New York's

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A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



History Lesson: More Strange Inventions

Ballston Spa Life


BALLSTON SPA —  Inventors’ focus on industry in Ballston Spa from 1850 to 1950 inspired more industrial patents than any other class of invention. These patents were by far the most successful, since many were put to practical use in the tool, paper, and textile factories for the production of goods.  

However, there were a wide variety of other classes of patents as well. The list of strange inventions that were developed in Ballston Spa during the late 1800s and early 1900s seems to go on indefinitely. 

Many inventions were simply impractical. In 1870, Frank Whalen tried to take advantage of the popularity of heating and cooking stoves by developing a new detachable caster leg.  

As detailed in his patent letter, “This invention relates to combining caster-legs with the main or supporting legs of a stove, in such a manner that the main legs can be removed, so that the stove can be rolled around from place to place.”  

It is unclear how often it would be necessary to move a stove, and the photos that accompany the patent cast doubts as to the strength of the caster mechanism. One would wonder if using them to move a stove around would create deep gouges in any type of wood flooring.  

Whalen went on to become quite successful in the years after his invention. In 1870 he was listed as a machinist, in 1880 he was a bookkeeper, and by 1900 he had become a lawyer. 

Reuben Garrett patented one of the village’s few toy inventions in 1876. It was titled “Improvement in Combined Tops and Whirligigs,” and was claimed to “furnish an improved toy for children, which shall be so constructed that it may be used as a top or whirligig, as may be desired.” 

The patent was witnessed by Stephen Medbery, owner of the Medbery hotel, and Hiro Jones, who owned a cotton factory on Prospect Street. It was a simple idea, having a loose pin, a forked handle, the top (or head that everything balanced upon), and a wind-up cord. Garrett was a prominent farmer in the town of Ballston who became a census taker for the 1900 census. 

Charles Heaton patented an improvement in medical compounds in 1879. He claimed it was “a remedy and method for the cure of corns and bunions…consisting in a compound of ammonia, alcohol, and honey, and tincture of cardamom.” 

There were hundreds of patents filed in the nineteenth century that consisted of home remedies for curing all sorts of ailments. Curiously, this was the only “cure” patented in Ballston. Considering the emphasis on health-related matters during the mineral spring water era of Ballston, one would assume that there would be other homemade recipes on file. 

Some may recognize Heaton’s name from the partnership of Allen and Heaton, miners and manufacturers of emery. The raw material was brought from their Thurman mine in the Adirondacks to be shaped into solid emery wheels and scythe stones at the factory on Bath Street. Despite the company’s great promise, it only operated from 1878 to 1880, when the site was purchased by Samuel Haight for a new tannery.  

Perhaps Ballston’s most ghoulish patent was developed by Henry Mabbitt Crippen of Bloodville. His embalming catheter patent letter contained such descriptions as “[previous catheters] have the disadvantage that in the use thereof the hands of the operator frequently become covered with blood and other matter from the arteries due to the necessity of handling the flexible member of the structure to guide the same [into and out of the body].”  

The catheter patent was assigned to the Max Huncke Chemical Company of Brooklyn, New York. After several name changes, this company today is known as the Embalmers’ Supply Company.

Timothy Starr
Brookside Museum trustees board treasurer

Excerpted from the book “Invented in Ballston Spa,” available for sale at the Brookside Museum or on-line at


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