, later Henry Goebel
(April 20, 1818 – December 4, 1893), born in Springe
Springe is a town in the district of Hanover, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated near the Deister hills, southwest of Hanover.-City Structure:* Springe with 12,666 Inhabitants* Bennigsen with 4,095 Inhabitants...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
, was a precision mechanic. He emigrated in 1848 to New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
and lived there until his death. In 1865 he changed his nationality.
In 1893 the public in the USA and in Europe took notice of Henry Goebel. Magazines and newspapers reported that Henry Goebel had developed incandescent light bulbs comparable to those invented in the year 1879 by Thomas Alva Edison 25 years earlier. Henry Goebel did not apply for a patent.
In 1893 the Edison Electric Light Co.
brought suit against three manufacturers of incandescent lamps for infringing Edison´s patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....
. The defense of these companies claimed the Edison patent was void because of the same invention of Henry Goebel 25 years earlier(Goebel-Defense
Judges of four courts raised doubts; there was no clear and convincing proof for the claimed invention of Henry Goebel. A research work published in 2007 concluded that the Goebel-Defense
After the death of Henry Goebel, in some countries, the legend
A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...
came into being that he was the true inventor of the practical incandescent light bulb.
Springe, Germany 1818 - 1848
On April 20, 1818 Henry Goebel was born in Springe near Hanover
Hanover or Hannover, on the river Leine, is the capital of the federal state of Lower Saxony , Germany and was once by personal union the family seat of the Hanoverian Kings of Great Britain, under their title as the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg...
in Germany. His father, Heinrich Christian Göbel, was a gardener and later a door-to-door salesman for chocolate. The name of his mother was Marie Eleonore née Hüper. At that time Springe was a small village in the Kingdom of Hanover
The Kingdom of Hanover was established in October 1814 by the Congress of Vienna, with the restoration of George III to his Hanoverian territories after the Napoleonic era. It succeeded the former Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg , and joined with 38 other sovereign states in the German...
with less than 2.000 inhabitants. Most of them worked in agriculture.
1832 Henry Goebel finished school with bad results. His teacher added this comment: "He seems to have an inventive mind. The reasons of the poor marks appear to be in his lengthy illness."
In 1834 master locksmith Gerhard Linde of Springe admitted Henry Goebel as an apprentice for 3 years. It is not known whether Henry Goebel finished this training.
1837 he started to work as a repair mechanic on markets. Later in New York he gave 1837 as the foundation date of his business.
In 1844 Henry Goebel married Sophie Lübke née Rodewig. In the documents he gave watchmaker as his profession at that time. There are no sources to confirm a training as watchmaker. Probably Goebel learned by doing and did work comparable to a precision mechanic. He operated a one person business repairing clocks. His son Johann Carl was born 1846, and his daughter Marie Sophie in 1848.
In 1848, at the age of 30, Henry Goebel and his family emigrated to New York City. They left Germany in 1848 on the sailing ship "J.W.Andrews" and arrived in New York in January 1849. According to the list of passengers of the ship, he gave "mechanic" as his profession. The reasons for emigration are not known.
New York 1849 - 1893
In New York Henry Goebel opened a shop in Monroe Street. The title was Jewelry, Horology and Optician's Store
To earn more money, Henry Goebel constructed a telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...
. Frequently in the 1850's and 1860's he moved with his large telescope on a horse wagon to Union Square
Union Square is a public square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York.It is an important and historic intersection, located where Broadway and the former Bowery Road – now Fourth Avenue – came together in the early 19th century; its name celebrates neither the...
in the evening and by payment of a fee people could use his telescope to observe the stars. In litigations of the year 1893 many persons remembered the telescope-man
On May 9, 1865 Henry Goebel obtained the U.S. Patent No. 47.632 "Hemmer for sewing machines." Probably he got the idea when thinking about how to make the sewing work of his daughter more easy. He was not successful in selling the patent.
1872 Goebel moved his shop to Grand Street.
In 1881 Henry Goebel worked as a kind of consultant for the American Electric Light Co.
Obviously there was a need for precision mechanics for the construction of electric lamps. Furthermore, he produced carbon filaments in his shop for the company.
He finished this work after half a year and tried to start his own business in the field of incandescent light bulbs together with his friend John Kulenkamp. Both were members of a Lodge of
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...
of German immigrants.
On April 30, 1882 the New York Times
reported about an exhibition of incandescent light bulbs in Goebel's shop. According to this report Henry Goebel told the story, that the electric light was by no means as new an invention as it was popularly supposed to be and that he knew this kind of light since his time in Germany. He affirmed that he produced electric lights since the 1850’s without giving technical details. The lamps at exhibition were incandescent light bulbs with carbon-filaments of high resistance made of fibres of reed.
Two patents were granted to Henry Goebel in 1882, an improvement of the Geissler-System of vacuum pumps and a solution to connect carbon-filaments and metal-wires in a light bulb.
In 1882 Goebel made an offer to sell his inventions to the Edison Electric Light Co.
for a few thousand dollars, but Edison did not see enough merit in the invention to accept the offer.
Obviously Henry Goebel and his friend John Kulenkamp were not successful in starting a business.
In the 1880's some patent attorneys visited Henry Goebel because of the report in the New York Times
1882. They were interested in early incandescent light bulbs to move Edison's patent of 1880 into question. Later they said, there was not much evidence, and Henry Goebel was not able to present old lamps.
In 1887 Henry Goebel’s wife Sofie died. At least 8 more children of them were born in the USA. 7 children survived both parents.
In the late 1880’s Henry Goebel retired and his son Henry Goebel Jr. became the owner of the shop.
In 1893 Patent attorneys Witter & Kenyon, New York, became the counsels of the defense in three cases of patent infringement. Henry Goebel became the main witness of the defense in these cases. His story of 1882 was used to create the Goebel-Defense
Henry Goebel died on December 4, 1893 because of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...
. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 as a rural cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings County , New York. It was granted National Historic Landmark status in 2006 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.-History:...
The lawsuits with the Goebel-defense
continued until May 1894.
The work for the American Electric Light Co.
1881, the patents from 1882 and the report in the New York Times
from April 30, 1882 are the earliest clear sources for work of Henry Goebel related to incandescent electric light bulbs. No earlier source is known to prove any kind of relation to incandescent light bulbs or any kind of work in the field of electricity. Doubtful details of the biography of Henry Goebel given by himself are not listed.
The Litigations with Goebel-Defense in 1893 and 1894
| Decisions in the suits with Goebel-Defense
|Feb. 18, 1893
|| Beacon Vacuum Pump and Electric Company, Boston, preliminary injunction granted (Judge Lebaron B. Colt)
| Apr. 21, 1893
||Columbia Incandescent Lamp Company, St. Louis, preliminary injunction denied (Judge Moses Hallett)
| Jul. 20, 1893
||Electric Manufacturing Company, Oconto, preliminary injunction granted (Court in Milwaukee; Judge William H. Seaman)
| Jan. 26, 1894
||Philadelphia Trust Co., Manufacturers' Club of Philadelphia und Spreckels Sugar-Refining Co., preliminary injunction granted, Philadelphia (Judge Acheson)
| May 9, 1894
||Electric Manufacturing Company, Oconto, preliminary injunction confirmed, appeal, (Court in Chicago; Judge James G. Jenkins)
| Jan. 11, 1895
|| Philadelphia Trust Co, Philadelphia, preliminary injunction confirmed, appeal, (Judge Wales)
| no final hearing
| Nov. 19, 1894
|| Expiry date of US Patent 223.898 of the Edison Electric Light Co. (since 1893 General Electric); Patent applied November 30, 1879/ granted January 27, 1880
In 1892 the litigation Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. United States Electric Lighting Co.
from 1885 came to a final decision. The court confirmed the patents of Thomas Edison related to the incandescent light bulb.
Based on this decision the Edison Electric Light Co.
brought suits to obtain preliminary injunctions
A preliminary injunction, in equity, is an injunction entered by a court prior to a final determination of the merits of a legal case, in order to restrain a party from going forward with a course of conduct or compelling a party to continue with a course of conduct until the case has been decided...
to close the productions of incandescent light bulbs of the Beacon Vacuum Pump and Electrical Company, Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...
, the Columbia Incandescent Lamp Company, St. Louis
and the Electric Manufacturing Company, Oconto, Wisconsin
Oconto is a city in Oconto County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 4,708 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Green Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is located partially within the town of Oconto.-History:...
Patent attorneys Witter & Kenyon, New York, became the counsels of the defense in all three cases. They declared Edison's patents void because it was not a novelty in 1880. Their witness Henry Goebel made a claim , back in 1854, he had designed the first practical incandescent electric light bulb. He said, he had used his lamps for personal purpose without applying for a patent. The counsels called this an "overseen invention". Henry Goebel was an unknown person at that time.
Goebel's main evidence was witnesses, which US patent courts discounted. Goebel himself was the most important witness of the defendant companies. Patent attorneys Witter & Kenyon worked out an extensive defense with several hundred pages of affidavits. So-called Original Lamps
were presented at court. Witnesses said they existed earlier than 1880. Furthermore so-called Reproduced Lamps
were presented at court. Witnesses said, that Goebel had produced these lamps himself at Beacon Vacuum Pump and Electrical Company, Boston
using his old tools. In 1893 Henry Goebel was at the age of 75. He said that he had lost a lot of lamps and tools for the production of lamps when he left his shop in New York years ago.
In the case Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. Columbia Incandescent Lamp Co., St. Louis
181 persons supported the Goebel-Defense
An affidavit is a written sworn statement of fact voluntarily made by an affiant or deponent under an oath or affirmation administered by a person authorized to do so by law. Such statement is witnessed as to the authenticity of the affiant's signature by a taker of oaths, such as a notary public...
and 142 persons supported the Edison view. The view of the Edison Electric Light Co.
was that Henry Goebel didn't built practical incandescent light bulbs before 1880. The counsels of the Goebel-Defense
didn't provide any documentation or convincing proof which could be dated without any doubt to a time earlier than 1880, the year the patent was granted to Thomas Edison.
Many persons providing affidavits in 1893 said that they had seen the electric lamps of Henry Goebel in the 1850's to the 1870's. Henry Goebel used his lamps according to these affidavits for the advertizment of his shop in New York and for the advertizment of his telescope at Union Square, New York. Members of Goebel's family and friends of them affirmed the usage of incandescent lamps in the daily life of the family before the year 1880. The most surprising story for the public was the alleged usage of incandescent lamps for the advertizment of Goebel's telescope in the center of New York for years. It was said, thousands of New Yorkers had seen Goebel's lamps. Approximately 75 witnesses confirmed this in affidavits; approximately the same number of witnesses remembered oil-lamps only.
Goebel claimed his lamp contained a high resistance filament of carbon, platinum lead-in wires in an all-glass envelope, and a high vacuum produced with the Torricellian method
Evangelista Torricelli was an Italian physicist and mathematician, best known for his invention of the barometer.-Biography:Evangelista Torricelli was born in Faenza, part of the Papal States...
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...
. He tried several materials to produce the carbon filaments and discovered the advantages of bamboo
Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....
. These solutions were exactly the results of the research work of the Edison Electric Light Co.
and the novelties of Edison's patents.
Technical experts of both sides gave their opinion about the Goebel lamps and the claimed way of production in affidavits. Experts of the Edison side contested the quality of the lamps and the possibility to produce lamps using the affirmed procedure. Experts of the Goebel-Defense
confirmed the quality of the lamps and the method of production. Witnesses of the Goebel-Defense
said, that reproduced lamps burnt 45, 87 und 166 hours. Edison’s lamps burnt at time of applying for a patent approximately 40 hours. So-called Goebel Original Lamps
were broken in 1893. Experts of the Edison side said that they never burnt.
, an employee of the Edison Electric Light Co.
and responsible to support their counsels, discredited Goebel by demonstrating that his supposed 1870s bulb (Goebel Lamp No. 4) had been built much later. Professor van der Weyde, an 80 years old physicist, said in his affidavit, he had seen Goebel's telescope and his incandescent lamps. Later he withdrew his affidavit. Witter & Kenyon expressed suspicions of bribery
Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or...
of witnesses. The newspapers reported about some turbulent phases in these lawsuits during the year 1893.
LeBaron Bradford Colt was a United States Senator from Rhode Island and a circuit court judge.-Biography:He was born in Dedham, Massachusetts to Christopher Colt and Theodora Goujand DeWolf Colt; his younger brother, Samuel P. Colt, was a prominent Rhode Island businessman and politician...
(Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. Beacon Vacuum Pump and Electrical Company, Boston
) explained how he ruled based on probabilities:
The opinion of Judge Hallett in the case Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. Columbia Incandescent Lamp Co., St. Louis
The opinion of Judge Jenkins in the case Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. Electric Manufacturing Co., Oconto
was based on the last development of the Goebel-Defense
with new affdavits and withdrawn affidavits in May, 1894:
A decision, whether the Goebel anticipation was held true or untrue, required a final hearing, but there was never a final hearing in the litigations using the Goebel-Defense
. It was the responsibility of the Edison Electric Light Co.
to move the case in St. Louis to a final hearing. Probably they did it not because of the expiry date of Edison's patent in 1894 and high cost.
It is not sure, that the proof of the alleged anticipation was the true strategy of the counsels of the defense. Perhaps the aim of the extensive Goebel-Defense
was to avoid a decision of a final hearing before the expiry date of Edison's patent. This was successful in the case of the Columbia Incandescent Lamp Co
. The company produced lamps without interruption tough they never proved the invalidity of Edison’s patent.
In two cases the preliminary injunction was granted, in one case the injunction was denied. In Philadelphia another injunction was granted in a suit filed by the Edison Electric Light Co.
to stop the usage of patent infringing lamps at some companies. The counsels of the defense in this case used the arguments of the Goebel-Defense
The point of controversy in these lawsuits between the Edison Electric Light Co.
and their competitors was money. It was not a controversy about the honor to be the inventor of the incandescent light bulb. There was no benefit for Henry Goebel in these suits. He said, he was not interested in the decisions of the courts and that he had no hostile mind towards Thomas Edison. In an affidavit he said he got no money for providing details of his work concerning incandescent lamps.
Historical extrajudicial investigations and views on the anticipation claim
During the litigations most newspapers reported with a neutral point of view, but some raised doubts about the alleged Goebel anticipation.
"A romantic story of the poor inventor Goebel which will be forgotten soon" was the commentary of a technical magazine in Germany.
The journalist A.M.Tanner from London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
visited Springe, Goebel's native town, and interviewed some people there. In his article published in The Electrical Review
in February 1894 we wrote, that nobody had confirmed the alleged work of Goebel related to electricity before leaving Germany. Tanner reported, Goebel's alleged teacher in the field of electricity and electric lamps, Professor Münchhausen, was an unknown person in Springe and Hanover. Goebel said in one of his affidavits, that he had learned the professions of a watchmaker and an optician. In Springe Tanner got the information, that Goebel had learned the profession of a locksmith.
Investigations of recent years
Investigations in recent years confirmed the article of Tanner.
One important point is, that there is no source to confirm Goebel's alleged source of knowledge in the fields of electricity and vacuum physics. Goebel claimed that he had worked together with a certain Professor Münchhausen in the 1840s, that he had constructed equipment for experiments at today's University of Hanover ( at that time called Höhere Gewerbeschule
), that he had assisted experiments related to electric light, that he had got the idea and the basic concept of the design of an electric incandescent lamp from Professor Münchhausen and that he had continued with experiments on electric light on his own in New York. A person Professor Münchhausen was not known in the Kingdom of Hanover in the 1830s and 1840s, there is no documentation of experiments on electric light in the Kingdom of Hanover in the 1840s and no source for deliveries of equipment or any other kind of relation of Henry Goebel to today's University of Hanover.
As one result of investigations in Germany and in the USA and an analysis of all documents of the litigations with Goebel-Defense
Hans-Christian Rohde stated in his dissertation, that there is no source from the time prior to 1880 to support the assumption of a relation of Henry Goebel to incandescent lamps prior to 1880. His thesis is, that Henry Goebel got the knowledge when working for the American Electric Light Co.
in 1881 and was not busy with incandescent lamps before.
A philological analysis of all affidavits of the Goebel-Defense
manifested numerous contradictions and improbabilities. This and the lack of independent sources in the archives to confirm claims of Henry Goebel support the thesis, the Goebel-Defense
was fraudulent. Probably Goebel told his story in 1882 to present himself as experienced in the art of construction of electric lamps to promote his intended business. Patent attorneys and their technical consultants created the Goebel-Defense
on base of this story. Probably a biography of an inventor of electric light was constructed on top of the true biography of Henry Goebel. There is circumstantial evidence that falsification of written affidavits was part of the strategy of the counsels of the defense.
One curious matter is the name of Goebel’s alleged teacher, Professor Münchhausen. Münchhausen is a rare family name in Germany and Münchhausen is the name of a literary figure in a collection of tales with title The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen
of Rudolf Erich Raspe
Rudolf Erich Raspe was a German librarian, writer and scientist, called by his biographer John Carswell a "rogue"...
(published 1785) and in another version of Gottfried August Bürger
Gottfried August Bürger was a German poet. His ballads were very popular in Germany. His most noted ballad, Lenore, found an audience beyond readers of the German language in an English adaptation and a French translation.-Biography:He was born in Molmerswende , Principality of Halberstadt, where...
(published 1786), a popular book in Germany; a man telling lies and incredible stories. A thesis on this is, that Henry Goebel, an old man, was under pressure of lawyers to provide affidavits and got pangs of conscience and this was his way to indicate the story was untrue. In the culture of Germany there is a close association of "Münchhausen" and "untrue, telling lies".
So-called Goebel Original Lamps
are in the archives of the Henry Ford Museum
The Henry Ford, a National Historic Landmark, , in the Metro Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, USA, is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex...
-Economy:Ford Motor Company has its world headquarters in Dearborn. In addition its Dearborn campus contains many research, testing, finance and some production facilities. Ford Land controls the numerous properties owned by Ford including sales and leasing to unrelated businesses such as the...
. A technical examination with today’s methods of science to establish, if possible, a final truth on the production year of the lamps and to clear up technical points of dispute in the litigations did not take place yet.
Franklin Leonard Pope
Franklin Leonard Pope was an American engineer, explorer, and inventor.-Biography:He was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Pope and Electra Wainwright. He was a telegrapher, electrical engineer, explorer, inventor, and patent attorney.He was also a major contributor to...
was a close friend of Thomas Alva Edison but later he was in quarrel with him.
He was an important man with a good reputation in the field of electricity; in 1886 he was the President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
In January 1893 Franklin Pope wrote an article published on the head page of the Electrical Engineer
titled The Carbon Filament Lamp of 1859—The Story of an Overlooked Invention.
In this article Franklin Pope credited the invention of the practical incandescent light bulb to Henry Goebel. Furthermore he supported the Goebel-Defense
at court providing affidavits.
Probably his relationship to Thomas Edison was the motivation of Franklin Pope.
The reputation of Franklin Pope and his article in The Electrical Engineer
is the reason for the existing view in some countries that Henry Goebel developed a carbon filament lamp many years before Thomas Edison did it. The Electrical Engineer
is available in the libraries of many technical universities. Franklin Pope´s article was interpreted as a reliable source as well in the year of publishing as in later years. In 1893 his article was the source for reports about the Goebel-Story of newspapers in the USA and in Europe.
As a matter of fact there is a lack of convincing evidence for the information about the lamps of Henry Goebel given by Franklin Pope in his article. This was the result of the litigations (motions for a preliminary injunction) in three cases in 1893 and 1894.
In a dissertation published 2007 it is stated, that the article was part of the fraudulent Goebel-Defense
and the intention was to produce credibility for the Goebel-Story and sympathy for Henry Goebel, an „underdog“ who anticipated the famous Thomas Edison. According to this view, Franklin Pope was a fraudulent acting consultant of the Goebel Defense
Franklin Pope wrote a book titled Evolution of the Electric Incandescent Lamp
. In the 2nd Edition of this book, published 1894 one year after his article about Henry Goebel in the Electrical Engineer
of January 1893, Henry Goebel is not mentioned.
In the case Edison Electric Light Co.
vs. Columbia Incandescent Lamp Co.
Judge Moses Hallett denied the granting of a preliminary injunction. His opinion was, that a final hearing with all witnesses at court was necessary. Several magazines and newspapers stated that Judge Hallett believed Goebel's lamp preceded Edison's. In Germany the opinion of Judge Hallett was reported to be a final decision in the case. Sometimes it wasn't realized that the litigations were three independent cases with the same counsels of the defense using the same arguments. Due to this erroneous view the later decision of Judge Hallett was reported as a decision of a higher court in the same case. That are misstatements of Judge Hallett's decision, and the source of the legend that the priority of Henry Goebel for the invention of the practical incandescent light bulb was established at court.
After his death, Henry Goebel had been forgotten for 30 years in Germany. In the year 1923 the story of an important national inventor was created; the report of Franklin Pope was the main source. Some other countries adapted the story from Germany in the 20th century. Additional misstatements became part of some versions of the legend. For example, some versions of the legend describe the first Goebel lamps as bottle-lamps. But Henry Goebel said that he had melted the glass of Eau-de-Cologne-Bottles with a blowpipe to produce the all-glass-envelope of his very first lamps in the 1850s.
Different views became obvious due to the internet and some projects in the USA and in Germany started investigations in the year 2000 and later. As a result, the assumption of Goebel lamps prior to 1880 without any doubt was named a legend.
US-Patents granted to Henry Goebel
- Patent 47.632 „Hemmer for Sewing Machines“, May 9, 1865
- Patent 252.658 „Vacuum Pump (Improvement of the Geissler-System of vacuum pumps“, January 24, 1882
- Patent 266.358 „Electric Incandescent Lamp (sockets to connect the filament of carbon and the conducting wires)“, October 24, 1882