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Tail Lights: January 4, 2015

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.



Volume 4, Issue 1
Patent Motor Wagens

Bill Crittenden
January 4, 2015

Chrysler taillight patent from 1957 - 180,704Chrysler taillight patent from 1957 (180,704).


Patents have been an important part of the automobile industry since the invention of the first practical automobile, even making up part of the name of the the Benz Patent Motor Wagen. Since then the Selden patent nearly upended the burgeoning American automobile industry and put the Ford Motor Company out of business in the 1910's. In 2009 the film Flash of Genius highlighted the inventors that have improved on the automobile since its invention, following Robert Kearns' fight against Ford over his invention of the intermittent wiper.

In between Selden and today, hundreds of thousands of patents have been filed and granted for every little part that goes into an automobile, as well as their designs, the tools used to build and repair them, chemical patents for all of their fluids and paints, and innumerable electronics patents for everything from the engine controllers to radios. Within these documents are a treasure trove of documentation on how automobiles and their individual parts have been made since the beginning of the industry.

On a personal note outside of the automobile industry, my father was an engineer with multiple patents to his name. If you ever go to a hardware store look for bundles of materials bound together with a metal strap. My father designed those tools for a company called Signode, now a part of the ITW industrial conglomerate.

Anyway, I've mentioned before in my writing on operating The Crittenden Automotive Library just how separating out resources by topic and making them browsable, one of the basic functions of The Crittenden Automotive Library, can help make things findable that are otherwise buried under items from other topics with similar names when using a search, such as Google.

I've been manually going through patents and separating out the ones that have to do with automotive topics. A bunch of them from 1896 and 2012 were posted this week.

Why don't I just use Google's handy Patent Search? Because of how many words have more than one meaning.

Sure, it'd be easy to separate out all of Toyota or GM or Ford's patents, but even after I search for each and every brand or company I can come up with, I'd still be missing out on an enormous amount of information on patents filed by individuals, small businesses, or companies not traditionally associated with automobiles. Did you know Hitachi has an auto parts business? I didn't know that until this project started.

So that leaves searching by the terms of the patent. Besides the obvious "automobile" and "motor vehicle," you're going to need to search for a lot of other terms, working your way through a car's internal components part by part.

And that's where words with dual meanings would become a pain in the butt. Transmission, besides the obvious automotive meaning, also appears hundreds of times per week in the patents dealing with digital telecommunications transmissions. Differential appears as a term in electrical patents, bus also refers to a component of electrical circuits, and car more often means rail car than motor car. Truck can refer to the wheel hub carrying component of those rail cars. Traffic most often refers to network or internet traffic in current patent digests, and not the traffic of cars on roads.

Okay, but what about categories? Patents have categories. Sure, but the categories aren't exactly as clear cut as "automotive." Internal combustion engines are in one part, fuel cells in another, automotive audio is grouped with general radio components and drivetrain components are spread out all over sections containing various mechanical gears and motion transmitting systems. Fluids are in a different section, wiper blades are grouped with cleaning devices, motorcycle leathers are grouped with clothing...I get to skip through big blocks of patents on medicines and plant genetics, but the rest? Automotive patents could be almost anywhere in the patent record.

So that's why I'm taking the time and putting in the effort to manually go through as many patents as I can. In the end I believe it will be worth the work.

After the automotive patents have been separated out, search tools become more usable. Once enough of these patents have been added to The Crittenden Automotive Library to be really useful, you can then use a Google Site Search that's limited to the CarsAndRacingStuff.com domain, and then when you search for transmission patents, only automotive transmission topics will show up. You still might get a handful of "transmission" patents with telecommunications meanings to the word because of vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology and services such as OnStar, because nothing's perfect, but it will be a whole lot better.

It will never be complete, though, as so many patents come out each week that I couldn't keep up with the weekly workload of them, even if that's all I ever added to the Library from now on. Hopefully someday we'll get a sponsor that will allow me to hire a person dedicated entirely to not only keeping up with the current patents but also diving back into the last 110 years of them, all seven million plus total patents to be picked through since the automobile was invented, possibly as many as a third of a million patents related to automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks.

History Beyond the Fenders

This issue's History Beyond the Fenders continues the topic of patents. In addition to covering automotive engineering to a depth not seen in mainstream motoring media, the patents being added to The Crittenden Automotive Library also cover topics that are related to vehicles but aren't specifically car parts.

I've been finding patents for Hot Wheels playsets, automotive painting robots, automotive chassis welders, diagnostic tools, laser speed detectors for law enforcement use, eyeglasses for night driving, and the design patent section will soon feature all kinds of products that have automobile themes their design.

I'm remembering a few years ago an accessory made it to market that was a stripper pole one could attach to a vehicle by its trailer hitch. I remember the first time I saw someone mention it on one of those "funny news" segments on morning cable news, my first question was, "I wonder if it's been patented?" Unfortunately, "stripper pole" isn't the type technical term a patent would be filed under, so I haven't been able to find it yet.

But think of that when I say that you can't possibly imagine how much weird stuff there is in the patent files related in some way to cars. And I haven't even touched the patent office's rejected applications yet!

Unfortunately this last batch was fairly bland, but the funny and odd patents, as they're found, will be highlighted on our social media accounts. Check out the list at the bottom of this page!

Social Media

As just mentioned, we've spruced up our display of social media accounts, adding a few we've been on for years and haven't linked to before.

Aside from direct email, social media is the best way to let us know what kind of material you're interested in and where I should be focusing efforts and resources.

You'll notice that one of the links is the "Break Room," our very own message board directly on CarsAndRacingStuff.com. This is the best place to have an in-depth discussion that you also would like archived for automotive history. Stop in and add your opinion to the historical record!

Dead Trees

Finally some progress in the real-life paper reference library!

My copy of the Oldsmobile Flat Rate Manual for 1936 has been scanned and is now online. It's really fun to browse through, showing just what kinds of work was done on cars back then, about how long these jobs took, and how much mechanics got paid for it (the handy pay calculator page goes up to 75 cents an hour). It also includes a list of all of the Oldsmobile chassis and engine codes from the Curved Dash to the current 1936 models. I also have a copy of the 1938 edition that will also go online as time allows.

Also, a copy of Cars & Parts Magazine's Corvette ID Numbers 1953-93 has been added to the Reference Desk.

About The Crittenden Automotive Library

The Crittenden Automotive Library @ CarsAndRacingStuff.com, based in Woodstock, Illinois, is an online collection of information relating to not only cars, trucks, and motorcycles, but also the roads they drive on, the races they compete in, cultural works based on them, government regulation of them, and the people who design, build, and drive them.  We are dedicated to the preservation and free distribution of information relating to all types of cars and road-going vehicles for those seeking the greater understanding of these very important elements of modern society, how automobiles have affected how people live around the world, or for the general study of automotive history and anthropology.  In addition to the historical knowledge, we preserve current events for future generations.

The Library currently consists of over 540,000 pages of books, periodicals, and documents, over 24,000 individual articles, more than a week of video and two weeks of audio, more than 22,000 photographs & other images, and a Reference Desk with more than 120 book volumes and thousands of advertising brochures & documents kept available for the information they contain but can't be copied into the online Library for sharing due to copyright.

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