Fifty Years an Inventor
(Popular Mechanics, November,
Anita K. Clever
man worried the heel of one glazed rubber boot
with the toe of the other. Wherever the toe pressed,
thin ice cracked and flipped to the ground.
was born to Lloyd Groff Copeman a million-dollar
brainchild, the rubber ice-cube tray for refrigerators.
Copeman had been gathering sap “just for
the fun of it,” and slush collected and
gradually froze on his boots. When he returned
from the jaunt he sat down and dreamily regarded
his footwear, an act of contemplation, which lead
to the ice-cube-tray idea. It was one of the many
to be conceived by Copeman which would ease the
daily burdens of the house-wife and others.
is the story behind the important inventions of
a man who admits “some of my neighbors are
certain I’m balmy.” A distinguished-looking,
white-haired man from Metamora, Michigan, Copeman’s
memory at 71 is one of his outstanding traits.
after the tray idea came to him, Copeman told
his attorney to prepare patent applications for
three types of rubber trays—one for a complete
rubber tray, one for a tray with just rubber section
separators and one with individual, removable
cube holders. That night Copeman traveled to New
York City on other business, and asked the use
of his hotel’s refrigerator in which he
put small rubber caps filled with water. Next
morning, after amusing himself by flipping the
cubes out of them, he elatedly wired his attorney
to submit the application for the all-rubber tray.
nation’s ice-cube consumers avidly accepted
Copeman’s tray idea and the invention proceeded
to gross more than a million dollars in royalties.
inventions range from items indispensable to the
modern housewife as the electric stove to a process
used throughout the world for greasing automobile
electric stove evolved from a thermostat he had
invented which provided automatic warnings when
transformer stations for high-tension wires were
about to burn out.
those days of 1906, some women practiced the art
of cooking in what was known as a “fireless
cooker.” This was an awkward wooden box
which enclosed heated soapstones over which pans
of food were placed. Copeman applied the idea
of his transformer thermostat to a fireless cooker
and substituted electrical units for the soapstones.
years later, Copeman and the late J.D. Dort, automotive
pioneer, established in Flint, Michigan, the Copeman
Electric Stove Company. It began in 1912 with
22 stockholders and was a $500,000 enterprise.
of the carriage-manufacturing town of Flint may
have been favorably impressed with Copeman’s
stove—not so the rest of the country. The
electric range, unlike the rubber tray, was not
swiftly fastened upon by the housewife.
day he sat glumly alone in a booth at a Philadelphia
convention where various manufacturers were demonstrating
their products before potential distributors.
He had been undisturbed all day by a single distributor.
But now, approaching before his almost unbelieving
eyes, was a handsome, elderly gentleman, who stopped
and expressed interest in Copeman’s stove.
how are you doing with your product, young man?”
the gentleman inquired of the inventor.
we’ve got a good product, but darned poor
sales organization—that’s me.”
have a good sales organization and no likely cooking
product.” The man replied. He was president
of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
a few days, a deal was made in which Westinghouse
absorbed the Copeman Stove Company. The year was
of the inventor’s first moneymaking products
was developed in 1900. It was a cauterizing instrument
for surgery. Another invention which never amounted
to much financially, but which certainly has a
practical value, is his flexible-rubber clothesline
for indoors. The clothesline is about a foot long
and is of three strands of braided tube rubber.
This stretches to eight feet and articles of clothing
are clamped between the strands until they dry.
of his inventions were born as a result of his
having spent most of his life in one of the biggest
centers of automobile centers of automobile production
in the world. Some of them died there, too. One
which thrived and is used today throughout the
world is a high pressure system for forcing grease
into automobile bearings. This idea was sold in
its infancy for $178,000.
ingenious and work-saving device that Copeman
invented was the result of an idea born, quite
naturally, with the help of his wife. The two
were indow shopping and she spotted a toaster.
don’t you invent a toaster that turns the
toast automatically?” she asked casually.
he did. He employed a know and rack device which
turned the bread without making it necessary to
touch it. This was the first automatic toaster,
forerunner of the pop-up toaster of today.
of Copeman’s ideas, which has been extremely
valuable to his fellowmen and in use in countless
ways, is his application of latex, as acquired
in its liquid form from trees. Copeman discovered
that this product, when applied to paper, forms
a cold, strong adhesive, which sticks to itself
but to nothing else.
is presently awaiting word on the value of latex
as used in a possible tamperproof envelope for
the government. The envelope cannot be opened
without tearing the message. Another use of latex
is a protective paper covering for auto parts
his other patented inventions is a refrigeration
process used by mean delivery trucks. In this,
Dry Ice is melted in a nonfreezing-liquid bath
and the resulting gas forces the chilled liquid
through tubes in the truck. He also dreamed up
a paint can hood to keep the top of the can clean
so the cover can be fastened tightly after using
only part of the paint. This one is not yet in
has many more inventions up his ingenious sleeves.
After all, he figures you can’t let the