Obituary of Royal E. House

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Electrical Engineer

New York, NY, United States
vol. 19, no. 357, p. 221-222, col. 1-2

Royal E. House



BY Franklin Leonard Pope


ROYAL EARL HOUSE, who died at his home in Bridgeport, Conn., on February 23, at the advanced age of 81, was in many respects one of the most remarkable of the galaxy of American inventors whose achievements have rendered the annals of the nineteenth century illustrious. In the limited space at disposal, it is impossible to give more than the briefest outline of his singularly interesting career. Born in Rockingham, Vermont, September 9, 1814, he removed, while yet young, with his parents to Choconut, a small hamlet in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, a point farther remote from civilization at that date than is Alaska to-day. His inventive talent first manifested itself in the construction of a submerged water wheel for a saw-mill, which embodied a principle since used in many forms, and known as the "scroll wheel." Early in the forties, he went to Buffalo, N. Y., with the design of studying law with a relative of his family residing there, but having gained access to a limited number of scientific books, he became interested in electrical researches, and these soon became the absorbing passion of his life. Returning to his home, he conceived and worked out in his own mind, without the slightest knowledge of what had been done by others, the scheme of an electric telegraph. From the outset, his design was to produce a record in printed Roman characters, and all his efforts were devoted to that end. He possessed the unusual and remarkable mental capacity of originating and designing the most complicated mechanical structures, in all their parts, details, combinations and dimensions, without embodying them in models, drawings or other tangible form. In this way he thought out his first printing telegraph, which was adapted to work with two independent circuits one of which was made to turn a type-wheel step by step, while the other served to give the impression of each successive letter then presented, precisely as is done in many of the more recent "stocktickers." Having fully completed the design in his mind, House came to New York, and had his machine constructed piecemeal at two or three different shops, afterwards assembling the parts together with his own hands. This apparatus was exhibited in successful operation at the fair of the Mechanic's Institute of New York, in the basement of the City Hall, in the fall of 1844, only a short time after the establishment of Morse's first line between Baltimore and Washington, and long before this had been extended to New York. Mr. William Ballard became interested in the invention, and furnished House with the necessary means to perfect the invention. When completed, which was not until several years afterward, it proved to be a perfect marvel of mechanical skill and ingenuity, and was demonstrated to be capable, under favorable conditions, of printing messages in plain Roman characters at the rate of more than fifty words per minute. Capitalists ultimately became interested in the scheme, and between 1847 and 1855, an extensive range of telegraph lines was erected, extending from New York along the seaboard to Boston and Washington, and west as far as Cleveland and Cincinnati, on which the House instruments were employed with great commercial success. Many original details of the