Michael K. Daugherty
We live in an age of technology. We can fly across the continental United States in a matter of hours. We can send electronic messages to others on the other side of the Earth, and they can reply in an instant. We are in the midst of tremendous technological change, yet throughout history, and in every known culture, people have produced devices and products that have allowed them to lead easier and more productive lives. The people of Illinois have been no different, as they, too, have applied their knowledge of science and technology to invent new and better products. Today, we associate the development of a new device with the issuance of a patent. Although it is common today for an inventor to simply sell his or her idea to an existing manufacturing company, this was usually not an option in the nineteenth century. Most early inventors were their own researchers, manufacturers, accountants, shippers, and salesmen. Agriculture was Illinois' first important industry, and early inventions aimed to make the tasks of farm life easier and more productive. One of the first numbered patents issued to an Illinois citizen, in fact, a patent for an improved plough (plow) was granted in 1844 to Harvey Crown of Parson. In 1837 John Deere, a blacksmith in Grand Detour, revolutionized farming. Deere used lighter and more highly polished steel than the cast iron used in the sandy soils in New England to create the first successful self-scouring plow. Because he knew there was a demand, Deere confidently manufactured plows before he had orders for them—an entirely new approach to both manufacturing and selling. In 1848 he opened a factory in Moline where he could take advantage of the water power and transportation offered by the Mississippi River. He was soon producing one thousand plows a year.
Dr. Thomas Chandler of Rockville, Illinois, received a patent for a winnowing machine in 1844. Dr. Chandler's machine was one of many machines that proceeded and led to the development of Cyrus McCormick's reaper, which he patented in 1845. McCormick came to Chicago in 1850 to manufacture horse-drawn reapers. His "Virginia Reaper" could cut fifteen acres of wheat a day. A man with a scythe and cradle could cut only three acres. Agriculture in Illinois was mechanized further by the development of stationary steam-engine-powered threshing machines (1880) and by internal-combustion engines in 1891. In 1908, the first gasoline tractor (with crawler tracks) was manufactured by the Stanley Holt Company of California. The Holt Company moved to Peoria and changed the company name to Caterpillar. Caterpillar is now the world's largest industrial manufacturer.
As the state's technological advances continued to develop in mid-nineteenth century Illinois, entrepreneurs were forced to find methods of importing raw materials and exporting finished products over waterways and crude roads. Transportation quickly became a fertile area for the implementation of scientific and technological knowledge. Inventors and entrepreneurs throughout Illinois attempted to develop the means to improve transportation. For example, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued patent #6,469 to Abraham Lincoln on May 22,1849, for a device that was used to buoy vessels over shoals in shallow rivers like the Sangamon River. It was the only U.S. patent issued to a future U.S. president. In 1848 the Illinois & Michigan Canal was completed, providing a shipping link with the Great Lakes and the eastern region of the United States for Illinois agricultural products. Between 1850 and 1860 the rail
system allowed farm produce, raw materials, finished products, as well as mineral ore and coal for steel production to move more efficiently. The new railroads and canals created a host of new industrial development and innovation inside and outside the transportation industry, thereby marking an end to the dominance of agriculture as the primary impetus for scientific and technological innovation. Rails ruled the developing industrial landscape. In 1867 George Pullman founded a company in Bloomington to build sleeping cars for railroads, and in 1880, he built the town of Pullman adjacent to his new factory just south of Chicago, the central junction for the nation's railroad system.
With the development of more advanced transportation systems, meat could be packed and shipped great distances. Canning processes, introduced to the U.S. from Great Britain in 1817, allowed other Chicago packers to ship tens of millions of cans of meat, fruit, vegetables, and milk each year. Using a patent developed by John Megenberg of St. Louis, the Milk Condensing Company of Highland, Illinois, began the first milk condensing and canning company in the United States in 1885.
With the newfound wealth created in the early stages of the industrial revolution, many Illinois inventors and entrepreneurs turned their attention to developing products that made every day household tasks easier to perform. In 1869 the first U.S. patent for a suction-principle vacuum cleaner was awarded to I. W. McGafley of Chicago. In 1876, with the development of the telephone, exchanges soon opened in Chicago and in the smaller cities across the state. In 1907 the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago marketed the first electric washing machine, the "Thor," patented by Alva J. Fisher of Chicago.
In 1872 Montgomery Ward issued a mail-order catalog in Chicago, allowing people living in remote areas of the nation easy access to goods from Illinois. Between 1890 and 1920, Marshall Field, the Mandel Brothers, and Carson, Prairie, and Scott all built department stores in Chicago. They promoted "shopping," encouraging potential customers to examine goods without prior intentions to buy. Windows were designed artistically to attract people on the streets, as stores actively tried to influence people's ideas of what was stylish and appropriate. The retailers also placed a fixed price on each item. Advertising and marketing became important businesses, some might even call them industries. Half a century later, Illinois was home to another significant development in both retailing and shopping—the mall. Two of the earliest shopping malls in the country were opened: one in Evergreen Park, the other in Mt. Prospect.
The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago celebrated the "stupendous results of American enterprise." Approximately 27 million visitors saw the recent technological achievements of Illinois inventors. The centerpiece for the Exposition was the first Ferris Wheel (which George Washington Gale Ferris of Galesburg, Illinois, developed) towering 250 feet over the Midway. Visitors also saw the first electrically operated water fountains, the Otis elevator, electric trains, electric stoves, motion picture projectors, clocks, Elgin watches (Elgin, Illinois), moving sidewalks, a baby incubator, and Halladay windmills (Batavia, Illinois). Illinois inventor and entrepreneur, Whitcomb L. Judson, demonstrated his newly patented (1891) "clasp locker," a device later known as the "zipper." While visitors to the fair, they could see the new skyscrapers towering above the city's central business district.
The abundance of readily available natural resources in Illinois also led to the development of many new products and industries. When potter David Brunk moved from Ohio to settle south of Springfield, he began production using clay found along the Sangamon River. In 1875 the Macomb Pottery Company began producing some of the first decorative wheel-thrown earthenware in the state. One of the most successful porcelain manufacturers was the Pickard China Studio in Chicago. By 1900 Illinois ranked second in the nation in the production of ceramics.
The abundance of coal in southern Illinois led to the establishment of cast-iron and steel-making companies. As early as 1869 Illinois plants produced almost one-third of the country's iron and steel. The Excelsior Stove & Manufacturing Company in Quincy (1880) produced nickel-plated cookstoves that burned either wood or coal more efficiently than open fireplaces and allowed more control of the fire. In addition to cooking, the stove could be used for heating water, boiling the laundry, warming the sad iron, and heating the home. The W. H. Howell Company of Geneva, Illinois (1830-1880), specialized in cast-iron sad irons. Sad irons were used to press wrinkles from clothing and were usually sold in sets of two or more so that one iron could be used while the other was left to heat up on the stove. (The irons often weighed as much as ten pounds, thus the name "sad," an old English term meaning heavy.) The availability of steel also made possible the invention of one of the most significant
inventions in American history—barbed wire. Wooden fences were impractical on the big, treeless plains, and Joseph Glidden's barbed wire enabled ranchers (for the first time) to divide up the range. By 1887 Glidden was producing 173,000 tons of wire each year in its DeKalb plant.
In 1939 oil was discovered in central and southern Illinois. Illinois scientists quickly pointed the way in the development of petroleum-based products, including synthetic fabrics like nylon and items made of plastic. Illinois scientists and technologists also began to discover uses for energy-based resources found in non traditional places. On December 2, 1942, a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi conducted the first controlled nuclear chain reaction at a top-secret laboratory under the football field at the University of Chicago. These experiments ushered in the development of nuclear power, nuclear weaponry, and a host of related technologies. Similarly, in 1972, John Bardeen, a University of Illinois professor, was one of the first scientists to explain the concept of superconductivity. Superconductivity may revolutionize the field of energy in the next century. Bardeen won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
A significant number of Illinois-based inventions were related to the developing electronics and communications industries. One of the first significant innovations in communications was amplitude modulation (AM) radio, invented in 1915 by Raymond Heising and Hendrick Johannes van der Bijl. The Telephone Maintenance Company of Chicago began marketing the Telmaco Acme Receiver that same year. The first radio station in Illinois began broadcasting from Tuscola in 1922, two years after the first commercial broadcast in the U.S. In 1941 Crawford Eddy set up Chicago's first experimental television station, W9XBK, which became WBKB, Channel 4, in 1942. However, only about one hundred families in Chicago owned television sets. In 1956, Alexander M. Poniatoff demonstrated a machine at the National Broadcaster's Convention in Chicago that was capable of recording simultaneously sound and pictures for the first time. His invention was the precursor to the VCR. The introduction of long-playing records in 1948 and the development of the phonograph (1950) by the Zenith Radio Corporation in Chicago made better-sounding records possible. Better recordings in turn sparked interest in better-quality sound equipment. This was the beginning of mass-produced high-fidelity, or "hi-fi," equipment. The Revere movie camera, first produced in Chicago in 1955, did for pictures what the phonograph did for sound. The eight-millimeter camera was designed for filming home movies, an American pastime that has provided hours of enjoyment for millions of people. Of course, a camera and projector could be purchased from department stores like Montgomery Wards, which also offered Revere eight-millimeter film, with processing and return postage included. In 1965 the Zenith Radio Corporation once again advanced the electronic and communications industries by introducing the solid-state console stereo, with a record player, stereophonic sound, and an AM-FM radio.
Although the vast majority of scientific, technological, and product developments in Illinois resulted from years of research, experimentation, and design work, there have been a few exceptions. Jimmy Dewar, manager of the Continental Baking Plant in Chicago, wanted to overcome a seasonal slump in the sales of short cakes after strawberries were gone from the local markets. He solved this problem by injecting the short cakes with a sugary cream and selling them as a separate product. He came up with the name "Twinkies" while walking past the local Twinkle Toes Shoe Factory. The Lava Lite was introduced to the United States from Chicago in 1965. The company advertised and marketed the heated-up globual as the "exotic new decorator lite that soothes, intrigues, fascinates, entertains." A University of Illinois graduate student, Michael Sveda, developed the first synthetic sweetener in 1937 after noticing that his fingers tasted sweet after conducting an experiment. The sweetener, later called "cyclamate," was thirty to fifty times sweeter than sugar. Cyclamate was first marketed by Abbott Laboratories in 1950 and remained the popular artificial sweetner on the market until 1970.
Illinois scientists and technologists continue to expand into new frontiers. New inventions and scientific discoveries will become an increasingly important tool in the effort to position the Illinois economy for the next century. The advancement of technology, shorter periods of time to develop products (design-cycle time), global competition, fewer workers, environmental and legal issues, recycling issues, and the need to reduce components and speed the production process are all issues that will shape the creation of future products.