Historic, but not famous

Antonio Meucci, inventor of telephone

Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci (13 April 1808 – 18 October 1889) was an Italian inventor and is best known for developing the first telephone in Staten Island, NY. Meucci set up a form of voice-communication link in his home that connected the second-floor bedroom to his laboratory. He submitted a patent  for his telephonic device to the U.S. Patent Office in 1871, but there was no mention of electromagnetic transmission of vocal sound in his application. That mention was made by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876.

Meucci was admitted to Florence Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 15, as its youngest student, where he studied chemical and mechanical engineering. He was not able to afford full time tuition after 2 years and continued his studies part time while working. While working in the theater in 1834 he constructed a type of acoustic telephone to communicate between the stage and control room at the Teatro of Pergola. This telephone was constructed on the principles of pipe-telephones used on ships and still functions.

In 1835, he emigrated with his wife to Cuba where he continued his work in the theater. IN April of 1850, his family immigrated to NY and settled in Staten Island. He set up  a tallow candle factory (the first of this kind in America) employing several Italian exiles. He also continued his experiments in telephony, water purification and the use of electric shock on rhuematism patients. His wife suffered from  rheumatoid arthritis.

He continued to work on experiments despite having to declare bankruptcy due to some fraudulent investors in his work. In August 1870, Meucci reportedly was able to capture a transmission of articulated human voice at the distance of a mile by using a copper plate as a conductor, insulated by cotton. He called this device the “telettrofono”. He was declared the inventor of the telephone by the Italian government and his work has been acknowledge by the US government.

Meucci became ill in March 1889 and died on 18 October 1889. The Order of the Sons of Italy in America maintains a Garibaldi–Meucci Museum on Staten Island. The museum is located in a house that was built in 1840, purchased by Meucci in 1850, and rented to Giuseppe Garibaldi from 1850 to 1854. Exhibits include Meucci’s models and drawing and pictures relating to his life

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Historic, but not famous

Robert Gair, cardboard box inventor

Robert Gair, a Scottish-born immigrant, invented the folding carton in 1890 in Brooklyn. He was a printer and paper bag maker in the 1870s. He invented the paperboard folding carton by accident: a metal ruler normally used to crease bags shifted in position and cut the bag. Gair found that by cutting and creasing paperboard in one operation, he could make prefabricated cartons. He ultimately got into the corrugated fiberboard shipping container business in the 1900s.


Before cardboard, he served in the Civil War and returned to NYC to open a paper factory on Reade Street in Manhattan. He moved to Brooklyn after his cardboard became popular and he needed more room and better shipping options via boat.

Around 1904, Gair met the engineers from the newly formed Turner Construction Company and saw possibilities in the use of concrete. The engineers persuaded Gair to adopt the new concrete system and eventually built 10 buildings in the area including the famous Clock Tower in DUMBO. Many buildings in the area still bear his name between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.  The old factories’ distinctive concrete facades have written in stone: ”Robert Gair Company,” ”Gair Bvilding No. 6,” ”Gair Building.”

In 1926, the Gair Company moved to Piermont, N.Y., in Rockland County, and the next year its Robert Gair died at age 88.  The Brooklyn Real Estate was handled by his son and offered as factory space to various companies.

All the Gair buildings are currently residential.

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Historic, but not famous

Alfred M. Butts, inventor of Scrabble

Alfred M. Butts,  as a jobless architect in the Depression invented the enduringly popular board game Scrabble. Although its sales eventually approached 100 million sets, Scrabble languished for nearly two decades, rejected by major game manufacturers as unmarketable. Mr. Butts was a fan of chess, crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. Working in his fifth floor walk-up in Jackson Heights, Queens, he designed the new game to be based on knowledge, strategy and chance. He lined the original playing board into small squares and cut the 100 lettered wooden tiles by hand. First players of the game included his wife and family friends. Mrs. Butts becoming a better player than Alfred and once scoring 234 points with “quixotic.”

The game remained among friends, one of them even volunteering to be its salesman after his retirement and giving it the name “Scrabble”. He sold a few, but it wasn’t until it was seen being played at a resort by a vacationing Macy’s executive that the game took off. The executive convinced the company to carry the game and the Butts’ lives were never the same. Orders started pouring in. Thirty-five workers hired to churn out 6,000 sets a week could not meet the


demand. The game was eventually turned over to a company that had initially rejected it.


For many years Mr. Butts earned royalties, which he said were about three cents a set. “One-third went to taxes,” he said. “I gave one-third away, and the other third enabled me to have an enjoyable life.”

Mr. Butts died at the age of 93 in 1993. A street sign honoring him went up in Jackson Heights in 1995.

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Historic, but not famous

James Bogardus, inventor and architect

By Unknown from a photograph by E.W. Bogardus, Broadway and Franklin Street - http://www.myinwood.net, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15877610James Bogardus (March 14, 1800 – April 13, 1874) was an American inventor and architect, the pioneer of American cast-iron architecture, for which he took out a patent in 1850. He was born in the town of Catskill, New York and was a descendant of the Rev. Everardus Bogardus, the second clergyman in New Netherlands. At the age of fourteen, Bogardus quit school to start an apprenticeship at a watchmaker.

He began inventing early in his life and by the age of 28 had patented a cotton spinning machine, an engraving machine for bank notes, and a milling machine for ball bearings and lens grinding.  After his invention of cast-iron in the early 1850s, he demonstrated the use of it in the construction of building facades, especially in New York City for the next two decades. Over 100 of the buildings still remain in the SoHo and Tribeca areas of Manhattan.

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