Today in CT History: Wind Power for the Prairies, and
Connecticut Has Presence in National Inventors Hall of Fame, Including Some Less-Than-Household Names (CT By The Numbers)
During the first half of the 19th century, as thousands of Americans journeyed westward in search of new fortunes, necessity became the mother of invention as would-be farmers were forced to adapt to new climates and topographies that were unlike anything they had ever seen before. Since the Great Plains generally lacked the forests and fast-moving streams found along the nation’s eastern seaboard, settlers became increasingly reliant on wind power to drive their granaries and pump their water wells. American inventors seized upon the trend, applying for dozens of windmill-related patents in the course of a single decade, from 1850 – 1859.
One innovative design stood out among the rest, however. On August 29, 1854, Daniel Halliday of Ellington, Connecticut received a patent for an adaptable “wind wheel” design that changed the direction of its sails when encountering different wind speeds without requiring any human oversight. This deceptively simple, self-adapting windmill revolutionized the fledgling wind-power industry in the United States: Before Halladay’s invention, windmills were routinely torn apart during periods of high winds and severe thunderstorms, which were much more common in the Midwest than in New England.
Soon after receiving his patent, Halladay founded the Halladay Wind Mill Company and moved his operations to nearby Coventry. Demand for his windmills was so high, however, that he soon sold his company at a handsome profit to the United States Wind Engine Company, which moved production westward to Illinois during the Civil War. “Halladay windmills” remained popular through the end of the century, with thousands being produced annually to grind grain and provide water for farms, towns, and even railroad companies.
CT’s Presence in National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame has been honoring the spirit of innovation and promoting inventors as role models since 1973. During those 47 years, 17 inventors with Connecticut connections have been inducted. Some are household names, others less so.
The most recent inductee from Connecticut is Augustine Sackett who was born in the town of Warren in 1841 and credited with the invention of drywall. Sackett was inducted in 2017, which was 103 years after his death.
More familiar Connecticut names among the list of inductees are Samuel Colt, inventor of a revolver with interchangeable parts, inducted in 2006, John Fitch, credited for devising the method of propelling boats with steam, inducted that same year, and Charles Goodyear (1800-60), responsible for the vulcanization of rubber, inducted in 1976.
The mission of the National Inventors Hall of Fame is recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Located on the campus of the
The United States Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, the museum space enables visitors to explore the nearly 600 inductees and their technological achievements. The nonprofit organization also provides STEM and innovation-focused education programs, competitions, and events, and partners with schools and organizations across the country.
Among the Connecticut 17 are names less familiar, but whose impact on our daily lives is nonetheless unmistakable. Vinton Cerf, born in New Haven in 1943, co-designed the architecture of the Internet and the procedures known as the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP (US Patent No. 6,574,628), that allow supercomputers and desktop PCs to share the Internet.
He did so with Robert Kahn, and together they are often referred to as the “fathers of the Internet,” according to the Hall of Fame, where they were inducted in 2006. Their conceptual design, developed in 1974, evolved into the Internet, enabling applications ranging from e-mail, streaming audio and video to the World Wide Web. Cerf and Kahn (a Brooklyn, NY native) received the National Medal of Technology in 1997, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Another recent inductee (2015) from Connecticut is Paul B. MacCready, a New Haven native. As the National Inventors Hall of Fame explains, “MacCready was an aeronautical engineer known as the ‘Father of Human Powered Flight’ and is often seen as an “inventor’s inventor” because of his affinity for invention. MacCready started two companies to pursue weather modifications and alternative energy research before turning to innovative flight research.
He designed a vehicle with large, light wings made of transparent Mylar stretched over thin aluminum tubing, and employing a wing-warping system of control reminiscent of that employed on the original Wright Flyer. In 1977, his bicycle-powered Gossamer Condor became the first such human-powered craft, followed by the Gossamer Albatross which crossed the English Channel in 1979…The Gossamer Condor defines his career and inventive spirit.”
Back to the drywall story (US Patent No. 520,123): Few modern products have transformed construction as much as drywall, the Hall of Fame explains. Sackett Board, the prototype for drywall, was patented by Augustine Sackett in 1894, and the evolution of Sackett’s invention shaved weeks off the time needed to finish a building. Today, the average new house in American contains over 6,000 feet of drywall, and it is a staple of modern structures.
Consisting of a core panel of gypsum plaster sandwiched between two thick sheets of paper, Sackett Board was rigid but soft enough to admit nails, and tough enough not to crack during installation or ordinary use. It replaced the time-consuming and labor-intensive method of wet-plaster wall construction. Sackett Board could be installed in a single day, the Hall of Fame goes on to explain.
Sackett Board was improved through the years, including its strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and fire resistance. In the 1940s, after wartime rationing limited the availability of lumber, contractors began using drywall instead. The panels became standard in inexpensive housing tracts mushrooming across the country. Drywall’s popularity grew in nonresidential construction and high rises as well, including the John Hancock Tower which was built in 1976 in Boston, and Chicago’s Sears Tower, completed in 1973. In the century since his death, the American demand for drywall has risen by more than 6,000 percent, and sales top $3 billion annually, according to the Hall of Fame.
The next induction ceremony is scheduled for May 6, 2021 (delayed from this year due to COVID). To nominate an inventor for induction in a future year, the following criteria must be substantiated:
Patent – Nominees must hold a U.S. patent for an invention that has contributed to and advanced society.
Progress – The invention should have contributed significantly to its industry, improving it, and moving it forward.
Perseverance – The lives of nominees are characterized by inspiring stories of determination, challenges overcome, and beating the odds.
Passion – Nominees are leaders in their fields who understand the importance of developing the next generation of American innovators.
Among the National Inventor Hall of Fame inductees with a link to the Nutmeg State are Eric R. Fossum, for the CMOS Active Pixel Image Sensor Camera-on-a-Chip, inducted in 2011, born and raised in Connecticut, graduate of Simsbury High School, who attended Trinity College for his undergraduate degree and Yale University for his graduate degrees and Robert Gallo, otHIV Virus Isolation and Diagnosis, inducted in 2004, who was born and raised in Waterbury, and graduated Sacred Heart High School.
The Connecticut roster also includes:
· Robert N. Hall (1919-2016), Semiconductor Laser, inducted 1994, born in New Haven.
· Alexander L. Holley (1832-82), Steelmaking Process in America, inducted 2006, born in Lakeville.
· Simon Ingersoll (1818-94), Steam-Powered Rock Drill, inducted 2006, born in Greenwich
· Frederic Eugene Ives (1856-1937), Color Photography, inducted 2011, born in Litchfield.
· Mary Dixon Kies (1752-1837), Process for Weaving Straw with Silk or Thread, inducted 2006, born in South Killingly.
· Edwin Herbert Land (1909-1991), Instant One-Step Photography, inducted 1977, born in Bridgeport.
· Kenneth H. Olsen (1926-2011), Magnetic Core Memory, inducted 1990, born in Stratford.
· Frank J. Sprague (1957-1934), Electric Street Car, inducted 2006, born in Milford.
· Eli Terry (1772-1852), Clock, inducted 2007, born in East Windsor.
Thanks to CT By The Numbers and Today in Connecticut History
Photo credit to Today in Connecticut History, Office of the State Historian and CThumanities