Scientific American, v 74 (ns), no 2, p 18-19, 11 January 1896
Alfred Ely Beach
When this issue of the Scientific American reaches our readers many of them will have already been apprised by the daily press of the death of Mr. Alfred Ely Beach, one of the members of the firm of Munn & Company, and for fifty years a leading figure in the world of science and invention. When a prominent member of a great business dies, his record in the business world is usually of ephemeral interest, in the sense that his works perish with him. But in the case of Mr. Beach it is different. In the works of his life, in his inventions -- many made at so early a date as to be some decades ahead of the proper time for their development -- in his services in the world of science as one of the proprietors and virtually a co-founder of the scientific publications of his firm, in the work represented by the thousands of patents procured by his firm for the inventors of America during the last fifty years -- in these, his life's work is of perennial character, and his services to humanity will not soon be forgotten, while the Scientific American will endure as a monument of the life's work of his firm. In speaking of his death to our readers we feel that the loss is theirs as well as ours, and that among the numerous clientage of inventors who have profited by the counsels of this firm, and of scientific students who have found in the Scientific American their weekly pabulum, will be found an army of devoted friends and true mourners.
Alfred Ely Beach was born in 1826 in Springfield, Mass. His death occurred on January 1, 1896, from pneumonia. His father, Moses Y. Beach, was one of the prominent figures in the life of old New York. He was the founder and for many years the proprietor of the New York Sun. His son received his education at the celebrated academy in Monson, Mass.
The Reverend Alfred Ely, a distant relative, from whom Mr. Beach was named, was the Presbyterian clergyman of the town, and Mr. Beach was placed under his guardianship. After graduation from the academy the father took his son into the Sun office, and under his father's direction he received the thorough training in the publishing business which left him so well equipped for what was to be his life work. It was a rare treat to hear Mr. Beech tell of his early experiences in the forties, when the electric telegraph was slowly coming into use, when the first railroads and steamships were making their entry into the world, and when the habits of life in old New York were less cosmopolitan than now.
In the Monson Academy, which was one of the leading educational institutions of the country, Mr. Orson D. Munn, with whom Mr. Beach has been associated for a few weeks less than half a century, had been a schoolfellow of Mr. Beach. In 1846 the two young men entered into partnership, purchasing the Scientific American. The paper was then but a small affair. It had been started on August 28, 1845, by Rufus Porter, a strange, many-sided genius, who found room in the columns of the new journal not only for science, but for poetry, and for moral and religious items. The issue of July 23, 1846, was the first to appear with the title of the new firm of Munn & Company as proprietors, and Rufus Porter as editor.
Another interesting point is brought out by an announcement made at this early date in the columns of the new journal to the effect that patents could be secured through the Scientific American Patent Agency. Mr. Beach, having an inborn taste for mechanics, became at once interested in the inventors of this country and gave his best work and thought in securing for them their rights from the Patent Office.
In 1846 the profession of patent solicitors was hardly known. Most of the work in this city had been done by Mr. Sickles, the father of General Daniel Sickles, and a lawyer by the name of Seth Staples.
During the year 1846 less than 600 patents were issued. The inventors of the United States were just starting on their career which has brought about the issue of more than 20,000 letters patent annually for the past ten years.
Between the years 1850 and 1860, it was Mr. Beach's custom to go to Washington every two weeks, to personally attend to the applications pending in the Patent Office, which had been filed by Munn & Company as a firm, and no solicitor was better known at the Patent Office than he.
Later, as the business of soliciting patents assumed larger proportions, it became necessary to establish a branch office at Washington, which is still kept up with a corps of some twenty employees. The Scientific American meanwhile grew in size and interest, and with the patent department ad an adjunct, the incessant labor of the two partners was often prolonged far into the night, and the Scientific American became a unique figure in the world of journalism. It formed a complete review of the world's progress in science, its bound volumes forming semi-annual records of permanent value. It seemed desirable that much of the interesting matter which had appeared in the paper during the year should be put in book form, and in 1872 the "Science Record," an illustrated octavo volume of 590 pages, compiled mostly by Mr. Beach, was first published. The "Science Record," in addition to numerous articles and notes on science and invention, contained biographical sketches, with portraits, of noted men of science. Thus, in the volume of 1873, now before us, we find a beautiful steel engraving of Professor Joseph Henry, woodcuts of Tyndall, Peirce, Dana, Morse, Kirchhoff, and Bunsen, men prominent in the world of science, and of Judge Nelson, of the Supreme Court, together with accompanying biographies.
In 1876 the publication of the "Science Record" was discontinued. The Scientific American Supplement, which was started in the same year, was designed in part to take the place of the "Record," and also to illustrate the great Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. When the year was completed the demand for the new publication was so great that it has been continued up to the present time, and is considered by thoughtful men, who as a class are mostly its patrons, to be the most valuable scientific "current opinion" or "review of reviews" that has ever been published. Mr. Beach took a special interest in this publication, and by his energy and taste for sound reading, his selection of matter for the paper has made it popular and gained for it a very large circulation.
It is not going too far to say that the editing of the Supplement by Mr. Beach was a labor of love. Mr. Beach was a good Spanish scholar, and the monthly edition of the Scientific American, published in part in that language, was established at his instance. When its circulation had reached the point where the income from it equaled the expenditure he manifested great delight. He wanted our South American republics to know what was going on in mechanics, the arts, and the sciences at the North. His fondness for new inventions always rendered him courteous to inventors, and however busy he might be, he never was reluctant to lay aide his work to greet an inventor and listen to his description of his invention, exhibiting that degree of interest which was marvelous. He enjoyed every new invention, and never tired looking after an inventor's vest interest.
His regularity of attendance at the office was remarkable. He never took a vacation. Year after year would go by without his ever being absent from his desk. His extensive reading of contemporaneous matter, as well as of books of general literature, gave him, in spite of his apparent confinement, a large horizon appreciable by anyone to whom he opened his mind. There was a piquancy of thought and originality of mind about him that flavored all his utterances.
Mr. Beach was in many ways a most remarkable man, but perhaps the most conspicuous feature of his evenly balanced character was the never tiring industry with which he applied himself to the multifarious interests with which he was connected, and to the investigation of hundreds of new and interesting subjects constantly coming into the field of his researches. Although he well knew his limitations, he was never satisfied with mere superficial or cursory knowledge of a subject, but brought to each new question the closest analysis and most careful scrutiny of the facts, with a directness in all cases indicating that there was never any "lost motion," and with an amplitude of previous information suggesting Bacon's well known saying, that he had "taken all knowledge for his province." He was never impatient, never in a hurry, and always had time for everything, for his life was carefully regulated, down to the nicest details, with the idea of saving and making the best possible use of all his time. His faculty of conciseness and directness of expression, and his quick perception of the salient points of an invention submitted for his judgment, were marked characteristics of his business life.
The ever active mind was not satisfied to be busy only with the recording of other men's work. He was himself an inventor who has made a broad mark in the world of science and art. He invented, about 1853, the first typewriter, which was intended for the use of the blind, and which was awarded a gold medal at the Crystal Palace Exposition. His machine, a most elegant and expensive piece of mechanism, is still in existence, and has been fully illustrated and described in this paper. His inventions touch upon cable traction of cars and other railway inventions dating back some thirty years. Pneumatic tubes for deliver of mail matter; also the famous Beach hydraulic shield for tunneling in earth and under river beds, were inventions dating back over twenty years. The first successful use of the shield was in the construction of the experimental tunnel under Broadway, between Warren and Murray Streets, in 1869, while one of the latest noteworthy examples of its use was in the construction, in 1890, of a large railway tunnel between the United States and Canada under the St. Clair River at Port Huron, Mich. Mr. Beach was twenty years in advance of his time, and his inventions have acquired their fruition two or more decades after he originated them.
Mr. Beach's private life was characteristic of his strong and individual personality. For society, as such, he had no taste, but all his time, away from the office, was passed at home, among his family, where, as husband and father, and always as closest friend, his gentleness, his sympathy, his ever thoughtful attention to the comfort and happiness of those dependent upon him, afforded evidence that here only did he seek the happiness of life, except such as was afforded by the satisfaction with which he successfully pursued his intellectual labors.
His personal habits were of the simplest and most regular description. He believed that good health depended upon regular habits, simple life, early hour, and regular and systematic exercise; and, although Mr. Beach was an unusually hard worker, he scarcely ever during his life had an illness until his last. He had a great love of music, and the opera was his only dissipation.
Mr. Beach was an ardent admirer of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and he desired to become a parishioner, but the distance between his house in New York and Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, was so great that this became impracticable. With the consent of Mr. Beecher, a private telephone wire was introduced into the church, with a transmitter attached to the pulpit, the result being that Mr. Beach could attend divine service without leaving his own home.
He greatly enjoyed asking his friends to his house during the early days of the telephone, to listen to the eloquent preacher. When the hymns were announced, hymn books would be handed about, and the little parlor congregation could join in the songs of praise with the audience several miles away.
Mr. Beach's family consists of a widow, one son, and a daughter, who mourn his loss. Since Mr. Beach has been taken away it is a comfort to him who has been associated with Mr. Beach during his long life of labor to feel that the ever active mind which never spared the apparently frail body may now be forever at rest.
Queer Things that are Sent to the Patent Office
Every event of importance brings down upon the examiners at the Patent Office a myriad of impossible inventions which their wild-eyed originators believe to be the greatest things in the world. It is, therefore, expected at the Patent Office that the possibility of a war with England will cause all the idle dreamers in the inventing line to send new devices for killing men and sinking ships. There will be, if the war talk is continued, guns, ammunition, war balloons, unsinkable ships, new kinds of armor, armed flying machines, and other similar devices, ninety-five per cent of which will be absolutely worthless in the eyes of the examiners and will be rejected on this ground. The policy of England is quite different in respect to worthless inventions, for any invention with which a fee is sent may secure a patent and the visionary inventor may continue to haul up the empty buckets he has been letting down into the empty well. In the United States such discrimination is shown that the business of inventing has reached the dignity of a profession, in which many men are earning more than mere livelihood.
Upon the model makers devolve the worry and both of the visits of these inventors, and upon the examiners of the Patent Office the responsibility of selection. In certain classes of inventions, for a patent to be granted a working model must be furnished, and this rule, in the case of the perpetual motion fiend and his ilk, saves the examiner a great deal of work and needless bother. In the case of ordinary freak inventions the matter is not so simple, for some inventions that were once thought to be senseless have, after the expiration of the patents, come into use and are of extreme value. There are other cases where the insanity of the idea of the inventor is too apparent. A man not long ago invented a plow with a cannon attachment. If the farmer was attacked in the field at a distance from his home, he could turn on the battery and disorganize the attacking party. Another man came to the Patent Office with what he considered to be the discovery of the century. It was nothing less than a new method of tempering iron. He was quite sure that as soon as the patent was granted he would have no difficulty in disposing of it to the great iron and steel makers of the world, and that guns and armor of a superior quality could be furnished in a short space of time through his idea. The tempering solution he proposed was Jamestown weed, one ounce; apples, one ounce; turnips, two ounces; water, one gallon. The ingredients were to be cooked, and the iron dipped into the mixture.
Perhaps one of the most amusing patents ever granted was issued on the claim of an Ohio man in 18183. He evidently had not lived a great length of time on the farm, for his invention of a new corn planter, while original to an extreme degree, could hardly be put into use. The picture accompanying the patent is a work of art. It represents an old horse driven by a stout man, who holds the lines nonchalantly in one hand, an expression of much pleasure on his face, while at his side trudges a small hairy dog of the yellow variety. To the horse's forelegs, just above the fetlocks, are attached two small boxes to contain the feed. Ropes are fastened to catches in the sides of these boxes and lead through pulleys attached to a small saddle over the horse's shoulder and back to the horse's hind legs. As the horse moved forward each step of the hind leg opened the seed boxes, and corn was sifted down into the holes made by the front hoofs. The verbiage of the claim on this patent is as original as is the drawing:
First. I claim the combination substantially set forth with the cheap old horse, A, to the forelegs of which are attached the boxes, B B, that are to be filled with corn.
2. I claim the pulleys, C C, in combination with the strings, D D, substantially as shown in the drawing.
3. I claim the guide, E [a small iron affair shaped like a rowlock, fastened above the horse's tail, through which the lines pass], for the purpose set forth, and the sticker, H, to prevent the lowering of the tail.
4. I claim the fat driver, F, to prevent the said cheap horse from going too fast.
5. I claim the fat dog, G, merely as company for the driver.
6. I claim the worms (not shown) in combination with the crows, K K, substantially as shown in the drawing for the purpose set forth [a purpose not set forth].
A man who was afraid of being buried alive claimed a patent for a coffin of peculiar shape. The coffin was connected with the air above by an opening containing a small spiral staircase. If the supposed dead person concluded to resurrect himself he could seize the handles above his head and haul himself up, ascending the circular staircase at his convenience. If he was not strong enough to lift himself, a bell cord was situated near his hand by means of which help could be summoned from the neighboring office of the cemetery.
At first glance the idea of attracting noxious insects to imitation flowers where they could be killed by poisoned honey might seem absurd. Yet it is said that this scheme, a patent for which has been issued, works very well. A man out in California patented a scheme for killing destructive insects on fruit trees a number of years ago. He surrounded the tree with a balloon-like affair, and then injected a gas noxious to the insects but harmless to the tree. People laughed at him, and he was considered a crank. Two years ago, when the patent expired, people began to see what a good idea it was, and now the method is in extensive use in California. It will be seen, therefore, that patent examiners are obliged to be both careful and discriminating in judging the merits and demerits of an application.
A man not long ago invented a balloon attached to a trolley wire. This balloon was presumably for purposes of long distance investigations by telescope in time of war. Underneath the trolley wire was a motor which operated two large wooden propellers sending the car along and pulling the balloon. Another man invented a "steam nigger," operated by an electric motor in the regions of the pit of the stomach. The invention's use is not set forth. S.S. Applegate invented an arrangement for waking himself up early in the morning. A series of corks dangled above the place his head ought to be in a bed, and actuated by clockwork made life a burden for the weary sleeper, until in self-defense he was obliged to get up. Another invention of the same kind was a contrivance for dumping the hired girl out of bed at 5 A.M. This, too, was actuated by clockwork. It was not considered to be so polite or gentle a method as that of Mr. Applegate's. There was another invention intended to save the weary Benedict a few hours of slumber in the morning, for a mechanism placed under the kitchen fire was supposed to light it at any hour desired. There is a very funny model at the Patent Office of a cat made of sheet iron operated by clockwork. It is intended to be placed on the roof of a house, woodshed or back wall in neighborhoods where the night is made hideous by nervous Thomases and Marias. At any touch or warlike demonstration on the part of its curious neighbors the clockwork sets the claws going all at once at a tremendous rate and there is a temporary rest for the weary. At the Patent Office there are models of Mark Twain's scrapbook, the pages of which are already mucilaged, and Lincoln's device for getting vessels off shoal places. This consists of bags of inflatable rubber, which, as occasion requires, are blown up and the vessel raised.
There are innumerable inventions to prevent accidents by collision on railroads. One of these patented recently consists of a very elaborate device by means of which one train runs over the top of the other, both presumably continuing on their way uninterrupted by the chance encounter. There is another English invention having much the same idea. The application is different, however, for the front of the engines are built wedge-shaped, with the wedge inclining more to one side than the other, by which means at the impact one train goes to one side of the track and the other train to the other side. Both trains are derailed, but the force of the collision is reduced and the loss of life brought to a minimum. Besides these inventions, there are modes of changing the shape of the features, modes of operating every conceivable thing on earth by windmills, modes of soaring through space, and traveling through fire and water without the least discomfort, modes of making steel and iron by simpler processes which have ever been dreamed of which uniformly do not work, and hundreds and even thousands of plans which have resulted in nothing but bother to anybody who has had anything to do with them. Certain methods have been patented for locating gold and silver by means of divining rods. Even methods of making gold are found. Here is an English recipe for manufacturing gold:
"Cut whole wheat straws into little square snips the width of the straw and mix this with a quarter measure of the grains. Measure out half a two-quart saucepanful and set it aside. Fill the saucepan three-quarters full of water and set it to boil over the fire. Pour in the mixture and let it boil two and a quarter hours, adding water at intervals. Then strain off the liquor in thin layers in soup plates, and allow the same to rest thirty-eight hours at a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Then slowly bake them dry and find the gold adhering to the plates."
But of all the vast army of cranks who besiege the Patent Office, the perpetual motion fiend is the most troublesome of all. It is he who goes into the model maker's shop with a wild look in his eye, and, after peering cautiously about and swearing the model man to secrecy, brings out his senseless contrivance and sets it triumphantly on the work bench. He is the man of all men whom the model maker dreads most. Fortunately a recent order in regard to perpetual motion inventions requires a working model to be shown to the examiner before a patent can be issued in this class of inventions, and it greatly simplifies the task of the examiner. He listens to the enthusiasm of his visitor, and then quietly asks for the model. Of course this does not work, and when the inventor excuses the lack of continuous action on some ground, he is told to bring it in again when it is fixed. He leaves the room protesting that it is all right. Sometimes he returns and sometimes he doesn't. When he doesn't the examiner is pleased; when he does the same proceeding is gone through again.
Many inventors have come near -- very near -- the solution of the problem, but have not quite reached it. There was one crank who walked here all the way from Georgia. His perpetual motion machine consisted of a tall framework of uprights. In this framework was swung back and forth the trunk of a large tree. When the butt end of the tree was swung from one side to the other it struck a spring which was set loose and pushed the tree back to the other side. There another spring was set loose, and the action was supposed to be kept up forever, but it wasn't. Another man had a scheme, which was more expensive and elaborate. He had a steam engine, a dynamo, a heat generator, and water. The office of the steam engine was to run the dynamo, that of the dynamo to operate the heater, the steam was to be generated from the water, and the steam would run the steam engine. Another man had a propeller in the bow of a vessel. The propeller shaft extended aft to a point opposite the paddlewheels, where the power developed by the propeller was communicated to them. He said that the forward motion of the vessel turning the propeller would develop enough speed to turn ten paddlewheels of similar size. Another man had a tipping board on a pivot, upon which a little car ran up and down. When the little car reached one end it released a spring, and the tipping board was pushed up so that the car went back again. This was accomplished, or was proposed to be accomplished, by one spring winding another up while it ran down itself. One of the most ingenious, perhaps, of these perpetual affairs is the invention of G.H. Furman. It consisted of an inner and an outer wheel. The edges of the cogs in the inner wheel were filled with shot, and as they descended they were supposed to fall on the outer wheel with such force as to send it around until the shot caught in its curve and fell again into the inner wheel.
-- N. Y. Sun