SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 3

Read Part 2

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Simpson’s patent application had had six of the seven claims rejected, and R. H. Hyatt, the patent examiner, asked Simpson to more clearly describe the invention. Hyatt had absolutely no clue as to how revolutionary, original and compelling these features would be, especially the skee-jump and the elevated target. One can only imagine the frustration that Simpson would feel when that letter landed back on his desk.

And it landed on his desk a few days after it was mailed from Washington, DC. Simpson had been through this frustrating process for his ratchet wrench, so he was no stranger to it. Simpson took the next several weeks to redraft his application based on the feedback that he had received from the Patent Office. He methodically addressed each of the criticisms, changing the name of the application, fixing duplicated figure numbering, and providing a more detailed description of the invention and how it worked. He then addressed the issues of the claims by completely rewriting them and asking for his new version to be used. This time instead of seven claims he had only five:

  1. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an elevated target at the rear of said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target adapted to engage and elevate said projectile in its flight
  2. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, a perforated target at the rear of and at the rear of and above said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target.
  3. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a ball is adapted to be rolled, a target at the rear of said board, an obstruction upon said board in front of said target adapted to traject said ball, and an inclined base or floor for returning said ball to the player.
  4. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a ball is adapted to be rolled, an obstruction upon said board in front of a target, said target, and an indicator for showing the part of said target engaged by said ball.
  5. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to be rolled, an obstruction for trajecting said projectile, a target having perforations in the line of the projectory of said projectile, pivoted levers arranged in said perforations adapted to be engaged and depressed by the projectile after passing through said perforations, and an indicating device adapted to be operated by the movement of said levers.

Finally he addressed Hyatt’s list of patents that were used to reject the previous claims attempting to demonstrate that Hyatt misunderstood the invention. He then finished the letter by stating:

“None of these references show the construction claimed by me and therefore favorable action upon my claims is asked.”

He mailed the letter and assumed that this time the Patent Office would better understand his position and things would move along towards the logical conclusion of the patent being granted.

Simpson could not have been more wrong.

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SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 2

Read Part 1

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Joseph Fourestier Simpson mailed his original patent application for Skee-Ball on November 8, 1907 to Washington, DC,. Four days later, after it was routed through the complex maze of mailrooms, clerks and other officials, it finally land on the desk of one R. H. Hyatt, the acting patent examiner. Hyatt reviewed Simpson’s application in detail, and over the course of a month researched his patent claims in depth.

Simpson had filed for seven claims that included:

  • The target that the ball would fall into
  • The ski jump that launched the ball into the air
  • The inclined alley along which the ball would travel
  • The ball return
  • The nets on the side to contain the ball
  • The lever that actuated the scoring device

In the letter that Hyatt wrote back to Simpson on December 18, he began by telling Simpson the title of the patent needed to be changed from “Game” to “Game Apparatus” and continued describing other items that needed to be changed, for example:

“In the 5th line from the bottom of page 1, “Fig. 1″ occurs twice, and correction is required.”

He went on with an entire page about details of the documentation that needed to be fixed. And then, Hyatt rejected six of claims out of hand, and thought that the seventh might be allowable, with additional work.

In rejecting the other six claims Hyatt referenced other patents including: Bush #836,561; Rollert #660,460; Kary #754,456; Fahl #787,161 and Griebel #768,600. A close read of Hyatt’s letter shows that in Hyatt’s mind even if Simpson did fix the minor problems, the pre-existing patents invalidated his claims, therefore Simpson had no patentable invention.

Hyatt had absolutely no clue as to how revolutionary, original and compelling these features would be, especially the skee-jump and the elevated target.  One can only imagine the frustration that Simpson would feel when that letter landed back on his desk.

 

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Published

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On December 8, 1908, Joseph Fourestier Simpson’s patent for Skee-Ball was finally published, and his patent protection began. After arguing for months with the US Patent office over the broad claims he wanted protection for, he finally acquiesced, and accepted that he was only going to get two of the claims through. The first was for the ski-jump that launched the ball into the air, and the second was for the lever that actuated the scoring device. But these were enough to get the ball rolling.

He gave one half interest in the patent to William Nice Jr. a wealthy retired lumberman in exchange for his financial backing. Nice and John W. Harper started the Skee-Ball Alley Company in Philadelphia to build and market the game.

Simpson had no idea what the game of Skee-Ball was really going to cost him.

 

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 1

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On November 8, 1907, a little known inventor finished a patent application for “Game,” and it was notarized and sent to the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC for consideration. A few days later it began its journey across the desks of clerks, examiners and reviewers. That patent application described the very first game of Skee-Ball, and the applicant was Joseph Fourestier Simpson.

Simpson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1852, to a merchant class family. His father sold cotton duck fabric for sails, work clothes and tarpaulins right up to the end of the Civil War, when the southern sources for cheap cotton dried up. He passed away soon after that, leaving Simpson fatherless at age 17, just as the young man was getting ready to make his way in the world. Simpson was an exceptional young man, meticulous, highly observant, curious and tenacious when ideas caught his attention. And unlike his merchant father, he had a passionate desire to invent.

Starting as a railway clerk, Simpson worked hard, and within a few years, he started his own lumber planing business. And he started inventing. While running the mill, he patented an ingenious over-center trunk latch, which allowed an overfilled travel trunk to be closed easily. Although it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and commended for “utility and low cost,” he was unable to find a manufacturing and sales outlet for his invention. He closed his planing business and worked with his cousin to develop and patent a ratchet wrench, but ran into the same problem in finding manufacturing and sales. In 1890 he and his family moved to Vineland, New Jersey. He continued to struggle with ups and downs of the industrial economy, reinventing himself as a manager, an attorney working in real estate, an investor and broker for mining and railway projects, and a manufacturer of knitted goods.  Simpson was working tirelessly to advance himself on his own merit in an unforgiving economy that treated those without independent family wealth harshly.

In his middle years around the turn of the century, Simpson became even more creative, with a plethora of innovations and inventions. He still had a problem attracting capital and businessmen to manage and promote his innovations, and one by one, they fizzled.

Finally, Simpson developed the most successful and groundbreaking invention of his career: the game of Skee-Ball. And he began his more than twelve month journey to getting a patent for the game. He and his attorney, Charles Rutter, outlined seven claims in the patent application. These seven features were what Simpson knew made the game unique. But there was one feature that made the game different than any other game that has come before it, or since. The skee jump that launched the ball into the air, much like a ski-jumper. It was the first claim of the patent and stated:

“In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an obstruction upon said board for causing said projectile to be projected into the air in a direction which will be a continuation of its original movement, and a target in the line of the trajectory of said projectile. ”

Over the next thirteen months Simpson, Rutter and the patent office would fight it out in a frustrating, grueling battle of claims and counters before Simpson’s patent was finally granted.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Once a year in the United States families all over the country sit down at the dinner table to enjoy a repast with family and friends and celebrate Thanksgiving. During that meal almost every household will also go around the table and ask everyone what they are thankful for. This year Kevin and I would like to take just a moment to say that we are so thankful for all of the friends that the book has created for us. We’ve met wonderful people that started as colleagues and casual acquaintances and have become friends that we look forward to seeing whenever we can. Those friends come from Vineland, Philadelphia, Austin, San Francisco, New Orleans and may other places. To all of our friends and their families we’d just like to say, Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! Enjoy the day.

SR Author Travels | Austin Wrap-up

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It was a great four days in Austin, Texas at the end of October for The BEEB! For the uninitiated, “BEEB” is short for the Brewskee-Ball National Championship Skee-Ball Tournament.

Kicking it off on Thursday, October 26, Thaddeus Cooper hosted a Facebook Live Event which was a great success, featuring Joey The Cat (three-time national champion), and Eric Schadrie from Bay Tek Games, which took over Skee-Ball manufacturing and sales last year. Not only did listeners get insight into the upcoming tournament, but also a sneak peek into the features on Bay Tek’s brand new alleys! Following the Facebook Live event was a Seeking Redemption’s author Meet-and-Greet at the beautiful rooftop bar of The Westin Downtown, complete with a swimming pool and a panoramic view of downtown Austin. This was also a chance to observe the October 31st birthday of Joseph Fourestier Simpson, the inventor of Skee-Ball. The event included a special cake to celebrate Simpson’s 165th birthday, and a memorable toast to him and his beloved invention.

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Friday, Saturday and Sunday were busy days. Thaddeus was selling books at The BEEB as well as attending events and the competitions. Seeking Redemption was a great hit with all of those in attendance and Thaddeus read an excerpt from the book, the memorable story of the very first Skee-Ball National Championship games in 1932, at the closing Storytime on Sunday evening.

This year was a year for firsts, including the introduction of a brand new Skee-Ball alley, custom-designed by Bay Tek Games for the National Skee-Ball League. These alleys are outfitted with two cameras, to capture exciting real time video of the roller, the play field, and the score, enabling players at opposite ends of the country to “play together” in real time. The alleys are also fitted with a large video screen above the target, which showed the classic marquee displaying the score during game play, and a variety of images between games. With the installation of the new bank of alleys at the Full Circle Bar in Austin, someone had to roll the first ball. Eric Pavony, Skee-E-O of the Brewskee-Ball League, told us he debated long and hard on who that should be. Finally he decided that since Thaddeus Cooper had chronicled the first 108 years of the game, it was fitting he should roll the first ball, launching the next 100 years of Skee-Ball. Thaddeus was stunned by the honor, and happily rolled out the first ball, to cheers from the crowd that had gathered for the event on Thursday afternoon.

Saturday started with the MUG team competition, including teams from Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; and Wilmington, North Carolina, sporting their team T-Shirts. Team Skeesar Chavez of Austin won Saturday’s very intense competition. For the rest of the competition, many enthusiastic rollers showed up in costume, since the games were so close to Halloween this year, or simply wearing their usual, colorful Skee-Ball performance attire.

Sunday was dedicated to individual roller competition. The big news that evening was two roll-offs of note. The first was between Sarah O and Joey The Cat.  Sarah was on fire that night, scoring a victory over Joey, with a score of 358 to 346. The final roll-off was between Skeevi Strauss and Sarah O, with Skeevi finally winning first place, and the coveted Cream Jacket for this year’s tournament.

This year’s BEEB was a rockin’ good time! And it was a great time to re-connect with old friends and make some new ones, to see Skee-Ball history in the making, and to get a first look at the exciting future of national Skee-Ball tournaments.

 

SB History | Skee-Ball’s Inventor: Joseph Fourestier Simpson

 

Joseph Fourestier Simpson (Courtesy Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society)

Joseph Fourestier Simpson (Courtesy Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society)

Finally, Simpson developed the most successful and groundbreaking invention of his career: the game of Skee-Ball, which he patented in 1908.

Joseph Fourestier Simpson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1852, to a merchant class family. His father sold cotton duck fabric for sails, work clothes and tarpaulins right up to the end of the Civil War, when the southern sources for cheap cotton dried up. He passed away soon after that, leaving Simpson fatherless at age 17, just as the young man was getting ready to make his way in the world. Simpson was an exceptional young man, meticulous, highly observant, curious and tenacious when ideas caught his attention. And unlike his merchant father, he had a passionate desire to invent.

Starting as a railway clerk, Simpson worked hard, and within a few years, he started his own lumber planing business. And he started inventing. While running the mill, he patented an ingenious over-center trunk latch, which allowed an overfilled travel trunk to be closed easily. Although it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and commended for “utility and low cost,” he was unable to find a manufacturing and sales outlet for his invention. He closed his planing business and worked with his cousin to develop and patent a ratchet wrench, but ran into the same problem in finding manufacturing and sales. He continued to struggle with ups and downs of the industrial economy, reinventing himself as a manager, an attorney working in real estate, an investor and broker for mining and railway projects, and a manufacturer of knitted goods.  Simpson was working tirelessly to advance himself on his own merit in an unforgiving economy that treated those without independent family wealth harshly.

In his middle years around the turn of the century, Simpson became even more creative, with a plethora of innovations and inventions. Refined sugar had just been introduced to the market, and Simpson planned on using the new ingredient to create a health candy. He came up with the idea of selling stamps that could be affixed to a postcard and redeemed at the other end for small amounts of cash, calling his invention a “postal check.” He worked for years on building a better bicycle seat to cash in on the fast growing bicycle craze. He invented a clever board game based on managing two way rail traffic on a single set of tracks. He still had a problem attracting capital and businessmen to manage and promote his innovations, and one by one, they fizzled.

Finally, Simpson developed the most successful and groundbreaking invention of his career: the game of Skee-Ball, which he patented in 1908. He had learned a lot of lessons over the course of his career, and every one of them went into making Skee-Ball a success. He incorporated key features to make this a fascinating game for players, and a great money-maker for operators, with an automatic coin box and ball release, as well as automatic scoring and ball return. The game was designed so there was no need to reset pins or targets, and no need to keep score manually. That meant that, there was no need to employ an attendant to collect money or reset the game for the next player.  The Skee-jump proved to be just the right twist for making the game more fascinating and challenging for players. Simpson proved to be a visionary, with a game appealing to a brand new and expanding audience. Simpson noted that these people were the “nervous and imaginative types” who were attracted by the game’s uniqueness and “fast play excitement” in contrast to the slower more traditional game of bowling.

Simpson did his best to prepare for business success. He attracted a deep pocket investor, William Nice Jr., and an enthusiastic young man, John W. Harper, to manufacture and sell the alleys. But fate intervened. After only a few months, William Nice Jr. passed away unexpectedly, and Simpson and Harper struggled to find someone to take over manufacturing and promotion of the game. This effort was thwarted by businesspeople too conservative and lacking in vision to appreciate his breakthroughs.

In the end, it was a Skee-Ball player and enthusiast who bought them out. Jonathan Dickinson Este had the advantages that Simpson lacked: a father who was a successful business owner; a Princeton University education including the financial and business contacts he made there; and the resources to continue to refine what Simpson developed. But Simpson was the visionary, the tireless inventor, striving with all of his intelligence, tenacity and creativity against all odds to gift the planet with the longest lived and most beloved arcade game ever invented: Skee-Ball.

Simpson continued to invent, including a crate suitable for shipping eggs long distance, and another promising game called Bridgeball. Sadly, after initial promise, these inventions also failed to take hold. He retired to write the family genealogy, and manage some internal family affairs. Simpson passed away in 1930, living long enough to see Skee-Ball become a phenomenal success, but unfortunately, never partaking of the true financial fruits of his labors.

 

SR Profile | Thaddeus Cooper In Austin

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Seeking Redemption recently got a chance to sit down with Thaddeus Cooper, co-author of “Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball” to chat with him about his upcoming trip to Austin, Texas this October between the 25th and 30th.

Seeking Redemption: Thanks for taking some time to sit down and talk to us.

Thaddeus Cooper: My pleasure.

SR: So, you’re bound for Austin TX at the end of the month. Why are you going?  (And what does it have to do with Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball?)

TC: Well, I’m going to Austin to be at The BEEB, the Brewskee-Ball National Championship for 2017.   [The] Brewskee-Ball National Championship is the biggest Skee-Ball event of the year.  We’ve made friends with a lot of folks when we were working on the book— Eric Pavony, and a bunch of cool people including champions Brewbacca and Skeevi Strauss. I’ll be selling both the hardback and softcover books and I’ll be giving away books as prizes for the winners at the events. These events are amazing. The rollers take Skee-Ball to a whole new level of play.

SR: Who’s involved? Who will you be seeing?

TC: Eric Pavony is the mover and shaker behind the league. He also co-owns the Full Circle Bar in Austin, where the BEEB is happening. 

We’re also hoping to see a bunch of the prior years champions— Joey Mucha (Joey the Cat) who’s won three times, Roy Hinojosa (Brewbacca) who won last year, Tracy Townsend, who goes by Trace-Face, and in 2015 was the first woman ever to win a National championship in Skee-Ball. 

There are also a bunch of great rollers from Austin that I met on my first trip and I’m looking forward to seeing again. I understand some of San Francisco contingent is coming, don’t know who yet.  

And we’ll see Holly Hampton, from Bay Tek Games (manufacturer of Skee-Ball alleys) and some folks she’s bringing with her. It’s going to be a great chance to see old friends and meet more folks who are very enthusiastic about our book and the documentary project. 

SR: What are you going to do in Austin while you’re there?

TC: The actual BEEB event is Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday evening, I’m hosting a FaceBook live event with at least one special guest, and we’ll be talking about Austin, and the BEEB—that will be around 7-8pm Central Standard Time. Immediately following that, I’ll be heading to the rooftop bar of the downtown Westin (weather permitting) for an Author Meet-and-Greet from 8pm on. In case of rain, we’ll be down in the first floor bar there at the Westin. We’ll also be lifting a glass to Joseph Fourestier Simpson, the original inventor of Skee-Ball, who was born Oct 31,1852.  Friday through Sunday, we’ll be at the event, selling books with special event pricing discounts, And we’re looking forward to being on hand for the presentation of books to five of the winners as part of the event. So we’re really excited, and it will be really cool to meet everybody who has expressed interest in the book and see everybody over the course of those few days.  

SR: Where will you be in Austin?  When will things be happening?

TC: The event will be held at the Full Circle Bar 1810 E. 12th Street, Friday thru Sunday October 27, 28, 29.. We’ll have our Thursday events on October 26 at the Westin Austin, Downtown 310 East 5th Street starting at 7pm, and meeting in Azul, the rooftop bar, weather permitting, from 8-10pm.

You can find the full schedule for all of The BEEB related events here.

 

Inside Seeking Redemption News October 9, 2017

In this edition of Inside Seeking Redemption News we talk profile the Full Circle Bar in Austin, Texas, have a little Skee-Ball history about Harrigan’s in Atlanta, Georgia, and more information about my upcoming trip to Austin. If you’d like to get more Seeking Redemption News delivered straight to your inbox you can signup for our news letter at srsignup.nomoreboxes.com.

In case you’ve missed any of our previous episodes you can watch them on our Vimeo Channel, Inside SR News.

Inside SR News October 9, 2017 from Thaddeus Cooper on Vimeo.

 

SB History | Harrigan’s

The Constitution, Oct. 10, 1917

The Constitution, Oct. 10, 1917

One hundred years ago a luncheonette in Atlanta, Georgia may have been the hippest place around. Why? Because in addition to having a soda fountain, they had Skee-Ball.

When they opened after the Great Fire in May of 1917, Harrigan’s was located on Marietta Street in Atlanta, right down the street from the Post Office, the Customs House and City Hall. The large display ad that ran on October 10, 1917 in The Constitution touted their “up-to-the-minute lunch”, and encouraged people to “Follow the crowd” to lunch and try their hand at a brand new game: Skee-Ball.   The rest of the ad featured descriptions and endorsements for the game from all over.

The New York Sun article proclaimed:

“Skee-Ball burst into bloom on the Great White Way yesterday and until a late hour last night New York business men were trying to find the secret of landing the ball in the 50 disc and thus making the highest possible count at the new game.”

There was also a quote from the Philadelphia Public Ledger:

“Many who have found bowling too strenuous and not enough action in the cue games, are getting all they desire out of the Skee-Ball. This game provides all the spirit of competition without too much labor. It requires considerable skill and consistent study to improve the game.”

There was even an excerpt from the Philadelphia Record that included Charles Bender, the pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, who had sponsored the first Skee-Ball tournaments at his sporting goods store:

“Chief Bender tried his hand at a comparatively new sport last night when he tried to wrest the Skee-Ball championship of Philadelphia and environs from the present holder of the title, A. J. Carty. The ‘Chief’ failed to capture the title but made a creditable showing.”

It seems that Harrigans was the very first place that introduced Atlanta to Skee-Ball. An article in The Constitution the following day read:

“‘Skee Ball,’ the latest of sports…has been introduced in Atlanta at Harrigan’s, 14 Marietta street. 

Wherever skee ball has been introduced, it has been an instant hit. … The game requires considerable skill and study to become proficient, but is amusing and entertaining to the star player and dub alike. Skee ball seems destined to stay here some time.”

The second advertisement was recurring and ran between November 9, 1917 and December 19, 1917. This advertisement featured little other than the luncheonette’s slogan, “Cleanliness our Motto”  and “Skee-Ball.”

Most other venues, like Sacandaga near Utica, New York and Marshall Hall in Washington, DC, that had Skee-Ball in this period, would lump Skee-Ball in with their other amusements. Few if any, gave the game top billing the way that Harrigan’s did, which is what made the Harrigan’s advertisement so unique.

It’s unknown how successful Harrigan’s continued to be, or how successful Skee-Ball became as a result, but it’s a great example of how important Skee-Ball was just a few years after it’s introduction.