City was home for many inventions
By MICHAEL HAWFIELD
from the archives of The News-Sentinel
It was in the mid-1880s that natives and newcomers developed new ideas that were molded into new products. You could honestly say there was
electricity in the air. Their work - and that of their successors - brought a new prosperity to Fort Wayne . . . and helped change things forever.
Getting into that old grind
Specialization in motors, depending on specific appliance needs, has been
the theme of motors made in Fort Wayne since World War II. The earliest Fort
Wayne example was the motor developed for the first electric kitchen garbage
disposer. Manufactured in Fort Wayne at the General Electric Winter Street
plant from 1939, this early electrical household gadget was called "Bill
Morrill's Electric Pig," in honor of its inventor, Wilbur Morrill.
Gas pumps you handle yourself
Silvanus Freelove Bowser often recalled how one cold morning in 1885 he
went to his Fort Wayne well to draw water for his wife.
The mist rising from the 70-foot well froze on the ropes, making the task
of hauling the bucket very uncomfortable. Later, thinking about better ways to
raise water from a well, the idea came to him of a simple pump that would
produce a constant measure of liquid with each stroke of the pump handle.
Although it turned out not to be feasible for a deep well, Bowser's self-
measuring pump mechanism revolutionized the oil industry and, later, gasoline
industry by making possible easy, accurate handling of liquid fuels from
The idea was a very popular one and a second pump company, the Wayne Pump
Co., came to Fort Wayne in 1891. Competing intensely with Bowser, Wayne won
the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition gold medal for the best self-measuring
pump. Later, Wayne Pump produced the first gas pump with a visible dial and,
in 1933, revolutionized the industry with the "computing pump." This pump was
the first that automatically registered not only how much gas was being
pumped, but also its cost.
Oddly, this invention did not receive the immediate acceptance that might
have seemed natural. So Wayne Pump undertook a national advertising campaign
to convince the public that this was the sort of pump neighborhood gas
stations should have.
The catch phrase created for this campaign by the Fort Wayne advertising
agency of Louis Bonsib was "Fill 'er Up" (when the computing pump stopped, the
tank was filled). The campaign was a success.
A third pump company entered the Fort Wayne area in 1918 when the Iowa-
based Tokheim Company was acquired by Fort Wayne investors, led by Ralph F.
Diserens. Tokheim grew slowly in post- World War I Fort Wayne until it
developed the extremely popular "visible globe" measuring pump (gas was pumped
into an upper- glass tank to the gallon level the purchaser desired, then
gravity was put to work to fill the tank of the automobile from this glass
Tokheim became the leading pump company in Fort Wayne by the 1950s and
pioneered in such areas as self-service equipment for gas stations and the now
common financial- card reading machines that carry out the entire transaction
through the customer's bank account. Today, Tokheim produces 38 percent of the
gasoline pumps in the United States and is the world leader in pump control
Lighting up our cities
Jenney Electric of Fort Wayne brought about the country's first municipal
In 1879, James A. Jenney of Michigan developed the first foolproof,
economical arc light, at the same time that Thomas Edison produced the first
commercially useful incandescent light. Jenney's light, when used with an
improved generator invented by his friend William Langley of the University of
Michigan, produced an extremely bright bluish-white light when inside the
glass globe, and the arc of electricity jumped from one carbon pole to
Jenney came to Fort Wayne two years later to market this new "arc light"
and met with little success, until he accidentally met a man working for
Ronald T. McDonald, a successful, flamboyant Fort Wayne entrepreneur.
McDonald, immediately impressed by the potential of Jenney's light, set up a
demonstration in his warehouse at Berry and Clinton streets.
There, before Mayor Zollinger, the City Council, leading businessmen, and a
multitude of citizens, the "warehouse was made as bright as the sun" when the
switches were thrown. It was well past midnight before all the curious could
file past, shielding their eyes against the bright glow.
Within weeks, the Jenney Electric Light Co. was formed, and, after similar
demonstrations, McDonald soon sold the first electric urban lighting system to
the town fathers of Wabash.
The company was quite successful in its first years. By 1882, Fort Wayne
had purchased its first lights, and in 1884, Jenney Electric was contracted to
provide all the outdoor lighting for the New Orleans World's Fair.
Current affairs of the trike rider
Other innovators in the infant field of electrical technology were
attracted to Fort Wayne. The first to come was Marmaduke Marcellus Slattery, a
wizard in generator and battery inventions. In the late 1880s, he regaled the
folks of Fort Wayne with his motorized tricycle powered about town by
"Slattery's Battery." In the field of electrical power, however, Slattery was
better known as the father of the theory of alternating current (AC).
A father of the refrigerator
One of the most far-reaching benefits of motor innovations achieved in
Fort Wayne was the development of the first hermetically sealed compressor
motor. It was this invention that made possible the electric refrigerator, an
appliance that today is found in almost every household in the United States.
Before 1924, the principles of electric refrigeration were known, but the
difficulty of combining an electric motor with the refrigerant compressor
resulted in leaks and other problems that kept the invention off the market.
In 1924, however, Clark Orr of the Fort Wayne Works and another engineer
in Schenectady, N.Y., solved the problem and produced a totally sealed single
motor-compressor unit. The result was the famous "Monitor Top" refrigerator
which made home refrigeration possible and was produced in Fort Wayne from
1924 to 1934. This was one of the most successful consumer products made by
General Electric - and today there are several of these refrigerators still in
use in the Fort Wayne area after half a century.
Putting a charge into wire
Commercially useful magnet wire, the insulated copper or aluminum wire
that is wound into coils to create electromagnetic fields, was invented in
Fort Wayne, and Fort Wayne remains the magnet wire capital of the world.
Without magnet wire, most electrical devices that are common features of
everyday life - television, computers, radios, automobiles, hearing aids, etc.
- would all be impossible.
George Jacobs was a bright young chemist at GE Fort Wayne Works in 1901.
Two things especially attracted him: the problems of wire insulation for GE
motors, and Ethel Mossman, the daughter of local hardware magnate William
Jacobs moved to Cleveland in 1905, and two years later married Ethel, who
helped him test various smelly solutions as possible magnet coatings.
In 1910, the tale goes, her lonesome and widowed father agreed to finance
Jacobs' work - if the young couple returned to Fort Wayne.
Jacobs returned, and, in 1911, William Mossman and his son, B. Paul
Mossman, formed the Dudlo Wire Co. Here, Jacobs perfected a chemical
enameling, or insulating, process far superior to any yet devised, and the
company experienced great success through World War I and into the 1920s.
The process developed by Jacobs and his associates, who included Victor
Rea, allowed wire of any thickness - especially fine wire - to be coated
evenly with a chemical insulation that could be baked on in special ovens and
yet remained flexible enough to be wrapped into coils. This marked a great
improvement over the old style insulated wire that was hand-wrapped in fabric.
The fine, well-insulated wire that Dudlo could produce had wide-range
effects. One outstanding impact was to make possible less-expensive and
easier-to-manufacture ignition coils for the infant automobile industry.
It was a significant innovation, for it helped make the Model- T Ford the
first affordable family car.
Today, Rea Magnet Wire, Phelps Dodge Magnet Wire Co. (formerly INCA
Manufacturing) and Essex, Fort Wayne's division of United Technologies - all
of which were either started by members of Jacobs' team or began with
companies started by them - together with the smaller New Haven Wire and Cable
Co., and the large wire operation at General Electric, produce more than two-
thirds of the country's magnet wire.
Magnavox goes 'tweet,' 'woof'
Magnavox started as the Commercial Wireless and Development Co., a small
laboratory in Napa Valley, Calif., where Edwin Pridham and Peter Jensen
invented the first loudspeaker (1922), public- address system (1915), and
first completely electric phonograph (1916).
After moving to the San Francisco area, where they developed the "anti-
noise" phone for pilots flying in open cockpits (1917), the company relocated
in Oakland and then Chicago (1929).
In 1930, Magnavox moved to Fort Wayne in order to be near the source of
one of its biggest suppliers, the magnet wire industry, and to place itself
more in the center of the U.S. consumer market. Company papers of the period
also mention the "fine climate of invention" here.
In 1932, a major inventive figure came to the company when Frank Freimann
merged his small firm with Magnavox. It was Freimann, the very next year, who
won the contract to have his public-address system installed throughout the
1933 World's Exposition in Chicago.
The company seemed to have little difficulty recruiting innovative
acoustical engineers to its new headquarters on Beuter Road.
Among those who joined Freimann in the 1930s were Austin Armer, Vern
Quinell and Ray Tolerton. These men had been working on a revolutionary new
speaker system for phonographs. The story goes that in 1935 Armer was struck
by the "live-dimension" or 3-D effect of his new dual-speaker system, and,
comparing it to the visual effect of the old stereoscopic slide viewer, he
coined the term "stereophonic" for the new system.
Other 1935 innovations in speakers called for other new and strange names.
Quinell thought up the word "tweeter" to describe that part of the speaker
system that reproduces only high-pitched sound. Moved by the same inventive
spirit, Tolerton dubbed the big, low-pitch speaker "woofer" (it was almost
called a "boomer," they remembered).
Two years later, Magnavox engineers invented the first hi-fi (high-
fidelity) phonograph, and in 1952 the first transistor radio was produced -
all at the Beuter Road plant.
PAC-MAN's local ancestors
Although Magnavox in Fort Wayne has since become solely a government and
industrial products manufacturer, one last notable consumer item was developed
in Fort Wayne - the video game.
In 1972, four years before Atari and Intellivision came along, Magnavox
produced the Odyssey home-video game. Odyssey was something of a cross between
a traditional board game and an electronic game. This first video had chips,
clue cards, score pads and TV screen overlays, as well as electronic memory
cards and control paddles. This game was followed in 1979 by the Odyssey II,
which couldn't compete with newer games and was withdrawn from the market in
Making TV sets for all America
Philo T. Farnsworth, the Father of Television, astonished his high school
science teacher in 1922 when, at age 15, he described logically with diagrams
how images could be transmitted and received electronically over great
By 1927, he first transmitted a television image over cable, and, in 1928,
he could demonstrate the first completely electronic television system.
Throughout the 1930s, in San Francisco and Philadelphia, he perfected the
television tube technology. When Farnsworth came to Fort Wayne in 1939, he was
seeking a first-rate cabinet and electronic shop, which he found at the
Capehart Automatic Phonograph Co. Here, he began the first mass production of
TV sets in the U.S. Although the television market was not profitable (the
first TV station in Fort Wayne, WKJG, Channel 33, did not come on the air
until 1953), numerous wartime technological advancements, particularly in
radar and early missile- guidance systems, were made by the company, then
Farnsworth Television Co., between 1941 and 1946.
ITT Aerospace Optical Division bought Farnsworth in 1949.
Those musical slot machines
Other innovations in electronics also occurred in Fort Wayne in the
Depression years. One of the more interesting came from the Capehart Automatic
Phonograph Co. This company was started by Homer Capehart, U.S. Senator from
Indiana, 1944-1962, in Huntington in 1928.
The next year, he moved the operation to Fort Wayne, and in 1931 he
patented his coin-operated, record-playing machine called the "Jukebox," which
he sold to the Wurlitzer Co. The Capehart Co. continued to make record-
changers such as the "orchestrope" until 1939, when it was purchased by the
Farnsworth Television Co.
Digits are for calculating
A final technological innovation associated with Fort Wayne is the hand-
The Bowmar Instrument Corp. was formed in Fort Wayne in 1951 by Edward and
Joan White. He earlier had been head of the electron-mechanical section of the
Farnsworth Television Co. At first a one-employee operation in a barn loft at
Smith Field, the company grew to 30 employees by 1953, and by 1957 had
expanded to occupy the site of today's operation on Bluffton Road.
In 1971, the company introduced the first hand-held calculator called the
"Bowmar Brain." The technology developed at Bowmar, which included the
familiar red "LED" (low energy diode) readouts, enabled American business to
regain from the Japanese the lead in calculator electronics.
As it turned out, Bowmar lost the calculator in the marketplace because it
was unprepared for the huge popularity of the new item. Borrowing heavily to
increase production and determined not to use cheaper foreign labor, Bowmar
found itself unable to compete in the calculator price wars of the mid-1970s.
In addition, the Bowmar product was hurt by having to deal with its chief
rival, Texas Instruments, for basic components - many of which, it later was
learned, were defective or held up in delivery. Bowmar, like ITT and Magnavox
of Fort Wayne, withdrew from the consumer market and has concentrated instead
on government and industrial contracts.
--Dec. 13, 1993