By Peyton Jones, Ph.D
William E. Beazley, shown center in the photo with his two sons, was born in London, England, in 1875. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music as a classically trained organist, Beazley emigrated to the United States and eventually settled with his wife, Margaret, in St. Petersburg, in 1925, during the height of the land boom.
For nearly a decade, Beazley played the organ at the city’s most prominent entertainment venues, including the La Plaza and Florida Theaters. But when the advent of “talkies” and the onset of depression left him out of work and penniless, Beazley, by then in his mid-fifties, found a new line of work.
The musician threw his creative energy into a machine he dubbed the “Whirlwind,” an innovative lawn mower that he had designed and prototyped in his garage. Beazley’s mower was different than its predecessors in that instead of blades that rotated vertically, the Whirlwind featured adjustable, horizontally spinning blades powered by a small electric motor. Lightweight enough for a child to handle, the Whirlwind easily cut a 13-inch swath through tall weeds and thick Florida turf.
After securing a patent for his rotary blade, the Beazley Power Mower Co. opened up shop at 1906 3rd Ave. S., and within a few years, Whirlwinds were cutting grass around the world, from the Panama Canal Zone to England, from Maine to Cuba. When William passed away in 1943, Margaret, along with her four children, operated the company until her death in 1964.
Beazley’s career straddled two historical eras. While post-WWII suburbanization created an ever-expanding market for lawn mowers, the related processes of urban renewal and redevelopment led to the demolition of the La Plaza and Florida Theaters and the destruction of a certain sense of place.
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