5 patents that show the inventive genius of Daytonians

Explore the history of the airplane, ice cube tray, pull tab and more.

Dayton, a hotbed of ingenuity, was known as the invention capital of the United States in the early 1900s.

Area inventors drew up patent applications and submitted them in droves, each one accompanied by illustrations that are an artistry of detail in and of themselves

At first glance the carefully drawn object in each illustration seems familiar, but it can take careful study to recognize the often everyday objects in a new perspective.

Orville and Wilbur Wright’s “Flying Machine” received a patent May 22, 1906. This is the first of three pages of illustrations that accompany the patent application.
Photo: Staff Writer

“Be it known that we, ORVILLE WRIGHT and WILBUR WRIGHT, citizens of the United States, residing in the city of Dayton, county of Montgomery, and State of Ohio, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Flying-Machines …”

That’s how United States Patent No. 821,393, filed March 23, 1903 began.


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Three pages of detailed patent drawings accompany the Wright brothers’ application on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Each of the black and white illustrations is a canvas for genius.

Stylized figures label the “FLYING-MACHINE” drawings, each one with its own meaning and corresponding to written specifications.

Ermal Fraze revolutionized how we open beverage cans when he invented the “pull-top.” His tinkering didn’t end there, and he continued to find ways to improve on his invention. In 1969, the “CAN END WITH FOLDED PULL TAB,” designed to prevent people from littering, was patented.

Ermal Fraze continued to improve on his original "pull-top" invention. This illustration is of the "can end with folded pull tab" patented in 1969.
Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

“The invention meets this need by scoring the can top to form a tear strip which at its base end is permanently attached to the can top,” wrote Fraze in his application.

His description is illustrated by three circles surrounding an abstract pull tab, drawn with shaded lines and noted with graceful arrows and numerals.

The patent drawings for Charles F. Kettering’s “ENGINE-STARTING DEVICE” span three pages.

This is the second of three pages of patent drawings that accompanied Charles F. Kettering's application for an "engine starting device.
Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office

The inventor made sure to note in his application the significance of the detailed pictures. “It may be stated that the type of automobile in which this improved system is shown, as applied, is the ‘Cadillac’ which is a well-known automobile, on the market at the present time.”

The Cadillac’s transverse shaft, pivoted armature and clutch shaft are drawn in elegant detail with a wire attached to the motor-generator coiling across the page.

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Patent No. 271,363 for a version of the “Cash Register and Indicator” invented by James Ritty and John Birch was patented Jan. 30, 1883.
Photo: Staff Writer

James Ritty and John Birch first applied for a patent for their “CASH REGISTER AND INDICATOR” in 1879 after Ritty sought to find a way to keep his saloon employees from stealing.

The drawings for an updated version of the cash register, patented in 1883, outline the profile of the machine in bold stokes while delicate lines illustrate the intricate workings inside.

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Sweeping curves outline Patent No. 2,895,312, a complex contraption that looks like it could be sails suspended over a ship. “Tiltable cross walls” and a “laterally extending handle” are drawn in black ink.

Patent No. 2,895,312 for the “Ice Cube Tray” was made official July 21, 1959. It was invented by Arthur J. Frei and Raymond C. Davis.
Photo: Staff Writer

When putting together their application, the inventors, Arthur J. Frei and Raymond C. Davis, described its purpose as a way to “minimize effort on the part of a housewife…”

On July 21, 1959 they received the patent for their innovation – the ice cube tray.

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