CURTIS VEEDER, CYCLOMETER INVENTOR
Born in 1862, Mr. Veeder had Dutch ancestors who immigrated to New Amsterdam in the 1600s. Early in his life, his family moved to Plattsburg, New York, where he completed high school before returning to Pennsylvania for an engineering degree at Lehigh University, graduating in 1886. Son of a mining engineer, he is said to have demonstrated mechanical ability from an early age. At 6, he had devised a waterwheel in a brook near home. At 10, he built some small furnaces in hard sandbanks in which he burned soft coal. When he was 12, he built a foot-powered jigsaw, and by the time he was 18, he'd created an old-fashioned high-wheeled bicycle from magazine pictures, spending most of his time after school riding and repairing it. The saddle of flexible leather stretched over a steel spring frame was so good that he had it patented in 1881. During college vacations, he made bicycle ball bearings, a two-speed gear for tricycles, many electrical parts, and photographic shutters. In 1883, he sold his American bicycle seat patent to Pope Manufacturing Company of Hartford for $1,000.
After college, Mr. Veeder worked for a number of companies, inventing mining hoists, locomotives, automatic regulating apparatus for naval searchlights, and the mechanical portion of the first three-phase motors built by the General Electric Company, among other devices. At his death, he held more than 150 patents.
His signature invention was the cyclometer, which arose out of his passion for bicycling in days when signs were few and stated mileages both seldom given and inaccurate. He invented complex machinery and even designed power plant layouts, but he yearned simply to know how far he'd pedaled his bicycle. Much tinkering led to a breakthrough in 1894 ---- compound differential gearing. When Pope decided not to make them, Mr. Veeder formed his own business in Hartford, and by 1896 had sold 50,000 of the devices.
The Veeder-Root Company (so named after a 1928 merger with a Bristol, Connecticut, firm) made counting devices to control all sorts of manufacturing processes as well as parts essential to speedometers, odometers, tachometers, voting machines, cash registers, telephones, and other products. In World War I, Mr. Veeder's counting devices were used on aircraft machine guns and on battleship and submarine instruments. In 1930, the Hartford Courant declared that the company was "the world's largest manufacturer of precision counting equipment." In the decade that followed, Veeder-Root counters were incorporated into gas pumps. Today the company (headquartered in Simsbury and part of a larger conglomerate) touts itself as "the number-one supplier of automated tank gauges in the world."
(An excerpt from an article by David K. Leff in the fall, 2013 issue of Connecticut Woodlands, a publication of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association.)