Monday, February 9, 2009

Reminiscences of an Active Life #13 -- February 9, 2009

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde was born in Nymegen, Holland in 1813. He went on to live a remarkable life of achievement in the sciences and the arts. He died in America in 1895.

While serving as editor of Manufacturer and Builder Magazine, he wrote many articles, including the ones which gave this blog its name. In 1893 and 1894, he published a 23-part (!) memoir in the same periodical. Here is the thirteenth part. He begins to discuss his career as an inventor.

George B Scott invented an improved stock ticker.

The image comes from The Telephone, an article that Doctor Van Der Weyde published in the May, 1869 issue. It depicts the receiver of his telephone.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Reminiscences of an Active Life.


From Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 26, Issue 2, February 1894

(Continued from page 21.)

7th. Career as an Inventor. -- Space did not permit me to add at the end of page 21, that I not only continue to take a keen interest in the progress of the natural sciences, but also intend to furnish some contributions to that progress, such as I have done in times past, either by pointing out new directions in which success may be expected, or by making practical improvements and exhibiting or publishing the same.

Thus, for instance, I was the first who advised Mr. Prescott of the Western Union Telegraph Company to apply the dynamo, in place of galvanic batteries, for the production of the currents required for their extensive system, which was then already outgrowing the capacity of all the batteries for which room could be found in their new building at the corner of Dey street and Broadway, so that additional batteries had been placed in other buildings.

I did not then realize the fact that it is much easier to introduce an improvement, if you give to those by whose instrumentality it has to be done, a chance to make some money out of it. Nobody could make money out of my advice except, ultimately, the company, and so nothing was done until a certain Mr. Field from California, who had been shrewd enough to push through the Patent Office the application of the dynamo, which he had not invented, to telegraphy, which also he had not invented -- in fact, the combination of Pacinottis and Grammes joint invention -- to the invention of Henry and Morse, and who asked $100,000 for his patent, which the Western Union Company paid, and of which Mr. Field obtained a part.

I had the satisfaction of seeing that my expectations were verified to such an extent that the Western Union Company do not use any more batteries at all, but transmit all their messages by means of dynamos, of which they have a great number, large and small, in their cellars. It is the same with the so-called ticker which transmits the condition of the stock market, and of which the office adjoins the Stock Exchange. Here powerful dynamos are located in the basement, while the operators work it on the top story by means of the most ingenious and complicated con
trivances and improvements, of which science is indebted to the genius of Mr. Scott.

In regard to the telephone, I did not confine myself to mere advice, but as soon as I found a description of the instrument as invented by the German schoolmaster, Reiss, in a newly-published German book, and in the Polytechnic Journal, I made telephones and exhibited them before the Polytechnic Section of the American Institute, which then was located in rooms in the Cooper Union building.

I improved the instrument by adding adjusting screws (which Reiss instrument did not have), so that I could regulate the pressure between the point and the vibrating plate. I regret that I did not patent this improvement, which is applied at the present time to all transmitters, and is of equal importance as the retracting spring to the sounder. The latter was a feature of the Page patent, which the Western Union Company bought from his widow, and was one of the claims which that
company set up in the prosecution of certain electric manufacturers who used it in some of their contrivances.

I also prepared a patent application explaining the substitution of the human voice for the sounder in the transmission of telegraphic messages. However, at the suggestion of some of my friends, that the manipulation of the telegraph key was so
handy, and was much easier than singing or tooting in the telephone, I abandoned the idea. This was fully a year before Prof. Bell applied for his telephone patent, as is proved by reports in the papers of that period, such as the Tribune and others.

As the telephone transmitted the pitch and duration of sounds perfectly, I used it only for musical melodies. I did not conceive how it could be possible that so simple an instrument could transmit articulate speech, which would involve the transformation of various sonorous vibrations in the air into articulate electric vibrations, to go through a wire, and that then these electric vibrations could be re-transformed into articulate aerial vibrations. I must confess that I do not yet fully understand all the details of this phenomenon, but know that it is an established fact.

One cause of my doubt, was that I had been carefully examining a talking machine then on exhibition, and was impressed with the complexity of its construction, and therefore expressed my opinion in the February number of the MANUFACTURER AND BUILDER for 1870, that we must not expect to be able to transmit all the various
letters of the alphabet as used in articulate speech, but only vibrations, differing in velocity and in duration (rhythm).

In the descriptions of Reiss' telephones and experiments, which then had happened to come to my knowledge, no mention whatever was made that spoken words had been transmitted and understood, wherefore my patent application was confined to the production of long and short sounds of various pitch -- in fact, to the imitation
of the dots and dashes of the sounder. However, my first and principal claim was very broad, and worded as follows: "1st. I claim the substitution of the human voice in place of the key, and the telephone receiver in place of the sounder, for the
transmission of telegraphic messages."

If this claim had been entered and granted (for which there was no reason to doubt, as it was both new and useful), it would have anticipated Bell, who applied long afterward; while in addition to this, my old telephones (of which an illustrated description will be given in the next issue of this journal) were far superior to any of the contrivances which Bell illustrated and described in his first application for a patent. They were soon entirely abandoned as useless.

In order to moderate some prevailing exagerated and sanguine expectations, I also expressed my conviction, that, considering the resistance and inductive impediments of a submarine conductor, there was no hope that we ever would be able to sing "Yankee Doodle" through the Atlantic cable so that our English cousins could hear and understand it.

(To be continued.)

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