Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three Patents, Three Inventors

On November 23, 1897, there were three patents issued that improved transportation and enhanced our ability to communicate our ideas.

Pencils are a wonderful invention.  They are cheap, readily available, enabling - and almost worthless without a way to sharpen them.  By 1897, there had been many patents for pencil sharpeners - and all of them improved over using a jack-knife to whittle down the point.  But Mr. John Lee Love, a serial inventor from Fall River, Massachusetts had a better idea. He invented a very simple, portable pencil sharpener that many artists use to this day.  The pencil was put into the opening of the sharpener and rotated circumferentially by hand.  One advantage is that the shavings stayed inside the sharpener.  The invention had two gears and a blade to sharpen the Pencil as shown in the drawing.  Mr. Love was awarded U.S. Patent No. 594,114 for his invention.

In 1897, no one had yet figured out a safe, easy way to couple railroad cars together - and to decouple them when necessary - that is, until another serial inventor, Mr. Andrew Jackson Beard of Eastlake Alabama came along.  Mr. Beard invented the "Jenny Coupler," that allowed two railroad cars to hook together by simply bumping into each other.  In Mr. Beard's invention, a pair of "horizontal jaws engage each other to connect the cars," thus saving countless lives and limbs. Mr. Beard's invention is the very coupler used on railroad cars all over the world today. He was awarded U.S. Patent No. 594,059 for his invention but he never practiced it.  Instead, he sold the rights to his patent for $50,000, a tidy sum in those days.

If you want to build an electric trolley car, you might want to become familiar with U.S. Patent No. 594,286, awarded to Mr. Elbert R. Robinson, another serial inventor from Chicago IL.  Trolley cars are heavy.  So the electric motors that drive them draw a lot of electric current.  The problem was that the conventional wheels had too much electrical resistance.  Mr. Robinson solved the problem by casting a composite wheel from two different metals such as iron and brass wherein the brass was in a groove that made electrical contact with the track.  This invention permitted an entirely new way of constructing trolley wheels and enabled the wheels to draw current from an electrically charged track without heating up unnecessarily.  While Mr. Robinson's invention is no longer in use, it can be said that he made significant advances, not only to the art of building trolley cars but to materials science and metallurgy.

These three inventors were from different parts of the country and worked in different fields of endeavor but they had one thing in common.  All three were African Americans.

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