Cast Your Ballot in Willis L. Barnes’s Patent Model
An incredibly controversial, but immeasurably important Election Day is looming for us here in the U.S. Appropriately, within the last couple weeks, I happened to unpack a Ballot-Box patent model (below). This patent was granted to Willis L. Barnes, of Charlestown, Indiana, on October 15, 1878. Barnes’s Improvement in Ballot-Boxes claims that “the mechanism can be operated only when a ballot has been placed upon the receiving-fingers, and, when operated, will deposit the ballot in the box, close the box, register the ballot, and sound an alarm” (Patent No. 208,951), [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US208951A/en?oq=us208951).
One of the most interesting features of this patent model are the three revolving digits behind a glass window. Why would it be necessary to register the number of ballots that have been put into the box? Ballot-box stuffing, the act of adding ballots in order to skew results, was not an overly common occurrence, but it was still something many wanted to avoid. Barnes’s patent seems to safeguard against such illicit activities. It would have caused extreme suspicion if the number of votes within the box exceeded the number on the register.
Voter abuse was common around the time that Barnes was granted his patent. However, the Australian ballot was starting to be introduced in the United States (beginning in Louisville, Kentucky in 1888). Before the Australian, or secret ballot, voters would get their ballots from the respective political parties. It was common for each party to have different ballots, and therefore an individual’s vote was not secret. With the Australian ballot, voters received a standard, blank ballot with the candidate’s names and parties listed. The voter, often in private, placed a mark next to their choice. On one hand, the secret ballot decreased intimidation at the polls. However, the secret ballot also created an obstacle for illiterate citizens and may have led to more robust literacy tests.
The United States has certainly come a long way in how we vote. Today we use paper ballots with optical scans or electronic voting machines that store our votes directly into a computer’s memory. Our advancements in voting technology have overcome issues such as ballot-box stuffing, but in turn have left us vulnerable to other issues like hacking. It will be interesting to see how these issues will be combatted as time goes on.
Keyssar, A. (2009). The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. New York: Basic Books.
Harriet Ruth Tracy - Woman Inventor
During the nineteenth century, women made up just 1% of all inventors who received United States patents. Hagley is fortunate to have approximately 80 patent models representing women inventors out of the more than 5,000 models in the collection. Unfortunately, little is known about most of these women but there are exceptions.
For example, Mrs. Harriet Ruth Tracy (1834-1918) was both a prolific and successful inventor. While processing our new Rothschild Patent Model Collection, I was extremely pleased to see that we have her first patent! Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Tracy spent much of her life living in New York before moving to London where she later died after a very prominent career as an inventor.
Overall Mrs. Tracy received at least twenty-seven patents during the period of 1868 to 1915. Hagley’s patent model is for an improved crib-attachment for bedsteads with the objective “to furnish an improved bedstead and crib, so constructed and arranged that when the crib is not in use, and is pushed into its place in the bedstead, the said bedstead and crib shall present a neat and uniform appearance, giving no indication of the presence of the crib-attachment…” [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US74865A/en?oq=us74865)
Mrs. Tracy’s prominence as an inventor came not only from her seventeen patents on sewing-machines but also her six safety elevator patents. During the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, she displayed her lock-stitch and chain-stitch sewing machine in the Liberal Arts Building. What impressed everyone was her improved bobbin which held up to 1,000 yards of thread hence reducing the number of times the bobbin thread had to be replaced making it a time saver. Her sewing-machines were used in both domestic and industrial settings.
While her sewing machine was in one building on display, another one of her inventions was installed in the Woman’s Building. The “Tracy Gravity Safety Elevator” was selected for daily use because it had “automatic platforms that keep the shaft constantly closed, and prevent any person falling through it, or flames ascending it.” It was used to transport visitors to the roof-top restaurant.
Harriet Tracy’s inventions received extensive public acclaim in the Chicago Newspapers. The *Chicago Mail* said about her sewing machine “All ladies who see the machine are delighted with it and her other meritorious inventions and proud that a woman has accomplished what man failed to do…” Tracy spent her life inventing and managing her patents to great success.
Getting Clean: Soap Packaging
Collections of packaging materials have been growing in popularity over the past decades. Their popularity is likely linked to their increasing rarity due to their ephemeral nature which after using the product inside the packaging was then discarded. The museum has extensive packaging collections starting with its DuPont gunpowder containers through to more modern products.
One significant example is the Gerald A. and Arlene L. Fingerman Fabric Care Memorabilia Collection. This vast collection, which consists of a multitude of objects related to the business of getting clean. Portions of this collection have been transferred to library including trade cards that represent many of the products in the museum collection. Included are product packaging relating to laundry soap/detergent, bluing, naphtha soap, bath soap, cleaning fluid, spot removers, starch, borax, dish washing soap and a whole lot more! These products which primarily date to the 19th and 20th centuries were made in at least twenty-eight states including New York, California, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Montana, Michigan and more. Seventeen countries are represented include Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, England, Australia, Guatemala, Ireland and Malaysia giving it global representation.
The diversity in the collection is really wonderful ranging from familiar brands that still exist today such as ALL, Downy and Tide to those that are long gone but now not forgotten including one of my favorites – *Hippo Washing Powder* from Burlington, Iowa. Great name for laundry soap! Another personal favorite of mine is New York *Washing Gas* which was made in Cincinnati, Ohio. How did they ever come up with that name?
In addition to the soap boxes, the Fingerman collection contains many other items related to laundry including home dry cleaning machines, patent models, clothes pounders and more.
George May Phelps and the Magic of Smartphones
Are smartphones magic? As you hunch over your smart phone and scroll through your social media feed, do you ever stop for a moment and think just how in blue blazes does this thing work? Probably not. That is, until it *doesn’t* work.
Thanks to this job, I actually think about it a lot. As I continue opening boxes and cataloging the Rothschild patent model collection, each day I look at these steampunk-like contraptions and try to figure out how they work. I am constantly amazed by the genius of some of these men and women and the lasting impact of those old jumbles of wood and metal.
One of these “magicians” was George May Phelps. I recently discovered that Hagley owns the patent model for one of his most celebrated inventions, the Combination Printer. Not only is it the ancestor to that printer sitting there in your office, but many of the devices so critical to our Information Age owe a debt to its inventor—including that smartphone glued to your hand.
In the age of the telegraph, there were two ways to receive messages: write it down or connect the telegraph to a printer. Trouble was, both used Morse code. At least one trained operator was needed to send and another to translate the message. If the printer was used, another person called a “Grinder” turned a crank that powered the printer. The printers were complicated machines that often broke down, were difficult to repair, and slow and expensive to build.
Phelps fixed all that. An expert machinist that manufactured and assembled those ornery telegraph printers, Phelps was hired by The American Telegraph Company (later part of Western Union) in 1855. They recently bought the rights to a new type of printer and asked him to fix its problems. He took the best of the old machine, some of the new one, and added components of his own. In a rare moment of humility in the Age of Invention, he called it the “Combination” printer thereby recognizing how the other machines influenced his design.
Phelps’ improvements increased the speed, reliability, and durability of the machine. Best of all, no special operators were needed. Instead of Morse code, it used a lettered keyboard, printed in regular type, and its powerful electromagnets could be hooked up to any power source. It sent messages at about 60 words per minute on some of the highest traffic lines in the nation for decades. Even after printing over 5,000 miles of paper, the components showed little wear. One Phelps printer was still working into the 1920s! Do you expect *your* printer to work for 50-plus years?
Phelps is remembered as one of the leading inventors of early communications components. He worked closely with Thomas Edison—even going so far as to build some of his patent models. Besides the telegraph, Phelps’ designs ensured the success of the telephone and the stock ticker. Phelps even set New Yorker’s watches by creating a device that used a telegraph signal to drop a ball mounted on a pole high above the city skyline precisely at noon.
Seth Green’s Patent Model Hatched a New Industry in North America
Cataloging the patent model collection continues to be an interesting journey. A remarkable object crossed my desk earlier this month: Seth Green’s patent model for a Device for Hatching the Spawn of Fishes. Excuse the pun (or don’t), but this model allowed me to dive head first into the world of *pisciculture*: the controlled breeding and rearing of fish.
Seth Green, known today as the “Father of fish culture in North America”, was born on March 19, 1817 in Rochester, New York. As a young man he struck up friendships with the nearby Seneca Native Americans, who taught him about hunting and fishing. With a profound respect for nature instilled in him, Green learned about the lifestyle of fish through diligent observation.
Through his observations, Green realized that fish were not a limitless resource. For this reason, he dedicated much of his life to ensuring the rivers of New York State were restocked with fish for market and sporting purposes. His first endeavor was a fish market in Rochester, which he stocked by fishing the shores of Lake Ontario. During these fishing trips he observed the spawning of Atlantic salmon.
That observation set him off on a path to open his own hatchery in Caledonia, New York. He worked to propagate salmon and brook trout at first, but then in 1867 moved on to other species such as American shad. That same year is where our patent model comes in: his Device for Hatching the Spawn of Fishes (Patent No. 68,871).[Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US68871A/en?oq=us68871) Green says in his patent document that the apparatus “should be anchored in a current, for shad, but may be anchored in still water for certain other varieties of fish, and for frogs… The case must be open after dark, for shad, as the smaller fish which would take the young shad only feed during the day. This gives the young shad an opportunity to take care of themselves as nature dictates.”
Concurrently, Seth Green became the first New York State fish commissioner, working alongside Robert B. Roosevelt and Horatio Seymour. The trio worked together to create a regular restocking program for the state, using fish from Green’s Caledonia hatchery. But Green’s efforts weren’t just concentrated to New York State. He introduced shad down the East Coast as far as the Savannah River in Georgia, and even sent 12,000 shad to the Sacramento River in California.
Green passed away in 1888, but his name still lives on through the hatchery in Caledonia, which was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 2015. You can visit his grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, where you can also find the resting places of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
Who was the inventor known as the ‘Edison of Lancaster’?
This month we bring you back into the world of patent models with an inventor who has ties to a place many of Hagley’s visitors will be familiar with. Anthony Iske, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was a prolific inventor who didn’t seem to commit to one industry in particular. Rather, he held a variety of patents across multiple disciplines, totaling in over 200 patents! We are lucky enough to have one of his models in our collection.
This Improved Hospital-Bedstead (Patent No. 77,193) [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US77193A/en?oq=us77193) was patented by Iske on April 28, 1868. Iske states that “my invention consists in providing a means to enable an invalid to be relieved from the calls of nature without exertion on his part, and with ease to the attendant, and to facilitate the regulating or raising and lowering of the patient’s head and shoulders, and other minor additions and changes.”
Anthony Iske was born in Alsace, France on April 28, 1832 to a machinist father and a mother whose father was a cabinetmaker. After apprenticing in his grandfather’s cabinetmaking business, he assumed its management. One of his specialties was in the construction and decoration of altars. It seems as though Iske’s skills were well-known, even across the sea in the United States. In 1853, he received a letter from a priest suggesting that he come to Lancaster because a skilled craftsman was needed for the construction of a new church.
He obliged, and made his way to the United States. The letter had requested he come to Lancaster, New York. By mistake, Iske found himself in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Regardless, Iske’s skills made him invaluable, and he easily found work constructing altars and pulpits. He settled permanently in Lancaster, never exploring the original opportunity in New York.
Eventually, Iske put most of his focus on his inventions, the variety of which is truly astounding. He is most well-known for patenting the first meat cutter or slicer, as well as a widely-used fire extension ladder. Other inventions include a cigar press, a door bell, [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US378317A/en?oq=us378317), motors, velocipedes, and fire alarms.
His son, Albert, was also included on a number of the patents. These included a milk-protector, a cork-driver, [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US491052A/en?oq=us491052), a device for holding fire alarm keys, and a reversible window sash.
The patents listed above only skim the surface of what Anthony Iske achieved before his death in 1920. A quick Google search of Anthony and/or Albert Iske will retrieve pages and pages of results… It really is no wonder that Anthony Iske was known as the ‘Edison of Lancaster’.
Inventor Emily Evans Tassey and The Hunt for Red October
Skip Tyler: “This, this could be a caterpillar.”
Jack Ryan: “A what?”
Tyler: “A caterpillar drive. Magnetohydrodynamic propulsion. You follow?”
Tyler: “It’s like a, uh, jet engine for the water. Goes in the front, gets squirted out the back.”
That little exchange is from one of my favorite movies called *The Hunt for Red October*. Based upon a book by Tom Clancy, it features Alec Baldwin as a CIA analyst trying to locate a Russian nuclear submarine captained by Sean Connery. The sub’s engines, described above, sucks in water at the front and squirts it out the back making the sub so quiet that it is virtually undetectable by the US Navy. Little did I know that I would run across an invention by Emily Evans Tassey way back in 1876 that does the same thing! And Hagley holds not one, but two models, from this groundbreaking female inventor.
Born in 1823, Tassey’s father was a merchant who owned a textile mill as well as a general store and post office in the town of McKeesport near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Educated at Steubenville Seminary in Ohio, she taught school in her hometown and later at Pittsburgh High School. At age 21, she married lawyer William D. Tassey and had three children. William died unexpectedly while on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. A widower by age 34, she moved back to Pittsburgh and started teaching again to support her family.
By age 52 she returned to her hometown and began inventing. She did not have to wander far for inspiration. By then, McKeesport was one of the fastest growing municipalities in the country. The local steel mill, as well as the steel industry as a whole, was booming. Barges full of coal, ore, and finished steel products as well as steamboats carrying cargo and passengers plied the rivers around Pittsburgh. As the first dry-docks in the area were built in McKeesport in 1836, shipbuilding and repair also became important industries. In only four years, from 1876 to 1880, Tassey would earn five patents—all related to marine technology.
Like many women inventors, Tassey did not become rich or famous through her inventions. Sadly, she ran afoul of the law in her later years. By age 62, she was found guilty of erasing and changing figures in her brother’s account ledgers to keep from paying the store clerk his full salary. Later, she was charged with larceny and receiving stolen goods and paid a hefty settlement for violating a contract.
Still, Emily Tassey’s unique contributions to American innovation deserve respect and recognition. Who knows what other inventors looked at her ideas and found inspiration for their own? Visitors to Hagley’s exhibit, *Nation of Inventors*, will see Tassey’s model, learn her story, and perhaps find their own inspiration. Maybe the next Tom Clancy will be one of them!
What do bees, spiders, and sheep have in common? An inventor!
On November 26, 1872, Alvah Washburn patented an Improvement in Paper-Folding Machines. His invention “consists of a series of light folding-frames hinged on the top of a table, and provided with operating-gear actuated by a cam-shaft, which said frames are arranged in such order and sizes relatively to each other that a printed sheet delivered on the table over all the folding-frames by the depositors of a printing-press will be folded in the order of folding it by hand and thrown off the machine by another frame similar to the folding-frames…” (Patent No. 133,393). [Patent Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US133393A/en?oq=us133393)
I’m not exactly sure what attracted me to this model in the first place. Perhaps because it was visually interesting? This model is incredibly detailed with its intricate, latticed surface and different sized folding frames. Or perhaps because I liked the name “Alvah”? Whatever the case, the model and invention prompted me to perform a quick search on the inventor.
It turns out that Mr. Washburn was known as “the Tinker” within his hometown of Medina, Ohio. This nickname may be appropriate, as his interests and professions seemed to vary. He was co-founder of the Medina Foundry Company, but also at one time worked with the A.I. Root Company. The A.I. Root Company, still in operation today, specialized in bee keeping and bee products. Washburn is mentioned and praised in a monthly “Bee Culture” volume for his help in apiary construction (first column, last paragraph). The volume proclaims that his skills “are destined soon to make him better known to the world.”
And he certainly did have an impact on the world of invention. Washburn also held patents for a Machine for Grinding Spiders (Patent No. 244,010: don’t worry, not the arachnid, this was more of a polishing wheel for a mechanical part called a “spider”), an Improvement in Machines for Shearing Sheep (Patent No. 59,103), and a Machine for Dressing Feathers (Patent No. 65,782). Washburn also reissued his Improvement in Paper Folding Machines in 1873. Quite an array of patents!
Alvah Washburn is a wonderful example of the unexpected research potential of some patent models. Sometimes, it’s possible to become interested in a certain model by looks or patent document alone, conduct an internet search, and have nothing of great substance turn up. Some inventors have, unfortunately, been lost to time so far.
But, once in a while, you get lucky and find the town “Tinker”.
[Patent 244,010 Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US244010A/en?oq=us244010)
[Patent 59,103 Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US59103A/en?oq=us59103)
[Patent 65,782 Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US65782A/en?oq=us65782)
Farming-Related Patent Models
As the United States grew westward during the nineteenth-century, growing crops for food and other uses became extremely important. The fall harvest season is an excellent time to look at Hagley’s growing collection of farming-related patent models.
So far there are more than fifty patent models which are primarily related to improving machines and tools for growing corn, potatoes, grain, hay, cotton, and tobacco. The most prevalent include a variety of plows, cultivators, and stump pullers for preparing land for planting. Most of the stump pullers are machines. Later, DuPont advertised explosives for a much quicker way to remove stumps from fields.
These patents represent quite a diversity of patentees located in twenty states from New York to Georgia to California with a very large concentration from the Midwest. Three countries are even represented including France, Austria and Canada. The only woman patentee was from Canada - Pauline Herse’s 1879 Improvement in Cockle-Separator which was used in grain processing.
Hagley is fortunate to have one of Lewis Miller’s patent models. Miller (1829-1899), a prominent inventor with more than ninety patents is represented with his 1878 Improvement in Grain-Binders patent model. This is a harvesting machine with an automatic binder attached. From Akron, Ohio, Miller was well-known for his improvements to farm machinery. Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006, he also held a connection with another famous inventor as his daughter Mina married Thomas Edison. Passionate about continuing education, he was one of the co-founders of the Chautauqua Institution which still exists today.
In Case of Fire…Disassemble Bed?
In our home, the kids’ bedrooms are on the second floor. None of these rooms have a porch or roof below their windows. Although that decreases the likelihood that my kids will sneak out as teenagers, in an emergency the kids would have a long and dangerous jump to safety.
Cue an internet search for escape ladders. Yikes! Those things are expensive! Not to put a price ceiling on our kids’ safety, but perhaps there was a cheaper option. Sure enough, I found several unused ladders for sale on-line. A slightly awkward, socially-distanced cash transaction between two anti-coronavirus masked strangers later, and my wife and I could sleep better knowing that in the event of a fire our kids could escape.
Months later, I cataloged a patent model from the Rothschild collection that offered a similar—yet unique—alternative to doing a sidewalk swan dive out of a burning building. In 1879, Frederick Swinden and Alfred Buxton of Naugatuck, Connecticut received a patent for a combination bedframe and escape ladder. The bedframe consisted of four iron ladders laid side by side. A separate iron rod secured the ladders to a wood box to complete the bedframe. Conical springs attached to the bottom surfaces of the ladder supported the mattress. (Mattress not included)
In case of fire or other emergency, the mattress could be thrown off and the rod connecting the ladders to the bedframe withdrawn. First, the user located the ladder with chains attached to the top. The withdrawn rod was fed through two hoops at the end of the chains. The iron rod spanned the width of the window frame to hold the ladder in place. The other three ladders had hooks on the top so that they could be hooked onto the bottom rung of the other sections of ladder as necessary. If that was not enough to reach the ground, the inventors attached another length of ladder on each section that could be swung out from underneath thereby doubling the length.
The springs also had a role in the safety ladder configuration. Not only did the they cushion and steady the ladder against the building, but by pushing the ladder away from the building slightly, the springs made it easier for the user to grip the rungs tightly while preventing scraped-up knuckles from the building’s facade.
This sounds like an ingenious design. I was surprised to learn that this bed/ladder combo was not a novel concept in 1879. Swinden and Buxton state that “we are aware that a bed-bottom composed of ladders having helical springs, adapted to support the bedding, and serving as fenders to hold the ladder from the wall, is not new…”. But the use of the rod to hold the bedframe together, its function as an anchor for securing the ladder to the window frame, as well as the addition of a second jointed section of ladder beneath the primary, made their contributions to the design unique. And worthy of a patent: [Link](https://patents.google.com/patent/US211275A/en?oq=us211275)
I do not know if this bedframe was ever used in “large hotels, hospitals, and other frequented places”, as the inventors intended. But if it were available today, I might have considered buying it for my second-floor guest room. Not for my kids’ rooms, though. They might try to use it to sneak out!