Tag Archives: technology

The Invention of the Damper Flapper and the Birth of Honeywell

This thermostat and motor belonged to a device called a thermo-electric damper-regulator and alarm, otherwise known as a “damper flapper.” It was the predecessor of the modern thermostat and established the technology that laid the foundation for the automated control industry. Honeywell, a company with well-known ties to Hennepin County, also traces its roots back to the invention of this device that was invented by Albert M. Butz (1849-1905).

Butz immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1857 and was living in Minneapolis when he was awarded a patent for the damper flapper in 1886. That same year he formed the Butz Thermoelectric Regulator Company. After a series of name changes, mergers, and acquisitions, it eventually became the company we know today as Honeywell International Inc.

The damper flapper was a system that controlled coal fire furnaces. When the temperature inside a home became too cold, Butz’s invention would lift the damper on the furnace, allowing air to fan the flames, thus automatically increasing the temperature of the residence. The device was composed of three components, a thermostat, a battery, and a motor.

The brass oblong thermostat in our collection displays the words, “Electric Heat Regulator Co. Minneapolis, Minn.,” engraved in the upper portion. In 1900, this was the name of the company that would later become Honeywell.

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The motor encased in black metal came from a damper flapper produced in 1912. At this point in Honeywell’s history, the company’s name was The Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company, which is displayed at the front of the motor. In 1927 The Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company merged with Honeywell Heating Specialties Company of Wabash, Indiana. At that point the company name became Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co. The corporate name would finally be changed to Honeywell Inc. in 1964.

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The inventor of the damper flapper would not stay in Minnesota long, nor with the company he started. After transferring the patent to his investors in Minneapolis, Butz moved to Chicago. He would later patent eleven more inventions, but this damper Flapper remains his most groundbreaking and significant contribution in the field of automated temperature control. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1992. Butz’s invention was not only innovative but became the cornerstone of the most iconic thermostat company in the world.

Our Honeywell collection was inventoried and cataloged as part of our larger collections inventory project. This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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The Demise of Burnt Toast: The Invention of the Pop-up Toaster

Burnt toast doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you had to eat it on a consistent basis you may feel otherwise. Humans have been eating bread for over 6,000 years and toasting it over a fire for just as long. Electricity was first introduced to American homes in the late 1800s. This generated demand for electric household appliances. The first electric toaster was invented in the 1890s. This device could only toast one side of a slice of bread at a time and needed to be monitored closely so that it didn’t burn the toast. Apparently, this happened frequently enough to inspire an invention that most people in the twenty-first century take for granted: the automatic pop-up toaster.

In 1919, Minneapolis resident Charles P. Strite was working at a manufacturing plant in Stillwater. According to Strite, the cafeteria often served burnt toast. This inspired him to create a toaster that would toast bread automatically with minimal human intervention. Strite’s device was called the Toastmaster and he was awarded a patent for it in 1921. The Toastmaster had heating elements that could toast both sides of a slice of bread at the same time. The device also had a timer that would turn off the heat and a spring that would eject the toast, eliminating the chance of burning. Strite’s invention found its way into restaurants immediately. By 1926, he introduced a consumer version with a variable timer that allowed the user to adjust the desired lightness or darkness of their toast.

The toaster in this photograph, one of three Toastmasters we have in our collection, was manufactured in 1931. It is a model 1A2 in chrome with a sleek art deco design. There are two Bakelite handles on either end of toaster with a fabric covered power cord extending from the back.

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By 1930, more than one million toasters were being sold annually and by 1960 they had become ubiquitous in American kitchens. Today, a century since Charles Strite innovated the automated home appliance industry, toasters are still produced utilizing the same basic design. Although we may take perfectly toasted bread for granted, we should not forget that the inventor that allows us to do so was a resident of Hennepin County.

This toaster was inventoried and cataloged as part of our larger collections inventory project. This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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Minneapolis-Moline Goes to Washington

While Hennepin History Museum doesn’t have the space to collect tractors, that doesn’t stop us from collecting tractor history. And even the briefest survey of tractor history will unearth the name Minneapolis-Moline.

The 1918 tractor shown here was originally used on a farm in Nebraska. A Model “D” Universal tractor, it featured electric ignition, speed control, and electric lights. In 1953, Minneapolis-Moline’s marketing department purchased the tractor and brought it home to Minnesota and sent it on tour to the state and county fairs. In 1957, the company exhibited it at their headquarters in Hopkins.

In 1962, the tractor moved yet again — this time to Washington, DC. The Smithsonian Institution recognized the significance of Minneapolis-Moline and their role in American innovation and agriculture and installed it in one of their history and technology galleries.

The following year, Minnesota business leaders gathered at the Smithsonian during the 1963 Convention of the Chamber of Commerce. Shown here are representatives from the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce, the Pillsbury Company, the United States Navy, the Smithsonian, and, of course, Minneapolis-Moline.

Learn more about the history of Minneapolis Moline and other Hennepin County companies in our library and archives. 

A Large Coffee, Please

This monumental coffee pot shaped coffee grinder is crafted of cast iron and aluminum. It was manufactured by the American Duplex Company of Louisville Kentucky. The grinder offers several features or settings for achieving the desired grind, and ultimately, the perfect cup of coffee.

This grinder was used at Hawkinson’s Red and White grocery store, located at 4306 Upton Avenue in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Hawkinson family had owned, and operated, grocery stores at 2716 W. 45th St. and at 4429 York Avenue, in Minneapolis, as early as 1910. In 1925 they moved to the 4306 Upton Avenue location. By 1950, Roy and Stella Hawkinson had become a part of the Red and White food store chain, which was established in Chicago in 1925, and quickly spread across the country. The chain was formed to allow small independent grocery stores to carry the Red and White brand, and compete with the large chains, which were already beginning to overtake the neighborhood corner store. The Red Dot logo was instantly recognizable on signs and awnings of small stores everywhere. By 1957 there were seven Red and Whites in Minneapolis.

The chain is still in business, and although most of the stores have been replaced by large supermarket chains, you can still see the famous red dot logo on small stores across the United States. Hawkinson’s closed their doors in 1980.

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Before There Were Paper Jams: A Brief History of a Little-Known Office Machine

 

Above: one of two copy presses in the Hennepin History Museum collection.

The letter copying press was invented in 1780 by the Scotsman James Watt, also the inventor of the steam engine. Watt’s machine eliminated the need for laborious hand copying of documents and provided the user with completely accurate copies of the original. He patented two versions of the device. One used two opposing crank operated rollers like a washing machine wringer, and the other used a screw press mechanism.

The process worked as follows. First the letter (or document) to be copied had to be written with a special soluble ink and allowed to dry without blotting to ensure that it would have a thick ink deposit.

Copies could be made for up to about 24 hours but the best were made within the first few hours. Next a copiest would prepare a “sandwich” to place in the copy press. It consisted of a sheet of oiled paper followed by a water dampened sheet of thin tissue paper, then the original document with the inked side facing the tissue paper and finally another sheet of oiled paper. The “sandwich” was then placed in the copy press and pressure was applied usually by turning a screw or using a lever. After a short time the pressure was released and enough of the ink from the original would have wicked into the tissue paper to make a copy. Thin tissue paper was used so the document could be read through the paper. The oiled paper prevented the ink from transferring to any other documents if multiple copies were being pressed at the same time.

Copies were often pressed in large quantities where a lot of correspondence was generated like in offices. Bound books of tissue copying paper were frequently used with originals and oiled paper inserted in them as described above. Special brushes or dampening reservoirs were used when copying large quantities at once. Small portable copy presses were also developed for use when someone was traveling. In early America they were quickly adopted by notable people including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who designed his own portable version. Calvin Coolidge was the last president to have his official correspondence copied on copy presses.

Hennepin History Museum has two of the screw style copy presses. One is closed with a wheel and the other is closed by spinning a straight handle with large, heavy iron balls on the end. The iron balls were used to create centrifical force so that a copiest could open or close the press with one good twirl. This would speed up the process in offices where a lot of copying needed to be done. The straight handles remained popular in England but were mostly replaced by wheels in US machines by 1860.

Although many more sophisticated copying machines and techniques have since replaced Mr. Watt’s invention, it was in common use for over 150 years. It is interesting to note that they were still being manufactured in 1950 and were used in Britain until the late 1950s.

2017.0512.108The iron balls on the ends of the handle allow the press to be closed with one good twirl.

About the Author

Mike Larson has been a volunteer working on the inventory project at Hennepin History Museum since January 2017. He has so far cataloged over a hundred objects, primarily large artifacts including a soap box derby car, big-wheel bicycles, a switchboard desk, and—of course—two 19th century copy presses.

Resources

The Early Office Museum

The Briar Press

The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia