Relatively few models of electrical devices were ever filed with the Patent Office because the development of electrical engineering and industries took place mostly after the model requirement was rescinded. Joseph Henry, the physicist who performed extensive study of electromagnetic phenomena and discovered the principles of the telegraph, never took a patent, saying:

I partook of the feeling common to men of
Science, which disinclines them to secure to
themselves the advantages of their discoveries
by a patent.

However, Samuel F B. Morse (1791-1872), an exact contemporary of Peter Cooper (Happy 200th Birthday, Peter and Sam!) was not so disinclined. He began working on the telegraph in 1821 and he applied for a patent in 1840. A line was constructed between Washington and Baltimore and the first message sent on May 24, 1844, was: "What hath God wrought" Indeed!

The Electric Circuit Closer, patented by John Hayden in 1858 is, therefore, an early and interesting relic, perhaps one of the first "user-friendly" digitizers, since its purpose is to translate, by simply running a finger along the grooves, the letters of the alphabet into their corresponding Morse Code. In Hayden more, elaborate language:

... thereby enabling anyone, however unskilled in the art of telegraph writing or operating, to telegraph messages more accurately than ordinary telegraphing is done, in fact almost precluding the possibility, of mistakes, the index to the cipher being the plain English letter, and the finger performing mathematically and mechanically what is now done mentally in the use of the ordinary one-lever key.

Why this or some similar invention did not soon find a place in every telegraph office is a mystery–or was it an action of Providence to give a chance to clever boys like Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison, who all started their careers as telegraph operators?

Image from the exhibition.

The telegraph and the telephone, when they came on the scene (Alexander Bell's Patent No. 174,465 covering "The method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically") in 1876, used a small amount of direct current which could be supplied by voltaic cells or batteries. The present patent by Isaac Pulvermacher of London, is typical of such devices. This one has the advantage of allowing for changing the voltage at the output of the device by a simple mechanical movement.

The production of higher voltages and currents than is possible with voltaic piles required the use of electromagnetic machines. It is interesting here to see how the mind of designers is often guided by simple analogies. The early steam engines were reciprocating machines. This state of affairs remained till the invention of the steam turbine in spite of a number of "rotary engines" which were no more than adaptations of the reciprocating engine.

So the field of power conversion (heat to mechanical through the use of steam) was dominated by the "reciprocating" idea. When it came time to build an "electromagnetic engine" it was hard to break away from the idea of reciprocating devices, and a number of proposals and patents dealt with systems of levers and connecting rods, mimicking the linear motion of the steam piston. The same kind of phenomena can be seen in other fields, such as architecture, where stone structures that replace wood structures imitate the form of the wood structures they superseded, or where cast iron structures imitate the form of the stone structures they replaced. It takes the mind a deliberate and strong effort to appreciate a new material or a new principle, in itself, and not just see it as a substitute for another. That, too, goes for human relationships. The trick of the good designer is to "slip in the thing," to see it from the inside, appreciate its function in itself, as if for the first time ever.


Read "The Future of Superconductivy"
[pdf file]

Download Printable Catalog of the Exhibition
[pdf file]