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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Surprising Stories from IMLS Discoveries

February 16, 2017 Think THF

imls-logoWhile researching the many electrical objects being digitized as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant, a few stories have stood out to me. These stories sometimes involve the people behind the scenes: manufacturers, inventors, etc., and other times are about how the object was used. Below are four such objects and their stories.

This Jenney Electric Motor Company rheostat has uncovered an interesting story about the company’s namesake. It was designed by Charles G. Jenney who was awarded a patent for it in 1892. Jenney, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana with his father to design and produce electrical equipment for the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company. On February 27, 1885, Jenney, who had been contracted to the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company by his father while still a minor, successfully petitioned to be removed from the company, and, a month later, he founded the Jenney Electric Light Company later the Jenney Electric Company. The Jenney Electric Company was demonstrating Jenney’s dynamos, arc lamps, and incandescent lamps by August that same year. This company was bought out and Jenney started again, this time with the Jenney Electric Motor Company in 1889 for which he produced electrical equipment like this rheostat, filed for more patents, and wired and lit the streets of Indianapolis.

Designed by Fredinand Buchhop optician and the optician Emil B. Meyrowitz this uniquely shaped motor powered electric drill was used for nasal surgeries including septum operations and electro cautery. On March 3, 1891, Meyrowitz and Buchhop patented the motor, but were only able to patent the globular shape. Even though the motor was crudely constructed, it was portable enough to be useful in the operating theater and at the patient’s bedside.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Professors William E. Ayrton and John Perry collaborated on many electrical device inventions including electric railway devices, and electrical measurement instruments including this ammeter. Ayrton and Perry personally certified the accuracy of their meters, and they were touted as being among the most reliable meters during a test in 1886. The London, England-based company, Latimer Clark, Muirhead, & Co., Limited manufactured this Ayrton and Perry Ammeter made between 1883 and 1890.

Last but not least, an electric contactor that required a bit of sleuthing to uncover the correct patents and court cases. According to a tag on this electric contactor, it was used as part of General Electric’s defense when they were on trial for infringing on Sundh Electric Company’s patents. The contactor was part of patent 969,738, which described a new method of operating and controlling electrically controlled switches with an electric motor. This contactor would have been provided in conjunction with the auxiliary switch arrangement to be used on the resistance controlling contactors during operation. Sundh Electric Company thought General Electric’s switch mechanism was too similar to their own, but their patent did not include a contactor resembling this object. Additionally, Sundh Electric Company improved upon an already existing patent prompting the court to side with the defendants, which allowed both patents to remain valid. 

Laura Lipp is Collections Documentation Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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