On 31 December 1895, Fred Wendt, an inventor from Marshfield, Wisconsin, filed a patent application for a keyboard-operated adding machine. The patent (see US patent Nr. 563435) was granted on 7 July 1896. Besides the patent application, nothing is known about this calculating machine, so obviously it remained only on paper and was not put into production. In fact, Fred Wendt assigned his patent to the brothers Matthias and Jacob Nick, who were the owners of successful furniture and undertaking business in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, so we can easily guess that the adding machine was ordered by the brothers to be used in their daily business tasks.
The keyboard has only five square keys (similar to piano keys), the remaining four figures being obtained by striking combinations of the other five. The sums not exceeding one hundred are indicated upon a units dial (large side wheel), while the sums exceeding one hundred are indicated upon a hundreds-dial (the small wheel in front), which is actuated by means connected with the units dial to register the hundreds successively as they are indicated upon the units-dial.
Upon one extremity of the main shaft and contiguous to the outer surface of one side of the case is a units-dial, preferably provided with an upstanding flange, which is graduated from “1” to “100,” and which operates contiguous to a stationary pointer, secured to the side of the case. This dial is preferably provided with a knob or handle, whereby the main shaft and gear may be turned with the units-dial to its initial position.
Biography of Fred Wendt
Little is known about the inventor Fred H. Wendt. Besides the patent for the adding machine, he was a holder of some ten other patents in the USA and Canada (dated from 1890 to 1922) mainly for railway machinery like car-coupling, railway signal, knuckle opener, and a design patent for a bottle. In all his patents Wendt is specified as living in Marshfield, Wisconsin, except the last one (USD61075 from 1922), where he is specified as living in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Fred’s parents—Christoph Albert Heinrich Wendt (1827-1912) and Charlotte Karoline Luisa Gaulke-Wendt (1834-1917) were natives of Germany who came to America with their children in 1867. The family had seven children: the boys Herman Frederick (born 1856, obviously he is our hero Fred H. Wendt), Anton L. (1858-1940), Wilhelm (William) (1860-1927), Albert C. (1866-1952), and Louis August Karl (1870-1954), and two daughters—Alvina (1862-1947) and Auguste Henriette Carolin (1863-1925). Initially, Wendts settled in Watertown, Wisconsin, but in 1885, the family (except Anton) moved to Marshfield, Wisconsin. In 1892, Fred Wendt together with his brother Albert C. and several other citizens of Marshfield, incorporated a company to produce the patented Wendt car coupler, and in 1893 his invention was presented at World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but obviously without big success, although the invented device was used by Wisconsin Central Railroad in the 1890s.
Fred Wendt married Johannah Kellerman (born 1860) and they had three sons—Fred Henry (1884-1949), Elias Richard Albert (1884–1974), and Arthur William (1889-1954), and a daughter—Dora Maria (b. 1893). Fred Wendt Sr. remained in Marshfield until 1915 when he returned to Watertown, where he died in 1933.
Luckily, there is some more information about the assignees of the patent, Nick brothers from Tomahawk, Wisconsin.
Jacob (1860-1937) and Matthias (aka Mathew and Matt) (1862-1949) Nick were born in Germany, on the Rhine, as sons of Johann (John) (1819-1893) and Katherine Margaretha Nick (1826-1912). Johann was a baker by trade, and after conducting a bakery for some time in Germany, he emigrated with his wife and family to the United States, settling in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Jacob as a boy attended school in his native place and subsequently learned the cabinet and burial casket maker’s trade, which for a time he followed there. It was in 1882 that he came to the United States, settling in Milwaukee, and he there followed his trade until 1889. He then came to Tomahawk and with his brother Matt opened a furniture store and undertaking business (one the first funeral homes in Tomahawk), adopting the business style of Nick Bros. The business prospered and at the end of eight years, Jacob bought out his brother Matt and carried on with the assistance of his two sons, the firm becoming Jacob Nick & Sons. They manufacture burial caskets for the trade, making 14 complete caskets a day, which were sold in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and also manufactured tables and carries on a general furniture business.
In 1903 Jacob built a sawmill, a shingle mill, and excelsior (a type of packing material) mill at Spirit Falls, which he operated subsequently for six years, at the end of which time he turned them over to his brother Matt. Jacob Nick, Sr., married in Milwaukee in 1887 to Katherine Herte, and they had five children, namely, Jacob J., William M., Isabelle M., Benjamin L. and George M. All the sons were associated with their father in business.
Note: Biographical information for Fred Wendt Sr. was kindly provided by Kim Krueger, the Coordinator of the North Wood County Historical Society.