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An inventor's lot is not a happy one

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720724.  Fri Jun 18, 2010 8:06 am Reply with quote

Dedicated Qi enthusiasts will no doubt be aware of the story of Thomas Midgley, but while he profited from his inventions (until perhaps his last one), others didn't do so well.

To kick this off, how about we look at the highly influential Walter Hunt.

Who? you may well ask, but millions, perhaps billions of people around the world benefitted from his inventions.

Walter first started inventing in his teens, but never seemed to realise the importance of some of his inventions. It wasn't until he was 30 that he patented a machine for spinning flax which he drew up years before, and went on to patent a gong for fire engines, a forest saw and a stove to burn hard coal, as well as a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, synthetic stone, road-sweeping machinery, bicycle improvements, ice plows and paper collars for shirts.

OK, those things wouldn't have made him a millionnaire, but in 1833 he also invented the modern sewing machine, but decided not to patent or manufacture it because the US was going through a depression and he didn't think it was right to create a machine that replaced jobs. Elias Howe patented a very similar machine over a decade later and became known as the inventor of the modern sewing machine. However, because of a number of lawsuits and arguments over patents, Isaac Singer agreed to pay Hunt $50k in 1858 for his design, but he died before receiving it.

One day, in April 1849 he found himself owing a friend $15, and trying to think of something to sell which would cover the debt, he took an 8-inch length of brass wire, coiled it in the center, and shielded the clasp at one end. He called it a "dress pin" and within three hours sold the rights to his invention for $400.

This became known as the safety pin, sold by the billions every year.

1849 was actually a good year for Hunt, he also invented the first repeating rifle (a precursor of the Winchester).

Walter hunt died as he lived, unrecognised, and working on yet another invention at his workbench.

720752.  Fri Jun 18, 2010 9:07 am Reply with quote

Fabulous. You immediately think "How come I´ve never heard of him?"

720861.  Fri Jun 18, 2010 8:13 pm Reply with quote

Fascinating - thanks, CB

722422.  Wed Jun 23, 2010 8:14 am Reply with quote

Perhaps not stricly an inventor, but pioneer, Horace Wells is another sad character who seemingly failed in his lifetime, but benefitted millions, porbably billions since.

Wells studied Dentistry in Boston in the early half of the 19th century, at a time when dentistry mostly meant extracting teeth with pliers or a tooth key and nothing to dull the pain, when extracting a bad tooth often resulted in damage and extraction of healthy teeth and sometimes bits of jawbone, and deaths from infection weren't uncommon.

He set up a practice with William Morton and looked to live an uneventful life until one night in December 1844, when he took his wife to a circus act by “Professor” Gardner Quincy Colton. The act consisted of audience members volunteering to inhale laughing gas and amuse the rest of the audience with their seemingly drunk antics. On this night, one of the participants ran into the audience chasing an imaginary enemy. When he returned to his seat, he realized he had a lacerated leg, but didn’t start to feel pain until the effects of the gas wore off.

Wells was intrigued and invited the "Professor" to his practice to see if this could help in tooth extraction, and it worked well. From then on the two became partners and Horace treated several patients using the Nitrous Oxide gas, with great effects.

His practice partner, Morton, a man who seemed keen to make money, urged him to go public with his discovery and Wells reluctantly agreed to give a demonstration and a lecture Massachusetts General Hospital. The demonstration wasn't completely smooth as not enough gas was used, but the patient still admitted that he felt considerably less pain. However, he was laughed out and booed by the assembled doctors.

Humiliated, Wells sold his practice and became a travelling salesman, selling canaries, shower baths and other items. Two years later his ex partner, Morton, successfully demonstrated the use of anaesthesia, this time using Ether, and Wells decided to leave the US altogether and move to France.

He decided to start experimenting with Chloroform and came back to the US to develop his ideas. Unfortunately, his continued tests of Chloroform on himself made him deranged and in early 1848 he suddenly rushed out onto the streets and threw Sulfuric Acid over the clothing of two prostitutes. As he sat in prison, the influence of the drug waned, and his mind started to clear. In despair, he realised what he'd done and decided to commit suicide by slitting an artery in his leg with a razor after inhaling an analgesic dose of chloroform to blot out the pain. He died 3 days after his 33rd birthday.

It was not until several years after his death that he was recognised as the discoverer of modern anaesthesia.

His ex partner, Morton, went on to make his money from his work and was lauded for his discoveries and contributions to medicine, including a 1944 film "The Great Moment".

722625.  Wed Jun 23, 2010 5:31 pm Reply with quote

An inventor I like, of sorts:
austinallegro wrote:
A chap I like-
Every now and again, history throws up an individual so eccentric and remarkable that they deserve to become part of modern folklore. Albert Coombs Barnes is one such person, but sadly his renown is nowhere near as great as it should be.

Barnes was born in 1872 in Philadelphia, the son of a butcher. He paid his own way through university where he excelled in chemistry. As a young man he developed a treatment for gonorrhoea (rumour had it to cure his own) that proved so successful that he was able to retire, a millionaire, at the age of 35.

He subsequently founded the Barnes Foundation, which acted as an art collection and cultural centre. He also funded projects for the underprivileged of his home city. And he certainly knew his art from his elbow, the foundation included works by Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse and many Renoirs, much of which he had bought for bargain prices.

Access to this formidable art collection could only be achieved by writing to Barnes to request permission. Applicants who had, for whatever reason, incurred the ire of the great man would often receive rejection letters from Barnes’ dog, Fidele. Here is one such letter:

"Madame, I have received your letter of the –th, asking for leave to visit my master’s Foundation. Unhappily, being young and poor, my master was treated in a hospital founded by your family. As a result of intimate relations with one of the nurses he contracted a venereal disease. He has never forgotten this, and is therefore obliged to refuse your request."

He was also a strong supporter of the black rights movement in America and would frequently receive visitors of all colours at his home in Philadelphia. When this brought protests from his neighbours (this was 1930s America) he pointed out that he owned the land they lived on and threatened to build a hospital for the black community right in the middle of the richest district in town. This soon shut them up.

My favourite Barnes story was when a rich socialite couple came to visit the Foundation. They were met by the janitor who was busy washing the floors. They then proceeded to loudly criticise the Renoirs and Cezannes on display, at which point the janitor manhandled them off the premises. He, of course, turned out to be Barnes himself.

728165.  Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:23 am Reply with quote

And now onto another inventor who did so much to improve our lives, but lost out on fame and fortune.

Whitcomb L. Judson was born in 1844 in Chicago and worked as a travelling salesman before going to work for Harry Earle in his manufacturing firm.

In his 40s Whitcomb suddenly became inventive, taking out several patents for street railways among other things, but it was a friend's bad back and the fashion for boots which needed lacing up which led him to invent in 1890 a "Clasp Locker", which allowed the wearer to fasten up their shoe (or other item of clothing) by pulling on a tab which was attached to a "guide" that ran along a series of hooks and eyes.

His first patent was almost rejected because the patent officer didn't understand that the mechanism was different from other shoe fasteners. Whitcomb improved the design a couple of years later and applied for a patent again, by which time the patent officer relented and approved both patents on the same day, though the improved patent is actually on the patent register before the original (USP 504037 and 504038).

The design had it's public debut in the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and Whitcomb became partners with his former employer (Harry Earle) and future US representative for Kentucky Lewis Walker. Unfortunately, because of design flaws and manuacturing errors, the clasp never really took off and Whitcomb never saw any success from it by the time he died in 1909.

Three years prior to Whitcomb's death, a Swedish engineer came to work in his company, called Gideon Sundback. After marrying the daughter of the plant manager he was promoted to head designer of the company and redefined Whitcomb's original design by replacnig hooks and eyes with teeth. He patented this design in 1913 as well as a further improvement in 1917, and struck a deal with the US Army to apply these new fasteners to clothing for troops in WWI.

The deal with the US Army helped popularise the hookless fastener and several companies began to use it in their clothing, including BF Goodrich Co, who's CEO delighted in the ease with which he could fasten the new galoshes and exclaimed "Zip 'er up!".

The name stuck and the new fasteners became known as zippers.

732023.  Sat Aug 07, 2010 4:48 am Reply with quote

I've heard a tale about the 'inventor' of the refrigerator (there was not it seems really ever one person responsible) but it seems to be "apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate". I shan't repeat the story here and indeed I can't find it on the net so it's probably not even a well known piece of GI.

For the sake of completeness what actually happened in the journey that lead to the fridge began with William Cullen

The first known artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in 1748. However, he did not use his discovery for any practical purpose. In 1805, an American inventor, Oliver Evans, designed the first refrigeration machine. The first practical refrigerating machine was built by Jacob Perkins* in 1834; it used ether in a vapor compression cycle.

The discovery of Freon (1928), which gave a 'safe' household version of the refrigerator (until we found out about the effects of CFCs) was the result of a collaborative effort between three american corporations.

* American born, resident in England from 1818 to his death in 1849

732027.  Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:21 am Reply with quote

Ahh, Freon, brings back memories of the most evil man in history, Thomas Midgely :)

732034.  Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:57 am Reply with quote

Yes indeed, not the tale I had in mind however which seems to be, as I suggested above, a complete pile of sloblock.


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