California Inventors and Their Patents

by Larry Brundage

This essay has two goals, the first, to bring to light various patents awarded to individuals residing in the state; and the second, to find out if these patents -- running the gamut from auger bits to wheelbarrows -- were actually manufactured, by whom and where.

(Webmaster's note: This article was scanned from the December 1995 issue of ToolTalk. )

After viewing many of your collections over the years, I know your interests are varied and lurking among your treasures might be items that were patented and manufactured in the state. Over the years, I have accumulated patent numbers as seen on tools, or noticed in government and trade publications, and I believe our state's patent holders and their products deserve recognition. The four patents shown in this essay were probably devised by mechanics who found the tools they used daily lacking in some aspect and decided to do something about it.

The spokeshave was patented by Louis Bauer of San Francisco, a cutlery maker. (More on him later.) Oscar Becklin of Los Angeles devised the wrench and Andrew Johnson and Albert Moore, both of San Francisco were awarded patents for a plane and a pick. It is certain the Becklin wrenches were manufactured, since I have seen a number of them over the years. Just who made them and where is uncertain. Two possible manufacturers are City Tool Works, located for many years at 356-358 East 2nd St. in Los Angeles, and the Harvey Machine Company, 1333-35 Los Angeles St. If anyone has information about Oscar Becklin, his life and times, please share it with us.

Thanks to the great book on San Francisco knifemakers researched and published by Bernard R. Levine, I can tell you briefly about Louis Bauer and his spokeshave. In 1870, Bauer and Frederick O. Hartenstein, as partners, went into the cutlery manufacturing business at 39 Fourth Street in San Francisco. This was dissolved in 1872 and Louis went into business solo, working at various sites until 1879.

That year he and his brother John opened a shop at 654 Mission Street as "Bauer Brothers Cutlery and Tool Makers." Louis worked at the business until 1884. No mention is found in directories after that date. His brother sold the business in 1887. There is a strong possibility that they made the spokeshave shown, plus other tools not yet identified.

On the pick and the plane maker, I have no facts. Gold made the state thrive and, as is well known, prospectors rushed in seeking riches. A pick that made life less difficult for a miner as he traversed the rugged Sierra gold country was a welcome tool. John Wright was manufacturing picks in Sacramento starting about 1862, possibly earlier. He also had a manufacturing shop in San Francisco, located at 511 Market, which was in business well into the 1880s. His shops might have made picks utilizing Moore's patented design. It is hard to visualize now, but from 1850 well into this century, the area from Main, Beale and Fremont streets in San Francisco had many smoky foundries and machine shops. Fremont St. had many pioneer era firms. Andrew Johnson's thumbscrew nightmare of a plane was probably one-of-a-kind, because if a part fell into a pile of shavings, you were dead in the water so to speak.

I would like to know if any of you have information on these or other California patent holders. Over the years I have talked to a number of you about this subject and data and copies of patents have been freely given and I take this opportunity to say thanks for the assistance and if there is interest, more will be forthcoming.