Early in my career I developed a robotic sampling system that incorporated a couple of ideas which were patented for competitive reasons (Patent 4,816,730 - AutoSampler). As a result of having a patent granted, I learned that by reviewing patents one can gain insight into the inventor(s) reasons for having to invent something along with the operation and intended use of an invention. The writing of patents is an art form in itself. A technical device, concept, or idea has to be described in a clear, concise, easily understood manner. Patents explain the reason for an invention, how and why the invention is unique, the functionality of what has been invented, and the document summarizes the innovation, uniqueness, and new discovery of the invention. A patent must be written specific enough to describe the intricies of the invention (to eliminate patent infringement) while at the same time written broad and general enough to include all variants of an invention's specific characteristics (so as not to have the patent effectively made useless by someone coming up with an alternate version that does the same thing for less).
Being a Stanley owner Iíve come to marvel at some of the devices the Stanleys came up with for their steam cars. Perhaps my favorite is the three-tube indicator (right). It serves as an excellent example of a device invented by the Stanleys to address a specific need. Today, Stanley owners marvel at the ingenuity that went into dreaming up this simplistic non-mechanical device that accomplishes a specific purpose ~ continuously indicating the water level in a high-pressure boiler. It is fascinating to see the embodiment of the original invention still operating on some Stanley steam cars.
A patent application entitled "Water-Level Indicator" was filed with the US Patent Office by Francis E. Stanley of Newton, Massachusetts on July 18, 1907. His application was assigned Application Serial Number 384,378. Eight years later the device was awarded Patent Number 1,123,611 on January 5, 1915. While the drawings that accompanied the patent application and made part of the final patent describe a device cast in bronze, the unit was later greatly simplified to three parallel pieces of pipe and constructed as the device shown at the right but operating on the same identical principals as defined by the patent.
Up until the invention of the 3-tube indicator all steam boilers used a simple circular glass tube such as shown at the left. While fine for low-pressure boilers, when higher pressures were employed the glass tube was encased in a heavy steel enclosure with a thick glass viewing port for added safety. A boiler water level indicator has to be mounted on a boiler at the water's operating level for the boiler. Often called dead-side indicators, an indicator for a 600 PSIG Stanley boiler are large and generally mounted in an opening in the firewall at floorboard level if the 3-tube indicator has been replaced. This location makes the reading the water level difficult not only because they require the driver to take their eyes off the road but because the viewing angle can be very limited to obtain an accurate indication.
At the start of the 20th century locomotives and stationary boilers had dead-side water level indicators along with a set of three "try-cocks" for insuring adequate water levels in boilers. The Stanleys chose not to use a dead-side indicator because of the problems noted earlier. Try-cocks could work but had to be manually checked and they wasted steam and water not to mention requiromg the driver have a free hand to operate them. Ask any Stanley driver and they will tell you they already had enough valves to control in addition to gripping a steering tiller or wheel so more wasn't an option. Additionally, continuous indication was a requirement and thus try-cocks simply wouldn't be practical for use in a steam carriage. Employing "Yankee Ingenuity" the Stanley twins invented the 3-tube Indicator. Click on the 3-Tube Indicator photograph to review the 3-Tube Indicator patent.
Having a friend that works in the patent office since college (having now progressed to being an examiner) I've been able to have expert guidance in locating for patents of interest to me for review and study. I also have two intellectual property and patent lawyer friends who can provide insight with respect to the legal aspects of writing, interpreting, and enforcing patents. For example, when trying to narrow in on a patent date based on patent numbers, it is helpful to know that patents are only issued on Tuesdays! Every patent date on a Stanley patent plate is a Tuesday thus one wants to make sure their date searches are for Tuesdays.
Whenever an inventor submits an application to the patent office it is assigned a serial number (serial numbers start at 1,000, run to 999,999, then repeat). You'll note in the tables that follow that most of the Stanley patents were submitted between 1897 and 1903 but some were not issued until 1904 and 1905 probably due to the patent being contested in some manner. The table includes whom the patent was assigned to (if applicable) as well as who is credited as being the inventor. The term "mesne" is defined by Merriam-Webster as derived from Anglo-French circa 1558 and is used in legal settings to mean "assigned to".
My search started in an obvious place; the patent plate found on many early Stanleys. The Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve's Thomas Marshall Collection of Stanleys provided several original patent plates for my examination. Research into a small group of the cars led to the following conclusions. Patent plates probably started to appear on cars produced in 1905 because this is the latest date that is documented on the patent plates found so far. If there were plates on cars before 1905 I've not discovered any to date. The initial cars that included plates had three October 6, 1903 dates on them and these plates were in use at least until 1908. Sometime after 1908 and before 1910 the plates were modified with the removal of one of the October 6, 1903 dates (hence the blank space in the plate photographed at left). No condenser cars seem to have patent plates on them so installation of patent plates were probably discontinued around 1914 as in 1915 Stanley made condensing steam cars exclusively.
Stanley plates have the dates stamped such that the lettering appears to stand off the surface of the plate (embossed). Plates are usually attached to the cross-member located below the front seat where they are highly visible. Plates on cars through 1908 had three OCT 6, 1903 dates appearing but plates on cars after 1908 had the middle column date missing and the plate simply is flat at this location as pictured above. You will note that there are two entries for OCT 10, 1899, SEP 1, 1903, and JAN 10, 1905. Initial plates were made of brass with later ones of tin.
With the help of the archivists at The Stanley Museum a compiled list, ordered by patent date, of all the patents with archived copies at the Museum was obtained as a starting point. After obtaining copies of each of the patents though the US Patent Office, additional patents and leads were uncovered and followed up upon. When Kit Foster was commissioned to write The Stanley Steamer - America's Legendary Steam Car, my patent work proved helpful and the book contains the listings that are provided on this website. Foster's research and Stanley Museum archivists uncovered additional patents by other individuals which were examined. For example, the book's research uncovered leads to patents that didn't originate with the Stanley twins but were purchased by them in order to manufacture their cars. Additionally, with the Stanley's selling their initial business to Locomobile, the uncovering of numerous Locomobile patents associated with the Stanley twins and other individuals was possible.
Several pages of patent listing tables are provided for reference. The first table lists all the patents either awarded to Francis Edgar Stanley and/or Freelan Oscar Stanley. This listing includes patents not only assigned to the Stanley Motor Carriage Company but also patents assigned to the Locomobile Company as part of the twins contractual association with that company. The second table lists patents by individuals that worked for the Stanleys or with whom the Stanleys had business ties. All known Locomobile patents are included as part of the third table. Finally, the patents of George Eli Whitney, great-grandnephew of Eli Whitney (cotton gin inventor), are included. George had an interest in steam powered vehicles and formed the Whitney Motor Wagon Company and the Stanley twins are known to have associated with George Whitney while developing their initial cars. As time progressed the Stanley twins would sell their business to a company called Locomobile. Locomobile would eventually gain control of the Whitney patents. The Stanley twines would re-enter the steam carriage business, eventually purchasing Locomobile and their early patents back while gaining control of the Whitney patents as well. The tables show George Whitney had numerous patents assigned to the Whitney Motor Wagon Company but ten additional Whitney patents were assigned to the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. The Whitney family had a third member interested in transportation as well; George's uncle Amos is the "Whitney" of Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines!
As one reviews the patents, especially the Whitney patents, strong ties to the bicycle industry of the era will become obvious. Early cars often used bicycle spooked wheels and tubular frame constructions similar to what was used on bicycles. These constructions were readily available technologies of the day in addition to wood construction techniques used for wagons and carriages. Many of the Whitney patent applications were made to the US Patent Office before the Stanley twins started to construct their prototype vehicle. As Whitney was a prolific inventor, the Stanleys were well aware that infringement of a Whitney patent needed to be avoided if they didn't want to severely impact their steam carriage's design.
It is also important to remember that once the Stanley twins had constructed their first steam carriage and had taken approximately 200 orders for it, they sold the business to John Brisben Walker (owner of Cosmopolitan magazine at the time) who partnered with Amzi Lorenzo Barber (known as "The Asphalt Kink") to form what eventually became known as "Locomobile". The Stanleys were required to work for Walker and Barber for two years and were contractually obligated not to be involved with any other motor carriage business for the two year period (1900-1901). The sales agreement included the tooling, design, and patents associated with the steam carriage. When the twins returned to making steam cars in 1902 they had to develop their new car not only around all of Whitney's (as well as other's) patents, they also didn't have rights to their early patents. The Stanley 1902 car was designed to avoid infringement of not only their early patents, but those of Whitney and others of the era. As history further unfolded, patent infringement occurred around a technicality of the chain drive forcing them to revise their design further and move the engine from chain drive to a direct drive differential gear mounting -- a stroke of genius that many cite as a major design feature that greatly contributed to making the Stanley steam car legendary.
Viewing of the individual patents requires the use of a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. The patents are only available in PDF format. Please click on the Adobe icon to the left to download the latest version of the reader if you do not already have it available on your computer. To view any patent, click on the patent number in the table and the patent will display in a new tab/window. The patents were scanned and provided by the US Patent Office. We apologize in advance for those which display less than ideal.
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