Rollin H. White Honored by National Inventors Hall of Fame

Cletrac founder and inventor of the flash boiler, Rollin H. White, inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Rollin H White Certificate

Rollin H. White was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame on May 3, 2011.

Photo by Landis Zimmerman

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A leader in agricultural equipment manufacturing was honored posthumously last year when the National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted Rollin H. White. Founder of the Cleveland Tractor Co. and the Cletrac line, White was inducted specifically for his invention of a flash boiler that generated steam safely and rapidly in steam cars from 1900 to 1910. He was also recognized for his invention of controlled differential steering in crawler tractors. That type of steering supplied uninterrupted and full power to both tracks, even while turning.

The May 2011 induction (which honored 39 American inventors living and deceased) was the culmination of efforts that began in 2008. In July 2008, I met with Henry Merkel, Cleveland. That was the beginning of my role in White’s nomination to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, although I was unaware of that at the time.

Henry is the grandson of Walter White, one of the founders of White Motor Co. I am attempting to gather as much information on Cleveland Tractor Co. and the people who operated it as I can. Henry knows quite a bit about White family history and also owns several White Steam Touring Cars.

During my conversation with Henry, he suggested I contact his cousin, Betty King, for more information. Betty, who lives in Washington, D.C., is the granddaughter of Rollin H. White and functions as the family’s unofficial historian. She was elated to hear of the active collector interest in tractors built by her grandfather.

A few days later, Betty called back with a request: She was completing an application nominating her grandfather for induction in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The application sought information on the nominee’s contribution to the nation’s welfare. Betty needed help with that and I was more than happy to assist, since I had researched every crawler tractor patent granted to White. Since my experience was limited to the Cletrac line, Thomas E. Goyne, Denver, wrote the White Steam Touring Car portion. I was also listed as the co-nominator.

Two years passed. In January 2011 we received notification that our nomination had been approved and White would be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with 38 other inventors (a full list of the 2011 inductees is available on the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s website). Induction ceremonies were held May 3-4, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Historic inventors were honored May 3 at the Hall of Fame museum; living inventors were inducted in a ceremony held the next day at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute. I was honored to attend those events.

Eight of White’s descendants attended the event. Joining Betty King were Rollin White III (White’s grandson), Rollin White IV (White’s great-grandson), Grif King (White’s great-grandson), Elena King (White’s great-great-granddaughter), Wendy Ely White (White’s great-granddaughter) and Catherine Wright (White’s great-great-granddaughter).

White’s accomplishments and superb engineering ability are reflected in the thousands of Cletrac and Oliver crawler tractors still in existence. And controlled differential steering is still being used in some modern crawler tractors.

National Inventors Hall of Fame celebrates ingenuity

The National Inventors Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Assn., to honor those who conceived, patented and advanced great technological achievements since the birth of this nation. In 1973, Thomas Alva Edison was the first inductee. Since then, the NIHOF has honored 460 inventors. The Hall of Fame is housed in a museum in the atrium of the Madison Building at the headquarters of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Noteworthy figures inducted previously include names familiar to those interested in old iron: Cyrus McCormick, Henry Ford, John Deere, Lewis Miller, Rudolph Diesel, Benjamin Holt, Simon Ingersoll, Nicolaus Otto, Henry Timken, Charles Goodyear and Harvey Firestone. FC 

For more information:
National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, 600 Dulany, Madison Building, Alexandria, Va.; (571) 272-0095. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed on Sundays and federal holidays; no charge for admission.  

Landis Zimmerman is the owner of Zimmerman Oliver-Cletrac, 1450 Diamond Station Rd., Ephrata, PA 17522; (717) 738-2573. 

Read about more of Rollin H. White's achievements in The Rollin H. White Legacy, and delve deeper into the history of this important inventor in Cleveland Tractor Company: Ohio Family Starts and Ends with Cletrac.