Winter weather changes are fast approaching – and it won’t be too long before we see our first big storm. I thought it would be an appropriate time to introduce you to an inventor whose curiosity was focused on predicting those changes and weather events.
Henry A. Clum was born in Clermont, New York on August 17, 1821. Due to his family’s poor financial state, Clum didn’t have much schooling. However, his scientific abilities were evident even as a young man.
Clum claimed that he could predict the weather; a claim that may or may not have landed him in an insane asylum for about a week! Luckily, he did not let the accusation of insanity deter him from his scientific dreams.
Clum held a variety of patents throughout his lifetime, though they were not all weather related. In fact, we have a patent model for his Improvement in Portable Closets or Commodes (Patent No. 210,917) in our collection.
His true focus, however, was inventing for meteorological needs. He held at least a couple patents for barometers, one of which we also have the patent model for in our collection (Patent No. 28,454). Though, it seems that Clum’s true passion was for his work with a special barometrical instrument called an Aelloscope.
Clum created the American Aelloscope Company in the 1860's and promoted the Aelloscope’s ability to predict large weather events, in advance, from even thousands of miles away. The Aelloscope was technically a barometer, but with special improvements including gas chambers and a tube that held 60 to 200 pounds of mercury.
The instrument was said to be remarkable as well as beautiful, and was even purchased by Queen Victoria of England and Napoleon III of France. Senator Charles Sumner suggested one should be set atop the U.S. Capitol building.
Unfortunately, the Aelloscope was not as profitable as Clum hoped. The device was expensive, large, and intricately designed, which made repairs difficult. Even Clum’s last day was spent promoting his work. On July 6, 1884, Clum was preparing to give a lecture when a piece of equipment exploded in the theater. Debris from the blast killed Clum, but left his Aelloscope unscathed….
Henry A. Clum led a remarkable life full of innovation and curiosity. Check out the following resources to learn even more about his endeavors, and even a little about his personal life:
For additional information see Huggins, K. L., Curiosities of Elmira: The Last Labrador Duck, Professor Smokeball, the Great Female Crime Spree & More. Arcadia Publishing. 2017
Caroline Western is the Special Projects Cataloger at Hagley Museum and Library.