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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Photographer? Radio expert? Chess master? Golfer? --- or Kerrville's Secret Agent?

Patent 1,500,077, awarded to Kerrville's S. H. Huntington, 1924

I was searching through U. S. patents the other day, just to see which brilliant inventors lived in Kerrville. I was surprised to find well over 100 patents awarded to local inventors, ranging from a ‘cat restrainer’ to a ‘vaned rotor engine and compressor.’ There were many clever and complicated inventions listed, and all were invented right here.
One particular patent intrigued me. It was a patent for a coding device, for sending secret messages. It had two disks, one attached on top of the other, the top disk smaller than the one below. Etched on each disk were the letters of the alphabet. Kerrville’s S. H. Huntington was awarded patent 1,500,077 for the device July 1, 1924.
Huntington Photography studio, around 1902
Honestly, the critical working parts of the device looked a lot like the “secret decoder” rings we used to find in boxes of cereal back in the late 1960s.
The patent intrigued me for two reasons: first, secret messages are automatically intriguing; second, I recognized the name, S. H. Huntington.
Spencer Hinsdale ‘Dale’ Huntington was born on 1877 in Ohio. He lost his mother and a sister in 1879 when he was a toddler. His father and grandfather were civil engineers who designed and built railroads; his father, George Spencer Huntington, was the constructing engineer on the cogwheel railroad which travels up Pike’s Peak, and died there during its construction in 1889. 
So our Kerrville inventor, Dale Huntington, was an orphan by the time he was 12. I think he was raised by two of his paternal aunts, Fannie and Sarah Huntington, and all three arrived in Kerrville in 1901, when Dale was around 24. 
The Huntington's home, 232 A St, Kerrville
That would put Dale Huntington in Kerrville at the same time a photography studio stood on the corner of todays’ Water and Sidney Baker Streets, where the municipal parking building is located today. 
I have several copies of a photograph of that studio, which has an elaborate sign reading “Huntington/ Photographer.” I believe Dale Huntington was that photographer, and I have several of his historic photographs in my collection, some of which are ‘signed,’ and several I strongly suspect were taken by him.
I don’t think Huntington would consider himself a photographer. Most of his creative work went into oil paintings, which he often showed a local fairs. In fact, his occupation is listed as artist in several places. Hopefully one of his paintings still survives; if you have one, I’d certainly like to see it. 
He had a varied career. On his World War I draft registration card, when he was 41, he listed his occupation as “show card painter,” for a company in San Antonio. A 5,000 acre ranch, on Kelly Creek, in west Kerr County, was called the “S. H. Huntington Ranch,” so at least at one point in his life he had some capital, and was a rancher. He was interested in a new technology: radio. He had a store selling and repairing radios, and, according to a front-page story in the Kerrville Times, built ‘the world’s largest radio,’ with 23 tubes, and taking up one side of a room.
Picture postcard by Huntington
He served as the city secretary of Kerrville; he was the enumerator of the 1920 census; he was an avid golfer who was on the very first board of directors of the first golf course and country club here in 1924 (now Scott Schreiner Municipal Golf Course); he competed in chess championships; he taught astronomy to local boy scouts. Just a typical guy.
In 1921 he came up with his idea for a coding device. Similar wheels of letters had been devised before, but Huntington improved the design in a clever way. A blank space was added to both disks, meaning a space could substitute for a letter, and a letter could substitute for a space. This made the beginning and ending of a word more difficult to ascertain, because the spaces would be mixed in at the wrong spots. Plus, the key letter was easy to set and place at a specific spot in the message, so the message could be deciphered by the recipient.
Dale Huntington died in Kerrville in 1949, and was buried next to his aunts at Glen Rest Cemetery.
The coding device was not the only patent he received from the U. S. Patent Office; I found one more, for a cleverly-designed thimble. That patent, No. 805297, was awarded him in 1905. Perhaps he held more patents than I’ve found.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects old photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County. If you have one you’d like to share with him, it would make him very happy. He’ll scan it and give you back the original. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 12, 2020.

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1 comment:

  1. WOW, that was very interesting. I enjoyed reading about Mr. Huntington. Makes me wonder why a few things around Kerrville aren't named after Him....


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