Inventors and Patents From the City of Des Moines

Did you know that Des Moines was home to a number of inventors? The Iowa capital has a rich history of innovation, and you can read about Des Moines’ most famous inventors here. Des Moines was the home to many other Iowan inventors, including Johnston, who invented the first furnace. Others from the Des Moines area include Mann and David Hargar, who created a roofing composition.

The inventors of the inventions in Des Moines have contributed to a wide range of industries. Many are related to trade, business, or manufacturing. Some inventions were spontaneous, others were the result of trial and error. Some were simply inspired by a need for a new machine or process. Others may have been motivated by profit rather than a desire to create a new product.


The early history of invention in Iowa is dotted with inventions ranging from agricultural implements to daily life necessities. Many of these inventions are examples of trial and error and spontaneous innovation. However, some individuals may not have applied for patents for their creations. Inventors from Des Moines contributed to this history through their patents. These individuals come from a wide variety of backgrounds, abilities, and interests.

Corn Picker

Patrick J. Lawler, a young farm boy who disliked the hard work involved in farming. He was exhausted from picking corn by hand. He liked to tinker with machines, and he dreamed of a more efficient way to do the job.

Patrick had already drawn on paper his designs for a corn-picking machine by 1880. Patrick, with the help of John F. Barry a Chicago lawyer, built a working prototype of his dream. On a sunny day in 1885, a crowd gathered on the Lawler farm at Wall Lake to see the strange machine picking corn. The neighbors were stunned as the horse-drawn corn picker released a torrent of husked ears.

Patrick and John Barry were offered money by a Chicago-based manufacturing company for the right to produce their corn picker, but they wanted to make it themselves. The two men bought a blacksmith’s shop, built two machines, but they were unable sell them. Patrick Lawler sold his first corn picker for scrap in the year 1932.

Gasoline Tractor

John Froelich created the first gasoline tractor in 1892 that could move forward and backward. His invention paved the way for modern agriculture.

John was born in Froelich. It is a Clayton County city named after Henry, his father. John worked at a feedmill and elevator, and played with machines. The idea came from mounting a gasoline motor on a drilling rig. The tractor, which was a precursor to John Deere’s tractors, was then shipped to South Dakota where it shredded 72,000 bushels in 52 days.

Froelich founded, along with other investors in 1893, the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. The John Deere Tractor Works was eventually formed from this company.


August Werner was a man with a vision. He wanted to be first to invent a flying aircraft with a human inside! Werner worked secretly on his invention for months. Werner and his passenger boarded Werner’s homemade helicopter on July 4, 1886. The machine rose four feet before one of its wooden cogs broke and it crashed. Werner never tried to fly again. His four-foot flight occurred 17 years before the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight in Kitty Hawk.

Vending Machine

Want a snack? You can use an Iowa inventor’s invention by putting some change in a vending device. In 1931 F.A. Wittern used his last $12.50 dollars to purchase some used tools, and started a business that would become one of the largest vending machine manufacturers in the United States. Fawn Engineering Co., located in Clive Iowa.

Soy Ink

Sharen Brower, an artist from Newell, was experimenting with inks and dyes in her studio. She tried a new ink that was made of soybean oil. Brower loved using this ink, because soy beans are grown all over Iowa. Brower received patents in 1991 for formulas of soy newspaper inks, artist’s paint, and other products.


George F. Nissen, a native of Cedar Rapids, loved to bounce. He knew that many kids love to bounce. Nissen was inspired by circus acrobats as a child. Nissen won the national intercollegiate tumbling championship in the 1930s as a student at college. Nissen built his first trampoline in 1931. In 1940, Nissen began producing trampolines at home full-time. In 1947, as the business grew and Nissen’s production moved to Cedar Rapids, Nissen relocated his factory. Nissen sold the trampoline business to a New Jersey firm in 1981.

Women’s Rights

In the United States, many people have fought to protect women’s civil rights. In the struggle, one Iowa woman became a legend. Carrie Lane Chapman Catt graduated from Iowa State College in the year 1880. She was the sole woman in her class, and she graduated first. She was appointed superintendent of Mason City schools. Carrie worked hard to get women the right to vote in local elections in Iowa. She later became the president of National American Woman’s Suffrage Association. When it appeared that women would be able to vote, she organized the League of Women Voters.

The Arts

Iowa has been home to many artists who have innovated in the arts. Phil Stong was famous for his novel about the Iowa State Fair. The novel was adapted into films and a Broadway show. Nellie Verne Walker, a sculptor of note who lived and was born in Iowa during part of her lifetime, was an award-winning political cartoonist. Ding Darling is a political cartoonist who has won awards. Bix Beiderbecke was a famous jazz musician from Davenport in Iowa. Simon Estes is a Centerville native who is renowned around the globe as an opera singer.


James Van Allen, at the University of Iowa, is known as a pioneer of space research. Henry A. Wallace developed hybrid seed corn. George Washington Carver, the first African American to graduate from Iowa State College, was also the first African American to serve as a faculty member.

Artificial slate surfaces

In addition to inventions aimed at improving school desks, a school furniture company in Des Moines patented artificial slate surfaces in 1868. This was the first step towards a country school desk. Rankin and Roberts’ company went on to develop this new type of desk. They eventually partnered with the Osborne & Mammon Company and filed for patents for their invention.

welding guide

The City of Des Moines has produced a number of patents. One of the most popular inventions from Des Moines, a welding guide, is a case in point. The invention was first developed in Des Moines and has been patented in many countries. While patents are required for inventions, they are not a guarantee for success, said Dennis Crouch, co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship in Des Moines.


Dan Nicholson

Dan Nicholson, an entrepreneur and inventor known for his contributions to agricultural technology is particularly well-known for his work on livestock management and monitoring. He was involved in the development of “SensorGuard”, a system that has been recognized for its innovative approach towards monitoring livestock and improving agriculture operations.

SensorGuard is a system that provides real-time information on the health of livestock. It allows farmers to monitor environmental conditions remotely, such as temperature and humidity. This technology allows farmers to detect issues early and improve animal care.

Nicholson’s inventions address the challenges of modern agriculture. In this field, efficient management and monitoring of livestock is crucial to both farm productivity and animal welfare. Nicholson’s inventions use sensor technology and data analysis to provide farmers with insights that will help them make better decisions and adopt more sustainable farming methods.

John Godden

John Godden, who was a territorial inventor from Van Buren County, invented the flax and hemp breaking and cleaning machine. His invention added a second frame of slats to the device, which made it easier to clean flax and hemp. He also lived in the region for a few years and was granted the exclusive right to build a dam across the Des Moines River.

Anthony Kakakis

Inventors from Iowa were not shy about taking advantage of the monopoly laws. One invention came from Iowa: the Gallup Poll. The Gallup Poll was invented by a man from Des Moines and is named after him. Another invention from Iowa was the home gym. Its inventor, Anthony Kakakis, tested it in his home. He later patented it.

J. Hobart

One of the earliest inventions in Iowa was the auger mining process, patented by J. Hobart in 1846. The number of inventions was relatively low until the Civil War ended. However, by 1865, there were 104 inventions patented in Iowa. The year 1867 was a high point for inventions in Iowa, with 247 patents issued. This was followed by 201 patents in 1868. In total, Iowans received 2,325 patents during this thirty-year period.

Des Moines was the home to many other Iowan inventors, including Johnston, who invented the first furnace. Others from the Des Moines area include Mann and David Hargar, who created a roofing composition.

Brad Rasmussen

Brad Rasmussen, an inventor who has made significant contributions to agricultural and farming technology, is well-known. He has developed several innovations to improve agricultural practices. These include improvements in grain storage and treatment.

Rasmussen’s Patents are often focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of grain storage systems. Proper grain storage is crucial to agriculture as it helps reduce losses, prevents spoilage, and maintains grain quality. His inventions could include novel aeration techniques, temperature monitoring methods, and ways to prevent pests or mold growth in grain.

Many of Rasmussen’s innovations are likely to target improving the efficiency of agricultural operations. This could include technologies that streamline handling and treatment, resulting in reduced waste and increased yields.

Milan Sonka

Inventors and patents from Des Moines, Iowa include Milan Sonka, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Iowa. Sonka is the third member of the University of Iowa’s electrical and computer engineering faculty to be named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. His work has resulted in the development of several breakthroughs in the fields of biomedical imaging and artificial intelligence.

In addition to inventions aimed at improving school desks, a school furniture company in Des Moines patented artificial slate surfaces in 1868. This was the first step towards a country school desk. Rankin and Roberts’ company went on to develop this new type of desk. They eventually partnered with the Osborne & Mammon Company and filed for patents for their invention.

Other inventions of Des Moines, Iowans include the musical staff, which was patented by Otis Boykin in 1865. The device had a regulator for regulating the amount of ink. It also featured a movable belt for the use of musical instruments, such as the piano. The music staff also enabled a pianist to change the pitch of the piano, which improved the instrument’s ability to play well.

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