Description[Thomas A. Edison]: Heinrich Goebel Patent Case Archive. If you visit Springe, Germany, you will see a monument dedicated to its favorite son, Heinrich Goebel (1818-1893). It credits him with the invention of the incandescent light bulb. Goebel emigrated to New York in 1848. He opened a "Jewelry, Horology and Optician's Store". To promote his business, he made a large telescope which he mounted on a wagon. Setting up shop on Union Square, he charged people a fee to use the telescope and view the stars close-up. In 1881, he worked as a consultant for the American Electric Light Company, producing carbon filaments in his shop for the company. After his employment there ceased, he tried to start his own business in the field of incandescent light bulbs, in partnership with a fellow lodge member from the German community. He was granted three patents: "Hemmer for Sewing Machines" in May 1865, "Improvement of the Geissler System of Vacuum Pumps" in 1882 and "Electric Incandescent Lamp" (sockets to connect the filament of carbon and the conducting wires) the same year. He tried to sell the 1882 patents to Edison, but was turned down. He displayed some of the bulbs in his storefront window which prompted a "New York Times" article on April 30, 1882. It quoted Goebel as saying that Edison's invention was not new at all and that he knew of examples produced in Germany prior to 1848. Attorneys wishing to investigate the claim visited Goebel subsequently, but were unable to obtain any evidence or proof.
After a series of court cases, Edison's patent was affirmed in 1892. He then sought injunctions against three companies against selling products that infringed on his patent. These were Beacon Vacuum Pump & Electric Company, Columbia Incandescent Lamp Company and the Electric Manufacturing Company. The defendants were represented by Witter & Kenyon who asserted Edison's patent was void since it was not a novelty when issued. They were able to obtain Heinrich Goebel as their star witness. He claimed to have designed the first practical light bulb in 1854, even though he did not apply for a patent. Witnesses and affidavits both favorable and unfavorable were produced. Both "original" Goebel lamps and reproductions were offered as exhibits, but there was no proof that any of them were made prior to 1880. This tactic by defense attorneys became known as the "Goebel Defense" and was used in other similar cases. In only one case was a preliminary injunction denied. Goebel himself received no money for his testimony, claiming he had no interest in the outcome nor did he hold any animosity towards Edison. There was no final hearing as the Edison patent expired on November 19, 1894. Judge Colt in "Edison Electric Light Company vs. Beacon Vacuum Pump & Electrical Company" summed up the view of the court: "It is extremely improbable that Henry Goebel constructed a practical incandescent lamp in 1854... It has often been laid down that a meritorious invention is not to be defeated by something which rests in speculation or experiment, or which is rudimentary or incomplete... It is easy after an important invention has gone into public use for persons to come forward with claims that they invented the same thing years before, and to endeavor to establish this by the recollection of witnesses as to events long past. Such evidence is to be received with great caution, and the presumption of novelty arising from the grant of the patent is not to be overcome except upon clear and convincing proof."
This lot includes material related to the controversy and lawsuits of 1893 seeking to void Edison's patent of 1880 using the "Goebel Defense". It includes one of Goebel's light bulbs measuring 6" in length (the Henry Ford Museum owns another example), a circa 1893 cabinet card depicting Goebel's storefront on Grand Street in Manhattan with family members posing with a telescope of the type used in Union Square years before, a 4-page typed report dated 1882 titled "The Goebel Incandescent Light" and a 36-page manuscript biography of Edison, undated and unsigned, but written during Edison's lifetime, of a laudatory nature. Interestingly, it comments: "His greatest achievement has been the perfecting of the incandescent electric light. In this as in a good many other of the Edison wonders the foundation was laid by someone else." The typed report is also intriguing. It is docketed: "Copy A. Report of Goebel Inventions given to Major Eaton by Mr. Dickerson, Jr. May 12th 1882." An attached typed note dated 3 days later says: "Col. Goddard, Here is a report on the Goebel invention. Please read it and return it to me. S. B. Eaton, Per. McG." The report describes the construction of the Goebel bulb, how it was displayed in the storefront window 1851-1860, the placement of batteries in the basement, the use of an electric lamp in the kitchen and upstairs bedroom, changes and improvements made by the inventor since 1860, comparison to the Edison lamp and production capabilities. Major Sherbourne B. Eaton may have been a partner in Carter & Eaton, a firm of patent attorneys who represented the Edison Electric Light Company. This 1882 report would seem to indicate they were aware of the "New York Times" article about Goebel and wished to investigate its claims that someone other than Edison invented the first practical incandescent light. Eaton may have been one of the attorneys who called on Goebel in the wake of the article to "feel him out" and determine if any plausible evidence existed to bolster his claim.
The consignor's great aunt, Anna Knudsen, married a patent attorney (John C. Rowe) who was involved with patent infringement cases for Thomas A. Edison. These artifacts descended in his family.
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