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Charles Ellis began his career in 1926, at the age of 19, at Norton-Blair-Douglas in New York. He was recommended for an internship by Bassett Jones, a renowned electrical engineer, who was one of the prominent residents of Cragmere and who also holds at least one patent. Charles applied for his first patent in 1929 at the age of 22 when he was working for Norton Blair Douglas. That patent was awarded in 1934 after Norton Blair Douglas had been bought out by Westinghouse. This patent was for a safety device for vehicle doors, particularly those of elevators, that involved the use of beam of light which, when interrupted by a person’s foot for example, would not let the elevator door close. Like the electric eye on your elevator door. He was chagrined that the builders of the Chrysler Building did not use it on their elevators, but was glad that Rockefeller Center did.
When Norton-Blair-Douglas was bought out by Westinghouse Electric Elevator Co, Mr. Ellis and the partners moved to Chicago where they worked for Westinghouse. During this period he was awarded a number of patents for elevator related controls and systems. In 1933, he left Westinghouse and got a $10,000 severance which he used, in part, for a trip around the world, in the depth of the depression, on a Japanese steamer. When in London, he heard that the U.S. was likely to go off the gold standard so he converted his travelers checks into gold coins and weathered the devaluation that occurred in U.S. money when it went off of the gold standard. His nephew John Edwards, who now owns Charles house is still looking for 2 gold coins that Charles told an interviewer in 1981 that he still had in the house.
After returning he worked in a company making packaging machinery and claims he was the first to seal plastics with a radio frequency rather than heat. He did not patent this invention. Through World War II he worked for Sedgewick Machine Works, where one of his inventions was large elevators for aircraft carriers, resulting in multi-million dollar sales for that item.
After a period of self employment, between 1948 and 1951, when he continued to invent, specializing in adjustable speed motors, he joined Sperry Rand Corporation where he worked from 1959 as the director of quality control. From 1959 on, he continued to invent and refine adjustable speed and supersynchronous motors.
In his later years, he became very interested in Mahwah history and the environment. He warned of the dangers of earthquakes along the Ramapo Fault, west of the Ramapo River, as subject that was also addressed by Howard Avery. When Mahwah put sewers into Cragmere, he did a drawing and analysis of the water system on Armour Road that formerly served Ezra Miller’s mansion, and became incorporated into the Mahwah water system. He was invited to become a member of the first Environmental Commission, but declined to serve because, he said, the Township refused to provide a personal indemnity and insurance.
Photos courtesy of John Edwards.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
For a 2015 gallery talk I profiled the following inventors. Click on the links for a short history of each:
- Fitzwilliam Sargent who lived on Olney Road
- Howard S. Avery of Alcott Road
- Charles E. Ellis of Armour Road,
- The Havermeyers of the Ramapo Valley
- Edward Gorcyca of West Mahwah and
- Robert Armstrong Smith of Cragmere.
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.
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.
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.