An Anecdotal Memoir
Charles Templeton Home
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The man seated opposite appeared every bit the successful tycoon. There was authority in his speech and command in his presence. He exuded energy. We had been chatting during the meal but I had been reluctant to take his name, certain that he was known to everyone but me.
The occasion was an elaborate dinner at the York Club given by John Bassett to honor Gavin Astor, later Lord Astor, son of the publisher of the London Times. I was one of perhaps eighty guests. The tables were arranged in rows, and the man across from me had dominated the conversation around him, speaking spiritedly and informedly on a number of subjects. After a brief lull in the conversation, he addressed himself to me.
"Well now, Mr. Templeton, you left Maclean's because of a dust-up with management. What are you doing now?'
"Inventing," I said
"Inventing?" He was dubious. "You mean you're working at it full time?"
I was, except for the daily radio show I did with Berton. After I left Maclean’s, I decided to commit two years of my life to something I had long wanted to try - inventing. I knew something of the difficulties, having for year tinkered off and on with various devices. But more pressing matters had always intruded and I hadn't followed through. In this I was like ten thousand basement tinkerers (patent attorneys holiday in the Caribbean on us) who believe that, one day, we will come up with the ultimate gadget and live out our days hailed for our ingenuity and up to our wallets in royalty payments. (The odds against that happening, incidentally, are at least ten thousand to one) Regardless, I decided to take the gamble. At fifty-four, I was young enough to risk the time.
I rented a hole in the wall over the Toronto-Dominion bank on Yonge Street at Hayden. It was a tiny cubicle with only one window and it was barred. The floor was made of reinforced concrete to prevent access to the vault immediately below; exposed water and sanitary pipes ran across the ceiling long before it became fashionable. Perfect for my purposes. I moved in a draughtsman's table, a second-hand metal desk and a borrowed chair, purchased the necessary draughting materials and was ready to begin.
But at what project? You don't say, "Well now, it's Tuesday. I think I'll invent something. "Inventions meet needs, but first the need must be perceived. But how do you go about devising a solution to a perceived need? Observing that none of the available mousetraps are satisfactory, you decide to build a better one and begin by learning everything you can about mice and mousetraps. Then, for days and weeks and months, you puzzle to the point of obsession over ways to ensnare the tiny rodents. Early on you learn that, before you, other minds have asked the same questions. You carry on normal social intercourse, but much of your mind is off somewhere thinking mousetraps, to the frequent exasperation of those about you. You live mousetraps, you dream about mousetraps, your life revolves around mousetraps.
In the meantime, you test various approaches to the problem by making sketches or, if the idea seems promising, by making a model. A dozen times a light bulb may turn on in your brain and you utter the time-honored "Eureka!" only to follow it with the "Aaargh!" of disappointment. The course becomes trial and error. Idea after idea is conceived, then developed, then rejected.
Then one day, out of the blue, usually without warning, an idea will present itself, fully articulated and often surprising in its ingenuity. The sudden illumination is not the result of chance; it is the product of a gestation period in the unconscious. The process is so normal you come to depend on it. Set a question loose in your mind and keep asking it in different ways, and your unconscious will toil for you, independently, even as you sleep, and finally present you with a not unreasonable answer.
There follows the refining process: the making of detailed mechanical drawings, the fabrication of a model, consulting with patent attorneys. These are exciting days: the world is about to beat a path to your door. They are followed usually by a prolonged, disheartening search for a manufacturer or for someone who will help you market your realized dream.
(It if often said that the novelist's is the loneliest craft. I would argue that the life of the inventor is lonelier. Both seek in a solitary place to fashion something from nothing but thoughts.
But the writer's study becomes populated by characters. They are real people and they often become more real than family or friends as the book takes shape. The inventor works entirely alone. He lives with amorphous ideas, with inanimate things, and there is no companionship in them. )
Shortly after moving into my hideaway over the bank, I chanced to read in the business section of the Globe and Mail an article based on an interview with the federal deputy minister of mines and resources. He was bemoaning the lack of development in the north and appealing to Canadians to demonstrate the ingenuity through which this part of the nation could be exploited. Among the problems, he said, was the development of a system to transport the oil and gas believed to lie beneath the frozen wastes and waters.
I was intrigued and went to work.
The man across the table at the York Club was asking what I had invented.
"A system for transporting oil from the far north, “I said.
He looked at me from beneath lowered brows. “Do you know anything about the north country? Have you ever been there?"
"Not the far north, “I conceded. "The Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, Great Slave Lake. Not in winter, “I added, “and only for a few days. But I've read a good deal.”
"What are the major problems of constructing a pipeline in the north?" he asked. There was challenge in his voice.
"The weather, of course. The terrain. The permafrost. The fragile ecology. The migratory habits of the caribou.”
His frown deepened.” And you've worked out a system for transporting oil south?"
"Such as it is.”
“Tell me about it," he said. “But wait a minute. Before you do, have you protected it - your system, I mean? With the patent office.”
"Then don't give me any details. Just the general principles.” I described the system. His manner grew serious. He put a series of questions to me, repeating the injunction not to reply in specifics. Finally, he said, “Here’s what I'd like you to do: talk to a patent lawyer, get yourself some protection and then come and see me.”
Embarrassed, I said, "I'm sorry. I don't know who you are.”
"Bill Twaits," he said.
Of course: W. O. Twaits, president of Imperial Oil of Canada.
I met with a patent attorney and a few weeks later called Twaits. He asked me to come to his office the following morning at ten. He laughed and said, "I'll have northern vice-president with me.”
His office was what I expected: a penthouse; expansive, masculine, with a massive desk and deep leather chairs. He introduced me to three men: one his "northern vice-president" (there seemed to be an in-joke there that wasn't explained), another I took to be a lawyer and someone else. I had been working for months on the system, drawing every detail of the structures and devices. I spread a dozen whiteprints on a large coffee table and, for perhaps twenty minutes, explained what I had been up to. No one interrupted. When I was finished there were questions.
Twaits didn't mask his enthusiasm. He drew the others aside for a brief conversation and then returned to me.
"Harry Waste, “he said, “he’s president of the Bechtel Corporation. Do you know anything about Bechtel?"
I shook my head.
"Bechtel is the largest builder of pipelines in the world. Their headquarters is in San Francisco. They work for us and nearly everybody else in the oil business. Right now they're involved in enormous projects in Saudi Arabia and in other Arab countries. And in our north. Waste and some of his people will be here next week. I want you to meet him. I'll set it up.”
The following Monday morning I sat alone and nervous in a suite in the Royal York hotel waiting for Harry Waste. I'd been told by the man who left me there that Waste would see me when he was able to break from a meeting elsewhere in the hotel. But time was running on and I knew he had another appointment at noon . When he entered, flinging aside his jacket and shirt and tie while he said hello, he seemed unhappy to find me in his room. He was brusque and preoccupied. I got the impression he was seeing me because Twaits had pressed it on him.
"Okay," he said, glancing at his watch ,"you've got ten minutes. Let's see what you've got. '
I went though my drawings, making the necessary explanations. He changed his glasses to see better. When the time was up, he asked, “Can I keep these?" I said, “Yes.” "Good," he said,
heading for the door .”I'll get back to you.”
The following day, I received a telephone call from a Ray Christopherson in Bechtel's San Francisco office, and later in the day from Bruce Wilson, Bechtel's Canadian rep. He wanted some basic information - mailing address, telephone number, and so on. In the course of our conversation, he asked if I would like to try my hand at a particular problem the company was facing. Apparently, in laying pipeline to Europe from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, it was necessary to avoid rounding the eastern end of the Mediterranean. (Although he made no reference to it, I presumed that the object was to stay clear of Israel. ) A decision had been made to cross the Mediterranean to Italy but great difficulty and many delays were being encountered laying pipe in bad weather. In an oddly offhand way, he suggested that I
might want to give it thought.
I spent weeks working on the problems, and devised two systems to stabilize the "mother ship.” I was directed to be in touch with German-Milne, a shipbuilding company in Montreal, and flew there to confer with their senior people. The meeting was cordial and encouraging but nothing came of it.
Nor did anything come of my meeting with Harry Waste. Five months passed before I heard from John Lynch, vice-president of Bechtel's pipeline division. They had examined may proposals carefully, he said, but had decided that they were too costly to implement.
It was the first of a series of near misses - although on a grander scale than my others. As I would learn, it was typical of the inventor's life.
In 1970, as now, most smokers were worried about the risk of emphysema and lung cancer. The report by the Surgeon General of the United States had frightened many, but the initial alarm had diminished and most of the addicted had temporized by switching to filter cigarettes. The emphasis at the time was on longer cigarettes, one brand boasting that its greater length "travels the smoke farther on its way to your throat. “I set myself to inventing a filter that would be more effective than those on the market.
I finally settled on a system that replaced the usual filter with a plastic helical coil, three-quarters of an inch in length. The principle was this: the smoke, on reaching the helical coil, would be carried around the circumference in descending circles until it emerged. In traveling three-quarters of an inch, it would thus traverse approximately nine inches. During that time, it would be cooled and, at the same time, would deposit a considerable proportion of the tars and nicotine on the walls of the coil.
I made the necessary drawings and prepared a three-foot long model of the coil carved from a cylinder of insulating foam and covered with clear plastic so that the action within could be observed. When smoke was blown in one end, it could clearly be perceived moving in descending circles until it vented at the end. The effect was dramatic and impressive.
I called John Devlin, president of Rothman's, and made an appointment. He agreed to see me as a courtesy, I'm sure, but when I laid before him the drawings and demonstrated the movement of the smoke through the model, he became visibly excited. He asked if I had done a patent search. I hadn't-it's an expensive process, and in 1970 cost between three hundred and one thousand dollars. He told me not to concern myself about it; he would have the search made in Washington and in The Hague, where most patents related to the tobacco industry are registered. In the meantime, he would have a number of filters hand-made and tested at Rothman's research facility in Quebec City. He impressed on me the need for total secrecy in the meantime.
As I was leaving, Devlin escorted me through the Rothman's packaging plant. Once again I was high on the roller-coaster ride of anticipation. As I watched the tens of thousands of cigarettes being packaged, I added a Templeton filter to each one, paying myself a royalty of a fraction of a penny for each one of course.
All new ideas are not patenctable, of course. To be granted a patent, a device must meet three criteria: it must be novel, it must be inventive and must have a practical application.
A patent search in an interesting if tedious process. There are men and women who spend their days questing through the multiplied thousands of patents on file in the various capitals of the world. The object of their search is to discover if some previous invention incorporates any or all of the principles used in the proposed device. If in this search a previous patent is discovered, there is little you can do about it. You have been preempted by some inventor who, years or decades earlier, hit upon the idea
you thought you had been first to grasp.
When your patent attorney forwards copies of the few or many patents that incorporate principles or systems similar in some way to your device, you examine them with a combination of trepidation and fascination. If you find that your concept is not original, your work has been wasted and the money spent having the search made is gone. The fascination derives from examining the work of other inventors. Some of the devices are brilliant, of course, but the vast majority are gadgets which any amateur can see are of no practical use.
But now the report from the search in Washington was in, and the news was bad. In 1894, in a day before cigarettes were commonly mass-produced and most smokers rolled their own, a man in Wyoming patented the idea of passing cigarette smoke through a helical coil. He proposed in his application that the filter be made of wood or clay (plastics were unknown), inserted at one end of the hand-rolled cigarette, and at the end of the day, washed with soap and water. Impractical as it may have been, it pre-empted my idea. Moreover, with the passage of more than seventeen years, it was now "in the public domain," and any manufacturer who wished to use the idea was free to do so.
There was further bad news. The coils that had been tested on smoking machines at the Rothman's laboratory demonstrated that, while the idea seemed valid in theory, it was not effective. The first puffs of smoke were indeed cooled by their extended passage through the filter but, once the filter was heated, the smoke emerged hotter than would normally be the case. And the amounts of nicotine and tar precipitated on the walls of the coil were negligible.
To help me market an invention with a military application, I turned to, of all unlikely people, Billy Graham. Billy's influence opened doors at the Pentagon in Washington, D. C. , and provided access to the senior research and development people in the United States military establishment.
The war in Vietnam was at its height. In my reading, I came upon an article delineating the plight of American pilots downed in the jungle or behind enemy lines. Some were captured, some starved, some died of their injuries. Common to the incidents was the fact that search-and-rescue aircraft often flew nearby but the downed pilot had no way to signal his whereabouts. So I devised a system that would allow a downed pilot to signal to his rescuers without betraying his presence. Seeking the opportunity to demonstrate it to the United States military, I wrote the Pentagon. There was no reply. A number of telephone calls was fruitless.
Billy Graham was a close friend of the incumbent president, Richard Nixon, and a frequent visitor at the White House. I took advantage of Billy's and my long friendship to telephone him, reaching him on vacation at a resort in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California.
"Billy," I said, "I have an invention that I'm convinced could be useful to the American forces in Vietnam. It will save lives. I'd like to demonstrate it to you and, if you feel that you wish to do so, I'd like you to see if you can arrange for me to show it to someone at the Pentagon.”
Billy responded in his typically friendly way by inviting me to fly to California and to stay with him at his hotel. I didn't accept the offer of hospitality, but did fly to Los Angeles, registered at the Beverly Hilton, and the following day, drove to Huntington Beach.
Billy was tanned and looked fit. I had brought bathing trunks and for a couple of hours exposed my Canadian winter-pale skin to the California sun. We swam, ate by the pool and talked about old times. Away from the public area, I demonstrated the device.
Billy said, "Chuck, I have no talent for mechanical things, but it looks like a sensational idea. I'll be glad to talk to somebody
He picked up the telephone. "Operator, I want to talk person-to-person to Mr. Melvin Laird in Washington, D. C. Yes, Melvin Laird, the secretary of defense. Try the White House first and then the Pentagon.”
Within minutes the operator called back. "Hello, Mel? It's Billy Graham. How are you?" His voice exuded cordiality. "I'm fine, thank you. Yes, Ruth is fine - I'll tell her you were asking. . . . Mel, I want you to know I pray for you every day. And for the president and the other members of the cabinet; that God will bless you in your tremendous task. . . . Thank you, I appreciate your prayers. Mel, I'll tell you why I'm calling. I have here with me one of my oldest and dearest friends. He's a Canadian and his name is Charles Templeton. The best way I know to describe him is to tell you he's the Walter Cronkite of Canada.” In a chair nearby, I flinched. "In addition to his broadcasting," Billy went on, "he's an inventor. He's flown here from Toronto to show me something designed to save the lives of our boys in Vietnam. Now Mel, I'm not qualified to judge whether it's a good idea or not, but it certainly impresses me. I really do think somebody should look at it. But I wouldn't want him to get passed off on somebody who wouldn't do anything - you know what I mean. Could you speak to the right person. . . ?"
He came from the phone to tell me that someone from the Pentagon would be in touch. Three hours later when I arrived back at my hotel, there was a message to call, as I recall it, a Mr. Janssen at the Pentagon. My contact was businesslike but deferential.
"Mr. Templeton, perhaps we can set up an appointment now.”
"I can pretty well suit your convenience," I said.
"At your convenience, sir," he said. "Just let me know when you'll be in Washington.”
"How about Thursday at ten?"
"Yes sir. If you give my office a call when you arrive, I'll send a staff car to your hotel.”
The system I would demonstrate incorporates a six-foot by six-foot sheet of reflecting material, so polarized that when it is viewed through a compatible rotating disk, it alternately flashes black and white. I wanted to stage my demonstration as dramatically as possible, so I had the driver show me where Mr. Janssen's office was and laid out my material on the lawn beneath his window.
Janssen was dressed in a jacket and slacks and greeted me without military stiffness. I gathered that he was the civilian head of the Pentagon's research and development branch. We talked for a while, then I led him to one of the windows. Three stories below, on the lawn, he could see the nondescript gray square of polarized material.
"Imagine a downed pilot, at sea in a raft or in a clearing in the jungle," I said.” He is without power and doesn't dare show a light. He unfolds a sheet of material like the one you see down there and places it on the ground or floats it on the water. And that's it. Search-and-rescue aircraft then merely sight through a rotating spinner like this, and here's what they see.”
I passed the spinner to him. He looked through it, peering at the polarized area three stories below. "Jesus Christ!" he said.
He experimented with the spinner, asking me a series of questions. Then he went to a telephone, punched a number and we were joined by another man in civvies. He was introduced as the head of a research department. The two of them went to the window and for perhaps five minutes examined and discussed the display below.
After an extended conversation, I went with the research head to his cluttered office. We were joined by two other men, obviously scientists, both in civilian clothes. One of the men questioned me about my technical training and, learning of its sketchy nature, seemed vaguely resentful, and said nothing further. An hour later, I was returned to Mr. Janssen.
"I'll be in touch soon," he said.
A letter came the following week informing me that a series of tests would be made. I heard nothing further for three months and then received a detailed report. The material I had left with them had been experimented with and tested in various locales under a variety of conditions: on the roof of the Pentagon, with flights of Grumman fighter aircraft doing air-to-ground studies; floated on the surface of Chesapeake Bay, its effectiveness tested by planes from an aircraft carrier; and so on. Other experiments were conducted over both open and forested land areas. In all, more than $200,000 was spent.
In the end, rejection. There has been high expectation at first, but finally the project was abandoned. Two reasons were given: new sighting devices were being introduced that could perceive body warmth night or day, and from great heights, and the problem I had sought to meet had been largely resolved. Additionally, viewed from the air, the great amount of polarized light reflected from bodies of water or after a rainfall diminished the effectiveness of my device. It was a great disappointment.
In the meantime, I had been working at devising a childproof safety closure for containers holding dangerous substances. Again, my interest had been stimulated by an article in a newspaper. A child of three had drunk from a bottle of household bleach and had only been saved by prompt action at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Not many days later, another child downed a bottleful of aspirin and almost died. I would try to design a cap or closure that would make such accidents unlikely.
Researching the problem, I was astonished to find how many children swallow harmful substances and how indifferent government and manufacturers were to the danger. The poison centre at the Hospital for Sick Children alone receives forty thousand calls a year, and in 85 percent of the cases something hurtful has been swallowed.
The initial question was, of course, why does a child try to ingest such substances as bleach or aspirin? The taste of either is abhorrent to an adult. I learned that there are only four kinds of taste buds on the tongue - sweet, sour, salt and bitter - that they mature at various times and that they are not all fully functional until a child nears four years of age. The sweet-sensitive buds are concentrated on the tip of the tongue, sour flavours are detected at the sides of the tongue and bitter flavours at the back. Thus, a young child eating aspirin will not be deterred by the taste.
There was an ingenious closure on the market. It could be opened only if downward pressure was exerted while it was being turned. This foiled children, but it had disadvantages: it was difficult for older people and arthritics to operate; early models did not effect a tight seal, and were therefore unsuitable to contain liquids. I set out to circumvent both of these problems.
After three months of experiments and trying dozens of options, I found a solution. I refined the basic idea, worked out adaptations for various applications and constructed a crude working model. It met all the basic requirements: it was tamper- proof for children, yet relatively easy to operate for the old and the infirm. It sealed tightly, did not present problems in fabrication and was inexpensive.
I have an advantage over most independent inventors. Because of my public activities I am well known, and this usually enables me to reach the president or some senior officer in a Canadian company, at least to arrange an appointment. My first contact was with Anchor Cap and Closure, a Toronto firm. The president showed immediate interest. I left him a set of whiteprints and a textual description and was assured that he would be in touch soon. Weeks passed. When I reached him he was full of excuses for failing to contact me. He had, he said, held meetings with members of his staff, had checked the design with manufacturers of moulds and was now ready to introduce it to two of his largest customers. However, when weeks passed and I received nothing but vague responses, I notified him that I was withdrawing my submission. At that point he told me that the companies he had showed the closure to were definitely interested but had decided not to proceed.
"Are they satisfied with the concept?" I asked. "Are they convinced it will provide the protection?"
"Absolutely. No problem there.”
"Then what's the problem?"
"Cost. Not that the closure would cost more per unit once it's in production, but there would be development costs. There would have to be some changes on the assembly line. And they would
want to do some market testing and follow that with an ad campaign. They think they'll stay with what they have for now.”
I was astounded. "Are you saying that, knowing their product is hazardous to children, and with the opportunity to make a change in packaging that would effectively end that possibility, they're unprepared to act?"
"They prefer to wait until the government requires everybody to make a change," he said. "That way they won't be at a competitive disadvantage.”
I went next to Crawford-Birrell Inc. , a manufacturer of plastic containers in Rexdale; I was becoming impatient with Canadian corporate conservatism and Crawford-Birrell had an association with Owens Illinois, one of the largest manufacturers of glass and plastic containers in the world. Birrell, the president, was enthusiastic and, on his next trip to the United States, took with him the specifications for my closure. I revived a letter from Owens Illinois inviting me to their Toledo, Ohio headquarters. The plant was impressive. Modern in design, it sprawls over acres of land on the outskirts of the city. A vice-president of the company took me on a tour of the bustling premises and introduced me to half a dozen officials. I spent the remainder of the day in discussion with two of their engineers and returned to Toronto buoyed by the energy and drive of the Americans.
A sudden roadblock: a letter came from Owens Illinois informing me that their legal counsel had done a patent search and was of the opinion that my design might infringe on an existing license. I'd had a search done earlier and had turned up the patent in question. My attorney had advised me at the time that, while there was one aspect of similarity, there was no infringement. Moreover, the other device was too complex to be technically feasible. And too costly. I so informed Owens Illinois, but their attorney counseled them not to proceed until the possibility of infringement had been ruled out.
After days of sleuthing, tracking him through three cities, I found the inventor in Washington, D. C. He was the executive officer of the United States Airline Pilots Association. I flew to Washington.
He was quite open with me. He had spent months of time and thousands of dollars obtaining a patent and then seeking to interest manufacturers and had finally written off the entire experience as an adventure. Now, seeing an opportunity to recoup his losses and make a profit, and realizing that without him I was forestalled in my negotiations, he asked half of any royalties that might accrue. I agreed, and he assigned his rights to me.
I met immediately with Owens Illinois, to tell them that the infringement problem had been resolved. They were enthusiastic about the project; I returned to Toronto, hopes high.
I never heard from them again. Telephone calls went unreturned. I wrote, but there were no replies. I don't know why. I know only from other inventors that it is not uncommon behavior. I had heard horror stories (some of which are true) about great corporations stealing ideas and devices and I became convinced that this was what was afoot. So far as I know, my suspicions were groundless.
After two more attempts to sell the closure, I put it aside. As a change of pace, I turned to simpler tasks, and spent some weeks trying to devise children's toys. One day, after changing the ribbon on my typewriter, I tossed the empty metal portion into the wastebasket. After a moment's reflection, I retrieved it. It consisted of two metal disks joined by a central axle. Experimenting, I placed it on the edge of a yardstick, let it roll down the slope and, as it approached the end, lofted it spinning into the air. It behaved as I hoped it would - the torque produced by the rotation kept it upright. Good, I thought: a properly designed spinner (the ribbon-holder) fitted to a wand (the yardstick) would produce a spinning disk that could be flipped into the air and, with some practice, caught again on the wand. Two players could toss it back and forth like a vertical Frisbee. I worked on the design and had a model made at a cost of $180.
Watching my children play with a bolo-bat - whacking a tiny rubber ball to the length of an elastic and striking it again and again as it returned to the bat - I asked myself: what if I were to remove the face of the paddle, leaving only the rim? Would it be possible, instead of striking the ball, to have it pass back and forth within the rim? I fashioned a crude model from a coat hanger and practiced. It took some perseverance, but as I got better at it, it was fun.
I called the first game "Spinaroo" and the second "Hoop Ball," and took them with other concepts for children's games to the Ideal Toy Company in Toronto. They were taken by the first two and rushed samples into production in order to be ready for showing at the annual Canadian Toy Fair. Both are "action toys," and need to be demonstrated to be appreciated. (Who would buy ahula hoop hanging on a wall?) Ideal had agreed to hire teenagers to demonstrate both "Spinaroo" and "Hoop Ball" to passersby, but didn't. Orders were few.
A Canadian Armed Forces training aircraft went down in the Ungava region of Labrador. According to newspaper reports, the only equipment for signaling to search-and-rescue planes was a small hand mirror, a standard part of the survival kit stowed aboard aircraft flying over uninhabited territory. The mirror was a circle of chrome-plated metal with a hole in the centre. A downed airman peered through the peep-hole at an aircraft passing overhead; while sighting on the plane, he was to attempt to reflect the sunlight on it. It was obvious even to a child that it was a totally inefficient system. its effectiveness depending almost entirely on chance. It angered me that a downed pilot's chance of being sighted might rest on such an amateurish device.
I set to work to improve it and came up with a heliograph-sighting device that would enable the user to direct the sun's rays at a target. (Incidentally, in developing an early model, I sustained a macula, a permanent opaque scar on the retina of my left eye. ) The device was small enough to be included in a survival pack, simple to operate and cost less than ten dollars to manufacture. I took it to the Canadian Armed Forces base in Toronto, demonstrated it to a Captain Kemp and, at his request, left it with him so that tests could be made.
There were the usual delays. Tests were conducted by personnel at the base. The report confirmed that the device was practical and a major improvement over the system being used. But nothing happened. After four months and many evasions, Kemp confessed that," We don't have the budget to proceed. It's as simple as that.”
He was chagrined over the enforced inaction and sought to be helpful. He referred me to two officers at the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio. I didn't follow through. The two years I had committed to inventing had expired, and I was driven by necessity to work at a job offering a greater likelihood of remuneration.
This was not my first disappointment at the hands of the military. I had demonstrated a number of polarized signaling and training devices to Air Vice-Marshall F. W. Ball, Deputy Chief, Plans at the Department of Defense in Ottawa. The meeting with Ball and a group of half a dozen senior officers had been arranged by Paul Hellyer, who was then Minister of Defense. Not all the devices were mine; some had been developed by an American company with which I had a connection. I submitted the proposals, evaluations of them made by the Sheppard Technical Training Center at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, and a detailed analysis of the use of the processes by both the U. S. Army's Birdie Air Defense System and the Royal Air Force's technical staff in England.
The officers present at the two-hour demonstration were gung-ho, but as months passed, I found myself shifted from one department to another. No one, it seemed, had the authority or the wit either to conclude the discussions or to move them forward. No one said no, but neither did they say yes, and after a while I wearied of the game.
A system for joining plastic pipe (PVC) in the field was of interest to Dom-X, a Toronto firm. With my participation, they conducted several months of experiments. The end result? - "I'm sorry. Mr. Templeton, we would like very much to proceed but, quite candidly, we don't have the money for R and D" (research and development).
A bed-chair for invalids or for people who simply like to laze abed went to Liberty Ornamental, a manufacturer of tubular chrome furniture. The president asked for the right to develop it and promised to make a prototype. Months passed - "The furniture business is slow right now.” It took two months to get the drawings back.
A twelve-pack canned-drink dispenser went to the Canadian subsidiary of Continental Can. It was a corrugated cardboard container; it was light and portable, and dispensed individual cans. After three meetings, the response was, "Sorry. Most of our new product research and development is done by the parent plant in the states.”
An expandable wrench with increased leverage was shown to Aikenheads, the hardware people. The response was, “Ingenious. We could sell that. I suggest you take it to Crescent Tools in Jamestown, New York.”
In two years I invented and made detailed working drawings or models of twenty-seven devices. In developing them I spent in excess of sixteen thousand dollars. I did not make five cents. (Oddly enough, while concluding this book, I sold two games to Wadding tons - the House of Games. )
I have talked to other Canadian inventors, Some of them men of virtuoso ingenuity, and their experiences are akin to mine. I found one common complaint: Canadian companies lack imagination, daring and aggressiveness. Most are reluctant to allocate money for the research and development of new products; many are indecisive; too many depend for innovations and new products on parent firms outside Canada. Almost without exception, the inventors I met were frustrated and discouraged. The federal and the Ontario governments have each set up organizations to counsel with and help inventors. I contacted both of them. There was much talk and some encouragement but little practical help.
My experience showed me that there are literally thousands of Canadians working alone in basements and home workshops. The majority are tinkerers, but there are many others with genuine talent who have become frustrated and discouraged and, as I did, finally, give up. And Canada is the loser.
In ideas in Exile, his massive study of Canadian inventors and inventions, J. J. Brown writes:
Canadians have made contributions to world science and technology out of all proportion to their small number. Some Canadian inventions made possible major world industries, but we have ended up importing from England, Belgium, Italy and the United States billions of dollars of equipment invented here. This is our basic problem as a nation: a conservatism carried to the extreme of idiocy. If not corrected soon, it will leave us unable to compete as an industrial nation in the modern world.
The problems and discouragements faced by the Canadian inventor are many and forbidding. Usually years go by between the conception of a new idea and its sale to a manufacturer. But the amateur inventor is a valuable resource, and if Canada is going to increase its manufacturing, its productivity, its exports and its balance of payments - even as it creates jobs - it is going to have to resolve this particular problem of waste.
In the meantime, anyone interested in the rights to a simple device that enables even the unskilled to drive a woodscrew without having it twist away beneath the screwdriver. . . or a revolutionary typewriter table that eliminates backache. . . or a system to shield the operator of a computer terminal from emissions. . . or even a new form of chess, simple enough to be enjoyed by a child yet complex enough to challenge a "master". . .