45 U.S. 380 (1846), Stimpson v. West Chester R Co

Citation:45 U.S. 380, 11 L.Ed. 1020
Case Date:January 20, 1846
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 380

45 U.S. 380 (1846)

11 L.Ed. 1020




United States Supreme Court.

January 20, 1846


THIS case was brought up, by writ of error, from the Circuit Court of the United States for East Pennslyvania.

It was a suit brought, in the Circuit Court, by Stimpson against the Railroad Company, for a violation of his patent right.

On the 23d of August, 1831, Stimpson took out letters patent for an improvement in the mode of turning short curves on railroads. These letters were not given in evidence upon the trial, having been burned in the conflagration of the patent-office, in December, 1836, and no copy could be found. Secondary evidence was given of their contents by the following publication in the Franklin Journal.

'For an improvement in the mode of turning short curves on railroads, such as the corners of streets; James Stimpson, city of Baltimore, August 23.

'37. The plan proposed is to make the extreme edges of the flanches flat, and of greater width than ordinary, and to construct the rails in such a manner that where a short turn is to be made, the extreme edge of the flanch shall rest upon it, instead of upon the tread of the wheel, thus increasing the effective diameter of the wheel in a degree equal to twice the projection of the flanch. The claim is made to 'the application of the flanches of railroad carriage-wheels to turn short curvatures upon railroads or tracks, particularly turning the corners of streets, wharves, crossing of tracks or roads, and passing over turnabouts,' &c.' Franklin Journal, vol. 9, p. 124.

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On turning to pagges 270 and 271, vol. 4, there will be found specifications of two patents granted to James Wright, of Columbia, Pennsylvania, for the mode of turning curves claimed by Mr. Stimpson. The only difference is, that Mr. Wright proposes to adapt his cars to several different curves by having three or more offsets in his wheels when necessary.

On the same day, namely, the 23d of August, 1831, Stimpson took out, also, letters patent for an improvement in the mode of forming and using cast or wrought-iron plates or rails, for railroad carriage-wheels to run upon. These letters being also destroyed, the following extract from the Franklin Journal was given in evidence.

Franklin Journal, vol. 9, p. 125. '39. For an improvement in the mode offorming and using cast or wrought-iron plates, or rails, for railroad carriage-wheels to run upon; James Stimpson, city of Baltimore, Maryland, August 23 (1831).

'The claim in this case is to 'the application of cast or wrought-iron plates for the use of railways on the streets or wharves of cities or elsewhere. The objects of said improvement being to employ rails that will not present any obstacles to the ordinary use of streets, or sustain injury therefrom, and so to form the plates at the intersections of streets or other crossings, that cars will readily pass over them, and also on circles of small radius.'

'The rails are to be formed with a groove in them to receive the flanches of the wheels; on one side of the groove, the width is to be sufficient for the tread of the wheel, on the other, it need not exceed three quarters of an inch. These rails are to be laid flush with the pavement of the streets. At corners to be turned, the rails are to be cast, or made of the proper curvature, one of them only being provided with a groove, as the flanch is to run upon the other, upon the principle described in No. 37. Provision is to be made by scrapers, or brushes, preceding the carriages, to clear the grooves of dust, ice, and other obstruction.'

In 1835, the first mentioned of these letters, namely, for an 'improvement in the mode of turning short curves on railroads,' were surrendered on account of a defective specification, and on the 26th of September, 1835, a renewed patent was issued for the term of fourteen years from the 23d of August, 1831. The schedule referred to in this patent was as follows.

'Short Curves.

'23d August, 1831.--Renewed 26th September, 1835.

'To all whom these presents shall come: Be it known, that I, James Stimpson, of the city and county of Baltimore and State of Maryland, have invented a new and useful improvement in the mode of turning short curves upon railroads with railroad carriages, particularly those round the corners of streets, wharves, & c., and

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that the following is a full and exact description of said invention or improvement, as invented or improved by me, namely:--I use or apply the common peripheries of the flanches of the wheels for the aforesaid purpose, in the following manner: I lay a flat rail, which, however, may be grooved, if preferred, at the commencement of the curvation, and in a position to be centrally under the flanches of the wheels upon the outer track of the circle, so that no other part of the wheels which run upon the outer circle of the track rails shall touch or bear upon the rails, but the peripheries of the flanches; they bearing the whole weight of the load and carriage, while the opposite wheels, which run upon the inner track of the circle, are to be run and bear upon their treads in the usual way, and their flanches run freely in a groove or channel; which treads are ordinarily about three inches in diameter less than the peripheries of the flanches.

'Were the bearing surfaces of the wheels which are in contact with the rails while thus turning the curve to be connected by straight lines from every point, there would thus be formed the frustrums of two cones (if there be four wheels and two axles to the carriage), or if but one axle and two wheels then but one cone; which frustrums, or the wheels representing their extremities, will, if the wheels are thirty inches in diameter, and are coupled about three feet six inches apart, turn a curve of about sixty feet radius of the inner track rail. The difference in diameter between the flanches and treads before stated, the tracks of the usual width, and the wheels coupled as stated, would turn a curve of a somewhat smaller radius, if the axles were not confined to the carriage in a parallel position with each other; but this being generally deemed necessary, the wheels run upon lines of tangents, and these upon the inner track being as wide apart in the coupling as the outer ones, keep constantly inclining the carriage outwards, and thus cause the carriage to tend to run upon a larger circle than the difference in diameter of the treads and flanches would otherwise give; but the depth of the flanches and the couplings may be so varied as to turn any other radius of a circle desired.

'What I claim as my invention or improvement is the application of the flanches on the wheels on one side of railroad carriages, and of the treads of the wheels on the other side, to turn curves upon railways, particularly such as turning the corners of streets, wharves, &c., in cities and elsewhere, operating upon the principle herein set forth.


'Witnesses,--JAMES H. STIMPSON,


In October, 1840, Stimpson brought his action against the

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West Chester Railroad Company for a violation of this renewed patent, and laid the infringement to have taken place in 1839.

In April, 1842, the case came on for trial.

The plaintiff produced his patent, and gave evidence that the defendants had used upon their road several curves of this description.

The defendants disputed the originality of the invention of the thing patented, under which head of defence much evidence was given; and also contended that the groove was not claimed in the first patent of 1831, and therefore was not included in the renewed patent of 1835. The evidence of Dr. Jones upon this last head being referred to by the court below, it is proper to insert that part of it.

'Interrogatory fifth. What are the contents of the specification of the alleged improvement of August 23, 1831? What are your means of knowing what were their contents? If you know them, are they dissimilar or similar to those of the plaintiff's specification of September 26, 1835, a copy of which, marked A, is hereto annexed? If dissimilar, state in what particulars, and whether they are as to matters of form and substance, and particularly describe the difference, if any. Answer fully.'

'To the fifth interrogatory, I answer, that the plaintiff exhibited to me the specification in question, previously to his filing the same in the Patent Office; as he likewise did at the same time the specification of a patent for 'forming and using cast-iron plates or rails for railroad carriage-wheels to run upon,' which last patent is noticed on page 125, vol. 9, second series, of the Journal of the Franklin Institute. I then examined them cursorily, and expressed an opinion, that the improvements described in the two specifications might have been embraced in one, and that it would have been better to have pursued that course. The specification of the mode of turning short curves appeared to me incomplete; an essential feature of it being contained in that for 'forming and using cast-iron plates,' &c. The papers, however, remained as drawn up by Mr. Stimpson's legal adviser, and when the patents were subsequently surrendered in 1835, it was thought best to preserve the division into two; it was probably in fact necessary to pursue this course, as I am not aware of any precedent for uniting two patents into one, although one may be divided into two or more.

'Nearly ten years have elapsed since I first saw the specifications upon which these patents were first issued, and nearly six years since I last read...

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