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Royal Earl House papers

Creation: 1885-1891
Accession: 1995


Royal Earl House (1814-1895) was an American inventor who patented an electic telegraph that could print Roman character letters and an electro-phonetic receiver for use in telegraphy. The collection is comprised of twenty-nine letters to House regarding his suit against the Bell monopoly for the phonetic telegraph, from 1885 to 1891.


  • Creation: 1885-1891



29 item(s)

Biographical Note

Royal Earl House (1814-1895) was an American inventor who patented an electic telegraph that could print Roman character letters and an electro-phonetic receiver for use in telegraphy.

House was born on September 9, 1814 in Rockland, Vermont. While he was still an infant, the family moved to Choconut, a small hamlet in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While still a teen, he devised the construction of a submerged water wheel for a saw mill, which afterwards became known as the "scroll wheel." In 1839, House secured a patent for a machine to saw barrel staves.

In the early 1840s, House went to Buffalo, New York with the intention of studying law with a relative residing there. However, gaining access to a limited number of scientific books, he became interested in electric experiments, which soon became his passion. He returned home to undertake electrical experiements.

From 1840 to 1844, House concentrated his effort on the production of an electric-telegraph record in printed Roman characters. He possessed the unusual capacity of designing mechanical structures without drawings. In early 1844, he went to New York to have them constructed, made in several establishments, assembled by House, and exhibited as a printing telegraph in operation at the American Institute Fair. With funds procured from its display, House perfected the device over the next two years, being issued a patent in 1846. The instrument was capable of printing messages at the rate of more than fifty words a minute.

House was successful in interesting capital, with the result that between 1847 and 1855 an extensive range of telegraph lines equipped with his printing telegraph was erected from New York to Boston and Washington, and west to Cleveland and Cincinnati, and operated with great commercial success. He was the first to employ stranded wire, and succeeded in spanning the Hudson River at Fort Lee, establishing permenent telegraphic communications between New York and Philadelphia.

In 1849, he was sued for infringement by the owners of the Morse patents and won the suit. After the general consolidation of competitive telegraphic interests took place, around 1850, House's apparatus gradually went out of use.

In the early 1850s, House settled in Binghamton, New York, where he resided for many years, continuing his experimental work in electricity and patenting many of his devices. During the 1860s House developed an electro-phonetic receiver for use in telegraphy. This device was really an early telephone and many observers felt it was superior to the telephone that Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) patented in 1876. In 1885 Bell sued House for patent infringement. Again, House won in court but his device lost in the marketplace.

In 1885, House removed to Bridgeport, Connecticut where he lived the rest of his life. He married Theresa Thomas (1815-1891) in 1846 New York City. He died February 23, 1895 in Bridgeport.

Scope and Contents

Twenty-nine letters to Royal Earl House (1814-1895), American telegraph inventor, regarding House's suit against the Bell monopoly for the phonetic telegraph, from 1885 to 1891. Included are letters from House's patent lawyers A.M. Wooster and Leonard Pope. Also included are letters from the Wallace Electric Telephone Manufacturing Co. which was manufacturing the House telephone during the 1880s. Other items include program of the thirteenth annual lecture season of the Bridgeport Scientific Society, annual pastoral letter from Park Street Congregational Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the centennial edition of "The Bell News" featuring highlights of Bell's career.

Full list of correspondents include: A.B. Amory, telegraph engineer; J.G. Fountain; W.A. Smith, New Jersey Supreme Court; Edwin Ross, Morristown, New Jersey; A.J. Todd, New York attorney; T.W. Tyrer, the Emmner Improved Telephone Co.; Sterling Wallace, Household Electric Light Manufacturing Co., New York; Thomas Wallace, Wallace Electric Telephone Manufacturing Co., New York; James C. Ward, New York attorney; W.O. Lewis, Marine News agent; H.F. Newbury, Holmes' Burglar Alarm Telegraph Co.; A.M. Wooster, patent lawyer; George W. Phelps, president, The Electrical Engineer; and Franklin Leonard Pope, patent lawyer.

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No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

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Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Royal Earl House papers
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Revision Statements

  • 2021: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA