Ballston Spa Life
History Lesson: Success Eluded One Early Inventor
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — There are a few well-known inventors from the Capital District who became quite wealthy from their inventions during the Industrial Revolution. Henry Burden of Troy (horseshoe machine), George Westinghouse of Schenectady (railroad air-brake), and John Hyatt of Albany (first man-made plastic) are just a few.
However, not every inventor had as much success. A case in point is Samuel Day of Ballston Spa, who patented, manufactured, and sold a line of telegraph machines in the years following the Civil War, but died in relative obscurity.
In his 1907 centennial speech, Village President Irving Wiswall credited Day with inventing “the telegraph instrument in universal use today and which supplemented the original Morse machines.” This was a bit of an overstatement, but his inventions were certainly clever and helped to advance telegraphic technology.
In May, 1862, as the Civil War raged in the south, Day perfected his first invention, a portable telegraph. He attempted to mitigate the echo or mingling of sounds caused by vibrations in the sound boards and tensile wires.
Two years later he patented an electro-magnetic telegraph, a class of machines that dispensed with batteries for power and used relays to transmit messages over long distances. His placement of the fulcrum allegedly doubled the power of the telegraph, and the use of heavier magnet wires increased the power even more.
While he was inventing his telegraph improvements, Day also became involved with water wheels. He partnered with Seth Whalen in 1863 on “Whalen’s Patent Turbine Water Wheel.” In addition, Day was an agent for the then-popular Jonval Bodine Turbine. He then modified it and sold it locally. In a letter of testimonial for Benjamin Barber, Stephen Garrett of the Ballston Axe Works mentioned that their 72-inch wheel had been replaced by “Day’s improved wheel in the Bodine curb, and called by us the ‘Day Bodine.’”
In 1872 he partnered with John Vasteenburgh on an invention involving gas pipes. The telegraph and gas-pipe ventures did not pan out, as a notice in 1875 stated that “Day announces to all his friends and the public that he will be at his old stand at the store of Charles Hawks, Front Street, where he will attend personally to the repairing of watches and clocks.” No mention was made of the telegraph business in this announcement. His occupation in the 1880 census was merely “watchmaker.”
Around this time, Day was allegedly offered a large sum of money for the rights to his telegraph patents, which he refused. Later, he would concede that this was one of the great mistakes in his life, since he was never able to come up with the capital needed to successfully market his telegraphs. This is demonstrated by courthouse records that show a lawsuit brought against him by one Lucy Paddock. A loan of $115 was given to Day in March, 1885. He paid interest on it the following month, but thereafter defaulted on the payments. Suit was brought in December, and the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiff, forcing Day to pay out $120 plus $18.27 in court costs.
In February, 1888 he was confined to his home on Milton Avenue due to a hip injury received from a fall on the ice. Almost immediately after this, he contracted rheumatism. Day struggled with the affliction for five years before passing away on September 1, 1892, never realizing success from his many inventions.
Excerpts of this article were taken from the book “Invented in Ballston Spa,” available only at the Brookside Museum. Starr’s tenth book, “Lost Industries of Saratoga County,” was released by The History Press in late October. For more information, see www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.