Inventor George Henry Hohnsbeen, 1879-1953. Hohnsbeen invented improvements to a handful of devices from 1908 to 1921, including early versions of the clipboard and the liquid soap dispenser. George Henry, or Henry George, Hohnsbeen was born in 1879 in Davenport, Iowa, the son of German immigrants Ludwig Hohnsbeen and Wilhelmine Wunder. George’s father was a cooper, as was his maternal grandfather and Wunder uncles. Inheriting this mechanical ability, George became an engineer at the Boepple Button Company in Davenport at about age 20. Later, he moved on to Minneapolis to work as a travel agent for the Segeng Threshing Machine Company.
Signaling Lantern (1908)
Perhaps from his experiences as a travel agent, Hohnsbeen developed and patented improvements to oil-fueled signaling lanterns used as danger signals to warn the public of obstructions. The essence of the improvement were vertically adjustable sharpened legs emanating from an inverted U-shaped frame of the lantern. These legs could be forced into an underlying plank, the ground, or some other suitable support. In 1947, Hohnsbeen’s signal lantern influenced Harold Howe’s invention of a Fire Tray Assembly Support. Howe’s patent referenced Hohnsbeen in his utilization of an adjustable U-shaped support which was to be inserted into the ground.
It would be eleven years later before Hohnsbeen’s next invention was patented, which began a small parade of inventions from him as he became more professionally successful- working as general manager of Hohnsbeen Manufacturing in Minneapolis.
Face Plate for Vise – Jaws (1919)
The object of this invention, patent # 1307050, was to provide a better way for mounting face-plates of softer metal upon the jaws of a vise, so that the finished work placed in the vise would not be damaged. This invention also provided a means for the face-plates to be easily mounted and removed.
The examiner for the 1962 patent of Robert J. Langren, which presented a new clamp to better secure chrome-plated tubing of hospital beds to accessory equipment without causing damage, cited Hohnsbeen’s face-plate. Also referring to Hohnsbeen, a 1947 patent for a watchcase wrench claimed to open tight or corroded screw-type backs on watchcases without marring the finish.
Liquid Soap Dispenser (1919)
The object of patent # 1293438, Hohnsbeen stated, was to provide a liquid soap dispenser of simple and convenient operation with the flow of soap adjustable. He claimed as his invention, “A soap dispenser comprising an arm having means for mounting it in a horizontal position on the wall, a cup pivoted on said arm and having a diaphragm-like cover and adapted to contain a supply of soap, the lower wall of said cup having a soap discharge oriface through which the soap is delivered when pressure is applied to said diaphragm.”
Hohnsbeen’s dispenser patent was cited in Everill J. Hill’s 1956 patent for a liquid soap dispenser. Hill replaced Hohnsbeen’s “arm” with a suction cup so that the user in the home could easily move the dispenser to a more convenient location.
Electric Fan (1921)
In patent # 1374658, Hohnsbeen offered an attachment to the electric fan that would heat the air circulating from it. This heating device, consisting of electric resistance coils, would be attached in front of the fan. The device could be turned off to allow for normal fan usage. Sixty years later, a patent pertaining to an electric resistance heater referenced Hohnsbeen’s invention . Also, in 1994, James Ryder referred to Hohnsbeen’s device in his patent for an electric heater attachment to ceiling fans.
Memorandum File / Clipboard (1921)
Hohnsbeen was involved in the development of the clipboard (originally called a memorandum file). In patent # 1398591, Hohnsbeen stated that the object of this invention was “to provide a plate adapted for mounting an ordinary paper clip of well-known construction thereon to the end (so) that the device may be used for gripping papers, the finger grips of the clip providing a means for hanging the file on the wall …”
Although Hohnsbeen’s memorandum file has been acknowledged in subsequent patents for clipboards or similar devices, a medical purpose was created by one inventor. In 1970, Lee R. Bolduc patented the disposable ground plate electrode for use in electrosurgical units. It utilized Hohnsbeen’s clip concept from the memorandum file.
The march of inventions from Hohnsbeen ended in the early 1920s as he moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to work as a mechanic, machinist, and toolmaker. He died in L.A. in 1953. He may not have been a Benjamin Franklin or a Thomas Edison, but think of George Henry Hohnsbeen the next time you use a clipboard or a wall-mounted liquid soap dispenser.