The adjective “small,” as used in the above heading, is employed for want of a better terra, to indicate devices of the most simple character, requiring little mechanical skill in construction, and little genius to invent. Such inventions are, for the most part, the result of ideas based upon some happy suggestion. The question " Why could not this be done in some other way ?" has often been the indirect cause of putting thousands of dollars in the pockets of men of inventive talent. Such men at once grasp the possibilities.and perhaps the next morning sees them with a model whittled out, and preliminary steps toward securing a patent in progress. Not a few men, however, after having conceived good and practical ideas neglect them. "It is such a little thing. There cannot be much money in it even if it should prove the very thing wanted." Thus they fritter away chances to make money. The chances are that small inventions will pay better than large ones. To work out and develop grand and complex ideas, requires time and often large expenditures. For the most part, these inventions apply to some particular branch of industry and the demand for them is limited. But small inventions are of more universal application, and, if use-fjl, a large demand is created at once. A shoe peg is a small thing; a little prism of wood with a quadrangular pyramid at one end. But little as it is, could a man so improve it that it would be only a little better than it now is, while its cost would remain the same, a patent on such improvement would be immensely valuable. Why ? Because shoe pegs are in universal demand; and what everybody wants, it takes large quantities to supply. In a recent conversation with an inventor, he recounted numerous inventions that he had let slip when the idea of their practicability first occurred to him, since patented by others who havemade money on them. This is not a solitary instance. Hundreds have given like testimony in our hearing. Many men, overlooking the small to grasp the large, have let fortunes slip throu; h their fingers. One of the most notable small inventions is that of the gimlet-pointed screw. Slight as was the change made by this improvement, it has virtually driven the old form of screw from the market, and the profits already made and now making upon its sale, are such as to make it one of the most valuablepatents ever issued. The value of an improvement must be indeed email, if it will not repay the expense of patenting with a profit into the bargain. Ideas should not be frittered away any more than money. The law recognizes original and useful mechanical ideas as property, and makes as ample provision for the security of such property as for any other. Ideas may or may not be valuable, but mistakes in estimating1 their worth do not oftener occur than in judging of other property. And, were a comparison to be instituted between the success achieved by inventors and that attained by lawyers, physicians, or any other profession involving chiefly brain labor, nothing like the disparity generally supposed to exist would be found. In fact, we believe the difference to be in favor of the inventor, and that this useful class of men, are on the average, better fed, housed, and clothed, and more likely to have a snug balance in bank than lawyers, doctors, or literary men. We admit that they are often made the dupes of sharp swindlers, who contrive to gain for little or nothing the reward of their honest labors. But people in other occupations are also cheated. Inventors, as a class, are singularly honest in their own dealings, and so are not apt to doubt the honesty of others. This is one of their characteristic mistakes, which, together with some other business mistakes they are apt to make, will form the subj ect of a subsequent article. We have endeavored to call the attention of inventors in the present article to the value of apparently small improvements. An excellent illustration of this was given in our last issue—the portable railroad invented by A. Peteler. This invention, Mr. Peteler informs us, was laughed at, and declared worthless by many when it was proposed to patent it, and yet in a short space of time, very limited portions of territory have been sold for over sixty thousand dollars. We could if we chose to extend this article, easily adduce many other examples to show that it is not wise for the inventor to despise the day of small things.
This article was originally published with the title "Small Inventions most Profitable" in Scientific American 21, 6, 89 (August 1869)