The Patents of John R. Morris

Early industrialist John R. Morris tackled everything from tools to barns.


| October 2014



Patent office

Patent Office, Washington D.C. Illustration from "Harper’s Weekly," July 10, 1869.

Illustration courtesy Library of Congress

John R. Morris was the rare man who possessed both a brilliant mind and a powerful work ethic. With little if any formal education and no inheritance to build on, he created a legacy as an early industrialist.

The eldest son of Captain John Morris of Washington, Pennsylvania, John Roseberry Morris was born in Center Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania, on May 17, 1863. Morris spent his early years there. On April 19, 1884, at age 21, he married Mary Elizabeth Graham. The couple’s first child, a daughter, was born Dec. 15, 1885. The next year, the young family moved to a farm in Kansas in Prairie Township near Jewell City.

Nothing is known of Morris’ education but he was known to work as a farmer and veterinarian. Because no records of attendance in a school of veterinary medicine have been found, he is believed to have been self-taught. That did little to slow him down.

Invention funds unique barn

The first patent issued to Morris was for a portable fence (patent no. 591,000), granted Oct. 5, 1897. On July 19, 1898, he was granted a patent for a combination tool (patent no. 607,448). The tool consisted of a hatchet, hammer, leather punch and nail puller. He received his third patent on March 7, 1899 for pliers (patent no. 620,662). Next came a patent for another combination tool (patent no. 784,959) on March 14, 1905. This tool was similar to the one he patented in 1898 but featured removable attachments for tasks such as hoof trimming and pruning.

The combination hatchet/pincers/wire cutter/screwdriver and hammer was known as the John Morris tool; he was said to have been paid $25,000 ($683,000 today) for it. The source of money is unclear but in 1905-’06, he had funds to invest. He envisioned a large Quonset-hut style building for Jewell City. The design was unique. The ground floor was to serve as a livery barn and veterinary hospital. The second floor was to be used for hay storage; the third floor was intended to house a roller-skating rink, opera house and dance floor.

There was no building like it in Kansas. One of the questions debated locally was whether a self-supporting curved roof could be built of lumber. Morris hired Dale Grafmeyer, a local contractor, to construct the building. As a warm-up job, Grafmeyer built a small carpenter shop with a curved roof. It is doubtful if any architect drew plans or specifications for what would come to be known as “the big barn.” It was an engineering feat accomplished entirely by local craftsmen.