We were never more struck with the go-a-headitiveness of the American character, than on perusing the proceedings of a trial, last week in Pittsburgh, Pa., for the infringement of a patent, for a fire-proof safe. It appeared from the evidence of the plaintiff's, Messrs. Rich & Co., of New York, that in the year 1830, a man named Fitzgerald, was engaged in making plaster images, and was in the habit of washing his hands in an iron pan, after finishing work. One day he thought he would warm the water, and placed the pan on the fire ; but he found to his surprise that no great change took place in its temperature, therefore he applied the bellows to his fire, but still failed to boil or even warm the witer. He then examined the pan. and found that a sediment of plaster of Paris, the accumulation of numerous washings, had adhered to the bottom of the pan, and was thus preventing the heat of the fire from communicating to the water. He again placed it on the fire, and put fresh coal on ; then used the bellows so freely that he melted the legs off the iron pan, but still failed to warm water. The thought immediately struck him that if a suitable thickness of plaster could be secured to the walls, ceilings, and floors of rooms, a house might be made fire-proof. From houses his thoughts wandered to banks and bank vaults, then to iron safes, and depositories of various kinds—finally they settled upon iron safes of the old school, made of wood steeped in potassium, and with an inner and outer covering of iron. He thought that if the iron box was made : first, then fill the space between the inner and outer lining, with a mixture of plaster of Paris, that anything placed therein must be safe from fire, judging from the trouble he had met with his iron pan. He now commenced a series of exp rimente, of such a satisfactory character, that he repaired forthwith to Washington with a model of a safe, and an application for a patent. This was refused, owing to some opposition, as it afterwards appeared, from a manufacturer of sales, who was intimate with one of the officials in the Patent Office.— Fitzgerald, however, persevered until the year 1836 ; then finding his personal applications and his correspondence of no avail, he abandoned his invention for a time, until he met with one Enos Wilder, who, being an ingenious mechanic, took up the idea, struck a bargain with Fitzgerald, purchased the invention, and repaired to Washington. There he found the same difficulties which met his predecessor, a determined opposition seemed to be set against him, his article was not patentable. After several years, and the loss of all his money, he got into difficulties, and assigned his interest in the patent to his brother, who had advanced him money from titre to time in the hope that it would ultimately pass through the Patent Office. The death of Enos Wilder shortly alter took place, and the invention was laid by for a time ; but the fire of 1835, in New York, had proved that the old fashioned safe was perfectly worthless, and a fresh application for a patent, with offers of testing its efficacy before the public, caused a little more attention to be piid by the Commissioner of Patents, and finally, on the 1st of June, 1843, a patent was granted— being twelve years after the diecovery. During the period between the great fire of 1835, and the granting of the patent, a citizen of New York, named Crandall Rich, associated with himself two others named Roff and Stearns, and commenced the manufacture of these safes, making an arrangement with Wilder that if he obtained the patent, they were to pay him for the use of it, which was afterwards done. These parties, Rich & Co., soon discovered that the composition as invented by Fitzgerald, damped the books and papers ; therefore an improvement was made, and patented by Rich & Co., without any difficulty, the result of which has been, that in the great fire of New York, in 1845, ten years after the first great fire, property to the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars was preserved in these safes ; while safes of every other description were totally destroyed.? It was stated in Court, that in a period of twelve to fifteen years, no lailure has ever taken place ; and they are in such general use, that scarcely a fire happens without one of these safes being tested. \ When we made an investment three weeks ago in a Salamander Safe, we knew that they ' had obtained such enviable notoriety, and : now we feel doubly satisfied that the books and papers of the " Westchester Gazette " are perfectly safe from the common enemy— fire!—[Westchester Gazette.
This article was originally published with the title "American Perseverence and Enterprise" in Scientific American 8, 39, 307 (June 1853)