Patents and family history

Patents and intellectual property don’t sound the liveliest of topics for family historians to research! But if you ever had an inventor in your family, they have their value.

An edition of The Times, in April, has sale details of property of George Fawell, bankrupt, joint patentee and ‘manufacturer of the new patented British boiling machines’.

Which may not sound too exciting, till you uncover a later description:

‘The machine is entirely new, for cooking, washing and dyeing, with great saving of fuel’

So, George Fawell manufactured a machine that could cook your dinner AND wash your clothes. At the same time?!

Who was George Fawell the inventor?

While George Fawell was, at the time, a resident in London, he was born in 1742 or 1743 in the village of Temple Sowerby, Westmorland, making him a Cumbrian Character.

(There were two George Fawells born in Temple Sowerby in 1742/42. The other also moved to London, as a bank clerk. They would have been cousins, but I’m as confident as I can be that George Fawell the inventor was the son of Joseph Fawell and Margaret, née Harrison. You can read more in this previous post. 

Patents – for the British Boiler

Curious as to what the British Boiler (or boiling machine) comprised, I looked to see where the patent might be archived.

You can learn more on how to find old patents on the British Library website:

And the National Archives.

Patents – and online directory

The British Library couldn’t help, but directed me to another resource.

This contains data on more than 120 million patent documents from around the world, dating from 1782 to the present day.

And there I found another practical item. 

Improvement in Clothes Driers

The main image for this post is from the EPO patents directory. It shows a design for a folding clothes-drier, patented in 1876, by Albert Smith Robinson, of Albany, New York, and Thomas Fawell, of the same place.

It may not be as exciting as the cooker-come-clothes-washer. But it looks useful. 

Albert Smith Robinson

Albert Smith Robinson submitted several more patents down the years. He was born in Massachusetts, in 1832, and died in Albany in 1899, and a painter (decorator) on the 1870 US and 1875 New York census.

The 1880 census lists him as ‘manufacturer of clothes racks,’ so it looks like his design was doing ok. And he didn’t stop there. In 1892, Albert S Robinson patented a new kind of wire bale-tie. And in 1899, shortly before his death, he patented a machine for grinding cutter-bars of mowing machines.

Thomas Fawell, of Albany

Albert Smith Robinson was American, born, lived and died. But Thomas Fawell was a Cumbrian Character. 

Born in Temple Sowerby, Westmorland, in 1827, he married Susannah Tweddle, in Carlisle, Cumberland, in 1855. He auctioned his goods and household effects, at 21 English Street, Carlisle, in 1859 – they emigrated to the USA in 1860. 

In 1865 and 1875, Thomas Fawell, Susannah, and their young sons were living in Albany. New York and doing well enough to have domestic servants. Thomas Fawell’s occupation was then ‘maltster’. 

However, by 1880, the family had moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Where Thomas and younger son George ran a book shop/stationery shop. And son John Henry Fawell became a career in banking/accountancy. 

What degree of involvement Thomas Fawell had in the Improved Clothes Drier, who can tell? For sure, there are no other patents listed under his name.