clear and extremely beneficial to the young students. There were no documented cases of students skipping one of Sprague's classes.
Sprague also published in the field of finance. He wrote several timely articles for banking and business magazines, and newspapers. He served as the associate editor for The Bookkeeper and The Journal of Accountancy. He published many books during his life, several of which were republished after his death, testifying to the value and contribution of his work. Sprague's works include: The Algebra of Accounts (1880); The Accountancy of Investment (1904); Extended Bond Tables (1905); Problems and Studies in the Accountancy of Investment (1906); and, The Philosophy of Accounts (1907).
Charles Ezra Sprague died of pneumonia, March 21, 1912. His close friend, Dean Johnson, head of New York University, said in memory:
He was a gentleman of the old school, courtly, sensitive, tactful; a man of wide culture with a genuine love for beauty in art and literature; a scholar without pride of attainment, but insistent in his love of scientific accuracy; a soldier, and in battle you felt that he would be a brave fighter; and in addition, a banker, an accountant, and a square, honorable, business man. (9)
1. Helen Scott Mann, Charles Ezra Sprague (New York: New York University, 1931), 12.
2. Ibid., 2.
3. Ibid., 3.
4. Ibid., 4.
5. Ibid., 9.
6. Ibid., 33.
7. Ibid., 38.
8. Ibid., 48.
9. Ibid., 67.