Hartford Courant from Hartford, Connecticut on August 9, 1953 · 112
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Hartford Courant from Hartford, Connecticut · 112

Hartford, Connecticut
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 9, 1953
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SunJty, August 9, 1953. THE HARTFORD COURANT MAGAZINE ELEVEN Torrington Woman's Gifted Ancestor in 1829 Became . t V ID atrom Saint of Stenographers A GENTLE-MANNERED Torrington woman came to Hartford a few weeks ago and spent several hours at the Royal Typewriter Company factory. "My goodness, those are complicated machines," she commented, . for she had just witnessed the full Royal line, electric, standard and portable typewriters, being assembled. The hundreds of parts, thousands of operations and multitude of machines coming off the assembly lines amazed her no end. The woman was Mrs. Thomas Burt Hack, of 203 Midgeon Ave., Torrington, and her visit was something of a celebration for both herself and Royal. For about 125 years ago, her great-great-grandfather, William Austin Burt, invented the typewriter. Born of necessity, the Burt typewriter came at a time when the Michigan man, like any present day stenographer, office worker or clprk, was faced by the monumental task of filling out official forms in triplicate. LOGICALLY reasoning that a printing device would save him countless hours, Burt worked tirelessly in his blacksmith shop until he perfected a device he called the "typographer." A far cry from the bar type machines found in offices today, the typographer, nevertheless, produced a neat letter by the use of type carried on a circular frame and operated by a lever. It was a ponderous wooden gadget but it had separate sets of capital and lower-case letters with a shift mechanism for changing from one to another. A dial at the front of the machine enabled the operator to set the typographer for the desired length of paper. This feature alone prevented the writer from running off the end of the paper before the paragraph was finished. Burt's typewriter was completed in 1829 and he was granted a patent the same year. A Michigan printer promptly wrote a letter to Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and said in part: "You will observe some inaccuracies in the letters; these are owing to the imperfections of the machine, it having been made in the woods of Michigan where no proper tools could be obtained by the inventor, who, in the construction of it, merely wished to test the principles of it, therefore taking little pains in making it. "I am satisfied from my knowledge of the printing business, as well, as the operation of the rough machine, with which I am now printing, that the typographer will be ranked with the most novel, useful and pleasing inventions of the age." BURT failed to obtain capital for the further development of his machine and met further disappointment in 1836 when fire swept the Patent Office and destroyed his machine. While Burt's typewriter was the first, the government has recognized four types of. machines and granted patents on them. Besides the Michigan man's index wheel machine; patents were also granted to the bar machine invented by John B. Fairbanks, in September, 1850; the plats machine invented by Oliver T. Eddy, in November, 1850, and the key-wheel machine perfected by John Pratt, in August, 1868. Though Burt saw his work gone in the flash fire, a parchment copy of the patent was saved. A few years later, Austin Burt, a grandson of the inventor, reproduced a working model from the description. It was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago and today is located at the Smithsonian Institution, at Washington. Burt's machine caused a stir, for until this time all writing had been done by OX pen. But typical of many inventors, he never became rich from his contrivance. THE NATIONAL Encyclopedia of American Biography noted: "the typographer was so far in advance of the times that it found little market and the inventor turned to other things." Born in Petersham, Mass., in 1792, Burt moved west during the expansion that followed the War of 1812. A surveyor, mechanic and millwright, he became one of the tireless workers and pioneer figures in the Michigan territory. Some idea of his perseverance is found in his early years. The son of poor parents, he had little formal education yet with the help of a Scotch teacher he had mastered the difficult studies of geometry, navigation and surveying by the time he was 14. All stood him in good stead for he went to Michigan as a .surveyor for the government. The difficulties rising from magnetic attraction prompted study on his part and before he was through he had discovered the great Michigan iron ore deposits and invented a solar compass. The latter saved individuals, states and the government thousands of dollars from possible litigation for using the sun and certain fixed stars a reckoning points, the solar compass made the drawing of maps completely accurate where the magnetic compass was not. The solar compass soon became standard equipment for the government. It saved time and expense and was used to survey 10 million acres of land in Michigan, Wisconsin and Arkansas alone. BURT'S third and last invention was the equatorial sextant. He devised it while on a trip home from England aboard a windjammer. He noticed the inaccurate course laid by the ship's compass and in 1858 patented the instrument which would show, without computation but by a simple reading, the latitude, hour angle and azimuth at any time of day. Burt dabbled in politics and was a prime mover in getting the Sault Sainte Marie Canal built. He" was decorated by kings and governments yet none of his inventions paid him very handsomely. - He was once awarded the Franklin Institute award and later a Scott Legacy medal. Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria presented him with a gold medal at the London's World Fair. Burt was also a well-known Mason and organized the Stoney Creek Lodge, the only lodge to keep its doors open in Michigan during the 11-year blackout when a wave of criticism against the Masonic organization was sweeping the state. In between times, Burt held a circuit court judgeship, was a soldier, adventurer, scientist and builder. On the land and on the sea his compasses brought about surer and easier means of navigation and survey work. He raised a family of five boys and taught them the fine art of surveying. For his typographer, it touched off a mad era of pounding typewriters by countless millions of office workers. It has become the main stem in business, 4 industry, government and even in the home. - . Burt died in Detroit, Augut 18, 1858. Since 1920 he has regularly been nominated for the Hall of Fame, in New York. So far he has received seven votes at each of the five-year meetings and someday the necessary number may be cast to immortalize his name. A. government employe who tired of filling out mountains of forms in triplicate , and laboriously doing it all by hand William Austin Burt has become the benefactor and perhaps even patron saint of every sfcnographer. WILLIAM AUSTIN BURT invented Typrographer" shown below. 5 S " Sifctf.'S 1 - , !tifi ! jiJi. ' ti ::v..i...:..:.:....:$:.::...: it It 7 V REPLICA of Burt's machine at Smithsonian Institute. i Jp wk n i'mmsm;m tusmiirm, , , mm, IM i ii.iiiii.ini. )miuli.iiiim.j,j MODERN typewriter impresses Mrs. Thomas Burt Hack.

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