Inventors: Robert Armstrong Smith

Robert Armstrong Smith

Robert Armstrong Smith

He did much of his creative work from a basement laboratory in his house on Beveridge Road..  Early in his career he obtained patents for better machinery couplings and bushings for his business known as Smith & Serrell. He also held patents on a better snow shovel and a coin holder.

But the most interesting stories come from his work in polarized light.  He was an associate of Lewis Warrington Chubb of Westinghouse.  They were working on polarizing the lights from headlamps in a car.   Polarization, as you probably know from figuring out how your sunglasses work, is the process of taking light waves which are in a random pattern and changing them into a more concentrated stream.

Patent for light polarizer

Patent for light polarizer

Before the work of Chubb and Smith and of Edwin Land, headlights were dangerous because they were not polarized.  Chubb and Smith were working on mechanical means of polarizing light which polarized it at is source.   Edwin Land had dropped out of Harvard and was working on a chemical solution that polarized the light using a film on a windshield, or on the headlight lens.  They were engaged in a patent battle that resulted ultimately in Chubb and Smith selling their patents to Polaroid Corporation for stock in that company and a job for Chubb.

Smith's laboratory

Smith’s laboratory

In 1933, in the midst of the patent negotiations, Land came to Mahwah and they did some testing.  Here, thanks to Audrey Artusio, the current owner of the Smith house, Margaret Smith Pryde (1910-2008), Robert’s daughter,  Mary Ellen Pryde Abrams, and Tara Van Brederode, Robert’s granddaughters, is a description of that test by Robert’s daughter Molly:

Dr. Edwin Land …..came to Mahwah in 1933 to witness a test run. Our cars were equipped with polarized headlights and windshields.

 I was to be the guinea pig.  It was a dark, rainy night.  Dad gave me instructions. “I don’t want to know where you’re standing,” he said.  “That yellow slicker is too light. Go borrow your mother’s black raincoat.”

 I did as he said and then stationed myself on the road.  Dad and Lew [Lewis Chubb] got in the car at one end of the road and Dr. Land rode with Mother in the second car which began at the other end of the road.  Both drivers were supposed to see me.  I was scared.

 

Smith's home on Beveridge Place

Smith’s home on Beveridge Place

Dad had said, “Don’t move, no matter what.  I’ll honk the horn when I see you.”

 I was beginning to panic. “But what if you don’t see me?

 He calmly replied, “I will.”

 I stood, mesmerized, as the headlights of the approaching cars moved closer.  I felt rooted to the ground.  I muttered to myself, “Please dear God let them see me in time.”  My fists were clenched in the pockets of the raincoat.  I heard the swish of tires on the wet road as the cars came closer and I closed my eyes.

No sound was ever sweeter than the “beep, beep” of the Essex horn and the answering beep of the Hupmobile.

Smith did not live to see Edwin Land’s most famous use of Polaroid light, the Polaroid Camera.


All images from the Mahwah Museum

Inventors: Edward Gorcyca

EdwardGorcyca-1

(www.jeffpolston.com)

Edward Gorcyca, of West Mahwah, was another one of those inventors from American Brakeshoe.  He was born in 1923 and served in the Navy from 1943-1945.  He died in 1996 in San Diego, California.

I don’t know too much about Ed’s life or background.  He was the second son of Myron (or Marion) and Anna Gorcyca who came to the U.S. from Poland in 1906.  In 1940 Myron was a coremaker at American Brakeshoe and, according to an oral history taken in 1975 with his daughter, Jenny (who married Larry Nyland, one of our Mayors) the family also had a subsistence farm on Church Street.  His brothers Ben and John were proteges of John Warhol and John was influential in persuading John to attend the University of Maryland.  Ben was the long time chairman of the Board of Adjustment and John ran for the office of tax collector.

One of Gorcyca's patents.

One of Gorcyca’s patents.

Between 1954 and 1965, Ed’s name appeared on five patents that were assigned to American Brakeshoe.  They all related to improvement of journal boxes, which contained oiled packing materials to lubricate the bearings of railroad wheels.  The picture shows a railroad employee inspecting the journal box on a wheel to make sure the packing was properly in place, because if it failed, the wheel bearings would burn out causing a “hotbox.”  Until 1961, the primary inventor was a man named Llewellyn Hoyer, with Ed as a co-inventor.  But the last two were in Ed’s name alone: for a clip to make keep the packing in place and a new dust guard that was easier to remove without disconnecting the entire journal box.

Inventors: The Havemeyers

Theodore Havermeyer (Suzanne Meyer Stein Collection, Mahwah Museum)

Theodore Havemeyer (Suzanne Meyer Stein Collection, Mahwah Museum)

Three generations of Havemeyers were inventors.  As you know, Theodore A. Havemeyer came to Mahwah in 1879 and established Mountain Side Farm, much of which is Ramapo College.  He died in 1897.  Although Theodore had nine children only his sons, Henry O. Havemeyer and Frederick C. Havemeyer, continued a presence in Mahwah.  Henry O. Havemeyer died in 1965 but his son, Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. continued to live here until his death in 1992.  The house in which Henry Jr. lived became the home of the President of Ramapo College.  Theodore, Henry O., and Henry O., Jr. were all inventors.

 

Theodore Havermeyer's Sugar Mold Carriage patent

Theodore Havemeyer’s Sugar Mold Carriage patent

Theodore A. Havemeyer, born in 1839, had only a grammar school education but joined the family sugar business as a partner in 1861.  He was the technological expert in the family and an early age had spent a year in Europe studying the sugar refining process.  In 1862 he and a man named Schnitzpan patented a new and improved carriage for sugar molds.  He was a partner in Havemeyers & Elder, which was an integral part of the Sugar Trust.    In his later years in Mahwah he was a patron of many agricultural and scientific societies that were advancing the technology of agriculture.  He was on the forefront of ensilage– to generate feed for his cows—the breeding of cows to improve milk production, and the breeding of fantail pigeons for show.

 

Henry O. Havermeyer (On loan from the Mahwah Library)

Henry O. Havemeyer (On loan from the Mahwah Library)

Theodore Havemeyer’s son, Henry O. Havemeyer, dropped out of Yale in 1897 after the death of his father and became an apprentice at the family sugar business.  He returned to Yale and graduated as a proud member of the Class of 1900.   The Ramsey Journal reported in 1906 that he had gotten a speeding ticket in his newfangled automobile. So it is appropriate that he was the inventor of a license plate holder that could be flipped over so that it had the plate of one state on one side and the plate of another state on the reverse.  Henry O. Havemeyer was not merely a playboy, however.  He was the president of the Eastern District Terminal in Brooklyn which had been spun off from the family’s sugar business. He became an officer and later the long time president of the Eastern District Terminal.  The Eastern District Terminal was the gateway for all railroads coming from the west and seeking to be in Brooklyn or Long Island.  It was also the only way in which refined and packaged sugar could get from the Domino refinery in Brooklyn to the west.   They had to come through these yards and be moved by small locomotives like these.  It would be up to Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. – who also worked for the company – to make some important advances.

Havermeyer House (Courtesy Dater Family Archives)

Havemeyer House (Courtesy Dater Family Archives)

There were no tunnels under the Hudson River so railroad cars were barged or lightered over from the yards of Jersey City, Bayonne or Hoboken, to the Eastern District Terminal and then transferred to the industries or railroads in Brooklyn.   To get one or more railroad cars across the river, there was a floating bridge connected to the tracks on the shore.  The barge connected to the water side of the bridge.  There were tracks on the barge to accept the car being transported.  You can imagine how difficult it must have been to transfer a fully loaded railroad car from tracks on the bridge to the tracks on the  rolling barge.  There were constant mishaps and derailments.  The invention of Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr., filed in 1925 when he was 22 years old, improves on the way that the rails on the bridge and barge could be aligned to make derailments rare.  Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. lived in the house we today call the Havemeyer House and had a number of other inventions to improve railroad transportation.

Inventors: Fitzwilliam Sargent (1859-1939)

Fitzwilliam Sargent

Fitzwilliam Sargent

Fitzwilliam Sargent was called the “father of brake-shoe engineering” and he obtained multiple patents for improvement of railroad brake shoes. He was born in 1859 in Philadelphia and attended Lehigh University where he graduated in 1879 with a Civil Engineering degree. He came to Mahwah (then Hohokus Township) in 1902 as the chief engineer of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry Company.

After joining American Brake Shoe, he built a large home on 5 acres off Olney Road. The house had all the latest improvements of the day, including electric lights and steam heat.

In 1935 the Board of Directors of American Brakeshoe built an up-to-date testing facility to keep up with the progress of the railroad industry.  The building was named the F.W. Sargent Laboratory Building and from the opening of the building to the date of his death at the age of 80 he went to work as often as possible.  The picture below shows his first invention, which he had done before he came to Brakeshoe, of a machine for testing brakeshoes.  During his career, he had many patents relating to the improvement of brakeshoes.  His last patent was issued to him in 1934 at age 75.    The invention created a system of reinforcing a brake shoe so that, if the body of the shoe broke, it could continue in service and not need to be replaced as quickly.


Photos from Fitzwilliam Sargent Greene, `A Tribute to the Life of Fitzwilliam Sargent” (Mahwah Museum Library, 2013.17.072)

Inventors: Howard S. Avery

Howard S. Avery at American Brakeshoe

Howard S. Avery at American Brakeshoe

Between 1949 and 1982 he was granted at least 10 patents for metallurgy, welding rods and railroad track improvements that were assigned to American Brakeshoe. One of his primary focuses early on was in creating an alloy for a heat resistant manganese steel and then in figuring out how to make it machinable so that it could be used in Brakeshoe Products. His experiments on welding rods led to improvements in the ultimate weld. He was a recycler because one of his inventions was to take industrial scrap, containing sintered tungsten carbide and then converting it into tungsten oxide which, in turn would allow the recovery of tungsten metal.

Mr. Avery was a very active member of the Mahwah Community. He was the president of the Board of Education when the high school was designed and the papers he has given to the Museum reflect his disciplined, thorough and rapier sharp mind. He was a long time Scout leader and he has given us rare Scouting magazines, Troop 50 records, a detail for a few years of the proceeds of the Boy Scout Paper Drive that ultimately led to the recycling center. He was the head of civil defense which was an outgrowth of his interest in amateur radio which he developed at Virginia Tech. His Virginia Tech experience in the rifle club carried over to Mahwah where he tutored people like John Edwards in riflery.

Howard_Avery2

Diagram of Welding ____

In 1979 when the renovation of the high school was up for referendum, it was snowing hard. One of his neighbors called me and said that Mr. and Mrs. Avery wanted to vote, but were reluctant to go out. So I drove them to the polls. They were 2 of the 69 votes that provided the margin of victory.

Mrs. Avery died in 1985 at age 80 and Howard died in 1996 at age 90. He has given the Museum 25 boxes of materials about his life and interests in Mahwah. He also gave a large collection of his technical papers to Virginia Tech. That collection, incidentally, contains some folders with personal papers, particularly about scouting.


Images from the American Brakeshoe Collection, Mahwah Museum.

A Look at Mahwah’s Inventors

For a 2015 gallery talk I profiled the following inventors. Click on the links for a short history of each:

A little bit about methodology. All of these inventors hold U.S. Patents on their inventions. I knew from my past research and work in our archives about some of them, so I was able to use Google Scholar (a website that I love) to locate their patents. Put their name, Mahwah and the word patent into the search and up pops reference to their patents and you can download a copy. Edward Gorcyca was unknown to me but his name came up in a search of Brakeshoe Patents Mahwah. Another longtime resident of Cragmere, Rosser Wilson, also came up with a lot of patents at Brakeshoe. Audrey Artusio and Mary Ellen Pryde were very helpful with Robert Armstrong Smith and John Edwards loaned me valuable material about his uncle, Charles Ellis. We have displayed some of his original patents, American and foreign at the gallery talk.

A little background about the patent system. Patents are authorized by Article I, Section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution which grants Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” So under the system that Congress has established, an inventor submits an application to the U.S. Patent Office, an application. This application describes the invention, includes drawings when needed, and sets up the claims that the inventor is making. The claims portion is very important because the inventor gets exclusive rights only in the things he has actually claimed. Once the application has been filed, it is examined by the patent office before the actual patent is issued. The examiner has to determine whether the invention is “novel” and “nonobvious.” To determine whether an invention is “novel” a search is made of all previous patents to see that the new invention does not the same claims that were made before by someone else. The examiner also looks at whether the claims are so obvious that they are already in the public domain. Once the patent office determines to issue a patent it is good for 17 years. But it is subject to challenge by other inventors who can claim infringement of their existing patents. Just because someone has a patent on something doesn’t mean the product is ever made or becomes commercially viable. The filed patents are used by other inventors to improve upon the prior art.

All of the inventors that we will discuss today owned patents. The usual practice is that a patentee is an individual that gets the patent in his own name and then assigns it to the employer for whom he was working when the inventive work was done.

If you know of additional information about any of these inventors, or know of other inventors from Mahwah, please comment below.

 

 

The Ford Motor Company Plant Gallery

Ford Motors built a plant in Mahwah that opened in 1955. Here are a few of the items in the Museum’s collection on this important factory.

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The images in these galleries are the copyrighted property of the Mahwah Museum Society, Inc. and may be used only in accordance with the Museum’s Image Use Policy.

American Brake Shoe and Foundry Gallery

Here is a small sampling of the historical materials on the American Brake Shoe Foundry in Mahwah, NJ.

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The images in these galleries are the copyrighted property of the Mahwah Museum Society, Inc. and may be used only in accordance with the Museum’s Image Use Policy.

Cragmere Park of Yesteryear

This article, by Jane Vilmar, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in September 1982.

“The Land of Health & Happiness” was the theme of a brochure advertising Cragmere Park back in the early 1900’s. With a beautiful panoramic view of the sprawling Ramapo Mountains to the west, the scheme was to develop nearly 200 acres of land with homes similar to the old English estates. The selling agents, Van Fossen-Bugg Co., located in New York City, maintained strict guidelines in setting up the Cragmere Park Association.  Its purpose was to maintain the beautiful park-like character of the property.
A paragraph in the brochure became a reality, in part.  “Cragmere will have its own artesian water system of the purest water and electricity and telephone service will be installed.”   Another interesting highlight is the description of Oweno Lake & Park that is now the site of Betsy Ross School and Education Center off of Malcolm and Mahwah Roads. It reads in part, “Oweno Lake and Park in the center of Cragmere has been dedicated in perpetuity to the use of the Cragmere Association as a place of recreation. Here the children may sail their boats, everyone may bathe, and a club house and tennis courts may be established.”

Although this landmark has gone there are still folks around who have fond memories of good times there.
The brochure goes on, “Schools, churches and stores are conveniently located, and one has the benefit of living in the real country with all the comfort of modern conveniences.”  Although it’s not what I’d call “real country” any more, the area does feature lovely homes on spacious land.  Going further in the brochure, you will shake your head when you read that a comfortable home can be built for as low as $2,5OO on a half-acre site!

2012.09.001.007A CRAGMERE LAKE
Although the Cragmere Park Association is no longer in existence, the beautiful park-like atmosphere still prevails. The area is located on the hill east of Franklin Turnpike and is bordered by Airmount Road and Miller Road and extended eastward to East Mahwah Road.

Cemetery at Amberfield

This unattributed article was first published in the Old Station Timetable in May 1982.

One more of the rapidly disappearing old family burying grounds in Mahwah has been found. It is located on the property of Dr. Donald Lord on the Ramapo Valley Road. Although there is evidence that it may contain many graves, a diligent search revealed no more than the one stone still standing. This is marked as the burial of Elizabeth B. Willis, daughter of Jon S. and Susan Bartholf, born July 6, 1791, died April 2, 186.6, age 75 years.
Her husband should be buried beside her and children also may be interred here, as well as others of the Willis family.
Further research might determine whether this was a Willis farm.  There are Willis stones in the Wyckoff Cemetery as well as in other local cemeteries, so the family has been in the Ramapo Valley for some time.
Dr. Lords adds that there were other stones there when his family first moved to Mahwah.
Any help from readers will be appreciated.

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