Fog Signal Patent Model


This patent model accompanied William B. Barker's patent for a fog signal that received patent number 216,820 on June 24, 1879. The patent contains a dial, marked off with the points of the compass, on which the operator designates his ship's heading. A pedal activated the fog horn that announced both the ships presence and heading. The horn sounded a repeating pattern of three or four blasts. The pattern "long, short, short," for example, would reveal that the vessel was headed on a bearing between north and northeast. "Short, short, short, long" meant a heading between west and southwest.

Collisions in fog led to the loss of many ships and many lives before the widespread adoption of shipboard radar in the 1950s. English sea captain Charles Kennedy commented in 1889, "Each time a collision occurs, the question immediately arises, Can nothing be done to avert these terrible disasters? This has caused many a thoughtful man to make it a subject for study." Kennedy saw William Barker's fog-signal code at an exhibit in Liverpool, England, in 1879. "Being then in command of the White Star steamer 'Germanic,' I was instructed by the company to inspect [Barker's code] and make my report accordingly. I did so thoroughly, and, being convinced of its utility, I strongly favored its adoption." Although Barker's code gained the approval of the British Admiralty and Board of Trade, it was not adopted by any nation as a life-saving measure. "Several codes have since been introduced by others," Kennedy continued, "but they were too complicated, and more liable to cause mishaps than to prevent them." Barker the inventor may be the same William Barker of Hoboken who appears in the 1880 United States Census. A machinist, he was born in Massachusetts in 1841 to English parents; he and his wife Mary had two sons. Although Captain Kennedy refers to him in 1889 as "Captain Barker," the man's seafaring experience is unknown.

Date Made: 1879Patent Date: 1879-06-24

Patentee: Barker, William B.Inventor: Barker, William B.

Location: Currently not on view

Associated Place: United States: New Jersey, Hoboken

Subject: Patent Models


See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, America on the Move, Transportation


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1999.0086.04Catalog Number: 1999.0086.04Accession Number: 1999.0086Patent Number: 216,820

Object Name: patent model, signal, fogObject Type: Patent Model

Physical Description: wood (box material)leather (bellows material)Measurements: overall: 12 in x 11 in x 10 in; 30.48 cm x 27.94 cm x 25.4 cm


Record Id: nmah_1316609

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