On June 1, 1869, Thomas Edison was granted patent for the Electric Vote Recorder, U.S. Patent No. 90,646. 

While he is known for inventing the light bulb and the phonograph, Thomas Edison is also the face behind an invention that could have changed the course of American history. At the age of 22, Edison was recently fired from a telegraph operating job. This event propelled him to work on what would become his first patented invention, the electric vote recorder.

The machine was designed to record ballots with the help of a simple switch and an electric current. Each legislator would move a switch to either a “yes” or “no” position, sending an electric current to the device at the clerk’s desk. After voting was completed, the clerk would place a chemically treated piece of paper on top of the metal type and run a metal roller over it. The current would cause the chemicals in the paper to dissolve on the side for which the vote should be recorded. “Yes” and “no” wheels kept track of the vote totals and tabulated the results. The invention was to make the voting process easier and faster as the slow pace of roll call voting enabled members to filibuster legislation and convince others to change their votes.

Unfortunately, Edison’s machine might’ve been too ahead of its time. Dewitt Roberts, a telegrapher and Edison’s colleague, purchased an interest patent of $100 for the invention. Roberts took it to Washington, D.C. to showcase it to members of Congress. Congress wanted no part of any device that would increase the speed of voting. The chairman of the committee responded to it by saying “if there is any invention on earth that we don’t want down here, that is it.”

The U.S. Legislative bodies stuck to roll-calling until 1881 when Anthony Beranek’s invention of the voting machine was approved for use in American general elections. Edison’s design, however, remained unused. Although Edison’s first patent failed to make its mark on the American landscape, his later inventions did the opposite.        Electric Vote Recorder


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