VINCENNES, Ind. — Vincennes inventor M.D. Fowler’s rat trap contraption didn’t exactly catapult him to national fame, but it has nonetheless earned him a spot in a new exhibit this year at the Indiana State Fair.
The “Made in Indiana” exhibit on the Indiana History Train features sections that guide visitors through five steps of the invention process: define a problem, do research, make a prototype, file a patent and market the invention.
Fowler’s “Improved Rat-Trap,” for which he was awarded an official U.S. patent in 1868, is included in the patent section of the Indiana Historical Society’s display.
The Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis opens on Friday and will run through Aug. 20.
The Indiana History Train is air-conditioned and wheelchair-accessible. It’s located in Family Fun Park, near Pioneer Village, on the northeast side of the fairgrounds, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. A visit aboard the train is included with admission to the fair.
IHS exhibitions researcher Angela Wolfgram heard about Fowler from a co-worker who had processed a small collection that included his patent drawing and how the invention worked, she said. Most people today don’t know his name, but Wolfgram decided he’d be a perfect candidate for “Made in Indiana.”
“One of the things we were really excited about doing was just having a nice blend of stories. We have a lot of big names like Wonder Bread and Alka-Seltzer, but we wanted to include some lesser-known or completely unknown names as well,” she said. “This isn’t one that had an affect on society the same way as Wonder Bread becoming a pop-culture phenomenon, but we just thought it was really important to tell the big and small stories.”
The invention didn’t make national waves, Wolfgram added, but it was a big deal for Fowler to get the patent, which was awarded on Aug. 18, 1868, and was No. 81,268.
“This was a huge accomplishment for him to have a patent that would be approved,” she said. “That doesn’t happen very easily.”
Fowler’s invention was relatively simple: After entering the trap, rats stepped onto what was essentially a trap door, according to an IHS press release. They’d be baited by what appears to be corn in Fowler’s patent drawing — but he noted that any bait that attracted rats could be used.
His invention was published in various Indiana newspapers as well as the Scientific American journal of New York, according to the IHS.
Fowler’s patent illustration, as well as details and displays on other Hoosier inventions, will be included aboard the history train.
Visitors will learn about all sorts of inventors and inventions with Hoosier ties, like Ralph Teetor, a Hagerstown man who had a hand in the invention of cruise control.
Teetor became blind at an early age, Wolfgram said, and by the 1930s and ’40s, he began to notice the acceleration and deceleration whenever he rode in cars.
“He’d notice that kind of jolting sensation and tried to figure out something that would automatically control the speed or make it a smoother experience,” she said. “In the 1940s, he came up with an invention called the Speedostat that ended up being incorporated into cars by the 1950s as part of the cruise control function.
“That’s a function we use all the time, but people don’t know his name.”
The history train will also showcase Wonder Bread’s Indiana roots. The product was created by the Taggart Baking Co. in Indianapolis in 1921 and its easily recognizable logo with red, yellow and blue dots was inspired by the International Balloon Race that used to take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
All the inventions included in the exhibit, Wolfgram said, aim to highlight Hoosier connections.
“I love when we have opportunities to make an Indiana connection in stories you wouldn’t otherwise connect to Indiana,” she said. “We tell some stories that people probably already know but we’re also bringing to light these inventors that normally don’t get discussed.
“Maybe that’s because their product didn’t have a broader impact, but in their sphere of influence, it did — and that’s important, too.”
Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://bit.ly/2vh7WVr
Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.