Hamilton East Public Library logo

My Account

Hours & Location

Get A Library Card

June 15, 2017

Some Hamilton County Inventors

Some Hamilton County Inventors

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian


Hamilton County has always had creative people, as can be seen by the arts community.  But we’ve also had people in science and engineering who were willing to experiment with new processes. 

One was Jasper C. Alexander (1854-1912) of Fisher’s Station who, in 1889, invented a device for keeping gates closed even when the gateposts shift.  Like most early Hamilton County inventors, he was probably self-taught in engineering.  He was from a Fall Creek Township farming family, and had been a teacher in Kansas in 1880.  It’s not clear what his occupation was until 1910 when he shows up as a clerk at Van Camp Hardware & Iron in Indianapolis.  He eventually became an accountant and there is no record of any other inventions.  He’s buried at Highland Cemetery in Fishers.

A newspaper listing from the Louisville Courier-Journal that mentions the Alexander gate latch is titled “Patents issued on the ideas of men from four states”.  Of course inventors are not always men.

Alice Armstrong (1813-1901) was from Noblesville, and in 1891 invented a kind of a window latch.  The latch was controlled by a spring and could lock the window at different heights.  She was a Quaker and apparently rather independent-minded.  She outlasted two husbands and didn’t take the name of the second one.  In 1894, at the age of 81, she had her own business selling music.  She’s buried at Hinkle Creek Cemetery.

Neither of these inventors got as much notice as Thomas R. Cook (1833-1918), who was a machinist in Noblesville when he invented a type of machine gun in 1889.

Cook had been an inventor for a while.  He had filed articles of incorporation for the Cook Automatic Gate Company in June of 1879 and his occupation was listed in the 1880 census as “selling automatic gates”.  However, according to the Indianapolis News, he didn’t have a patent for the gate until 1884.  He was listed in the 1886, 1887, and 1889 Indianapolis city directories as the President of the Cook Automatic Gate Company and was living in rooming houses.

He got his patent for the gun in 1891.  There was a one-third share in the patent for Henry Caylor, a Noblesville businessman who had probably funded the research and construction of a model.  An Indianapolis News article about the gun says that Cook was living in Irvington in 1891.  It stated that he had developed the gun after being an infantryman in the Civil War.  Much of the News article was reprinted a few days later in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There was an article published in the New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper in 1889 when Cook first applied for the patent.  It said that the Cook gun had one barrel, unlike the more famous Gatling gun patented in 1862.  However, the image of the Cook gun in the 1891 News article shows it having multiple barrels.  Gatling developed his multiple-barrel gun because a single barrel got too hot and would become fouled with burned powder residue.  Modern metallurgy and smokeless powder eventually ended that concern.  The Maxim gun invented in 1883 also had a single barrel, but the barrel was surrounded by metal jacket that was to be filled with water to cool it during firing.


The Indianapolis and New Orleans newspaper articles about the Cook machine gun said that it could fire 1000 rounds a minute.  The headline of the Philadelphia Inquirer article somehow got the number of 1200 shots a minute.  This was very impressive since, at that time, the Gatling gun and the Maxim gun did about 600 rounds per minute.  (The modern Minigun fires 2000-6000 rounds per minute.)   The newspapers articles also said that Cook had developed a smaller version of the gun to be used in railway express cars which carried mail and money being transferred.  The gun was to be placed in an interior corner of the car and if train robbers broke into the car, the train crew would stand behind a metal plate and fire away.

Despite all of this, there is no evidence that the Cook gun was ever manufactured or used.  The machinery may have been too complex – it took a three-man crew to run it.  The Gatling and Maxim were comparatively simpler.  Cook continued to do improvements on the gun and was issued a second patent in 1896.  The fact that he got a second patent is impressive because, by that time, he was living in Marion, Indiana, at the National Military Home.  He’s buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Arcadia.