Historic, but not famous

Jonathan H. Green, inventor, writer, reformer

Jonathan Harrington Green (1813–1887) was an American gambler, inventor, writer and later reformer of illegal gambling. In his youth, he was a skilled card player who left gambling in 1842, he became an active crusader against illegal gambling. He was responsible for enacting anti-gambling laws in several states.

Green was born in Ohio, but traveled the country, including Mississippi river boats, gambling in his younger days. After leaving gambling, he became a general executive agent of the New York Association for the Suppression of Gambling and, between 1850–51, conducted an exhaustive investigation on illegal gambling operations in New York City. He presented his findings astonishing report on the existence of around 6,000 gambling houses, 200 of these being high-class establishments, as well as several thousand raffling, lottery and policy houses.

He published his memoirs on his gambling days while living in NYC, but moved to Indiana during the Civil War became a captain in the Union Army. He was later employed by the US Secret Service. An amateur inventor, he took out 20 to 30 patents during his lifetime.

He retired to Philadelphia after the war where he lived a quiet life with his wife and became destitute, having to ask for funds to bury her.

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Historic, but not famous

Wilhelm Christian Weitling, writer, tailor, inventor

Wilhelm Christian Weitling (1808 – 1871) was a tailor, inventor, and radical political activist. He immigrated from Germany and invented attachments for commercial sewing machines like devices for double-stitching and the button holes. Prior to his inventions, these had been done by hand and kept many families afloat with piece work by the women and children of poor areas in NYC.

Weitling was raised in dire poverty, while his mother made a meager living as a maid and cook. His father, who never married his mother, was killed in war before Wilhelm turned 5.  His education was limited to elementary school and any reading did on his own at the local library. He still learned not only German, but French and eventually English and some Italian.  He apprenticed with a tailor at an early age and was a skilled journeyman tailor by age 18.

He moved to Paris where he became politically active, an agitator and writer, he was published and translated in many languages. His work was mostly Marxist or Communist in tone and intent. He spent time in prison and after his release traveled many places including New York City. By 1850, he had made NYC his home and started publishing a monthly journal which grew to 4000 subscribers.

His attention turned to invention in his later years. He received nine patents for improvements to sewing machines, among which were double stitch, button hole and embroidery attachments. He received a patent for a dress-trimming crimper which he had worked on for 17 years, and on his death left several unfinished machines.

He died in NYC, leaving behind a wife and 6 children.

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Historic, but not famous

Dr. Alexander Skene, inventor of surgical instruments

Alexander Johnston Chalmers Skene (1837 – 1900) was a British gynecologist from Scotland who described what became known as Skene’s glands. He came to North America at the age of 19 to study. He began his studies in Toronto, continued in Michigan and and finally at the Long Island College Hospital (now the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center) in Brooklyn. He graduated in 1863 and began a career in the Army.

After the army he entered private practice in Brooklyn and became a Professor of Disease of Women at Long Island College Hospital. He was professor of gynecology at the Medical School of New York in 1884, and was president of the American Gynecological Society. Skene wrote over 100 medical articles and several textbooks. He contributed many surgical instruments and improved on surgical techniques. He performed the first successful operation of gastro-elytrotomy that is recorded, and also that of craniotomy, using Sims’s speculum.

Though he worked with Marion Sims, who it has been found performed gynecologic exams and surgeries on African-American women without anesthesia, Skene did not appear to be part of these experiments. A statue of him is located near Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

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Historic, but not famous

Joseph Perkins, engraver, bank notes

Joseph Perkins (1788 – 1842) was born in New Hampshire. He graduated from Williams College and went to Philadelphia to learn engraving. He moved to New York City in 1825 with the A.B. Durand to start Durand, Perkins and Company , engravers of Bank Notes. When Mr. Durand left the company, Perkins continued with an office at 4 John Street. 

He entered a contest in London for the prevention of bank note forgery. While in London, he perfected the transfer of engravings from one plate to another. He also made engravings for many important events throughout NYC including a tribute to the visiting Marquis de Lafayette.

If you are interested in seeing engravings of bank notes throughout the history of the United States, you can visit the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street.

Joseph Perkins (American, 1788–1842), The Nation’s Guest, circa 1825. Engraving. Courtesy of David Bishop Skillman Library, Lafayette College, Easton, PA.
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