The Many Diverse Patents of Zera Waters

Monday, September 18, 2017

If an inventor holds more than one patent you might, understandably, assume that those patents would be within the same industry (such as mining, construction, or medicine). However, that is not always the case. An inventor represented in our collection of patent models tells quite a different story.

Zera Waters, from Bloomington, Illinois, was cited as patentee for at least 7 diverse patents from 1864 to 1877:

Improvement in Ladies’ Skirt Lifters (Patent No. 43,613)
Improved Hat-Holder (Patent No. 80,374)
Improvement in Gig Sawing-Machine (Patent No. 93,138)
Improvement in Combined Abdominal and Uterine Supporter (Patent No. 93,144)
Improvement in Pumps (Patent No. 121,918)
Improvement in Composition Pavements (Patent No. 134,500)
Improvement in Pavements (Patent No. 191,273)

Here at Hagley we have Waters’ Improved Hat-Holder. Patented on July 28, 1868, Waters describes his invention as “particularly designed for hotels, steamboats, and public halls, to prevent those mistakes in taking hats from racks, which mistakes are generally annoying and disadvantageous to one of the parties concerned, and will save hotel-keepers, and other persons who are responsible for the loss of hats, a great deal of expense in replacing stolen hats” (Patent No. 80,374). Essentially, the hat would be placed between the two brass discs at the top corner of the model, securing the hat in place. The device would be “affixed to some stationary standard” (Patent No. 80,374).

Water's patent model
2015.14.897a,b – Patent Model – Improved Hat-Holder

Waters' technical patent drawing.

Who was Zera Waters and why were his inventions so diverse? Well, it seems that Waters held many different occupations over his lifetime. He grew up on a farm, then moved on to become an engineer at a saw mill, and then a “scaler” in the lumber industry. Waters then dabbled in the sales of furniture and agricultural implements.

What seemed to be his major calling, however, was medicine.  By 1861, Waters had committed all his time to his medicine practice, and by 1862 he received his diploma from a Cincinnati institute. He went on to serve as Assistant Surgeon to the 68th Illinois Infantry before eventually returning to Bloomington, Illinois to open his practice. While in Bloomington, Waters became involved in the production and marketing of “patent medicines”. Patent medicines were substances (pills, balms, tonics, etc.) that claimed to “cure” a broad spectrum of ailments, though their efficacy is contested. Partnered with Dr. Henry S. Woodard, also of Bloomington, Waters manufactured such medicines.

An advertising card for “Instant Relief”, a patent medicine manufactured by Waters and Woodard.
An advertising card for “Instant Relief”, a patent medicine manufactured by Waters and Woodard, source.

Astonishingly, Zera Waters was able to invent for such varying industries; from carpentry to medicine, from women’s clothing to paving materials. It begs the question as to whether Mr. Waters was born with his talent of invention, or whether he developed it over time. Either way, he certainly left his mark in the world of patents.

Caroline Western is the Special Projects Cataloger at Hagley Museum and Library.