Your Summer 1992 issue, with its piece on Charlotte Smith (“The Champion of Women Inventors”), held special significance for me. Autumn Stanley’s fine article, recalling Ms. Smith’s struggle to gain recognition for women’s roles as inventors, noted that Smith implored the Patent Office to set aside a hall for the exhibit of women’s inventions during its centennial celebration in 1891. Charlotte Smith’s dream of such an exhibit was not to become a reality for another hundred years.
As the chairperson of the Women Inventors’ Committee, I had the honor of beginning the Patent Office’s 1990 bicentennial celebration with a ceremony and reception showcasing the works of women inventors. Titled “A Woman’s Place Is in the Patent Office,” this special exhibit was on display for six months. It spotlighted inventions by modern-day female Edisons as well as by Charlotte Smith’s own contemporaries. To please Charlotte’s spirit, which we were certain was browsing among the display cases, a panel proclaiming her 1891 appeal for such an exhibit was prominently featured.
Even today women inventors garner only a modest 6 percent of the U.S. patents granted each year. The opportunities for women have improved a bit over the past two centuries, but the need for champions the likes of Charlotte Smith continues.
Office of National and International Application Review
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
I have a footnote to your excellent “To the Bottom of the Sea” (by T. A. Heppenheimer, Summer 1992). In 1937 I was a student at the Ecole Nouvelle de Paudex, a boys’ school near Lausanne, Switzerland. Also in the school was Jacques Piccard, the son of Auguste Piccard. Their lives and efforts to reach great heights and then great depths were beautifully described in your article. I recall a visit by Jacques’s father, who was already world-famous for his high-altitude balloon exploits. He lectured us boys on his plans for an underwater balloon, a free-floating sphere hanging from a gasoline-filled bag. That is exactly what they realized many years later, with the tribulations that you so well recounted.
The experience of hearing this noted scientist speak freely to us boys of his audacious plans (I was fifteen at the time) remains fresh in memory as a high point of my school years.
George T. Jacobi
Your article on the first voting machine, in the Spring 1992 issue (“Postfix: Machine Politics,” by Frederic D. Schwarz), reminded me of an unusual encounter I had around 1950 when I was chief engineer of Graflex, Inc., in Rochester, New York, where the machines were invented.
One day a gentleman appeared and insisted on talking about a confidential matter with the chief engineer and no one else. He was a portly, middleaged man perfectly dressed in a Homburg, chesterfield, and spats. He said he was from Buffalo and wanted to know how to photograph the face of a voting machine.
I advised him to use a Speed Graphic camera and flash bulbs, and he asked, “Can I take a picture showing the whole candidate list without flash, from within the voting booth, with the curtain closed?” I said that no existing wide-angle lens would capture that width from such a short distance, so he would need to take several exposures, and that current film speeds required flash. That, he said, was unacceptable. It would take too much time, and he didn’t want flashes of light.
Upon questioning, he reluctantly told me why he wanted such pictures. It seemed that a rival political party in Buffalo had devised a scheme to reverse the vote. The machines had linear, printed cardboard candidate lists that slipped into slots above the voting levers. The second or third voter in the morning could exchange two rows of cards, that is, Democratic and Republican, and then someone could restore the order before the end of the day. Result: Party votes switched, with no one the wiser. Presumably today’s voting machines cannot be altered in this way.
Frederick F. Tone
Throughout the years, I have read many accounts of Nikola Tesla’s life in magazines and newspapers, but never has there been one as comprehensive and accurate as Curt Wohleber’s (“The Work of the World,” Winter 1992). It is a masterly piece of work.
John W. Wagner
Tesla Memorial Society, Inc.
Pardon Our French
“The Father of Modern Bridges” (by Christopher Bonanos, Summer 1992) is an excellent article. One clarification: Le Corbusier, like Othmar Ammann, was Swiss, not French, by birth. Both were graduates of Swiss engineering schools.
Adrian H. Krieg
A. Krieg Consulting & Trading, Inc.