ADOLPHUS THOMAS VIGNERON
Giving sight to
and giving us car insurance
PLUS ALVAH PEASE OSBORN'S
MYSTERY MACHINE:Adolphus Thomas Vigneron, of Providence, Rhode Island, was a great ideas man. While all around him people (notably the Wagners) had been beavering away for years trying to perfect visible-writing typewriters, and using all sorts of techniques to reach this final frontier in typewriting, Vigneron came up with a much more obvious scheme.
Simply adapt existing Remington and Caligraph typewriters to a new form of typing action and change the typeslugs. Put aside the typewheels, typesleeves and typeshuttles, and fanciful notions of a frontstroke typing action and typebasket, said Vigneron, here is the easy way out.
This is how Vigneron described his plan in a patent issued on this day in 1894:
“The Remington and Caligraph are well known examples of the class of type-writing machines [to which] my improvement is well adapted to be used.
“In type-writing machines as hitherto made, it has been usual to so construct and arrange the type-arms or bars and the co-acting mechanism that the impression or writing is made at the underside of the cylinder [platen].
“While possibly such former arrangement may in some respects be to the advantage of the manufacturer in the matter of assembling the parts, etc, yet to the operator or user it is a decided disadvantage, since the arrangement necessarily renders the last written line or the line being written invisible unless the cylinder be first swung upwardly, or rotated ahead sufficiently to bring the line into view.
“The object I seek to attain is to provide machines of the class above referred to with means whereby not only the last written lines are exposed at all times but each individual letter or character as it is produced upon the paper is exposed immediately succeeding its impression.
“To that end my invention consists, essentially, of a resilient type-bar proper or holder jointed to the lever or operating arm, combined with a stop or contact plate and an intermittently-movable ink-ribbon; it also consists of certain other novel mechanisms combined with adjunctive devices, all as will be more fully hereinafter set forth and claimed.
“By means of my improvement the upper and lower case letters and characters may be employed with equal facility; the spacing and alignment are more uniform; the writing as produced is exposed and in full view of the operator without raising the cylinder, and the novel manner of mounting and operating the ink-ribbon adds materially to the efficiency of the machine.”
This idea of Vigneron's did not, unfortunately for him, take off. What did, in 1907, was car insurance.
Vigneron, then a prominent businessman in Providence, was vice-president of the Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies. These companies practiced preferred risk underwriting which provided lower insurance rates for factories in excellent condition. Vigneron theorised that the same principles could apply to car insurance.
Thus the Amica Mutual Insurance Company was founded.
The first policy was on Vigneron’s own 1907 Cadillac, which he owned with his brother Herbert.
Adolph Vigneron (as he later shortened his name to) organised Amica as a company owned by the policyholders rather than shareholders. As the number of cars on the road grew, the company kept pace, opening offices in Boston in 1941 and eventually in 39 other cities across the US.
Amica is now a national writer of automobile, homeowners, marine and personal umbrella liability insurance. It is headquartered in Lincoln, Rhode Island. and employs more than 3000 people. Amica is one of the few remaining large-scale mutual insurance firms that consistently ranks highly in JD Power and other consumer satisfaction rankings.
In 1926 Adolph Vigneron had one last bright idea, which he patented and assigned to brother Herbert. It was for a football game recording board. Between 1977 and 2009, this patent was used as a basis for five further patents, relating to sports such as football, golf and tennis. Well, done, A.T.Vigneron!
Adolphus Thomas Vigneron was born in Providence on March 9, 1867, and died, aged 64, on October 2, 1931.
In his The Writing Machine (1973), typewriter historian Michael Adler mentions a machine referred to in Typewriter Topics: History of the Typewriter (1923) as an “unknown”. Sadly, I can’t find this reference, but as Adler pointed out, it was to a machine designed by one “A.A.Osborn” of New York.
This, in fact, was Alvah Pease Osborn, and his is a quite gorgeous looking little index typewriter (so good I've used the drawing twice).
Osborn patented the design on this day in 1888, assigning it to Fredric C. Barto.
Alvah Pease Osborn, a Tompkins County “commercial teamster”, was born in New York in December 1838 and died on August 29, 1916, aged 77.
James Edwin Simpson, of Brooklyn, worked closely with the better-known typewriter designer, the Swedish citizen Charles John Paulson, in the period between 1915-1919. Together they patented a means of renovating phonograph needles, a cheque protector and cheque-writing machine attachment, and in 1915 this typewheel typewriter.
Individually, Paulson is perhaps best known for having designed the earlier Sterling typewriter.
Left to his own devices, James E. Simpson came up with a few things, too, including this neat idea for an attachment to re-ink typewriter ribbons while they are in use on the machine. He called it “revivifying”. Wow! Great word!? Simpson applied for a patent for this device on this day in 1919, assigning it to the Typewriter Accessories Company of New York.
I also like the idea Katharine E. Daly, of Boston, came up for a typewriter ribbon reel. Katharine was obviously a lady who wasn’t keen on getting typewriter ribbon ink on her pretty little fingers when changing ribbons (who does?). In her specifications for a patent for which she applied on this day in 1894, Katharine wrote:
“In attaching a typewriter ribbon to the machine or detaching it therefrom, the ink is very apt to come off and soil the fingers. My invention consists in an attachment or appliance for typewriter machines, by means of which a new ribbon may be easily placed upon the machine or a ribbon unwound therefrom and placed in a box or other receptacle for preservation if desired.”
Smart thinking, Katharine! She has a special place in an online honours list-index of female inventors: http://staff.lib.muohio.edu/~jsears/govlaw/FemInv/MA.php
Like Adolph Vigneron’s game recording board, Katharine’s design was of ongoing usefulness. It was used as the basis in further patents: in 1976 for a fishing line changer, in 1990 for a cargo strap winder, and in 1998 for a truck mountable belt winder.
On this day in 1955, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering, the precursor to Sony, sold its first transistor radios in Japan. Sure enough, transistor radios eventually made it into typewriter cases:
American author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer and advertising creative director Stanley Victor "Stan" Freberg was born in Los Angeles on this day in 1926. He turns 85 today. As a young man, I thought Stan Freberg was terribly, terribly funny. I still do.