Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Family Patents

The Legal Genealogist reminds us today that it's the 222nd anniversary of the adoption of the first U.S. patent law. I grew up knowing of two family members who (supposedly) held patents, and another popped up when I was doing some searching a few years back.

I'd heard in my childhood that my grandpa Warnke's brother Clem (1897-1971) had invented a bean-puller, and one of my uncles told me that it hadn't been a big commercial success in the U. S. but had found some popularity in Africa for harvesting peanuts. Somewhere buried deep in my family files is a newspaper clipping with a captioned photo of my mom's younger brother posing with a piece of Warnke farm equipment. I'm not sure if the item in the photo is a bean-puller, or if Clem also sold other machinery with his company name; hunting down that clipping is on my long to-do list! The photo was in the newspaper sometime in the early 1970s, and I think the occasion was the closing of the company.

Clem's invention quickly pops up if you search Google Patents, patent number 2240970, filed in 1939 and issued in 1941. While my memory is that it was called a "bean puller," the machine is actually described as a "vine lifter ... for lifting vines having pods attached thereto... so that the pods are not cut [by the cutter blades of a mowing machine]." I don't know what eventually superseded it, or whether his ideas contributed to the continuing improvement of harvesting machinery, but it looks very clever to non-mechanical me.

My uncle Paul Michutka was talented in drawing and story-telling, and was something of a character; we sometimes weren't sure how much of his stories to believe . He claimed to have filed for some patents, and I remember my Aunt Pearl (his sister-in-law) telling me that one of his patents had actually been bought out because some aspect of it resembled something that someone else was filing for. I haven't been able to verify this yet; not all patents filed before 1976 are searchable online simply by surname, and I haven't done any further digging. It would be interesting to see just what Paul had come up with!

You will get results by entering "Michutka" in a patents search, but it won't be Paul. Paul's brother John and some other men filed for a new design of a "Dairy Bar building" in 1953, and had patent number D174520 issued in 1955. Judging from the sketches in the application, I'd guess that this was something like a Dairy Queen or other ice cream place; perhaps a cousin will know more.

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