One Hundred Years Ago
The United States Patent Office issued two patents in August that changed—to a degree—the way we all live. Theophilus Van Kannel received a patent on August 7 for his “storm-door structure,” popularly known as the revolving door. Van Kannel’s other inventions included the “changeable fulcrum door check” —the device that keeps doors from slamming—and “Witching Waves,” once a popular ride at Coney Island and other amusement parks.
On August 21, William Seward Burroughs was issued patent No. 388,116 for a “calculating-machine,” the first commercially practical adding machine. An earlier version of the machine failed because it was too difficult to use; only Burroughs himself could consistently pull the lever at the speed required to yield correct sums. The improved adding machine soon became an essential business tool, and the Burroughs Adding Machine Company went on to play an instrumental role in the development of the modern digital computer.
Tariffs and temperance emerged as hot issues in the summer of the 1888 presidential campaign. The Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, ran on a protectionist platform that called for higher tariff duties and a repeal of taxes on tobacco and alcohol. The “free whiskey” platform provoked indignation among adherents of the growing temperance movement. “The declaration is an illustration of the decadence of the party whose just boast was that it was a party of moral ideas,” complained an editorial in the August 25 issue of Harper’s Weekly . Meanwhile, rumors circulated that the Hoosier candidate’s wife made “the best claret punches that ever quenched thirst in Indiana.”