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July 18, 2018

A Young Inventor

A Young Inventor

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With the opening of the Ignite Makerspace in the Fishers library, it’s a good time to talk about a young man named George McDonald (1880-1947) who set a high bar for homebuilt science experiments.  Although he spent most of his life as a farmer in Wayne Township, he developed an astronomical model and received a patent for it when he was a still a teenager.

According to the Hamilton County Democrat, April 23, 1897:

“George, son of Jacob McDonald, who lives nine miles northeast of this city, has secured a patent on a Tellurian, or Globe apparatus, which is one of the most complete Globes now extant.  Mr. McDonald invented his apparatus in his 13th year, and for a time let it rest, but instituted proceedings for a patent, which he has secured.  We have not time to give a full description of this Globe, but will say, that the boy, for he is only 16 years old now, shows considerable skill as an inventor.”


A tellurian (sometimes spelled tellurion) is a model showing the relative motion of the earth, moon, and sun.  When a crank is turned, the ball representing the earth rotates around the ball representing the sun while tilting on its axis, and the ball representing the moon rotates around the earth.  The device is primarily an educational tool for demonstrating planetary movement.  A model of the solar system which includes all of the planets is called an orrery.

The description in the patent says:

“Be it known that we, Jacob McDonald and George McDonald, citizens of the United States, and residents of Wayne Township, in the county of Hamilton and the State of Indiana, have invented new and useful Improvements in Tellurians; and we do declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it appertains to make and use the same, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, and to letters of reference marked thereon, which form a part of this specification.”

“The object of this invention is to provide a tellurian of improved character wherein the various movements of the earth and moon with respect to the sun and to each other may be clearly illustrated, the mechanism employed being of simple character and not likely to become deranged.”

His father was probably listed in the patent because George was too young to make a legal contract.  Making and patenting tellurians was not unusual for the time.  The patent office has records of several similar items dating to the same time period.

George was evidently a good scholar.  He graduated from Wayne Township schools in June 1898, and gave an address at the commencement titled “Habits and Their Influence”.  The speech was well received and he was chosen to represent the township graded schools at the county oratorical contest later that month.

He married in 1903, and spent the next few decades doing farming in Wayne Township.  Sometime after 1920, he moved to Anderson and, by 1930, he was working in an auto factory doing metal plating.  He eventually worked for Delco Remy and died at the age of 66 in Anderson.

Ignite Studio is a brand-new arts-focused makerspace at the Fishers Library location. It offers patrons a chance to dig deep into their own creativity, experiment with different tools and equipment, and discover their inner maker. Join us for a Grand Opening celebration on July 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.