Saturday September 29, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

George N. Kinnell of Pittsfield spent a lot of time looking at horses’ feet, lifting them, holding them, turning them. He was a veterinarian. He was also an inventor, and he held at least eight patents for, as you’ve probably guessed, horse shoes.

Kinnell was born in Dum fries, Scotland, the same place steel magnate and Len ox resident Andrew Carnegie was born. Kinnell was second in his class of 500 at the Royal College for Veterinary Sur geons in Edinburgh, Scot land. After spending two years in practice in South Wales, he emigrated to Pitts field in about 1884 and soon had a large practice attending horses and dogs and other animals.

As animal inspector for the city of Pittsfield, Kinnell in 1896 promoted good practices among dairy herds to avoid tuberculosis. That year he found evidence of the disease in nine of the 258 herds he tested. Kinnell’s private-practice clients included several Lenox and Stockbridge cottagers, one of whom listened to an idea he had.

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"During his long practice he had frequently observed the suffering of horses unable to stand on slippery pavements," according to an obituary in the Springfield Re pub lican for Jan. 16, 1924. "Up to that time no satisfactory nonslip device had been invented. He set to work and perfected the nonslip emergency overshoe and showed it to some of his friends in Lenox, including Mrs. George Westinghouse [the former Mar guerite Erskine Walker (1842-1914)], wife of the inventor of the air brake. She immediately saw its superior merits and directed the attention of the late Mrs. James Speyer, another wealthy New York charitable woman, to it. The result was that in a short time numerous societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals recommended its adoption. The New York mounted police and fire de part ment were among them. He also was adopted by the Black Horse troop for the presidential inauguration in Washington."

Blacksmiths in those days regularly changed horses’ shoes by the season. Kinnell came up with a slip-on shoe (secured by springs and chains) for immediate use on the animal. It was much like putting chains on auto tires, as became a practice in the more recent past. Kinnell secured patents in the United States, Canada and Europe. He sold manufacturing rights to Alexander G. Uptegraff, secretary to George Westing house, "who later bought a two-thirds interest in the concern which made the shoes first at the old Robbins & Kellogg shop on Fourth Street in this city and later in the Whittlesey building on Renne avenue."

Kinnell’s shoe patents were Nos. 1,010,380 through 1,010,387, applied for over the years 1908-1911 but issued serially in 1911. They were variously for "Overshoe for Horses," Overshoe -- Support for Horses," "Non-slip or Protective Appliance for the Hoofs of Animals," "Overshoe" and so on.

Kinnell Manufacturing in corporated in Pittsfield in 1908. It maintained an office at 65 Murray St. in New York City. Kinnell’s shoes were advertised far and wide, in newspapers in Hawaii and in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Merchants Breese & Yeager in the latter community boosted the product with the Headline: "No Excuse for Horse Slipping." Subhead:The castle of Wurtemburg at Stuttgart in 1910 wired Mrs. Westinghouse asking "for a full set of horse overshoes to be furnished for the stables of the King. The cable came to Pittsburg, the explanation being Mrs. George Westinghouse’s interest in horse overshoes," according to the New York Times for Jan. 27, 1910. She certainly knew where to get a set of shoes as "she [had] supplied the funds for an inventor who had an idea for fastening chains under the frog of each horseshoe, giving the horse a hold on the ice of slippery streets." In 1914, the firm’s sales manager reported some 2 million chain horse shoes were in use.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals awarded Kinnell a $500 cash prize in 1911 for the best device invented that year to prevent suffering among animals. After awhile, the company sold its rights to American Chain Co. and the business moved from the city. Kinnell reportedly did very well financially in the endeavor.

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Kinnell and fellow Scots man Alexander Kennedy introduced the Scots game of curling to Pittsfield residents Judge Edward T. Slocum, William A. Whittlesey and John M. Stevenson and others. Kinnell belonged to the Saturday Evening Club, the Park Club and First Congre gational Church. He golfed at the Pittsfield Country Club.

He developed several real estate tracts in Pittsfield and in 1917 built the Queen Anne-style Kinnell Block on the east side of North Street (the Kinnell-Kresge building now houses Beacon Cinema). George N. Kinnell Realty Co. sold the building in 1929. At that time, Macken Brothers leased the retail space.

The inventor was twice mar ried, first to Blanch Hard ing (she died in 1904), then to Lillian Hedges. He had two daughters and two sons.

This story does not have an upbeat ending. Kinnell, de spondent and in failing health for a year, took his own life.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.