Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Walter Macomber Biography

I've been spending a fair amount of time lately compiling a biography of my great-grandfather, Walter Glenn Macomber, inventor of the Macomber rotary engine. This is a research project I've pursued off and on over the past couple of years. The Internet and various museums/libraries in California, Michigan, and Ohio have been very helpful in terms of gathering information. At this point, I've taken what I have so far and compiled it into a narrative. Thought I'd post a few excerpts on the blog.

Above: Zebedee Macomber, inventor of the "self-propeller" threshing machine, and his sons in Bedford, Michigan. Walter Macomber is at the far left.

Walter Glenn Macomber was born at Battle Creek, Michigan on June 30, 1871, the son of Zebedee Macomber and Clara (Wright) Macomber. He was educated in the public schools of Bedford, Michigan and by private tutors. He married Mabel Godsmark on June 14, 1894 at Bedford, and the couple had one daughter, Ina L. Macomber, born April 23, 1895.

The following account of his early life comes from the Press Reference Library, Southwest Edition, 1912 (“Being the portraits and biographies of progressive men of the Southwest,” published by the Los Angeles Examiner):

Macomber comes by his inventive genius naturally, his father before him having been a practical engineer who contributed largely to the origination of the first traction engine, a mechanical vehicle that has practically revolutionized agricultural methods, and today is one of the most important tools used in farming.

Mr. Macomber's bent displayed itself when he was a boy going to school, and he spent most of the hours when he was not studying in the workshop of his father. These were the hours that other boys usually spent at play, but the young inventor got more pleasure from "making things" than he did from games. At 12 years of age he was as well versed in mechanics and mechanical appliances as numerous men who follow those vocations in life.

His first invention came when he was 14 years of age. At that time he constructed a miniature steam engine, complete in every detail. He used an ordinary teakettle for a boiler, and even with the meager power developed from this was able to get great speed out of his invention. Within a year after his initial production he had built, with his own hands and without any assistance, a self-inking printing press, running with remarkable accuracy. This accomplishment surprised and delighted the boy and his father, and the latter then taught his son all he could about the mechanical arts.

When he was 21 years of age he started in the photographic business at Augusta, a suburb of Battle Creek, Michigan, and remained in it three years. Although this line of work was attractive to Mr. Macomber, he fully realized that his real life work lay within the mechanical arts… Between the ages of 29 and 33 years he studied mechanical engineering privately and qualified in that profession.

To be continued...