Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lewis Edson Waterman chronology: Wirt vs Lapham & Bogart, 1887-88

Trial testimony can be an outstanding source of information for the historian. In 1887 Paul Wirt sued Daniel W. Lapham and Francis H. Bogart for patent infringement. The trial records were published in pamphlet form the following year. The contents are a gold mine for researchers, but here I will discuss only the testimony of Lewis Edson Waterman.

Waterman was first called to the stand on October 27, 1887. He stated that he was 49 years old, living in Brooklyn, with his business address at 155 Broadway, and that he had been engaged in the fountain pen business for four years. Asked about his experience in that business, he responded: "I have used fountain pens for twenty-five years; and as an agent I have sold the pens for no less than ten years; for over a year before I commenced to manufacture my own I made fountain pens my special business -- using, investigating the merits and mechanical construction of all the pens I could get hold of."

Waterman was called again on April 25, 1888, and questioned at much greater length. He was asked about earlier fountain pens, most notably the Penograph and the Purdy, and was aggressively grilled about their construction and function. As the following excerpt shows, Waterman more than held his own as the exchanges became increasingly testy:
Q. "Will you swear positively that it is not the fact -- that is, that it is not due to the porosity of the substance?"
A. [Waterman] "I swear that I think it is not and I believe it is not."
Q. "Will you swear that it is not?"
A. "I believe that you are honest but I won't swear to it, and, in the same sense, I will not swear to this."
He was then asked in some detail about his personal history:
[Waterman] "I have been in the pen business five years as a manufacturer."
Q. "And before that what were you doing?"
A. "Do you want my history?"
Q. "Yes, we will go through your history."
A. "I was not making or selling fountain pens."
Q. "What were you doing prior to the time you first entered the fountain pen business?"
A. "I was working for The National Car Builder."
Q. "How long were you engaged in that business?"
A. "I was with the Car Builder and another railroad paper four or five years."
Q. "That is immediately prior to your engaging in the pen business; is that it?"
A. "Yes."
Q. "And before going into the Car Builder business what were you doing?"
A. "I was with the Railroad Gazette."
Q. "How long were you with the Railroad Gazette?"
A. "With them and the Car Builder, as before stated, about four or five years."
Q. "And before you went into the Railroad Gazette and Car Builder business, what were you doing?"
A. "Life insurance business."
Q. "How long were you in that business -- the life insurance business?"
A. "About fifteen years."
Q. "And before you entered the life insurance business, what was your occupation?"
A. "A book agent."
Q. "How long were you in that business?"
A. "I couldn't give exact answers as to time without consulting my -- I don't know as I have got anything that would give the dates."
Q. "About; I don't care as to the date?"
A. "Ten years, more or less."
Q. "And before your being a book agent what were you doing?"
A. "Well, I taught school after I left the farm in my boyhood."
Q. "How long did you teach school?"
A. "I don't recall."
Q. "About how long?"
A. "Well, I taught a term or two when I was about fifteen years old."
Q. "How long did you teach?"
A. "Well, a term or two."
Waterman's responses appear to have been accurate but terse, with nothing volunteered or expanded upon unsolicited. There is no mention of his activity as a Health Lift promoter, nor as a teacher of shorthand. Nonetheless, his answers about his work for the railroad press neatly plug the gap in our published chronology between his listing as an agent for Aetna in Maine in 1877 and his his tenure as corresponding editor of National Car Builder (January 1881 to August 1882, per Rimakis and Kirchheimer), clarifying the nature of his declared occupation of "Publisher" in the 1880 Federal census.

What are we to make of Waterman's earlier testimony that he had used fountain pens for 25 years (since 1862!), and had, as an agent, sold them for "no less than ten years" (since 1877), and had "for over a year before [he] commenced to manufacture [his] own . . . made fountain pens [his] special business"? The questioning at that point was not at all hostile, and there is no evident tension in the exchanges. Waterman was probably speaking rather freely and expansively -- not to mention selectively, considering what we now know about the Frank Holland saga. Likely as not, he had indeed played around with fountain pens in years past, and had sold (or solicited orders for) them now and then during his travels. But when asked directly how long he had been "in the fountain pen business", his answers were consistent: since 1883.

With heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Steinberg, veteran stylophile, who gave me access to his copy of the Wirt trial records -- a document of singular interest and importance.

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