Most area inventions arise from need
"God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions -- Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, VII, 29"
|Charles L. Tolles of Eau Claire perfected the steam-filled logging tractor which became known as the Phoenix log hauler. Set on tracks, the tractor was originally used to pull sleighs of logs in the woods. in later years it was used to pull wagons of ore in the mining regions.|
all men are inventors for their own convenience, some have stirred the
imagination of others and directed the course of mankind.
Take Harry Miller. Or Charles Tolles. Clyde Schuyler Van Gorden, Roy Anderson, Jeremiah Burnham Tainter. Levi Pond. Joseph Antos. Yes, even Ray Woebbeking.
They are a few. There are others.
From Woebbeking's egg blower and peeler to "first" pre-fab homes by Van Gorden, the creations of these area inventors have earned a place in history.
Genius spans decades
genius spans decades, dating back to some time after Jeremiah Burnham Tainter
was born in 1836.
A talented engineer and draftsman, Tainter is recognized for developing and patenting the famous "Tainter Gate" system for controlling water on the rivers.
Born in Prairie du Chien where he lived until his marriage in 1878 to Margaret Cook, Tainter came to Menomonie and worked as a millwright for Knapp-Stout lumber company, once one of the world's largest. He later operated a livery stable and worked as a surveyor.
Used in many water control devices
The "Tainter Gate," is employed by more than 75 percent of the major water control facilities in North America, including such famous dams as the Prest Rapids, Grand Coulee, Columbia and Chief Joseph. Several smaller dams in the Eau Claire area also employ the system.
Tainter was the younger brother of Capt. Andrew Tainter of Menomonie whom he assisted in designing water control devices on streams and rivers.
He died in 1920.
Miller an automotive genius
Armenius Miller, the automotive genius, is said to have been so far ahead of
Detroit carmakers that in his time of need after the Great Depression none would
hire him because he was such a source of embarrassment.
Miller was born in Menomonie in 1875, the son of a German immigrant who had high hopes for his children in this land of opportunity. Young Miller crushed those aspirations when he deserted school at the age of 13 to take a job in a machine shop.
By the time he was 19, Miller had drifted to the West Coast, working in a bicycle ship in Los Angeles where he met his wife-to-be, Edna Lewis, then 16. While waiting for her to reach marriageable age, Miller worked in the shop and set up his own.
Returned to Menomonie
1897, when they were finally married, Miller brought his wife back to Menomonie
and took a job to which he commuted on a bicycle on which he had mounted a
one-cylinder engine. It is said to have been the first motorcycle, but Miller
never patented it.
The following year, he built a four-cylinder engine which he mounted on a rowboat and showed his fellow workers how to enjoy Sunday afternoons. This was the first gasoline outboard motor, but again, Miller failed to patent it. He claimed it never occurred to him.
Patented by another
did, however, to another young machinist at Menomonie. His name was Olie
Evinrude. He developed a similar engine to run on two cylinders, and became
father of the profitable outboard motor industry.
Miller returned to California in 1900 and took a job which he learned the foundry business. He later opened a piston factory.
Five years later he built his first automobile. In later years he developed and refined the famous Offenhauser racing engine and racing car driven by noted racer Barney Oldfield. The engine was his most notable accomplishment, but it embarrassed Detroit car makers. At a time when they were offering .25 HP per cubic inch, Miller was getting as much as 2.75. His "Special" automobile reportedly won 80 of 92 major races between 1922-29.
Somebody telling him how
did not claim responsibility for his inventions, once telling Leo Goossen, a
close friend and associate, that he got help, that somebody was telling him what
Goosen couldn't understand what he meant, but it didn't disturb him. Miller had shown some clairvoyant abilities for a long time, a side of himself he eventually had to withhold from his wife. She became upset when he would quote verbatim statements she was about to utter. The last straw, however, was when he accurately predicted the death two days away of a man he didn't know, just by looking at his picture. She became frightened and told him not to repeat such incidents.
Miller died May 3, 1943, a broken man. Once a millionaire, he lost his fortune during the Great Depression and never recovered.
Logging brought out inventions
lumbering industry in the valleys of this area presented certain problems to the
loggers, some which were not witnessed in other parts of the country.
One of the main concerns was the holding of logs in the river here until they could be run through sawmills.
The effort here consisted of the use of booms, structures, built into the water made of chain and anchored to piers or cribs filled with rocks set in the river and then heavy timbers bolted together.
This type was known as a jam-boom, but such structures obstructed raft and boat traffic in the river because they had to extend across to keep the logs from washing around the ends.
Problem solved by shear boom
problem was solved with the shear-boom, an invention credited to Levi W. Pond
and James Allen who in 1859 accepted a contract to construct a boom which would
not interfere with river traffic.
These two, in addition to being skillful and practical operators, were scientific inventors and by long, careful experimentation were able to work out details of a boom which would open and shut across the river independent of chairs, anchors or windlasses and without external aid.
Their boom was so constructed that it would swing upstream by itself and stretch across the river, holding itself against the headlong torrent and crushing masses of floating logs and driftwood as if firmly anchored to a rock-bound shore.
Boom idea is copied
they demonstrated the boom, it was copied by other loggers on the river and used
before Pond and Allen could apply for a patent.
Want of means to prosecute others for their use of the Pond's idea deterred him from obtaining a patent on his invention.
With the aid of the Eau Claire Lumber Company, application was made and because of the loss of time, it took a special act of Congress. The Pond received only $2,000 and that was from the association owning the boom upon which the experiments were made. They paid the sum for the privilege of using his invention and certified its public worth by saying, "It has stood the test of the highest freshets, is easily and cheaply constructed," and recommended to all who have occasion for such an invention.
Developing steam tractor
|Harry A. Miller, born in Menomonie, went on to become a genius in the automotive industry and was said by some to have been "far ahead of the Detroit carmakers," He also adapted gasoline engines to bicycles and boats. (Courtesy "Golden Age of American Racing Car."|
among the most significant inventors, in terms of his impact on the logging
industry, was Charles L Tolles, born Aug. 28, 1859, in Eau Claire.
Tolles developed, according to newspaper reports, the famous steam logging tractor, which saved thousands of man-hours for the logging industry.
Although not credited with its invention, Tolles is said to have followed up on an idea proposed by a Waterville, Conn., man and made it work.
The story of the Phoenix Manufacturing Co. tractor is that Tolles, an employee of the company for 50 years, had heard about the experiments by a Mr. Lombard and curios, traveled east to meet him.
Convinced it would work
returned convinced it would work, and in 1903 proved it with construction of the
first one. It was sold to Northwestern Lumber Co., at Stanley.
More than 100 were later manufactured by Phoenix, some sold to Russia, Alaska and Canada. At the time of Tolles' death, in 1927, he was suing the British for royalties on the tractor, which they were manufacturing for use as tanks.
The outcome of the suit could not be learned.
Clyde Schuyler Van Gorden was born in 1892, son of a Hixton merchant. Van Gorden, who died in 1975, left his imprint on the home construction and boat building industries.
He also pioneered in radio, giving the area its first radio station in 1922. He invented such things as attic vents, dust mops and a gun bluing agent still marketed by his son, S. H. (Bunk) Van Gorden and his wife, Eileen, 120 10th Ave.
Van Gorden is described by his son and daughter-in-law as a dabbler. "He was always doing something. He always had his chemistry books out," said Mrs. Van Gorden. His attitude was, she noted, that "anything you bought you could always build cheaper."
Primarily self-taught, Van Gorden developed, on his own, nearly all the equipment used to operate a radio station which first broadcast from Osseo, then in Eau Claire, until he sold it in 1937.
Built prefabricated homes
that, the idea of prefabricated homes struck him. He used plywood, then a
relatively new building material, and built the first house in 1940.
Thereafter, the houses, said to be the first in the nation, were built and sold
as far away as Iowa.
The last "Van Home", as they were known, was built in 1966. It was a three-bedroom, 1 1/2 story home that sold for $9,000.
While he was in the home building trade, he applied the concept of building with plywood to boat manufacturing, developing many designs and earning seven patents. Prior to the plywood boat, most were built with wooden slats. They had to be kept in the water to maintain their water tightness.
Quit when fiberglass started
fiberglass came on the market, Van Gorden quit the boat building industry in
In 1940, Van Gorden had invented roof vents to solve the problem of attic condensation, created by introduction of insulation in home building. The vents, placed under the eaves, allow the attic to breath.
A federal housing inspector, who learned of Van Gorden's attic vents came to Eau Claire and discovered the prefab houses. Van Gorden became the first to receive federal housing loans on them.
Sold out rights to mop
Gorden also developed a removable, washable-type dust mop. He sold more than
100,000 of them before selling the rights to O'Cedar Mop Co.
Before his death, Van Gorden recalled spending many sleepless nights thinking about his ideas, but never considering himself an inventor.
"Just lucky," he laughed.
Machine administered anesthesia
Anderson, born in 1897, died this past February at the Heritage Home in Hammond
at the age of 78. He is credited with inventing a machine for administering
anesthesia in 1926 and one used in open heart surgery about four years ago. The
latter is used at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
At 61, Joseph Antos, a native of Hatfield, lays claim to several inventions in the field of photography. His latest is a machine which he calls an image blender. It functions with slides to give the impression of a moving picture.
Antos now lives on a 40-acre plot at Big Rock, Ill., where he spends some time photographing animals. But much of this time is spent lecturing around the country and building the image-blenders which are in such demand he can't keep up.
Plans bicentennial project
bicentennial project, Antos has included the Hatfield area in a film
presentation called "Magnificent Land". The 65-minute, fast-moving
geographical perspective of the 48 mainland states is done with the image
Photography is Antos' primary interest. He is still perfecting his inventions. In 1974, he developed a new technique for automatically projecting full-frame stereo slides taken with twin cameras.
As early as 1945, Antos applied for a patent on an automatic slide projector, said to be the first in the world. He was granted the patent in 1950. He is credited with developing the first automatic slide projector with sound synchronization.
With little formal education, Antos became a licensed professional engineer in the State of Illinois by passing that state's engineering examination. Antos' formal education consists of grade schooling at Komensky Grade School, near Hatfield.
At the age of 20, he was already an inventor, receiving his first patent on the "first" lateral shift blade for road graders which allowed operators to grade far to one side while remaining on solid ground.
Sequel to best seller, "Egg and I"
Ray Woebbeking, Leader Telegram reporter Tom Lawin wrote in the June 6, 1975
issue that one day Woebbeking may write a "sequel to the best-seller of
years ago, "The Egg and I."
Woebbeking, 46, of Rt. 1, Conrath, could be the seventh person to receive a patent on a device to peel hard or soft-boiled eggs.
Woebbeking is being assisted in getting a patent by the Raymond Lee Organization Inc., of New York City, a company that specializes in helping inventors market their creations.
While it's his only invention to date, the Flambeau school district mechanic has spent more than $1,500 on attorney, patent and inventor assistance fees for his device.
Removes eggs cleanly
consists of a plastic bellows from an air mattress pump, a homemade metal ring
to hold the egg, a plastic funnel and a coffee cup. Woebbeking succeeded in
securing sufficient vacuum and air from the bellows to blast a cleanly boiled
egg from its shell into a cup below.
Woebbeking, like other inventors is serious about his contraption as evidenced by the money he's spent on it. And while he doesn't know what it's all going to boil down to, "I don't intend to spend $1,500 and forget about it. I might as well spent $2,500 and forget about it," he noted in the 1975 article.
-- Sam Daleo
Extracted from the Eau
Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.