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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TECHNOLOGY AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TECHNOLOGY AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH. Early Cleveland's household, agricultural, and industrial processes and devices were simply transfers or adaptations from elsewhere. The earliest settlers borrowed the 18th-century technologies of Europe and North America, including water-powered saw- and gristmilling, blacksmithing, brewing and distilling, textile manufacture, and intensive farming with plows and other iron implements. CUYAHOGA STEAM FURNACE CO., established in 1834 in the FLATS, reproduced the iron-smelting technology used in the U.S. for over a century, though it added the recent innovation of blowing the blast with a steam engine. Similarly, the Cleveland Paper Co. began operations in 1860 with well-known technology, and the Kuhlman Furniture Co. relied upon traditional craftsmen when it was established in 1867. Cleveland's entry into the steel industry began in 1868 when the Cleveland Rolling Mills Co. opened a Bessemer works, which was based on British patents of a decade earlier, as well as important American modifications developed in New York and Michigan.

By the mid-19th century, however, local improvements in existing technology were appearing. Cuyahoga County farmers had become innovators in beekeeping, the use of haymowers, and silo construction. And in the last third of the century, Clevelanders invented a number of significant devices and processes that laid the foundation for further industrial growth. For example, both John McMyler and A. N. Simmerly invented and patented derricks for loading and unloading ships, and in the 1880s founded Cleveland companies to manufacture them. Other inventors were professionals who obtained technical training or formal education, and then devoted their careers to creating new devices or attacking critical problems in developing industries. An early inventor of this type was Elisha Gray. Educated at Oberlin (Ohio) Preparatory School and Oberlin College, Gray experimented regularly with electricity at the college's laboratory in the early 1860s. His first patent (1867) was for a telegraph apparatus, which he successfully demonstrated at Western Union headquarters in Cleveland. In 1869 he sold Western Union an interest in a telegraph printer he had designed, and with the cash he purchased a half-interest in a telegraph-instrument shop in Cleveland. By the time Gray moved his business to Chicago in 1871, he had a close and regular relationship with Western Union.

Another professional inventor, CHARLES F. BRUSH†, was born in EUCLID, completed engineering training at the Univ. of Michigan in 1869, and subsequently set up a consuliting chemical laboratory in Cleveland. Privately he carried on experiments in electricity, and in 1875-79 he developed and patented crucial elements of the first central-station arc-lighting system in the world. Brush established the Brush Electric Co. in 1880 with the help of local capitalists, and marketed his, system for street lighting worldwide. At his factory at 45th St. and what is now Commerce Ave., he established a laboratory in which he did fundamental work on storage batteries, securing the basic American patents on what eventually became a vital part of the automobile. Brush's pioneering innovations in the electrical industry attracted a number of Clevelanders who later founded important companies. ALEXANDER E. BROWN†, a Scottish immigrant, worked for Brush, then designed a hoist for unloading iron ore from Great Lakes vessels, first used in 1881. By 1893 an estimated 75% of Great Lakes ore was handled by hoists made by Brown's Cleveland company. WASHINGTON H. LAWRENCE† also worked with Brush in developing workable carbon points (from petroleum refinery residue) for arc lights, and in 1886 was a founder of the NATIONAL CARBON CO., of which he became president. Lawrence participated in and promoted further research, which developed the use of carbons for batteries, dynamo and motor brushes, and telephone transmitters. LINCOLN ELECTRIC CO. was founded in 1896 by another former Brush employee, John C. Lincoln. He pioneered in the development and manufacture of arc-welding equipment, and by the 1930s his company was known worldwide for its products.

Other innovators used the Brush laboratory and shops for their projects. Walter Knight and Edward Bentley experimented on electric trolleys there, and although their work was not commercially successful, they are credited with making the first working installation of an electric streetcar line in the U.S. Eugene and Alfred Cowles first operated their electric furnace at the Brush site in 1883. Elmer Sperry, one of America's outstanding consulting engineers, focused on electric vehicles and batteries, working at the Brush shops from the time of his arrival in Cleveland in 1893 until 1905. In addition to his work in conjunction with GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., Sperry pursued his own investigations, notably in electrochemical processes, during his Cleveland years.

Certainly Brush and the cluster of inventions and innovations that spun off of his work are the most dramatic examples of the surge in technical change associated with the industrialization of Cleveland in the late 19th century, but there were many others. AMBROSE SWASEY† and WORCESTER WARNER†, for example, applied their machine-tool skills to telescope and instrument manufacture with great success, completing the great Lick Telescope in 1889. That telescope's worldwide publicity brought them numerous telescope contracts thereafter. The automobile industry in Cleveland also had innovative leaders. ALEXANDER WINTON† introduced the 2-cylinder automobile engine in 1901, and later turned his attention to developing the diesel engine. WALTER BAKER† was a leading, manufacturer of electric vehicles, and ROLLIN WHITE† patented a semiflash boiler for steam automobiles. The steel industry benefited enormously from Samuel Wellman's work at the Otis Steel Co., where he introduced the open-hearth process in 1874, and first produced basic open-hearth steel in 1886.

Through this late-19th-century age of rapid innovation and invention, the companies that remained in the forefront of their fields relied upon the energy and initiative of talented individuals for new or adapted technology. These individuals seldom had more than a personal laboratory and 1 or 2 assistants, and their approach to patenting their invention was often haphazard, leading to costly litigation when opportunities to patent were missed. By 1900 however, research and development of new industrial technology had begun to be institutionalized and systematized, in order to anticipate and control the course of invention and innovation. Modern industrial research began as companies hired professional researchers as permanent employees and created well-supplied laboratories for them. Early steps in that direction were taken by the STANDARD OIL CO. (OHIO), which began its program of research in 1877 by employing HERMAN FRASCH†, a pharmaceutical chemist, to work on refining problems in Cleveland. In 1889 Standard Oil established a permanent research department, which is usually regarded as the first such department in the petroleum industry. The SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO. hired its first full-time chemist, Percy Neyman, in 1884, and its second in 1892. The outstanding pioneering research laboratory in Cleveland was NELA PARK. The National Electric Lamp Assn. (NELA) was founded in 1901 by a group of lightbulb manufacturers competing with General Electric. Soon NELA established a research and development laboratory in Cleveland in order to standardize and upgrade its product, an effort that was so successful that NELA more than doubled its share of the market in the next decade. That success, and the laboratory director's desire to remove research from the gaseous pollution, vibrations, and electrical disturbances of a city location, led NELA's leaders to build a larger research center in suburban EAST CLEVELAND. The new site, Nela Park, was begun in 1911 and eventually comprised 20 buildings on 90 acres. In 1912 GE absorbed NELA, and the site became GE's Lamp Development Laboratory. GE created an outstanding team of engineers and scientists who carried out a series of major inventions and innovations in lighting technology. In 1917 Dr. Aladar Pacz completed work on a workable tungsten wire filament, and in the 1930s the Nela Park staff did fundamental investigations of sodium-vapor and fluorescent lamps. Throughout the 20th century, the NELA team was expected to solve GE's lightbulb-manufacturing problems, however, in the process, they often conducted basic, scientific research on light emission and transmission. During the first decade of the 20th century, other corporate giants, such as AT&T, Eastman-Kodak, and Du Pont, established massive research divisions, and GE had an even larger laboratory in Schenectady, NY. But, as symbolized by Nela Park, Cleveland was one of the leaders in industrial
research, and it remained a major center in succeeding years. A survey by the National Research Council in 1930 revealed that the city had 41 laboratories, concentrated in the chemical, metallurgical, paint, and machinery industries. Cleveland then had the 5th-largest concentration of industrial research laboratories in the U.S. Fifty years later, the Cleveland metropolitan area had over 200 industrial laboratories, including major research centers for such diverse corporations as Sohio, Durkee Foods, and Union Carbide.

From about the time of World War II, the federal government and higher education became the rising stars of industrial research. In Cleveland that was symbolized by the establishment of the NASA JOHN H. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER AT LEWIS FIELD, and the growth of Case Institute of Technology. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics founded Lewis in 1941 on a site adjacent to Cleveland's airport, and commissioned it to test aircraft engines. As one of NACA's test facilities, Lewis conducted important wartime research on piston engines and their fuels, lubricants, and coolants. After the war, its attention turned to developing the jet engines invented by British and German engineers, and in the 1950s and the 1960s (when NACA became NASA), Lewis pioneered in rocketry. Both of these research and development programs remained strong through the 1980s, although energy conservation and fuel efficiency also entered Lewis's agenda.

Case Institute of Technology regarded scientific research and industrial development as tasks compatible with education from the beginning of classes in 1882. Over its first 50 years, Case professors contributed to the understanding of petroleum chemistry and electrochemistry, and helped to develop the technologies on which the Dow Chemical and LUBRIZOL CORP. corporations were founded. By 1930 Case was one of about 20 institutions of higher learning that could be identified as regularly conducting industrial research. Yet the research depended on individual efforts. With the presidencies of WILLIAM WICKENDEN† (1924-47) and T. KEITH GLENNAN† (1948-67), Case established closer relationships with industry and government. By accepting long-term contracts, and committing its faculty, graduate students, and laboratories to industrial research, Case dealt regularly with the iron and steel, metal fabrication, and chemical industries. During World War II, federal contracts became increasingly important, and by the 1950s 70% of Case's research income came from government research, mostly for the Defense Department., Notable research during the institute's second 50 years occurred in polymers, strength of materials, complex systems design, computers, and biomedical engineering. Classified military projects, such as the multimillion-dollar "Doan Brook" enterprise of the 1950s, which planned technologies for the aerial "seeding" of land mines, cannot yet be assessed by historians.

By the 1980s, industrial research laboratories in Cleveland fostered invention and promoted technical innovation on behalf of industrial corporations, government agencies, and higher education. Many Clevelanders looked to such laboratories as the source of the new ideas that would stem or reverse the decline of Cleveland's industrial base. Others viewed with concern the increasingly military orientation of research, and the integration of military, academic, and industrial institutions, which was most visible in research laboratories. Although they are a relatively small part of Cleveland's economy and workforce, the laboratories will continue to play an important role in the future.

Darwin H. Stapleton

Rockefeller Archive Center

See also INDUSTRY, SCIENCE, and specific companies and individuals.

Last Modified: 04 Mar 1998 05:17:31 PM

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