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Author: Janwillem Bech, 30 June 2006

From escalator inventor to wreck gunner.

Did you ever think of diving whilst you were on an escalator? Neither did I, till I wrote this article. John Felzenbeek, a friend of mine, gave me a photograph and that was the beginning of this story. The picture below showed some kind of dive tank which had caterpillar tracks. The tank looked very robust and reminded me of the old Galeazzi 1 atmosphere suits. It had a strange looking axle which purpose was unknown to me. I kept the photograph in an envelope for some weeks until I saw a picture of the same ‘tank’ in Hermann Stelzner’s book ‘Tauchtechnik’. My curiosity was raised. The tank’s description was spectacular and the book encouraged me to do some more research.
In his book, Hermann Stelzner speaks of I.W. Reno as the inventor of this tank. Later on it appears he  made a small mistake which prolonged my search.The inventor was Jesse Wilford Reno, i.e. J.W. Reno! This American inventor is not in the first place famous for his invention of an underwater tank, he of all people is the inventor of the escalator! In 1899 Reno registered his patent to ‘the Reno Inclined Elevator’  and found the Reno Inclined Elevator Company & Co. Short after he registered his inventions he sold his company to Otis in 1920.
After  his career with Reno Inclined Elevators and Otis, Reno started the ‘ Reno Marine Salvage Company’. Jesse W. Reno invented a system to salvage ship wrecks from considerable depths and proportions. Hereto he designed an underwater vehicle to shoot or drill holes in the wreck. In this holes a hook with a chain was installed by a moveable manipulation arm.
Attached to this chain there was a submersible pontoon measuring 4.5 x14 meter with a lifting capacity of 200 tons.
With a number of this pontoons a sunken ship could be made afloat by inflating the pontoons with air.
In order to make the wholes Reno patented an underwater tank with a 4” canon that could shoot wholes in the wreck.
In the same year (1919) he also filed patent for an identical underwater tank equipped with a drilling mechanism.
The tank was equipped with a 20 hp motor to drive, drill and to establish the hook to the submersible pontoon.
The patents shown here give detailed information as to the ways ships could be salvaged.
The salvation of the ‘Scally’ a 500 ton weighing steamer that lay on 20 meters of depth at Long Island Sound, proved that Reno’s method was more than fiction. In the patents it is described that the compressed air was going to the tank’s cabin via an open connection to the surface. Stelzner describes in his book however, that the tank was functioning autonomously and could do so for 24 hours without surfacing.  If that was the case it explains why Stelzner described this tank in his book.
There must have been an air regeneration system on board. Below you see the available photos and biography of Jesse Wilford Reno and a number of his patents.
Another special detail I would like to mention is that Reno also had a patent for a floating airfield that could be moved by means of a propeller. In other words, an aircraft carrier in very early days!
1)       Source: US patents
2)       Hermann Stelzner ‘Tauchtechnik’, 1943, Verlag Charles Coleman, Lübeck
3)       Private Photo collection


Jesse Wilford Reno:

He was an engineer and invented the escalator (William L. Reno ms., 1975) and the first electric train in the sourthern U.S.. The following is from archived records of the Otis Elevator Company: gparch07.htm :
During the summer of 1896, crowds at Coney Island, New York marvelled at the world's first escalator. Built by Jesse Wilford Reno, the "inclined elevator" was one of the most popular exhibits at the seaside amusement center that season. According to the Guiness Book of Records, it attracted 75,000 people during its two-week debut at the Iron Pier. Reno's inclined elevator did not resemble the escalators of today. It was actually a moving ramp "of a continuous or an endless belt made of sections, preferably cast iron." The sections formed semi-step cleats which were hinged and grooved to mesh with the prongs "of a comb-like landing." Each cleat tilted upwards nearly 25 degrees, putting the riders' toes unnaturally higher than their heels.
Two years later in 1898, Charles D. Seeberger and the Otis Elevator Co. produced the first escalator with true steps having vertical risers and horizontal treads. The steps of the Seeberger-type escalator became defined as they emerged from the floor, and then flattened out along long runs at the upper and lower landings, allowing riders to step on and step off. At each exit, riders were directed off the escalator by an angled balustrade under which the flattened steps disappeared.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the only companies selling escalators were the Reno Inclined Elevator Co. and Otis. In 1911, Otis acquired Reno's company and the rights to all his patents. Reno continued to work for Otis until 1920, when he left to organize the Reno Marine Salvage Co. which manufactured vertical pontoon systems to salvage sea vessels. During his lifetime, Reno was awarded 12 escalator patents.
Early installations of Reno-type escalators around the world included Earl's Court Station, London Underground (1912), Salon Rajo Theater, Mexico City (1912), T. Eaton Company, Toronto (1913), Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm (1914) and Mitsukoshi Department Store, Tokyo (1919).
The world's oldest escalator may be a Reno-type installed in 1917 at Strawbridge & Clothier in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Otis installed its last Reno-type escalator in 1924. In those early years, only department stores and public transportation systems showed any interest in escalators. In an effort to improve sales, Otis redesigned the escalator in 1920 combining the best features of both the Reno and Seeberger designs. The new L-type escalator became an instant success. The new models had steps which were combed, much like the Reno, but remained horizontal from comb to comb. Combed treads and landings eliminated the need for long, space-wasting shunt-runs while ensuring maximum comfort and safety. As a result, Otis sold more L-type escalators from 1920-1922, than all earlier models combined.
Reno's engineering talents were not restricted to the field of vertical transportation. Shortly after he graduated from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1883, he went to Colorado and began a career as a mining engineer. He also worked as an electrical railway expert for the Thompson-Houston Co. of Boston and the Edison Electric Co. of New York, and he is credited with building the first electric railway in the soutern United States in Georgia in 1891.
The same year the escalator made its debut at Coney Island, Reno submitted a comprehensive plan to build a subway system to the Rapid Transit Commission of New York. His plan described a double-decked underground railway which could be built in three years. It included the idea of conveying passengers underground via his "incline elevator." Although the plan was not accepted by the commission, his idea to use escalators in subway systems was widely supported, and he was later recognized as "the man who saved New York City from the elevated".
In the mid-1930s Reno and his wife, the widowed Baroness Marie G. Snowman, moved to Pelham Manor, a small, wealthy community in New York where he lived in relative obscurity until his death caused by bronchial pneumonia on June 2, 1947.

The submersible tank in the drilling version
The picture from "Tauchtechnik" by Hermann Stelzner
This made Reno famous 1n 1899, the "Reno Inclined Elevator"
This is how it all started. Reno patented his first ideas in 1921. The construction changed in the following years.
Here his ideas began to take shape
Here we see the first 1919 design of the underwater canon!
Later in 1925 he decided to drill the holes instead of shooting them!
Here you see the impression how the invention lifts the sunken ship.
And successful!
Reno's idea of a floating airport!

Auteur: Janwillem Bech

30 juni 2006


Van roltrap uitvinder naar kanonneer.

Heeft u ooit aan duiken gedacht, toen u een roltrap gebruikte? Nee, ik ook niet, tot ik dit artikel schreef. Een vriend van mij  John Felzenbeek gaf mij laatst een foto en daarmee begon dit verhaal. De foto toonde een soort duiktank maar dan op rupsbanden. De behuizing zag er buitengewoon robuust uit en deed mij aan de oude Galleazzi pakken denken. Vreemd was echter dat er een soort as uitstak waarvan ik het doel niet kende. Ik heb de foto een aantal weken in een envelop bewaard tot ik laatst in het boek van Hermann Stelzner “Tauchtechnik” tot mijn stomme verbazing diezelfde “tank” zag afgebeeld. De beschrijving van de tank was spectaculair en het boek van Hermann Stelzner zorgde ervoor dat ik verder ging zoeken.
In zijn boek spreekt Hermann Stelzner over I.W. Reno als de uivinder van deze tank. Later bleek hij hier een foutje gemaakt te hebben waardoor het zoeken heel wat langer  duurde. De uitvinder was namelijk Jesse Wilford Reno, J.W. Reno dus! Deze Amerikaanse uitvinder is in de laatste plaats beroemd geworden door zijn uitvinding van een onderwatertank. Jesse W. Reno is namelijk de uitvinder van de roltrap! In 1899 patenteerde Reno de “Reno Inclined Elevator” en richtte de Reno Inclined Elevator Company & Co op. Kort nadat hij zijn uitvindingen patenteerde verkocht hij zijn bedrijf in 1920 aan Otis!
Na zijn loopbaan bij Reno Inclined Elevators en Otis begon Reno de “Reno Marine Salvage Company”.
Jesse W. Reno bedacht een systeem waarmee hij schepen van behoorlijke diepte en afmetingen kon bergen. Hiertoe ontwierp hij een onderwater voertuig om gaten in het wrak te schieten of te boren. In deze gaten werd met een beweegbare manipulatie arm een haak met ketting aangebracht. Aan deze ketting bevond zich een drijver van 4,5 x 14 meter met een hefvermogen van 200 ton! Met een aantal van deze pontons kon het gezonken schip drijvend worden gemaakt door lucht in de pontons te persen. Om deze gaten aan te brengen patenteerde Reno een onderwater tank met een 4” kanon waarmee gaten in het wrak konden worden geschoten. In hetzelfde jaar (1919) vroeg hij ook patent aan voor eenzelfde onderwater tank uitgerust met een boor mechanisme. De tank was uitgerust met een 20 pk motor om te rijden, te boren en de haak van de hefponton aan te brengen.
De hier afgebeelde patenten geven in detail weer op welke wijze de schepen konden worden geborgen. Dat de methode niet alleen fictie bleek, bewees Reno door in de Long Island Sound het schip “Scally” een 500 ton stoomschip succesvol van een diepte van 20 meter te bergen.
In de patenten wordt beschreven dat Reno voor luchtvoorziening lucht van atmosferische druk in de cabine bracht door een open verbinding (beluchting) naar de oppervlakte. Stelzner beschrijft echter in zijn boek dat de tank autonoom was en 24 uur onafhankelijk van de oppervlakte kon opereren. Als dat het geval was verklaart het ook waarom Stelzner deze tank in zijn boek heeft opgenomen. Er zal zich dan ongetwijfeld een lucht regeneratie systeem aan boord hebben bevonden.
Hieronder treft u de beschikbare foto’s en een biografie van Jesse Wilford Reno en een aantal afdrukken van zijn patenten. Als bijzonderheid wil ik nog noemen dat Reno eveneens een patent had op een drijvend vliegveld dat doormiddel van een aandrijving kan worden verplaatst. Met andere woorden.. een heel vroeg vliegdekschip!
1) Bronnen: US patents
2) Hermann Stelzner “Tauchtechnik”
3) Private photo collection



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