Inventor, Incorporated (May, 1939)
by Stanley Gerstin
This is the story of a unique inventor who licked his money problems by incorporating himself to win financial backing until the money starts rolling in.
WHAT should the inventor do until the money starts coming in? This is a serious question that has stumped many inventors. But here is the story of one who licked the problem. He is Kenneth P. Hogan, of Philadelphia, an ingenious inventor who got himself incorporated. Three men put up dough for the corporation and sent the inventor into a huddle with himself to invent something. As quickly as Hogan conceived an idea it was designed, patented and sold to a manufacturer. Hogan doesn’t have to worry about eating and his incorporators have faith in him as an investment. This may sound like a screwy idea but it works, and what works in favor of one inventor may work for anotherâ€”it may work for you!
The whole thing happened one day when Hogan returned home discouraged over his failure to interest the Chrysler corporation in some ideas of his for improving automobile accessories (which included a flexible steering wheel). He voiced his lament to a friend who is a noted Philadelphia physician and who occasionally did a little inventing of his own. Most of the doctor’s ideas were carried out and put to use in the hospital in which he was interested. The doctor had a shrewd eye for values and recognized Hogan’s inventive potentialities.
The physician interested a business man who in turn interested a lawyer and the three proceeded to incorporate the inventor. Hogan was made president of the corporation and the shares were split equally four ways. Hogan does the inventing and selling. The doctor and other business man do most of the financing and the lawyer looks after the interests of all. So far the plan has worked out satisfactorily.
As an inventor, Kenneth Hogan is unique. He carries his ideas in his head and the tools of his trade in his pocket. He has big ideasâ€” and big pocketsâ€”and well he might for he is a tremendous man, tall and broad, with blue eyes and a square chin. When he visited the writer, his big frame filled the doorway from jamb to jamb and he spoke in a mild Southern drawl that belied his physique. He carried a doll in the crook of his arm. In his fist was a tiny rubber bulb attached to a glass tube which he called an atomizer. He extracted a “circus” from under his coat. I expected him to pull a cannon out of his sleeve.
“About that cannon,” he said, “let me explain.”
“The Navy is interested in my gyro-type gun-mount for battleships but they want to see a working model. Now I can invent toys and gadgets and make them from bits of string, a piece of wood and rubber bands with only a pocket knife as my heaviest piece of production machinery, but hanged if I’m in a position to build a cannon! And the battleship to go with it!”
So now Inventor Hogan, who can piece together a new gadget as easily as you or I can knock over a match, is working through a leading experimental laboratory to develop his invention. His special gun-mount uses the gyro principle to maintain the gun on an even keel regardless of how badly or in which direction the ship is rolling. The invention resulted from observations made by Hogan of firing conditions on battleships. He observed that waves roll in the form of a figure 8 and cause the ship to roll in like fashion. When firing a broadside, a ship will roll from 17 to 21 times from the shock. His gyro gun-mount will always keep the gun level and permit more rapid firing as well as more accurate firing. An accessory to his gun-mount is a combination direction and range-finder which operates automatically.
Short waves are sent out from the deck of the ship while sensitive receivers slowly revolve in all directions. A short wave that strikes another ship up to 30 miles distance will rebound to the sending ship, somewhat like an echo. The wave is picked up on the rebound and its traveling time is automatically computed to determine the distance between the ships. The direction of the ship is easily determined from the fact that short waves will come back only from the direction of the other ship, so it is claimed. The speed of the vessel can also be determined, as well as its length, simply by noting the point at which short waves begin coming backâ€”follow along the length of the boat and note the point at which they again cease coming back. Hogan has been inventing things ever since his college days at the University of North Carolina, where he took an engineering degree. Shortly after leaving college in 1918, he invented an auto jack for the Ford car. Hogan sold the jack to a manufacturer who distributed 200 of them. Then Ford changed the design of the wheel and the jack was no good. When still a kid in school, Kogan tried to make an airplane out of a bicycle, and a machine gun from a shot gun. He didn’t get very far with either.
Today, he may well be called a “suitcase” inventor because he carries his “shop” around in his traveling bag and pockets. Whenever he gets an idea, he goes to work on it immediately. He pieces his inventions together at home, on a train or wherever he happens to be. His only requirements are a pocket knife, piece of string and a few pins. He picks up practically everything he needs from local hardware or five and dime stores. He has no workbench or shop and all special lathe work is farmed out to a model maker. His balancing seal, for instance, was made from odds and ends. For the original model he used a rubber seal purchased from the five and dime store, a coffee can, rubber ball, a straw, a piece of wire and a small celluloid ball the size of a marble. The entire model cost less than 50c and was put together in several hours.
The seal was fastened to the top of the can and a tube was run from its mouth to the bottom of the can, where it was attached to the nipple of a balloon. A short tube was then attached to the rear end of the balloon and run to the outside of the can. A rubber bulb was attached to the mouth of this outlet. A piece of wire was shaped into a basket and attached to the mouth of the seal and the celluloid ball placed in the basket. In operation, the balloon in the can is blown up by pumping the rubber bulb. A valve prevents the air from escaping from the balloon except through the mouth of the seal. As the air escapes from that outlet, the celluloid ball floats freely in the air and looks as though the seal is balancing the ball from the tip of its nose.
One of Hogan’s prize gadgets is a combination atomizer and nose dropper. It is composed of a rubber bulb with a glass tube in its neck. Inside this tube is another one of metal which permits the fluid to flow slowly when the gadget is used as a nose dropper. As an atomizer, it ejects a fine spray as the bulb is pumped. This simple gadget is scheduled for production this spring by the T. J. Holmes Company, New York, N. Y.
Hogan has also invented a “Boo-Hoo” baby doll that cries real tears. The doll can be made in any size, and emits a cry as small ducts in the eyes drop tears. The principle of it is very simple. The doll is fed a bottle through the mouth while lying down. As the water enters the mouth a trough carries it to a water pocket in the head. A valve is forced open by the pressure of the water passing into the trough and is closed tightly against its leaking out, also by the pressure of the water. When the rubber doll is squeezed, its emits a cry and a tear drops from a duct in its eye. The doll idea has been sold and is now in production by a New York City doll manufacturer. A feature of the doll is that it can be made of all-rubberâ€” which is what manufacturers like.
Perhaps the best of his toy inventions is called “Topper’s One-Man Show.” Topper is a clown with a gyro inside. A rack is used to spin the gyroâ€”which is set off centerâ€”and as it spins, the clown whirls about in fanciful gyrations and with a great deal of gusto. Topper is being manufactured, complete with a plywood stage containing a stool, a tight wire and a balancing pole, to perform on any and all of these props.
Hogan doesn’t know where his ideas come from. He tries to think up something people need or figure out an improvement on some current gadget on the market. His procedure is to think up an idea, work out its details, and if satisfactory, make a patent application. His next problem is to interest a manufacturer and if he succeeds, his contract usually calls for royalties of about 5 per cent.
Selling the invention is probably the toughest job. Hogan believes that the major requirement for an inventor is a sturdy pair of legs and a good pair of walking shoes. There’s a technique to selling an invention and the main trick is in knowing where to go. Some manufacturers only handle rubber novelties. Some handle a combination of rubber and plastic. Others handle only metal gadgets while others are equipped to handle only one-piece things; some only make wooden items; others only mechanical items. The inventor who knows his market can save himself a lot of trouble and heart-aches. He can also save the manufacturer considerable trouble and make him more receptive of the invention if the inventor will keep in mind such problems as cost of materials, tooling or casting, handling and distribution. Manufacturers prefer items that can be made easily and cheaply. Available materials, few moving parts requiring simple production machinery, easy handling and low price are standards by which manufacturers judge an invention’s value.