This doodad is in the entryway to the Bancroft Library. What is it? If you know, email me with the
answer at email@example.com
As of February 28, 2013, I've only heard from Don Howes on this. Here's what Howsie had to say:
I have looked at that DooDad many times, and it always fell into the “someday I’ll figure it out” part of
my brain. As I looked at your picture, it HIT me.
First, for the sake of this discussion, let us ignore the Black and White Switches in the lower left
corner. They came much later, and for now we will leave the brass valve out of it as well.
“Improved Electrical Device,” invented by H. Julius Smith and patented in 1869. It is made of
These are the facts, the rest is conjecture on my part, but I truly believe I know what it was for, and
why the B+W switches are there as well, and I will tell you more later, but I have to TRY and get
something done today.
could come up with an explanation of the purpose of the device. He heard from Charlie Dennett.
Here's the story from Howsie:
Well, Charles Dennett was spot on. The round black device is an electrostatic generator. It was
made by the A.L. Bogart Co. in NY, patent date 1869, patent # 93563, (Google patents, has the full
text with drawings). It is listed as an "Improved electrical device" Invented by Julius Smith in Boston.
The open contact switch in the upper right corner was to direct the lighting spark from the generator
to either of two different fixtures. The valve is for the gas. I am assuming that the gas was turned on,
switch in position #1, crank the generator, it lights, repeat with switch position #2. It seems VERY
unsafe having gas on at two locations at once, but almost nothing had any type of safety or fail-safe
system as we have become accustomed to. The black and white switches in the lower left corner
came later,(not currently functioning). They were cut into the existing cabinet when electrical lighting
was added to the Library. (as of now, we don't know exactly when that was.)
Obviously have some facts and some conjecture within my answer, but I think it is a very plausible
Thanks for bringing up this little mind teaser.