Sunday, June 17, 2012

an inventor in the family

The actual design figures for Hugh's sawing machine,
from Patent #136,216
(courtesy US Patent Office)
My great-great-great-grandfather Hugh Current was born in 1832 in central North Carolina and came from a relatively poor family. Sometime between 1850 and 1857, Hugh moved by himself out west and settled in Clarksville, Tennessee.  There he married Elizabeth Halliburton in 1859, the eldest daughter of a wealthy plantation owner.

Hugh was sometimes a farmer, but it seems that his primary vocation and skills were in woodworking.  In 1860 he was described as a carpenter.  In 1873 or 1874, Hugh moved with his family from their rural farm to a house in the city of Clarksville.  There, Hugh opened up a chair making business where he devoted himself to making quality hand-made chairs for his customers.  His speciality was rocking chairs.  Hugh owned and operated his chair making business in Clarksville for at least seven years, and probably longer.  At some point after his chair making enterprise, Hugh also owned and operated a printing supply business.  In old age, after having outlived two of his wives and separating from his third, Hugh became a minister in the Universalist church.  Current Street in Clarksville was named after him and his family.

Prior to opening his chair making business, Hugh put his innovative mind to use and decide to invent something.  The date and origin of the actual invention is unknown.  Eventually though, Hugh created designs and specifications for his invention and submitted it to the US Patent Office.  His patent (#136,216) was then issued on February 25, 1873 and is permanently on file with the Patent Office.  Hugh's invention is titled "Improvement in Sawing-Machines."   The machine is a free-standing apparatus with conveyor belts and circular saws.  The anticipated use of the machine was to take large "cord-wood" and cut it quickly and neatly into three pieces that would be the appropriate size for wood or cook stoves.  The entire patent can be viewed online.
Hugh Current and his second wife Margaret,
in about 1880.
(courtesy Jim Long)

Although the patent was issued, the Patent Office has no record that the machine was ever produced.  We must assume though that Hugh at least produced a prototype machine and probably others for friends and customers in Clarksville.  Interestingly, Hugh's 1873 patent was cited in the research of a 1990 "cherry splitter" patent, which employed a similar overall design to split cherries.

The invention of a firewood sawing machine perhaps seems a little odd.  I cannot help but draw a comparison to Disney's Beauty and the Beast, in which Belle's father's invention is also a machine to chop firewood (although the design is completely different).  The invention story did not appear in any of the original stories and was an element added by Disney.  Was Hugh viewed as odd by his children and contemporaries just like Maurice?

My descent from Hugh:
Hugh A. Current md. Elizabeth G. Halliburton
- Georgia Current md. Christopher C. Brown
-- Newell B. Brown md. Louetha Jones
--- Bettye B. Brown md. Paul C. Wadleigh
---- Randy Wadleigh md. Barbara Plymale
----- Ryan Wadleigh
newspaper advertisement for Hugh's
chair making business
(from Sep. 25, 1875 edition of the
Clarksville Weekly Chronicle)

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