Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mark Twain not the best judge of inventions

Although Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was sometimes referred to as the Edison of letters, his failure to separate good inventions from bad produced problems in Clemens' lifetime. Notable was his infatuation with the Paige typesetting machine. Clemens recorded the most minute details in his notebook: fractions of an em; pay per thousand ems to typesetters; the sizes of matrices; strategies for raising capital; populations of cities of the world relative to the number of typesetters that might be used in them. In November 1889, Clemens signed a contract with Paige for $160,000 plus $25,000 per year until the patents expired.

Nevada Senator John P. Jones told Clemens that every smart investor was backing the Mergenthaler. Henry Huttleston Rogers (once of Standard Oil) helped Clemens out of the mess.

One website contains some interesting commentary:

"The [Paige patent] application was filed in 1887 and was pending eight years, mainly owing to the work of examination by the Patent Office. One of the examiners died while the case was pending, another died insane, while the patent attorney who originally prepared the case also died in an insane asylum."

The website also states: The Paige patent is perhaps, as far as size is concerned, the most voluminous ever taken out in the history of invention.

That writer perhaps has not seen some of the recent patents, with 5,000 claims!


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