Daniel Drawbaugh, inventor

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Daniel F. Drawbaugh

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Eberly's Mills [formerly called Milltown], Allen [now Lower Allen] township, Cumberland county, PA, USA
Death: November 2, 1911 (84)
Eberly's Mills, Lower Allen township, Cumberland county, PA, USA (apoplexy)
Immediate Family:

Husband of Elsetta J. Drawbaugh
Father of Dovane T. Drawbaugh; Ida May Drawbaugh; Emma [1] C. Drawbaugh; Naomi E. Drawbaugh; Iola Eveline Eyster and 6 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Daniel Drawbaugh, inventor

Daniel Drawbaugh was a purported inventor of the telephone for which he sought a patent in 1880. His claims were contested by the Bell Telephone Company, which won a court decision in 1888.[1]

Described as a bearded rustic tinkerer from Yellow Breeches Creek, Pennsylvania, he claimed to have invented a telephone using a teacup as a transmitter as early as 1867, but had been too poor to patent it then. In a lower court his case was well-financed by the People’s Telephone Co. and brilliantly argued in court by Lysander Hill. But he “blew it” by drawling in court "I don’t remember how I came to it. I had been experimenting in that direction. I don’t remember of getting at it by accident either. I don’t remember of anyone talking to me of it."[2] The lower court findings were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1888, as noted in The Telephone Cases.

Drawbaugh was born on July 14, 1827, in Cumberland County's Eberley's Mills, which is just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. According to Drawbaugh's obituary printed in the New York Times on November 4, 1911, he invented many appliances, for example: pneumatic tools, hydraulic rams, folding lunch boxes, coin separators and even is said to have invented a wireless phone that could be used four miles away.[3]

Drawbaugh died November 3, 1911 in his laboratory while working on a wireless burglar alarm.

Many of his surviving York County relatives attended a ceremony to dedicate a historical marker located at the site of the inventor's workshop and home in 1965.[4]


  1. ^ "DANIEL DRAWBAUGH BEATEN.; It Is Held that He Was N... - View Article - The New York Times" (PDF). September 30, 1896. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9A02E7DE133BEE33A25753C3A96F9C94679ED7CF&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  2. ^ Bell and the early Independents by A. Billings; Telephone Engineer and Management, 15 March 1985 pp87-89
  3. ^ "Daniel F. Drawbaugh Dead", New York Times, November 4, 1911
  4. ^ "Pennsylvanian Daniel Drawbaugh: 'The Edison of the Cumberland Valley'", by Jim McClure

Source: Downloaded October 19, 2011 from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Drawbaugh

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BIO: DANIEL DRAWBAUGH, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

The following is from Biographical Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Chicago: The Genealogical Publishing Co., 1905, pages 751-754.

DANIEL DRAWBAUGH, INVENTOR. About the year 1802, one William Drawbaugh settled in the vicinity of Eberly's Mills, in Allen, now Lower Allen, township. Little is known concerning his previous history except that he came from York county. He continued to reside in that locality for seven or eight years, and then moved to the vicinity of Bloserville, Frankford township, where, in 1811, he was assessed with both real and personal property. He was a blacksmith, but also engaged to some extent at farming. He died in September, 1817, and his remains are said to be buried in the graveyard of the brick church in Upper Frankford.

This William Drawbaugh and Catherine, his wife, had, among other children, a son John, who in the matter of avocation followed in the footsteps of his father, and became a blacksmith. When his father, because of the feebleness of age, laid his hammer upon the anvil he took it up and continued the business. Along with ordinary blacksmithing he made edged tools, gun barrels and other special articles that were much called for at that day. He had a brother named George who was a wagonmaker and the two carried on their respective trades near each other, first in Frankford township and afterward at Eberly's Mills. When the Drawbaughs moved to Frankford township, there lived in that part of the county a man named Peter Bloser, a carpenter, who bore the reputation of being a very thorough and skillful craftsman. He had a large family and among his children there was a daughter named Leah. John Drawbaugh, the young blacksmith, married Leah Bloser, and by her had the following children: John B., Elizabeth, Rebecca, Daniel, Henry and Catherine.

Daniel Drawbaugh, the fourth child of John and Leah (Bloser) Drawbaugh, was born July 14, 1827, in Allen, now Lower Allen, township. The place of his birth is the hamlet known as Eberly's Mills, which formerly was called Milltown, and occasionally is still referred to by that name. Daniel's ancestors, both on the paternal and maternal sides, having been skilled mechanics for generations before him, he inherited a strong inventive genius that has served the world, and won him great distinction. Like other boys of his neighborhood, as soon as old enough he was sent to the country district school, where he was an average boy in the matter of deportment, and made fair progress in his studies, but displayed no special eagerness for booklearning. He was more ambitious to be the owner of a good jackknife, than to stand at the head of his class, and consequently his training for life led by way of the workshop, rather than through the schools. He never had any educational advantages beyond that afforded by the country school of his vicinity. His father's smith shop had more of interest to him than the schoolroom, and being naturally inclined he was early given the opportunity to blow and strike, and in various other ways lend a helping hand. He was short of stature, and to level up with the handle of the bellows and the top of the anvil his father placed a box for the boy to stand on. This box did duty for years, it being cut down from underneath and lowered as the boy increased in height. From early boyhood he felt an uncontrollable desire to make things; to construct devices by which the forces of nature could be harnessed for man's use and enjoyment. The running stream, the currents of the air, heat and cold and other conditions of the atmosphere, afforded him opportunities for experiment, and experiment he did, in season and out of season. This ruling passion sometimes got him into trouble. Upon one occasion, while sitting in the old schoolhouse at Cedar Grove, he discovered a current of cold air coming through a small hole in the wall. Instantly an idea flashed across his mind. Putting his inventive wits to work he built a miniature windmill, and placing it in the way of the current when school was not in session, in presence of some of his associates, it worked like a charm.

It was torture to him to keep his little mill idle while that current of air was going to waste. It might as well be doing something, he thought, so while the rest of the school were absorbed in their books, he unnoticed by the teacher, rigged his little invention up against the wall, and, swinging it to the way of the current, it set up a shrieking noise that startled the whole school. "What's that?" the teacher asked, and the pupils in the secret looked at Daniel Drawbaugh. Their looks betrayed him and on being called up he confessed. The teacher feigned a friendly interest, had him show the machine and explain its principles, and then gave him a flogging.

He early began to turn his inventive and manufacturing talent to practical account. While yet a mere boy he earned considerable spending money by making boot trees and other articles of actual use, and in his seventeenth year made himself a rifle, lock, stock and barrel. The gun was not only of fine appearance but possessed excellent shooting qualities, and he sold it for eighteen dollars, which at that day was considered a fancy price. While yet a boy he made a clock and a steam engine, both of which he preserved for many years. An intelligent farmer in his neighborhood needed a mowing machine. He made the facts known to young Drawbaugh, and in due time the machine was constructed, answering the purpose until an accident demolished it. Upon one occasion a man sent him word that he wanted an attachment to his drill to sow plaster, and in a little while the young inventor had perfected a device that did the work with entire satisfaction. At seventeen he learned coachmaking with his brother, J. B. Drawbaugh, and while thus engaged he greatly improved the machinery used in coachmaking. The inventive faculty was so strong in Daniel Drawbaugh that it did not permit him to continue long at coachmaking.

It was an impulse that governed his actions, as no matter to what he applied his hand his mind would revert to invention as surely as the needle does to the pole. Invention was so natural and easy to him that he underrated the value of many of his appliances, and did not have them patented. Others he did not have patented because of lack of means to pay the expense thereof, and through the misfortune of being poor he failed to reap the full reward of the crowning triumph of his genius. In the year 1867 he invented an instrument to convey human speech by means of the electric current. It was the first and original invention of the telephone, as was conclusively proven in the courts. He experimented and improved upon it for several years, intending to apply for a patent as soon as he was financially able. He did not become able in time, and in 1876 Prof. Bell was granted a patent for identically the same invention. When public attention was attracted to the invention, capitalists realized how valuable it was. A company was formed which employed some of the best legal ability in the country and carried the matter into the courts. Over twelve hundred printed pages of testimony were taken, and it was shown that Daniel Drawbaugh had invented and exhibited to more than one hundred and fifty people of intelligence and good judgment the speaking telephone, long before Alexander Graham Bell had discovered the idea. But all of this testimony was of no avail, Prof. Bell was the first to file his application, and without contest had been awarded a patent, and the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of five to four decided that his patent could not be revoked. Although not successful in securing a patent for same, Daniel Drawbaugh is none the less the original inventor of the telephone. That has been established beyond dispute. He has also invented more than one hundred other useful appliances and instruments, for which he has secured patents, and earned and holds high rank in the inventive fraternity of the country. In his earlier years he did drawing from nature and has preserved many fine specimens of his art and skill. He also did wood engraving and photographing, but only engaged in these lines in an experimental way.

On Jan. 1, 1854, Mr. Drawbaugh was married to Elsetta J., daughter of John and Mary (Thompson) Thompson, whose father for several terms was a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature from York county, and during the famous political episode known as the Buckshot War, was in command of a company of State militia. Daniel Drawbaugh began his married life at Eberly's Mills, in the same house in which he was born. Here, with the exception of a few years, he has always lived, steadily labored at his inventions and won all of his fame. Here were born to him the following children: Iola O., Bella B., Maud C., and Charles H., who are living; and Emma C., Laura V., Dovan T., Naomi E., Emma C. (2), Ida M., and Harry W. S., who are dead. Emma C. was married to William Sheely and left surviving her one son, Roy Sheely, who has his home with his grandparents. Charles H. is married and has one child, Carson. Within the last year Daniel Drawbaugh has removed his family to a new home in Camp Hill, which is a model of domestic comfort and ease, but he still retains his workshop at Eberly's Mills, in which he has spent so many hours at inventions, and in which, even in his declining years, he loves to linger.

Source: Biographical Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Chicago: The Genealogical Publishing Co., 1905, pages 751-754. Downloaded October 2011 from http://www.usgwarchives.net/copyright.htm http://www.usgwarchives.net/pa/cumberland/ Contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives by Joe Patterson

OCRed by Judy Banja

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The history of great inventions is rarely simple. Successful inventors build upon the work of countless predecessors. Their successes, reputations, and claims also depend upon their business skills or the business associates who finance and protect them against aggressive competitors. The more valuable the invention, the greater was the scramble for its credit and rewards. Such was the case with the telephone.

In the 1860s and 1870s, a number of men were experimenting with the transmission of the human voices over electrical wires, including Tuft's University Professor Amos Dolbear, Thomas Edison, and Chicago-based inventor Elisha Gray. Others also staked their claim for invention of what would become the telephone, including Daniel Drawbaugh of Eberly Mills, Pa.

Alexander Graham Bell was the first to file a patent on the key components of the telephone. Between 1876, when he did so, and 1894, his patents were challenged in 600 separate cases, the records for which filled 149 volumes. In 1878, the same year that Bell's business partners organized a national company, the powerful Western Union Company entered the telephone race with patents and claimed it had acquired these from Edison, Gray, Dolbear, and others. Western Union settled in 1879, but Bell was so distressed the by endless barrage of lawsuits that he wrote his wife, "I am afraid to make more inventions ...."

The Bell Company continued to file lawsuits against endless infringers, who set up companies to sell as much stock as possible before the courts shut them down. Bell won every case, most with little fanfare until 1880, when Bell sued the newly formed People's Telephone Company for starting a telephone business in New York. People's entered the telephone industry with unpatented claims it had purchased from Daniel Drawbaugh, a practical machinist and inventor in rural Cumberland County, Pa., whose chief claim to fame were his patents on a mechanical coin sorter and magnetic clock.

Early in 1880, Drawbaugh announced that in 1866 or 1867 he had invented the Bell telephone, Edison transmitter, and successful telephone components, but had failed to apply for a patent for want of funds. Drawbaugh's claims had enough credence for People's to mount a strong legal defense. To support Drawbaugh's claim, People's Telephone brought 300 to 400 witnesses who testified in his defense and recorded some 1,200 pages of testimony. Drawbaugh emerged from witnesses as the classic American inventor.

The son and grandson of blacksmiths, Drawbaugh, so the story went, early on demonstrated a fascination with invention so all consuming that a schoolteacher flogged him for working on a model windmill during class time. He then made his living as a mechanic, working in a shop in the back of the unused Clover Mill, which sat on a shaded peninsula between the Yellow Breeches Creek and the Cedar Run in the tiny village of Eberlys Mills, Cumberland County. Sympathetic witnesses testified that jacks of all trades "a good many [of whom] cobbled around a little sometimes," routinely gathered at Drawbaugh's shop on Saturday nights for games of "seven-up" and turkey shoots on the lawn. And there Drawbaugh mended clocks, repaired tools, and devised all manner of inventions.

Neighbors testified that in 1866 or 1867 they had heard the muffled transmission of words from the floor above, through an instrument that Drawbaugh now insisted included a "flexible membrane" over a teacup that he had connected by a piece of wire to a receiver powered by an electro-magnet. They said that no one had encouraged the inveterate tinkerer to protect his invention, and that his family had continually prodded Drawbaugh to stop wasting his time.

His brother stated that upon hearing of Drawbaugh's "talking machine," he had accused him "quite severely of wasting time on foolish inventions. I told him that they would amount to nothing, and that he had a large family, and that he should turn his attention to something that would support his family better than by working at these foolish things, and that it would amount to nothing in the end." Forced to take boarders into the family home to pay the bills, his wife hounded him about his activities, and was said to have smashed his photographic equipment "in order to stop Daniel from fooling around with them."

Bell's lawyers painted a quite different picture, insisting that Drawbaugh was a charlatan with no demonstrable proof for his claims. They demonstrated that the each of his alleged telephone inventions were identical with types known in 1880; provided evidence that he was financially well off in the 1860s, owning his home and stocking his shop with a variety of machine tools; and argued that he had failed to file his patent in a timely fashion. Drawbaugh did little to help his own case when under oath he admitted to having heard about Bell's exhibit while attending Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition in 1876, but had made no mention to anyone about his own similar invention a few years earlier.

The Drawbaugh case dragged on for seven years, until the Supreme Court finally ruled 4-3 against Drawbaugh's claim, after which Drawbaugh accused a justice of a conflict of interest for holding significant stock in Bell Telephone. People's Telephone Company soon went out of business. Unfazed, Drawbaugh continued his claims against Bell. In 1903, he returned briefly to the national stage when he publicly insisted that he had invented radio before Marconi. Drawbaugh died of a heart attack in 1911, soon after Bell Telephone Company offered him a settlement to end his litigation once and for all.

Drawbaugh was not alone in his belief that he, as much as Bell, should have received the credit and rewards for invention the telephone. Gray and Dolbear continued to believe that they had been robbed of both the credit and money that they deserved for their roles in the development of the telephone. Similar controversies surround the invention and development of other technologies.

Source: Downloaded Oct. 2011 from Behind the Marker, from http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-35C

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Warren J Harder, Daniel Drawbaugh: The Edison of the Cumberland Valley, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1960.

Robert V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude, (Cornell University Press), 1990.

Public Broadcasting Service, The American Experience, The Telephone at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/telephone/filmmore/transcript/

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view all 14

Daniel Drawbaugh, inventor's Timeline

July 14, 1827
Eberly's Mills [formerly called Milltown], Allen [now Lower Allen] township, Cumberland county, PA, USA
April 22, 1855
Age 27
Eberly's Mill, PA, USA
September 11, 1856
Age 29
April 24, 1861
Age 33
Eberly's Mill, Cumberland county, PA, USA
December 25, 1863
Age 36
Eberly's Mill, Cumberland county, PA, USA
December 3, 1865
Age 38
November 2, 1911
Age 84
Eberly's Mills, Lower Allen township, Cumberland county, PA, USA