First published Feb. 5, 1987:
Have you ever heard of the Burns Typewriter? Did you know it was invented in Westfield? Does anyone remember Frank Burns who lived in our town from the time he was 16 years old until his death at the age of 74 in 1937? The Burns Typewriter was not his only invention. At an early age he constructed what is alleged to be the first steam driven automobile. Not fancy, but it worked, according to one report, and was "so far as it is known, the first horseless carriage ever operated." Another version of the story is that when he was 22 years old, Mr. Burns started to build a two cylinder steam automobile. It had three wheels and upon its completion it was found that the three wheels would not carry the load of the machine. Mr. Burns was a cooper, a maker of barrels, by trade. He had learned this trade from his father. He was also an expert locksmith and toolmaker and an expert in repairing adding machines and typewriters. The typewriter which he invented, said to be the first "modern" form of typewriter, was an improvement of the old Caligraph, the first one sold on the market. Mr. Burns' machine was manufactured in Buffalo and proved to be successful, but the company manufacturing it, for want of sufficient capital to compete with the Remington and other makes, was forced to discontinue manufacture. The centering type device, necessarily used by all typewriters to make perfect alignment of letters, was Mr. Burns' original idea, later adopted by all the other manufacturers of typing machines. The Westfield Republican of Dec. 15, 1937 says that Mr. Burns' crowning achievement in the inventive line was a device preventing jamming of cartridges in rapid firing guns. At the time of World War I all nations, including ours, had experienced difficulty in rapid fire guns. Clogging occurred in the mechanism controlling the feed of cartridges, especially in the guns in airplanes which were synchronized to expel bullets between the blades of the rapidly moving propellers. Mr. Burns' invention did away with such difficulty. "From a spirit of patriotism, Mr. Burns donated this invention to the United States government, which recognized its merit and has since successfully applied it to all its rapid fire appliances in the armed forces departments." Among Frank Burns' many inventions were a wire handle for grape baskets and a vaporizer for nose and throat. A little booklet issued by the Westfield High School class of 1901 entitled "The New Century" carried an advertisement for the Burns Vaporizer. It was a complicated looking contraption alleged to cure colds in one day and to be a sure cure for hay fever. The glass jar which held the water and anything the doctor ordered to increase its effectiveness was pretty and etched with a floral design. You might still find one of them in a local antique shop or on the top shelf of your own cupboard. The Burns Vaporizer Company was located in Westfield. Frank Burns had other interests in addition to his inventions. He was an ardent advocate of Dr. Townsend's scheme for old age pensions. Does anyone remember hearing of the Townsend Plan?
Full page advertisement which appeared in “The New Century” issued by the Westfield High School class of 1901. Clumsy though it was, if it could really cure a cold in one day or provide a sure cure for hay fever, perhaps it should be renovated.