Question of the Week: Do you have any inventors in your family tree?

+33 votes

On 23 June 1868, Christopher Latham Sholes, Samuel W. Soule and Carlos Glidden received a patent for the “type-writer,” or the first practical typewriter. This clearly changed not only the lives of office workers, but it also made the research of future genealogists much easier! What stories have you heard about ancestors who have invented useful -- or not so useful -- devices? Did they receive patents? What kind of impact did their inventions have?


in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (430k points)
No relation to me, but President Donald Trump's uncle, John Trump, was a respected scientist in the field of medical and military uses of radar and use of radiation for cancer treatment.

Surely you Jest, George Kellogg:  All Gore was either making a joke when he said that (if he said that) OR all the people who've been making him the Butt of the Joke for saying that are wrong.

You gave me a chuckle anyway!


I jested.

Interview with Wolf Blitzer, March 9, 1999: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

He never claimed to have invented the Internet, in the sense of writing code or laying fiber-optic cables. He meant only to take credit for the contributions that he made as a member of Congress.

However, Cousin Ty did file for a patent on his swing but was denied.

I envy the previous WikiTree responders!  My inventors are an abstraction to me.  Each of you know as much as I do about most of them.  The other posters are close to the creativity and in some cases, know the details of the invention and how it affected society.  Personal knowledge carries a lot of weight.
George, I hope you haven't given up on reading as a passtime! In this case, you can get to know your Inventors as human beings by reading magazine articles they published or those published about them. If the person is famous enough, even a book could exist.

Journalists who can't get interviews with a notable fill in the spaces by talking to their subject's friends and employees/-ers, for instance.
my grandfather carlson invented the padlock that uses a combination or a key in Pennsylvania 1931.
So many have thanked me and "responded to my post here, but I'm an interested bystander, not the proud cousin of an inventor.
Actually, one of my uncles was an inventor.  I know of 3 of his inventions, 2 of which he sold the patents to early on, the third he decided to manufacture himself.  Set up a factory, but unfortunately, wasn't really much of a businessman to keep it going.  Finally sold the lot and the patent to an Australian concern.  Portable pedal-boats, that can be folded up and easily carried on a car roof or such.
Peddle boats require Rigor.
I heard a story from mom's side about how to Mander brother's either invented something or started some business in history.  Mom used to say grandma told her the story.  For the time hundreds of years ago was considered rare for people to make it rich in business in England as there was so much poverty.  Not sure what the business was.  we could never find that out.

53 Answers

+11 votes
My great grandfather, Frank P. Gill has a patent with Fernando F. Farrar, both of Waterford, Erie County, PA.  It's titled IMPROVEMENT IN PROCESSES AND APPARATUS FOR RECOVERING WASTE SULPHURIC ACID and dated July 23, 1878..

Frank P. Gill, Jr, son of the above, of East Cleveland, Ohio, assignor to the Ferro Machine and Foundry Co., of Cleveland, OH has a PISTON design patent dated February 18, 1924.

Later, August 12, 1935 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, he had a patent for an APPARATUS FOR FORMING SAND MOLDS. This molding machine had an application for molding green sand molded for pouring iron castings. The sand is called "green" because the mold is not cured by baking it in an oven.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
That's really cool, Frank! These are the kinds of inventions no one ever hears about, but they've probably had a much larger impact than we can imagine.
+13 votes
My father, J.B. Gunn ( ) ( ) discovered the Gunn Effect and invented the Gunn Diode ( ) which is a "miniature" microwave generator (the kind used for Radar, not for cooking).

If you have ever got a speeding ticket from a handheld Radar gun, you can blame my father. It is (or at least was) also used in some Radar detectors.  It has lots of other uses too (listed in the Wikipedia article).

He had a bunch of other patents, but that is the one he is best known for.

I also have a 4th cousin once removed (on my mother's side), Horace Pentecost (,  who invented a one-person helicopter, called the Hoppi-copter, in the 1940s.

Also others articles on it if you do a google search)
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Pilot (125k points)
edited by Janet Gunn
Janet! Your family is fascinating! That is an incredible story about your father. You must be very proud of him. :-)
So technicaly it should be called a Radar Gunn.
+9 votes
My great great uncle, Clement Ferdinand Bonin, invented some sort of woodworking machine in 1923. Patent link follows (as far as I can tell, it is some sort of automatic machine to properly cut wood - I haven't the foggiest, though!). Clement was an avid machinist and inventor. He apparently owned a lawnmower repair shop in his later years and even was still at-work in his old age when he died of a heart attack in his shop.

Here is the Patent:

Here is Clement's profile:


My actual great grandfather, Frank August Bonin, was also a Toolmaker, though I am unsure if he patented anything. I'd like to think his uncle Clement was influential in some way, as Frank named one of his sons after him. Not to mention Frank went into Toolmaking, as well.
by Kristen Louca G2G6 Mach 2 (29.5k points)
Another amazing story! I had a feeling we'd have people posting some really great stuff this week. :-)
+9 votes

Michael Werk, invented several methods to reduce fat into soap and candles and started a very successful company in Cincinnati.  He eventually sold his business to local competitor, Procter & Gamble.

He had several patents. Here's one of them:

His commercialization of the patents led to a very comfortable lifestyle for him and his family.

by JT Strong G2G6 Mach 7 (79.7k points)
So very cool, JT!!
+10 votes
I guess I'll have to work on my however-many-times grandfather, Charles Perley-93. His profile is devoid of information.  He was a ship's machinist and invented and updated many things for ships. I think he holds 105 patents. He was also featured on a PBS special about drones. Apparently, he invented the first drone! It was more a pre-courser. It was actually a weapon delivery system and was used during the Civil War. He somehow used a hot-air balloon to drops bombs. Both sides used it, but it was not too terribly accurate.

Inventing ran in the family. His son patented an improvement to the desk/chair combo used in schools. I think it was a convertible model that could be folded up when not in use.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (669k points)
More amazing stuff, Lucy!!
+10 votes
My father designed a tent that could be erected in a few minutes. He then made it using a small hand turned sewing machine, canva and four miles of thread. We holidayed in the tent for years. We children would get an ice cream if we could erect the tent, assemble our stretchers and roll out our bedrolls in under 10 minutes. Ice creams were a daily treat when we were on the move!

Dad patented the tent and had a manufacturer lined up to produce it. Unfortunately a much larger company, which shall remain nameless, stole the idea and produced the tent for many years. At the time my parents couldn't afford to defend the patent . $5000 was a lot of money in the early 1970s.

My family still have the original handsewn tent. It's still going strong, with the occasional rewaterproofing of the roof.
by Susan Rine G2G1 (1.7k points)
Well, Susan, that's just awful! I love that he invented the tent, but it really seems unfair that he wasn't able to benefit from it.

My dad built a pop-up camper when I was a kid. He built the wood box and fold-outs, and my mom sewed the canvas on her sewing machine. I remember lots of angst over broken needles. ;-)

Dad was so proud when someone bought it for about $500 some years later, and then Mom and Dad went off and bought a "real" pop-up.

I'm so sorry about your Dad's tent patent, though. That's such a shame.
Ah, well, these things happen eh!
My dad made a tent like that, too, back in the 50s. It was a box with a tent attached around the edges, and clamped to racks on top of our car. We camped across country for many summers with my parents sleeping "up top."
+9 votes
My father-in-law Frank Macagno (born Francesco Maccagno) of San Francisco, CA had a patent with Eugene Taldo of Los Angeles, CA entitled,

SECURING MEANS FOR TANK CAPS (actually a locking gas cap) Patent #2146968 dated February 14, 1939.

I actually have copies of the original design plans, covered with a very showy, elegant certificate bearing a heavy red seal and bound with a blue ribbon.
by Karen Macagno G2G6 Mach 1 (10.3k points)
Wow! I would never have guessed something like this would have been invented that long ago.
+9 votes

My Dad played a major role in the development of synthetic oil for use in high performance military aircraft.....much of his work was classified.

by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)

WikiTree is just full of surprises and intrigue, Doug!! Who knew?

+6 votes

A distant relative from Pittsburgh became a prominent, early leader in the field of electricity and headed a major company in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the 1880s and 1890s.  He is the subject of a recent publication.

+7 votes
I do in fact have several. Anton Menge who invented the Menge Elevated Dredge. This invention was instrumental to canal dredging and is still in use today, he also built an  insect destroying device, as well as a water filter.  After the Civil War he built a fire engine for the city of New Orleans. His son Joseph Menge went on to improve his father's inventions and made some of his own including  a machine used to separate chaff from rice, the lamp stove, a dredging bucket and the rotary pump. Today Menge Pumps are still in use in draining flooded levee's in New Orleans.

Aloysius McIlvaine Duggan my great aunts husband who held the patent for the Guide apparatus for drafting inking aka draftsman's triangle. He also wrote a book for a college drafting classes, which I believe is still used today.
by Michelle Ladner G2G6 Mach 1 (14.7k points)
+7 votes

My Great Great Grandfather, Charles H. R. Godfrey, invented improvements in Label-Locks.  His patent can be found here US 576,571.  I am not really sure how the invention was used, but based on the classifications it is likely he invented the improvements during the course of his time working as a mail clerk.

by Mitch Loper G2G1 (1.3k points)
+6 votes

I do actually, my first cousin 4x removed, James Cardwell! (I too am guilty of not doing enough to his profile) He invented a few things.

Here's his story as written by one of our early family genealogists:

Dolly had another son, James, affectionately called “J”. His first job was with the Wabash Railroad Company as a “car checker”. In this capacity, he soon noted that refrigerator cars many times came to the Wabash Yards with doors broken open and the contents rifled or lost due to spoilage. He concluded there should be a locking device which would at least reduce such breakage to a minimum and thus save the railroad great sums of money. He concentrated on this problem and came up with a locking device which he took to the Patent Office in Washington, D. C., personally and obtained a patent, having to borrow money with which to accomplish this. Upon obtaining his patent, he eventually formed The Cardwell Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois and by 1910 was rated more than a millionaire by Dun and Bradstreet. His locking device is still used on all refrigerator cars and is currently manufactured by the Cardwell-Westinghouse Company, 8400 South Stewart Avenue, Chicago, with offices at 332 S. Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. He married Dorothy Durbin of Moberly, Missouri, the sister of one of Aunt Wortie’s closest and best friends, Maud(e) Durbin Skinner1, wife of Otis Skinner, famed actor and mother of Cornelia Otis Skinner, equally famous. (Well do I remember that when Otis Skinner was at the height of his popularity 1915-1916, and would appear in performances at St. Louis, Missouri, Mrs. Skinner would telephone Aunt Wortie upon her arrival in town and they would get together for as many visits as possible; often occupying the Skinner box at the theatre together. They had been girlhood chums and treasured these visits. Cousin “J” and his wife had two daughters, Mrs. Virginia C. Reinhardt of Barrington, Illinois, northwest of Chicago, and Mrs. Dorothy Knickerbocker of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cousin “J” was the soul of generosity to his brother Lafayette and his sisters, helping them in many ways. He, in fact, established trust funds for his sisters so that they would always be well provided for during their lives.

by Carrie Quackenbush G2G6 Mach 7 (74.1k points)
edited by Carrie Quackenbush
That's pretty cool, Carrie!
+7 votes
Walter Barling invented one of the first bombers in 1919/1920.  He's not a blood relation but married into the family.
by Christine Searle G2G6 Mach 3 (37.0k points)
+7 votes
Yes. Simon Ingersoll. Today you know his company as Ingersoll Rand. He invented the first rock drill which they built their fame upon. Sadly, Simon himself died in near poverty. He had to farm just to keep his family fed. He invented the drill, then sold the patent way too cheap. But, the company kept his name alive and we hear it all over the place today.
by Teralyn Lumley G2G Crew (540 points)
+7 votes
My father [[Martindale-731|Rick Martindale]] and grandfather, [[Martindale-733|William Martindale]] started their business in the late 1960s, early 1970s when my father returned from Vietnam.  

They invented and patented the first hydraulic mechanical post-mix soda bar gun dispenser.  []. The company is called Automatic Bar Controls, Inc. aka Wunder Bar.  If you have ever been into most bars or restaurants with bars and watched the bartender pick up what is known as a "bar gun" and dispense your soda from it into your glass......95% of the time, that is a Wunder Bar soda gun that was invented by my father and grandfather.  

They started their business in Northern California (where we still live) from the ground up.  First they began in Alameda County, California and in 1983 moved their business up to Vacaville, California right outside of Sacramento and about 40 minutes from San Francisco.  We were located in the business park and had a large building where we actually manufactured everything right there and would ship all across the world to our distributors.  

For almost 45 years, they cornered the market because they did patent everything about the design of that bar gun.  Our biggest customer (no surprise) was Coca-Cola North America based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Within the last two decades, the Corporate offices of Pepsi came to Wunder Bar to have us design new dispensers for them as well.  We also manufactured other beverage and food dispensing equipment as well and expanded into that in the 1990s.  

My grandfather passed away in 2009 and then my father, Rick whom is almost 70 now just sold his portion of the business and has since retired.  At just 15 years old, I was working in my dad's office and 20 years later, I knew that business backwards and forwards.  I was very sad to say goodbye to a place where the employees were like my family.  My father found it difficult to let people go.  Most of the 150 employees were there for decades, since I was a kid.  And hardly any of them are left working there now.  Many left after my father did.  Some were fired by the corporate entity that now owns it.   

Since 2013, Wunder Bar was bought out by a huge corporate company that started out manufacturing professional grade ovens for restaurants in the early 20th century.  It is now a publicly traded company, along with several dozen other companies that are owned by the same company that bought Wunder Bar.  

Today, the patents have since run their course.  So, as you can imagine there are other start ups out there that have copied the design and are selling them out in the market.  

But, I have fond memories of growing up helping my father with his business.  It was hard to see it all go because that was my every day life for so long.  I can only imagine how my dad feels at times.
by Anonymous Martindale G2G5 (5.6k points)
A great set of memories to have. Almost like a mid-1940s Gregory Peck movie.
+7 votes
Yes, at least two relations. Dr Julius Jeffreys who invented the respirator and Frederick Simon Every who invented the chimney sweeper
by Richard Shelley G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
+7 votes
My husband's grandfather Ralph George Sawning Sr was a metal smith and mechanic.  He designed a carburetor that used a water solution.and got about 50mph back in the late 40s early 50s..He attempted to find financial backers but no one was interested because gas was so cheap....He didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to search patents so he gave up..My husband saw the drawings as a young child and heard the sorry from his grandfather...unfortunately the designs were lost after he passed away...
by Elizabeth Sawning G2G2 (2.4k points)
+7 votes
Actually my brother invented an ergonomic fishing pole. He loves to fish and the normal fishing pole was causing pain and discomfort in his wrist and elbow. So he designed a fishing pole with and angled handle that keeps your wrist in alignment and relieves the pressure on the elbow. He made them himself, found a company to make them, and he sold them at fishing shows. A company eventually bought his product and I think the patent but they have not produced them. A real shame because there are a lot of fishermen who would benefit from this rod. I have one and it is great.
by Thomas Michels G2G Crew (630 points)
+7 votes
My wife's father (still living) was involved in some the early stealth research and has several patents. He worked on making paints that were less reflective or detectable to radar.

My great grandmother's uncle Joseph Synar holds patent US 266552 (1882) for glass insulators for piano legs. He was a glass blower and believed that his invention improved the acoustics rather then have a piano directly on the floor. I don't think he was able to market them though.
by Michael Guenther G2G3 (3.5k points)
+7 votes
My brother and I each have three patents.  His are related to automotive and bicycle design, and mine are related to software in home appliances.  I'm not aware of any direct ancestors or other distant relations who have registered patents.
by Erik Oosterwal G2G6 Mach 5 (50.8k points)
As a matter of fact, my husband retired from Hewlett Packard last September, and over last summer, he filed 6 patents for different mechanical components related to lap tops. His father has 3 patents through Texas Instruments, and we are waiting to see how it all pans out. The race is on!

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