I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


1 February 2014

John Adair, an Irish baker and inventor

It is very common to know little about an inventor. John Adair, a baker from Waterford, Ireland, is an exception.

The 1901 Irish census website tells us that he was aged 58, born in Kildare, married to Elizabeth, 55, born in Waterford. John's occupation was given as "inventor and patentee" although he was in fact a baker, so it is clear that he was proud of his inventing. Two daughters, one a nurse, also lived in the household. All were listed as Society of Friends (Quakers), as the Irish census asked for that information. A "domestic servant" rounded out the household.

Adair applied for 26 published British patents between 1895 and 1931 on a variety of topics, including tyres (two of which were also patented in the USA), blinds, coupling of railway vehicles and making flour. He must be one of the most prolific Irish inventors ever. His numerous patents give useful address details. By 1905 he had moved to Dublin, and by 1909 to Stratford on Avon -- very helpfully, he states in several patents that he is late of Waterford -- and later moved to various addresses in Somerset and Devon. In most of them he states that he is a baker. Interspersed by three other inventors, this is a list of John Adair's patents, as taken from the Espacenet database.

However, that database only covers British patents from 1893 onwards, and as the London Gazette shows he was also responsible for patent 2378 in 1870, for a baker's oven. That was found using Google -- but what you're not told is that the Gazette stopped indexing patents in 1878. From then on, it's a matter of searching the paper annual indexes. It shows how complicated searches can be: not everything is on the Web, and getting expert help is vital, as the coverage in the database and the gazette cannot be guessed at.

Here are a couple of drawings from his patents.

There was for example GB 12890/1901, to prevent the pilfering of letters from letterboxes.

Then there was GB 30006/1909, for conveying coal.

There is a photograph of John Adair's bakery at 18 Lady Lane, Waterford, on Flickr.

His last patent gives his address as Newton Abbot, Devon, so the John Adair who died there in the Newton Abbot district, aged 96, in 1936, is probably him, though if he was 58 in 1901 he should have been 93 or so.

Did John Adair make money from his inventions ? That is something that the patent system is silent about.

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