Solomon Pool

A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.
Wystan Hugh Auden

Solomon Pool (1832-1901)
Solomon Pool (1832-1901)

In June 1873, Solomon Pool of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, former professor and President of the University of North Carolina, at that time working as a principal of a school in Cary, NC, applied for a patent for small and handy adding machine. Patent was granted on 23 September 1873 (US patent No. 143184) (see the lower image). Unfortunately, besides the patent application, nothing is known about the peculiar calculating machine of Solomon Pool, so obviously it remained only on paper, and even the patent model of the device didn’t survive (up to 1880, the US Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application).

Let’s examine the portable and handy calculating machine of Solomon Pool, using the patent application.

Solomon Pool's adding machine (the patent drawing)
Solomon Pool’s adding machine (the patent drawing)

The adding machine of Solomon Pool was a small cylindrical adding device with numerical capacity of 999 (although Pool mentioned that a ring for thousands, or rings for any number which represents a power of ten, may be employed).

The input and zeroing of the device was made by rotating of the revolving (rotary) plate B, b, b’, which can be rotated in both directions. The revolving plate, confined between a stationary base and face-plate, and carrying a loose series of numbered concentric rings with a peculiar decimal trip, is moved by projecting pins on an exterior flange. The stationary face-plate is provided with suitable reading-openings, with a set of figures near the outer edge, and with two sets of engaging-dogs for each ring-one of them for bringing the rings all to zero at the radial window, and the other set for separately acting on the particular ring under operation.

The tens carry mechanism is implemented by means of a pawl, witch catches a ratchet-tooth, and carries the motion to the next ring.

Biography of Solomon Pool

The young Solomon Pool in early 1850s
The young Solomon Pool in early 1850s

Solomon Pool was born on 21 April 1832 at Elmwood on the Pasquotank, the Pool plantation, located several miles SE from Gatesville, North Carolina. His father, also Solomon Pool (28 April 1787–10 Jan. 1832), was a wealthy slave holding planter of English descent, from a family prominent in northeastern North Carolina since 1679 (first Pool, also named Solomon, emigrated from Middlesex to Pasquotank in 1670s). His mother, Martha (Gaskins) Pool (10 November 1797–17 February 1838), was of French Huguenot ancestry.

The young Solomon was the last of seven children (5 boys and 2 girls) in the family. Unfortunately his father died before his birth, and his mother died when he was only five. Young Solomon was raised on the plantation by his eldest brother, George Decatur Pool (1817-1879) (see the lower image), a farmer, philanthropist and county commissioner, who became active in the Republican party. Besides George, Solomon had two brothers of note: John (1826–1884), a lawyer and U.S. senator, and William Gaskins (1829-1887), a physician.

Solomon prepared for college in Elizabeth City and entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1849 (his brother John graduated two years before). Solomon graduated in 1853, the second honor student in a class of 59. While in the University, he was a member of the Philanthropic Society. In December 1853 he became tutor of mathematics at the University, and in 1856 he received an honorary alumni master’s degree. In 1861 Pool was promoted to adjunct professor of math and held the position for five years. In 1866 Pool took a leave of absence to accept a more lucrative position ($5,000 per year) as U.S. deputy appraiser in North Carolina, with the agreement that the floundering university would not be obligated to reemploy him until he was needed.

George Decatur Pool (1817-1879)
George Decatur Pool (1817-1879)

Although brought up within the realm of slavery, Pool rejected its basic ideas. When he reached his age of majority in 1853, slaves valued at several thousand dollars whom he had inherited, came under his control. To these he offered their freedom, but they declined to accept it. He opposed the secession of the southern states, and during the entire Civil War was known as an outspoken Union man.

In 1869 Pool returned to the University of North Carolina to accept the presidency (he was permitted to keep his appraiser’s job at the same time). Reconstruction governor William W. Holden had taken charge of the university’s board of trustees to ensure that someone with the appropriate Republican affiliations would be chosen president. At thirty-seven, Pool seemed to fit their specifications and was hired as fifth President of the University for $1,500 per year.

While Pool was president, the university continued its postwar deterioration. Buildings were neglected and overgrown, and campus trees were cut down for firewood. Pool incurred the wrath of many North Carolinians by, among other things, charging that the university was ruled too much by the landed eastern aristocracy and said that if no white students came to fill classes, he would enroll blacks.

In January 1871 Pool addressed alumni and friends of the university, pleading for money to pay off the university’s debts. However, it was too late—the trustees decided that the institution should close on 1 February 1871 and Pool’s title was taken away by a court order. He then became principal of a small country school in Cary for three years, during this time he invented his adding machine.

Solomon Pool (1832-1901)
Rev. Solomon Pool (1832-1901)

Pool converted to the Methodist Episcopal church in Elizabeth City at age fourteen and became licensed to preach in 1856. He was ordained deacon at Raleigh in 1862 and elder at Fayetteville in 1865. He preached once a month at the college chapel while in Chapel Hill and was often called upon to preach in various North Carolina cities after he left the university. In 1885 Pool was received into the North Carolina Conference of the church and was sent to Smithfield. He was transferred frequently, filling in wherever he was needed, to towns such as Charlotte, Greensboro, Concord, and Camden.

Solomon Pool married Cornelia Kirkland (1840-1920) (the daughter of Joseph and Martha Kirkland), a native of Hillsboro, living in Chapel Hill, on 9 June 1856. The Pools had six sons and two daughters: Edward Irwing (1861-1944), Warren Doggett (1867-1938), Solomon Clifton (1869-1930), Joseph Eugene (1871–1938), Theodore August (1873–1933), Clarence Kirkland (1873–1950), Cornelia Mae (1876–1951), and Lillie Freshwater (1878–1965).

Reverend Solomon Pool was short, stocky, curly-haired little man with a benign manner, soft voice and pompous ways. On 2 September 1896, while ending a revival sermon at South Mills in Camden County, NC, Pool was stricken with paralysis. He recovered partially but remained in poor health and died five years later, on 8 April 1901, in Greensboro, NC.