John R. Gammeter
fabulous career ends

from the Akron Beacon Journal
courtesy of Karen Gammeter
Courtesy of Donna Halper
     John Gammeter was born in Akron OH on 27 March 1876, of Swiss ancestry. He was inquisitive and mechanically talented at a very young age, but he disliked school and dropped out when barely a teen, preferring to go to work and learn on the job. His first experiences were in repairing bicycles and assembling baby carriages, but eventually, he got a job at B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company, and that would be the company where he spent the majority of his career. He quickly worked his way up from doing menial labour: he designed a machine that trimmed rubber bottle stoppers; his machine completed more in an hour than all of the workers who had done the task by hand could do in a day. Impressed with Gammeter's invention, B.F. Goodrich Co. purchased it and encouraged him to invent other things. By 1905, the young man was promoted to head of the company's experimental department. Among his inventions were a machine that manufactured inner tubes for bicycle tires, and the first winding machine for the modern rubber thread golf ball, whose lively performance improved the game of golf. He found a way to mass produce rubber bands, making them much easier to obtain and thus, more popular. Over the years, he was responsible for over 300 inventions, including the one that probably made him the most money but got him the least amount of publicity in his day-- an improved latex condom. In newspaper articles, he was referred to as the "Thomas Edison of the Rubber Industry" for his many innovations (including the one they couldn't talk about!).
     John Gammeter was always fascinated by technology, which got him involved with aviation in its earliest years. He is known for being the first man in Akron to own and fly an airplane-- several newspaper dates are given for this, with either 1907 or 1909 being possible. In 1910, he started his own aviation school, and is said to be the inventor of the pack parachute. Along with a French engineer, Henri Joulet, he designed and built the dirigible balloon that the Navy used during World War 1; further, in 1921, he invented a special valve that maintained a uniform gas pressure in dirigibles. He was also the first president of the Associated Aero Clubs of Ohio and belonged to the American Aeronautical Association, as well as the Early Birds of America.
     In 1922, he provided the funding for Akron's first radio station, WOE, and even after he retired from B.F. Goodrich in the early 1930s, he continued to invent and experiment. He was also a philanthropist, supporting a number of civic organisations in Akron. He died in April of 1957.
     Editors Note: Donna L. Halper is on the Journalism Faculty at Emerson College in Boston MA, where her specialty is the history of broadcasting. Her latest book, Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting, can be reviewed and ordered from Amazon by clicking on the name and then searching for the title.
She writes: "Material for this essay came from the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Press, and the National Encyclopaedia of American Biography. My thanks to Akron-based researcher Ron Syroid for his help in digging up some of the clippings."

John R. Gammeter
Collection of John Gammeter
Greatnephew of John R. Gammeter

courtesy of Karen Gammeter, 7-6-04
Published on 08/15/1999,
     John R. Gammeter was a magnificent man with a flying machine. He made local history by being the first Akron man to own an airplane. He gained worldwide fame by inventing an incredible assortment of contraptions.
Clipping courtesy of Donna Halper, 3-27-01

And More Yet!, 1938
     John R. Gammeter was one of those enamored of the tricky little Demoiselle and was hopping it over the grounds of the Portage Country Club at Akron 19090-1911. Then, while in New York, he spent week-ends at Mineola learning to fly a Curtiss pusher. Due to opposition from his company and objection by his insurance company he had the plane shipped to Akron where he employed Lester Weeks to fly it days so he could fly it on the q. t. nights. Then he bought a Curtiss OX, built his own plane and sent it on the exhibition road with Weeks. Oliver Sherwood and Cliff Wise as pilots. In later years his experience has been in parachute, airship and kite balloon manufacture for the B. F. Goodrich Company.
courtesy of Steve Remington - CollectAir

John R. Gammeter
GAMMETER - 1910-1911
Collection of John Gammeter
Greatnephew of John R. Gammeter

courtesy of Karen Gammeter, 7-6-04
     If you search for John R. Gammeter using Google, you will find just three links. The first is mine, this page itself, the second is on Carroll Gray's Early Birds of Aviation website and offers just a few basic facts, dates of birth and death, etc. The third one is really an important addition to our online community.
Akron175 Photo Gallery
     This website offers 32 photographs of high interest and excellent quality which reflect the history of the city of Akron. It has a beautiful photo of John R. Gammeter at the controls of Akron's first airplane, Wright Plane, which he bought or built in 1909. While on the site, you will be well advised to look at the other photographs. You will also be rewarded by visiting the other sections such as; Looking Back, Looking Forward, Interact, Information and Time Capsule. You can access the site by clicking on the title above.

       If you search on "John Gammeter" using Google, you will find about 21 links.Several of them are devoted to his experiences with the Goodrich Rubber Company and with "AA", Alcoholics Anonymous. Two of them are very informative.
Silver Lake Airport was the first Airport in Summit County. The following events were written by William R. Lodge, son of Ralph H. Lodge .      "In the early spring of 1912, John Gammeter, an inventor for the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Co., asked if we had a level field big enough, (i.e. about 800 to 1,000 feet each way) so he could get an airplane off of the ground and into the air. We did not, but have been trying to negotiate for sixty acres of the Wagner farm which was level stretch joining us on the West and extends from the street car lines to our land on the North and from the park to the Pennsylvania Railway. We already have level lands to the North and to the East of it and if we could secure that land it would make a fine air field over a quarter of a mile square.
     The excerpt from the story is preceeded by a nice little photo of a plane at the airport, circa 1900. You will want to read the whole story of the airport which includes much of interest regarding John Gammeter. You can continue by clicking on the title above.
Witness History Firsthand at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
by Kathryn Delong
     There is a short but amusing anecdote regarding John when he was living in Akron, OH in 1920. You can visit the site by clicking on the title above.
     You may want to use your "Find" function on "Gammeter" to find the entry for him.


  Rubber Machinery Expert
John Gammeter, 81
Famed Inventor, Dies
     John R. Gammeter, who did more than perhaps any other person to advance the manufacturing processes of rubber products, died late Thursday afternoon at his residence, 680 N. Portage Path.
     He was 81 on last March 27.
     Mr. Gammeter was one of America's great inventors. The total of his ideas patented was near 300.
     In recent years, he had been in retirement. Somewhat crippled with arthritis, he moved about his tree-shaded home on crutches.
     His wife, Susan, said he had been up and around the house until Tuesday.
* * *
IT HAS been said that Mr. Gammeter was to rubber what Edison was to electricity and Charles Kettering is to the automobile.
     A gruff, blunt-spoken man, he was a rough-hewn survivor of that era when Akron was the lusty, brawling young rubber capital of the world; when rubberworkers bought $10 silk shirts by the half-dozen and rubber barons were made and broken overnight.
     His ideas saved the rubber industry and the motoring public millions of dollars. He made golf the common man's game and lowered the cost of rubber bands so that they became the most widely used items made of rubber.
* * *
     MR. GAMMETER was born in Akron on W. Cedar St. As a youth he couldn't make up his mind what trade to follow. At the suggestion of his parents, he spent three years in New Philadelphia learning the plumbing trade.
     Then he came back to Akron and went to work for the B. F. Goodrich Co., carting scrap rubber about the plant in a wheelbarrow for 10 cents an hour.
* * *
     THIS STORY is told about his first inventive enterprise:
     Each day a lunch time, he made a practice of filling his lunch box with rubber-capped bottle stoppers which women workers trimmed by hand.
     One day he was leaving the plant and leaped on the end gate of an express truck to "steal" a ride. The gate wasn't fastened and Gammeter fell to the ground. The lunchbox broke open and it's contents, the stoppers, rolled out on the ground.
     The incident was reported to B. G. Work, Goodrich works manager and later company president. He called Gammeter in and told him he was fired for stealing.
* * *
     "GO AHEAD and fire me if you want to," said Gammeter, but don't you want to know what I was doing with the stopper?"
     Work asked him.
     "I was experimenting," the youth replied. "I've got a machine at home that will trim more stoppers in an hour that one girl can turn out in a whole day."
     "Very interesting." said Work, "but what did you do with the stoppers you turned out?"
     "Gave them to the girl that's doing piecework," said Gammeter. She was Susan Garman.
     Gammeter later married her.
* * *
     THE STOPPER machine earned Gammeter a 7 1/2 cents an hour wage increase. From that time until the mid-1930's he was actively associated with Goodrich, chiefly in machinery development work and manufacturing improvements.
     But Gammeter did not try to build up a great personal fortune. It seemed he spent money almost as fast as he made it. His extravagances and philantrhopies are the basis for scores of stories.
     Early in 1940, it was estimated that his income from royalties on inventions was about $80,000 a year. In his top days at Goodrich, he received $24,000 a year in salary alone.
     IN 1920, Mr. Gammeter made an arrangement with Goodrich in which he was given a free hand in developing inventions not necessarily of use in the rubber industry.
     In the next two years, he developed, among other things a new type of steel cable which netted him considerably more that $200,000.
     Of all his inventions, Mr. Gammeter considered the vacuum box the most important. It was a machine that took the flat carcass of a tire, and through air pressure, forced it into the form of a tire
     It became standard equipment in all tire factories.
* * *
     Mr. Gammeter achieved wide fame in the develpment of airships during World War I. He had already flown the first airplane ever seen in Akron, five years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight.
     He also owned the first radio broadcasting set in the vicinity of Akron.
     Mr. Gammeter set up the staff which built "blimps" for the government, under Goodrich contract. He brought French airship experts to Akron for the work.
     THE HYDRAULIC steam vulcanizer was another first for Gammeter who got many of this ideas while touring the Goodrich plants.
     Mr. Gammeter was more responsible for the modern golf ball than any other man. He developed the system of winding strips of elastic around a hard rubber center. The machine was a great boon to Goodrich and the game of golf.
     But Mr. Gammeter never played the game.
     Some of the Akron inventor's ideas came to him while he was driving a car or away hunting or fishing. At one period, he had a notebook attached to the steering wheel of his car, to jot down ideas.
     Mr. Gammeter's formal education ended with the second grade of school.
     At one time he operated his own laboratories and for five years was consultant for nine large concerns, including the A. G. Spalding Co. and the U. S. Rubber Co.
     Besides his wife, Mr. Gammeter leaves one sister, Mrs. W. R. Allen of Cleveland. He had 10 brothers and sisters and leaves many nieces and nephews.
     The Rev. Harry Nicholson will officiate at services at 3 p.m. Saturday in the billow Akron Chapel. Burial will be in Glendale Cemetery.
     Friends may call at the chapel after 4:30 this afternoon.
from the Akron Beacon Journal
courtesy of Karen Gammeter

Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper
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