It is well known to our readers that F. M. Ray, of this city, offered prizes amounting to $3,000 (the advertisement was published on page 159, 7th Vol. Scientific American), for improvements in machinery, c, for the pre* vention of railroad accidents, c One prize was $1500 for an improvement to prevent the loss of life by collisions, and the breaking of axles. Another was $800, for the best method of excluding dust from Railroad Cars. Another was $400, for the best brake. Another $300 for the best sleeping or night seat lor cars. These premiums were open for competition, and the competitors had their inventions on exhibition at the late Fair, the judges being chosen by a committee of the Institute. The offer of these prizes has impressed us deeply with the conviction that such prizes are of the greatest consequence to our country ; they have drawn forth an amount of ingenuity which took us by surprize. We expected to see quite a number of competitors for the said prizes, but we did not expect to see so many. The number of improvements, their variety, and the ingenuity displayed by the majority of them, proclaim this great fact, " there is an amount of latent ingenuity in our people, which, if called out by the offer ol large prizes for certain definite improvements, would greatly advance the prosperity, and honor of our country." We understand that the committee appointed to examine the railroad inventions in competition for the prizes, do not wish to decide upon the merits of any of them, without sub. mitting them to a fair test on a large scale. It is easy to tesfcome of the improvements exhibited, such as a chair; but many of the exhibitors, we suppose, have not the means to put their inventions in operation on a large scale. To them, unless some good generous patrons do it for them, the prizes have been offered in vain. The Committee, in coming to this decision, have acted, as appears to us, in a most prudent manner; but when the advertisement, offering these prizes, was presented to the public, these conditions for testing the said improvements should have been made known. It is scarcely fair to advance new conditions for testing an invention after it has been presented. It would be well for the interests of every Mechanics' Institute, every Agricultural Society, and every association for the advancement of Art, to offer one or two large prizes every year, for some new improvements, to accomplish such and such results. We believe that a great amount of good to our country, would be accomplished by such a course of policy, for such improvements confer benefits upon all classes. The reward of a medallion prize is all very well, so far as it goes, but we want something more. According to the value of a prize are the natural passions of acquisitiveness and love of distinction excited to win it; a greater amount of genius will therefore be stirred up to win such a prize, and the mental faculties of every inventor will be intensely concentrated to carry off the noble reward. We present these few remarks for the purpose of directing general attention to the duty of impressing upon every one of the Institutions we have mentioned, the importance of carrying into practice the policy we have recommended.
This article was originally published with the title "Latent Ingenuity—Railroad Prizes" in Scientific American 8, 9, 69 (November 1852)