Back in April my colleague Karen Koenig posted a blog about how Denzil Jarvis of of the English woodworking machinery company Wadkin, perished along with more than 1,500 other people on the RMS Titanic's ill-fated maiden voyage in April 1912.

Jarvis was en-route to America bearing evidence that was to be used to support a patent infringement lawsuit that Wadkin initiated against Oliver Machinery of Grand Rapids, MI.

Last week questions about that lawsuit from 100 years ago resurfaced in a most intriguing comment been posted to Karen’s blog by Andrew Jarvis of Leicester, England.

Jarvis wrote, "I am just picking myself up off the floor - I am the great-grandson of Denzil Jarvis and while we were aware that Denzil was on board the Titanic we knew that he was also looking to diversify his company (Wadkins (sp)) into mechanical engineering and manufacturing. Denzil also had in his possession the prototype of a new carburetor and an appointment to see Henry Ford. I have copies of the original Patents filed by Wadkins - As a matter of interest, can anyone provide any information on which patent the dispute was based? While this disaster may have been good news for Oliver Machinery in Grand Rapids it had the opposite effect on Wadkins a company that was on its way up.”

A Little Detective Work
Immediately after reading Jarvis' post, I knew I had to reach out to Dana Baldwin, a descendant of one of the family's that had purchased Oliver Machinery at the tail-end of 1919. I knew Baldwin not only for his role as president of Oliver Machinery until 1995 but as an active member of the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA), which included a stint as president. (In fact, the WMMA's annual Ralph B. Baldwin Award salutes Dana's father; Dana won the award in 1989.)

I hadn't seen or spoken to Baldwin for about a decade but through the magic of Google, I was able to quickly track him down at the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning of which he is president. I e-mailed him Andrew Jarvis' inquiry and am glad I did as I soon received his interesting reply that follows:

"Rich, I think I can shed some light on the situation which resulted in Mr. Jarvis coming to the US on the Titanic. 

"Some years before 1912, Wadkin developed a specialized woodworking machine called a pattern milling machine. A pattern mill was used to machine cavities, slots and similar openings in pieces of wood which would then be used in the making of iron (or other metals) castings. The purpose of the patterns is to form the cavity in the flask into which the molten iron would be poured to make the finished casting. The patterns are usually built in two halves, one each for the top part and for the bottom part of the complete pattern. The separate parts are placed in a framework, a mixture of sand and chemicals is packed around the pattern and left until the sand sets or hardens. The wood pattern is then removed and the top and bottom parts of the flask assembled to form the finished assembly. Molten iron is poured into the flask and fills the cavity left by the pattern.

"Pattern mills were a huge improvement over prior methods of making complex patterns, and Wadkin patented their designs in a number of countries around the world, including in the USA. When Oliver Machinery Company designed its own versions of the pattern mill, Wadkin thought that the designs infringed on their patented designs, and dispatched Mr. Jarvis to come to the USA to defend their patents.  You know what happened during that journey. After the sinking of the Titanic, Wadkin never pursued the question of the patents again.

Hope this helps explain why Mr. Jarvis was coming to the USA, at least as far as the pattern mill design patents are concerned. We did not know anything about the new carburetor design, that is new information to us."

I forwarded Baldwin's summation to Jarvis but have not yet heard back from him. When I do, I'l have a couple of questions to ask of him.

1. A BBC news story written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, identifies Denzil Jarvis as an engineer. Wadkin's website notes that W. Jarvis, who was an owner of Wadkin, perished on the Titanic. Was this one and the same person?

2. The BBC news story quotes Andrew Jarvis as stating that his great-grandfather had an appointment to meet with Henry Ford to discuss the carburetor; the Wadkin site claims the meeting was to be with General Motors. Which source is right?

The Wadkin website does note that the company's founder John Wadkin, along with his partner and brother-in-law W. Jarvis, invented a "pattern milling machine."

Anyone else have information to share on the century-old Wadkin-Oliver technology dispute?

Recent blogs posted by Rich Christianson

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Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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