Monday, October 17, 2016

The Rest of the Story

The accepted bedtime story about the Wahl Adding Machine Company, which later became the Wahl Company, is that the company was incorporated in 1905 to make John Wahl’s nifty attachment for typewriters which turned any old typewriter into a steampunk mechanical calculator.  Ten years later, though, John Wahl met inventor Charles Keeran, who was interested in purchasing some machinery to make his new pencils (since his existing supplier, the George W. Heath Company, wasn’t making them fast enough to keep up with the demand).

Wahl started making Keeran’s pencils in October, 1915, quickly learned  how much money the company could make in the writing instruments business, bought Keeran’s company,bought the Boston Fountain Pen Company to add fountain pens to their line, shortened the name to Wahl Company, dropped adding machines like a hot rock and lived happily ever after.

Well, sort of happily.  Until that whole ballpoint thing brought the company to its knees and forced the sale of its writing instruments division to Parker in 1957.

The story leaves out one important detail: John Wahl didn’t invent the adding machine that started it all.  Who did?  Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, I’m now going to tell you the rest of the story.

When I first sat down to write this article, my research led me straight to a fellow blogger’s work over at oz Typewriter, where Robert Messenger posted a terrific article in 2014   (, and he attributes John C. Wahl’s rise to fame as an inventor to his patent for a calculating machine, applied for on October 28, 1904 and issued on July 21, 1908 as number 893,717:

A second application, filed by Wahl on April 17, 1905 was also issued on July 21, 1908 as number 893,718.  Both applications, read closely, are for “improvements to” calculating machines, both were assigned to the Wahl Adding Machine Company and in both, Wahl indicates, “I have shown my device attached to a well known Remington typewriting machine.”   In his second patent application, however, he adds at the end of that statement, “although it may be attached with equal facility to other machines.”  Remington apparently made sure that never happened, formally “adopting” the adding attachment in 1908 with a lease of the patent rights for seventeen years, to end in 1925.

There’s a loose end here:  if John Wahl’s first patent was for an “improvement” to calculating machines, what was he improving?


Several months before John Wahl applied for his first patent, Hyman Eli Goldberg filed an application for his patent for an improvement in calculating machines, on March 7, 1904, but unlike Wahl’s, Goldberg’s patent was issued fairly quickly, on Valentine’s Day, 1905 as number 782,554.  Goldberg’s first patent was not assigned to anyone, but later patents he filed were assigned to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company, which was established in 1902, three years before the Wahl Adding Machine Company:

Wahl and Goldberg each patented dozens of improvements on a calculating attachment for typewriters; Wahl assigned his to the Wahl Adding Machine Company, while Goldberg’s were assigned to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company.  The two did collaborate in the filing of an application to patent this improvement on March 16, 1908, which was issued on August 25, 1908 as number 896,871 – and assigned half to the Wahl Adding Machine Company and half to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company:

The Wahl/Goldberg patent became wildly successful through the next decade, and at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco (the 1915 World’s Fair), history records that John C. Wahl won a medal for the Wahl Adding Machine.  History has it wrong: it was actually the co-inventors of the Wahl Adding Machine, John C. Wahl and Hyman Eli Goldberg, who received the honors, as reported in the September, 1915 issue of Typewriter Topics.

Note:  The Panama-Pacific Exposition is where Charles Keeran first went national with his new Ever Sharp pencil.  Did John Wahl and Hyman Goldberg meet Keeran at the Exposition?  History does not record such a meeting, and it was an enormous event – but surely their common experience there gave them something to talk about when the two met, and Keeran hired the Wahl Adding Machine Company to manufacture pencils for him, beginning in October, 1915. 

One question which has always bothered me is why the Wahl Adding Machine Company had any interest in making pencils for Charles Keeran.  The company had been around for ten years, dedicated solely to the refinement of a wildly successful invention, sold in partnership with one of the largest typewriter manufacturers in America.  Did John Wahl’s agreement to make pencils for a small-time inventor such as Keeran suggest that there were tensions brewing between Wahl and Remington?  I believe that it does, and the company was looking to diversify its manufacturing base at around that time.

The best evidence of a pending storm between the Wahl Adding Machine Company and the Remington Typewriter Company comes from what happened after the company acquired a controlling interest in Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company, after the company purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company and after the company name was shortened to simply “Wahl Company.”

The Remington Typewriter Company got wind that the Wahl Company’s shareholders were planning to sell the assets and business to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company, and filed for a restraining order to block the sale on July 16, 1919; note that this news report states that Remington had a 25 year lease, rather than a lease until 1925 (I’m not sure which is correct).  The parties litigated over the rights to Wahl’s adding machine business for a year: on July 14, 1920, news accounts reported that Wahl had sold all the rights to its adding machine business to Remington for $1,700,000.00.

Included in the sale were all of John C. Wahl’s adding machine patent rights – and also all of Hyman Eli Goldberg’s.

Remington’s acquisition of the Goldberg adding machine patents, something as a pencil history researcher I never would have thought to examine, is what leads me to the rest of the story.

After the sale, the Remington Typewriter Company set about the task of refiling all of the adding machine patents it had acquired, to reflect their assignment to Remington, and there is a curious notation on each of them:

Each of the Goldberg patents is reported as being issued to “Hyman E. Goldberg (now by judicial change of name Hyman Golber).”

Wow. Hyman Goldberg I’d never heard of before, but Hyman Golber – well, you know who he is.  Just a year after the Remington Typewriter Company purchase went through in July, 1920, Hyman Golber applied for a patent for a mechanical pencil on September 15, 1921:

And then, he set up a company to manufacture his new pencil, filing a trademark on the name:

That’s right, folks: John C. Wahl’s coinventor of the Wahl Adding Machine changed his name to Hyman Golber, invented a pencil, began doing business as H.E. Golber & Co. and founded Rite-Rite.

Rite-Rite became successful in its own . . . rite . . . with Golber at the helm until the company was acquired by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company to become Dixon Rite-Rite in the 1940s, after the tragic end to the Golber story:

At the age of 70, on November 11, 1942, Hyman Golber became despondent that he was losing his eyesight, without which, as a lifelong tinkerer and inventor, he believed he would no longer be able to pursue his life’s passion.  Hyman went to a Chicago restaurant and, in a second floor bathroom, he ingested poison and took his own life.

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