Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest Davis
What is the link between these 4 items ?
No idea? ... : Ernest W. Davis ! Yes, the father of most famous nose flute in the world, the plastic Humanatone, invented in 1939/40, has not been a "one shot" designer.
But who knows more about Davis? A so common name that it is very difficult to make researches about him, and since he was not famous... But I decided to focus many efforts in trying to know him better.
Patents : Ernest Davis' career
Ernest W. Davis applied for no less than 132 patents! And maybe more, since I found the trace of some others, out of Google search. Extremely prolific : 8 in 1924, 10 in 1925, 6 in 1926... and so on. From 1910 until 1949 (the last I found), Davis didn't stop filing patents, the most of them as assignor to big Chicago companies, but some in his own name, at his beginnings, and mostly after WWII.
Ernest's occupation name evolved in the time : On the 1910 census sheet, one can read "Mechanic (for a) Wire Chain(?) Co.", then "Mechanical Engineer" in "Auto(mobile) Access(ories)" in 1920, "Engineer" in "Experimental" business in 1930 and "Research Engineer" for a "Radio Manufacture" (we'll see it was Stewart-Warner, also auto accessory producer) in 1940.
From the patents, it becomes obvious that Ernest W. Davis was an engineer who specialized in lubricating systems : 118 among those 132 sets of innovations regard lubricant compressors, lubricating systems, lubricating means, grease dispensing apparati, a pneumatic motor for lubricant pumps,... and a few couplings, liquid dispensers, etc. Those devices were used mostly in car industry maintenance.
Now, the patents allow to trace Davis through his different jobs.
From 1910 to 1919, Ernest works in Chicago. The first years, he applies for some very personal patents, besides another job I wasn't able to identify (we know he is Mechanic in a Wire Chain(?) company, according to 1910 census). His first patents wear 2 following numbers (US1004382 & US1004383), but were filed on September 3 and on October 22, 1910.
The first one is a moving picture device which is a toy for kids with a ingenious system used to block an image, using the persistence of vision. The second one is an automatic electric switch dedicated to devices such as flashes. Then, in January 1911, Davis files a patent (US1014953) for an aerial toy : it is a small manual "helicopter".
From more or less 1917, armed with his cinema-related inventions, Ernest is employed at The Universal Camera and then for Burke & James Inc., 240-258 E Ontario Street. Burke & James was founded in 1897 and described themselves as manufacturers and representatives to the trade.
The Universal Camera is a "moving photography" device, developed and built by Burke & James, and dedicated to outdoor filming. It was used by ethnological expeditions for instance, but also as second camera in Hollywood.
For this camera, Ernest Davis filed 5 patents, and clearly is the inventor of the Universal Camera (patent US145433), and of some of its options or accessories, notably a focusing device, a turntable support (rotative tripod) and a very innovative dissolving apparatus that allows to produce image fadings.
In 1920, Ernest began at Bassick Manufacturing Co., then joined Alemite in 1924, then Stewart-Warner in 1934, which all were parts of the same conglomerate. Bassick had bought the Alemite Lubricator Co. after WWI to form Bassick-Alemite, specialized in high-pressure auto lubrication equipment, and in 1924, Stewart-Warner, manufacturer of vehicle instruments (and radios, refrigerators,...), bought Bassick-Alemite. The manufacture was established on Diversey Parkway.
For those companies, during 23 years until 1943 (this means the plastic Humanatone was conceived during this period), Davis conceived dozens of improvements on existing lubricating devices, and designed many new ones, from the smallest oil gun to the largest equipment.
But, sometimes, Ernest W. files a patent "for himself", besides his regular job.
In 1928, he applies for an improvement upon the safety razor, in order to prevent rust formation : « The operation of successfully drying a safety razor involves disassembling the entire razor, drying each part separately and the re-assembling. (...) I employ a substance that is electro-positive to the steel blade, and in electrical contact therewith, whereby a weal current of electricity is generated (...) with with any water remaining on the blade after using. »
In 1937, Ernest Davis invents a musical instrument, a kind of electric keyboard with an electric oscillator driven by moving a finger on a rail. This device is very interesting on 2 particular points : First, it's really the ancestor of the Stylophone, which was patented in 1968 in London by Brian Claude Jarvis, with no claim of Davis' invention (!!), and which, 31 years later was just a bit smaller and had replaced the finger by a stylus.
But more important for us, nose flute lovers, is the goal pursued by Davis because, despite the hand playing and the sound source radically different from a nose flute, the instrument tries to regulate 2 parameters (pitch/volume) with one "move" :
The next year, in 1938, Davis applies for a patent of a boad game! It is composed of an hexagonal board, a "spinner", 2 x 24 cards and tokens. The rules are a bit complex...
On January 22, 1940, Davis files... a "musical instrument" that will become the famous Humanatone, with its "true tremolo" hole [check this post]. And, funny coincidence, the Time Magazine issue dated of the very same day shows Siegfried blowing his horn.
And, in 1941, it's the turn of an "acoustical device", including a transmitter, an amplifier and a loud speaker, designed to produce a "sound effect derived from a single sound" "choral effect"...
From 1943, Davis multiplied "personal" patents, *serious ones*, for improvements upon lubricating devices. It seems that he has stopped working for Stewart-Warner and has established as a free-lance inventor until 1948. But he filed absolutely no patent between September 22, 1943 and June 15, 1945 (8 were filed in 1943, and 6 in 1945). We can assume that Ernest (who was around 62 years old in 1944) was recruited or applied as an engineer for the US army hereafter involved in WWII. This could be the reason of his resignation from Stewart-Warner Co. (which converted to war production, though).
Finally, in 1948 and 1949, Ernest Davis files 2 last(?) patents as an assignor to, respectively, Oil Rite Corp. and Gits Brothers Mfg. Co.
Ernest was 67, and probably opted then for a well-deserved retirement.
To be continued...
On the same topic :
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Nelson Ronsheim
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Garrett J. Couchois