26    Nov 20091 comment

User Story: The Inventor Elijah Brookes

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Elijah Brookes after his inventing successes

Tom Langley, from the UK, is one of MyHeritage.com's youngest users. At 17, he's already done extensive research into his family's past. Here Tom shares some of his genealogical findings with us, and in particular the story of his ancestor Elijah Brookes- s prominent inventor from the Nineteenth Century.

I first became interested in genealogy in primary school, when I was chosen to go on a history day to the local records office in Chester. We were asked to find out about our family before 1901 and to search the census records which were available there. Ever since then I've been asking questions about family history, and about four years ago I started seriously looking into it.

Early on in my research I found out that my great-grandfather was illegitimate, and that because of that my family name should be 'Broughton' instead of 'Langley'. I also discovered that my great-grandmother, Olive Knox, had been abandoned by her mother (who had her when she was 16)and was raised by her aunt, uncle, and anyone else in the family who could help out.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery I made was of my distant relative Elijah Brookes, who was my great-great-great- grandfather. I discovered him in the census records and traced some of his many descendants to find a relative living in Hawaii, who had constructed a family tree. She sent me a lot of photos and told me some stories, which I then looked into before taking my research further.

Elijah was born in 1846 in Kingswinford, then part of Staffordshire. He worked for Whitworth, an engineering firm, where he helped drill out rifle barrels. In those days they used a solid core drill bit, which meant that the workers could only drill a short way before they had to stop and empty out the filings from the barrel. Elijah, being a clever man, invented his own drill to save himself some time. It had a groove running along it, which meant that the filings were ejected as he went along- just like a modern day drill bit. Because his tool was so much quicker and the team worked on commission, he upset the other workers and they went on strike. Elijah was sacked, and sadly the company took out a patent on his invention, which was from then on registered as the 'Whitworth Drill Bit'.

Elijah continued inventing, however, and honed his skills as an engine fitter for the Stockton & Darlington railroad. At this time he was married to Mary Ellen, who had been in service with Prime Minister Gladstone. Elijah's hobby led to the couple being forced out of their home in Wales, when the locals, hearing the noises coming from his work shed, accused Elijah of being in league with the devil (probably because of his fire bellow, which made a loud 'whoooing' sound).

This didn't put Elijah off, though, and he went on to make a number of inventions, which include the Push Button Bell, which you can find on bars; brass boxes to store miners' pocket watches while down the mineshafts; and a toasting fork which turned bread around without removing it from the fire. These inventions were to become the way Elijah made his money.

In the mid 1920s, around the time of the General Strike, Elijah saw ladies fixing handles onto cups by hand which were so crooked he felt compelled to find a solution. He invented a machine which attached the handles automatically. His firm which sold these was eventually bought by a company called Doultons, but before they moved in Elijah's son-in-law, George Knox Sr., smashed all the equipment (because the sale apparently didn't include any of the machines).

In the 1930s Elijah bought a Rolls Royce, and had his grandson, George Knox jr., drove him home in it after the purchase. On the way back Elijah decided he didn't like the car, so he took it back and bought a DeLage instead. The local garage was persuaded by Elijah to put a petrol pump in for his car as he claimed it would be a thing of the future. People were sceptical, but in the end he was right!

Elijah passed away at the age of 87 years.

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  1. I like what I see of this site, and want to learn more.
    Calvin Little

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