patent model, vegetable assorter

patent model, vegetable assorter

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This model was filed with the application to the U.S. Patent Office for Patent Number 212,000 issued to John H. Heinz of Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 4, 1879. Mr. Heinz’s patent was for a design to automate the sorting of vegetables (as well as fruits, pickles, etc.) by size. Commercial packing technology had improved significantly at the time of the patent, and to keep up with faster production timelines a more efficient sorting method not dependent on manual labor was needed. Mr. Heinz’s design is shown in the photo to the left. It consisted of a wooden frame that held two concentric cylinders mounted on a shaft that sloped downwards from right to left. The cylinders had longitudinal slots wide enough to allow items of that size to fall through. The machine would be operated by the crank shown at the left end. The crank turned the central shaft via a gear so that the cylinders revolved, distributing the items evenly within them. Near the left side of the photo the inner cylinder is visible where it exits from the larger, outer cylinder. A hopper, shown at the upper right of the machine, received the items to be sorted and introduced them into the inner cylinder. To reduce jamming and produce an even distribution of items, the hopper was vibrated by a ratchet and bar at the end of the shaft. The inner cylinder had slotted openings that were sized such that all but the largest items would fall through into the outer cylinder. The inner cylinder’s longitudinal slots ended where it exited from the outer cylinder because, at that point, only the largest items remained. They would travel down the closed inner cylinder to the collection bin at the left. The slots at the upper end of the outer cylinder were sized so that the smallest items to be sorted passed through and into a collection hopper shown at lower right. Medium sized items would travel down the outer cylinder to its left end where a plate would force them to fall into the middle collection hopper. Each collection hopper could be closed by slide-gates to hold the items until workers could empty them. While this patent model has provisions for just three grades of size, Mr. Heinz made note that his invention was not limited to any particular number. This patent improved upon an earlier one by Mr. Heinz which was Patent Number 197, 934, dated December 11, 1877. In a later patent (Number 212,849 dated March 4, 1879) Mr. Heinz and his brother and co-inventor, Henry J. Heinz (founder of the Heinz Company), provided further improvements in the sorter design. In that patent they limited their description to a design for sorting pickles. They did away with the concentric cylinders in favor of an inclined, vibrating box with exit slots of varying sizes to sort the pickles. In 1890 Mr. John H. Heinz again improved upon the designs with Patent Number 545,689, dated December 17, 1890. That design was for a more elaborate version of the concentric cylinder sorter.
The patent model is constructed of wood and metal. The model is complete and shows all the key elements of the patent with the exception of the collection hopper slide-gates which are missing. Diagrams showing the complete design can be found in the patent document online (
Object Name
patent model, vegetable assorter
Object Type
Patent Model
date made
ca 1879
patent date
Heinz, John H.
associated place
United States: Pennsylvania, Sharpsburg
overall: 10 in x 12 1/2 in x 7 1/2 in; 25.4 cm x 31.75 cm x 19.05 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
patent number
Patent Models
Food Processing
See more items in
Work and Industry: Agriculture
Inventing in America
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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