Timothy Starr, an accountant by trade, stumbled on that little-known fact while researching a book he was writing about the industrial era of the county. Many of the inventions listed in Starr's book, "Invented in Saratoga County," were developed for industry. His two years of research left him with more than 1,200 patents from around the county. The book was written simultaneously with his "Invented in Ballston Spa" book, both published earlier this year.
Better-known inventions include Saratoga Springs resident Charles Dowd's invention of standard time, George Crum's potato chip, and the roofing composition for shingles that is widely used today. Saratoga County residents can be thanked for their inventions of useful items like the auger bit, which is still used today, as well as steam- and hand-operated fire engines, and the most popular line of square-bottomed paper bags after the Civil War.
"In the number of successful inventions, Saratoga County compares favorably with neighboring counties, even those with greater populations, for various reasons," Starr said. The industrial era, which roughly spanned from 1850 to the Great Depression, was the most powerful impetus for innovation, he said.
"More than three-quarters of all patents relate to industry. Had industry not developed in the county, the vast majority of these patents would have never been filed.
The wealth generated by this industry, coupled with the large tourist trade in Saratoga, attracted many wealthy, educated people to settle in this area who had the means and the ambition to go through the patent process and then to attempt to use their invention in a profitable enterprise."
Starr said it is estimated that only a small percentage of patents are successfully used for profit. During the industrial era of Saratoga County, the evidence indicates that this estimated amount of about five percent was much higher here because many of the patents were developed for a particular firm or established industry.
Although he's been a history buff since his teenage years, Starr literally stumbled upon this second career as an author of historical non-fiction while taking a walk in the woods behind his house several years ago. Coming upon an old railroad bed, he opted to begin researching who it might belong to. Starr's initial research snowballed, and after a year he discovered he had enough research to write his first book, "Lost Railroads of the Kaydeross Valley."
He would also write a companion book about industry in the Kaydeross Valley. Both books were used during Ballston Spa's bicentennial celebration in 2007.
"Invented in Saratoga County" is divided into five sections for a total of 55 chapters, each detailing an inventor, invention or business that benefited from the local inventions. Photographs and patent drawings are also included in the book.
Like his other written work, Starr self-published the book, which is available at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, the Waterford Museum & Cultural Center and Borders in Saratoga Springs. To learn more about this book or Starr's other local history books, go to www.ballstonhistory.com.