Bright ideas

[cleeng_content id="848424393" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Since 1837, county inventors have tackled meadow mice, railroads, other work

 

It was 1926, and Frank Bushong had a killer idea.

The Charles Town lawyer had come up with a clear-glass device he called a Bu-Ro-Des, short for Bushong Rodent Destroyer. Its aim: to rid orchards of meadow mice.

Then as now, local orchardists wanted to control pests plaguing fruit trees.

Jane Rissler, curator of the Jefferson County Museum, shows off a patented mouse-killing contraption developed by a Charles Town lawyer in the 1920s – the only such item from a county inventor in the museum’s collection.

Jane Rissler, curator of the Jefferson County Museum, shows off a patented mouse-killing contraption developed by a Charles Town lawyer in the 1920s – the only such item from a county inventor in the museum’s collection.

The meadow mouse, or vole, is a prolifically reproducing rodent that chews and peels bark from trunks and roots, which can kill whole trees.

The Bu-Ro-Des holds a unique place among the thousands of pieces of history housed at the Jefferson County Museum, explained Jane Rissler, curator of the Charles Town museum.

Although 47 patents were awarded to inventors in Jefferson County between 1837 and 1970, the period Rissler researched, Bushong’s creation is the only such artifact in the museum’s collection.

“I haven’t been able to find out what prompted the attorney to become interested in exterminating orchard vermin or how many of the baiters might have been manufactured or sold,” Rissler said.

She does know how Bushong’s device worked. “The baiter’s shape — an angled opening and an end bulge to hold the bait — positioned it to keep the bait dry and prevent it from spilling onto the ground and, at the same time, allow a mouse easy access,” she said.

The baiter, containing grain mixed with a poison such as strychnine, was held in place by a wire yoke pushed into the ground.

Because the Bu-Ro-Des is made of glass, mice could spot the grain from all directions and orchard workers could quickly determine which baiters to replenish, Rissler said.

In her research, Rissler learned George S. Eyster of Halltown Paperboard Co. won two patents in 1880 for ideas involving machinery for making paper from straw. Like many other paper mills of that era, the Halltown plant used straw as the raw material, Rissler said.

In Ranson, A.D. Goetz – the owner of the city’s Goetz Harness Factory — was awarded two patents, one in 1913 and one the next year. Rissler said Goetz and his family lived on Fairfax Boulevard, in the stately structure that now houses the Melvin T. Strider Colonial Funeral Home.

She said the county’s inventions mirrored some of the larger transformations that occurred in the transportation and manufacturing systems nationwide.

“Seventeen of the patents reflect changes in transportation, ranging from locomotive steam engines in 1847 to automobiles in 1933,” Rissler said. “Two involve animal-powered transport, three deal with bicycles and 11 concern railroads.”

Ten of the Jefferson County inventors earned more than one patent each, with Charles Willson of Summit Point holding the record at five, Rissler said.

Three of Willson’s patents are related to the railroad, in particular the operation of grain freight cars.

Six of the county’s patents pertain to food production, including a grain and fertilizer drill, a cider press, products to eliminate rodents (including Bushong’s baiter) and an artificial bait for bass fishing. Other patents issued to county residents involved blacksmithing, sewing machines, product assembly and more.

Seven of the county’s 47 patents were granted before the Civil War, 15 in the last three decades of the 19th century, 20 in the first third of the 20th century, and two in 1970, Rissler said.

Rissler originally shared her research on the county’s patent holders in an article for The Guardian, the newsletter of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

She said she would love to have more information about Bushong and his idea, as well as the other patent holders who called Jefferson County home.

Want to know more?

  • The Jefferson County Museum at 200 E. Washington St. in Charles Town is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, go online to jeffctywvmuseum.org.
  • To join the Jefferson County Historical Society and get the Guardian newsletter four times a year and the society’s annual magazine, go to jeffersonhistoricalwv.org or send a check for $20 for a one-year membership to JCHS Membership Secretary, P.O. Box 485, Charles Town 25414.

 

 

Jefferson County’s patent holders, town by town

Of the 47 patents awarded to Jefferson County residents over the years, most of the inventors called Charles Town home.

Jane Rissler, director of the Jefferson County Museum, provided a breakdown of the numbers of patents per town.

Rissler notes that the town-by-town numbers total 48 instead of 47; one patent was awarded to a pair of inventors, with one of them living in Charles Town and the other in Harpers Ferry:

Charles Town, 11
Summit Point, 10
Shepherdstown, 6
Harpers Ferry, 5
Middleway, 5
Kabletown, 3
Bolivar, 2
Duffields, 2
Halltown, 2
Millville, 2

 

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