CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — It was 1926, and Frank Bushong had a killer idea.
The Charles Town lawyer had come up with a clear-glass device he called a Bu-Ro-Des, short for Bushong Rodent Destroyer. Its aim: to rid orchards of meadow mice.
Then as now, local orchardists wanted to control pests plaguing fruit trees. The meadow mouse, or vole, is a prolifically reproducing rodent that chews and peels bark from trunks and roots, which can kill whole trees.
The Bu-Ro-Des holds a unique place among the thousands of pieces of history housed at the Jefferson County Museum, explained Jane Rissler, director of the Charles Town museum.
Although 47 patents were awarded to inventors in Jefferson County between 1837 and 1970, Bushong's creation is the only such artifact in the museum's collection.
No one knows what prompted the attorney to become interested in exterminating orchard vermin or how many of the baiters might have been manufactured or sold, Rissler said.
She does know how Bushong's device worked. "The baiter's shape — an angled opening and an end bulge to hold the bait — positioned it to keep the bait dry and to prevent it from spilling onto the ground and, at the same time, allow a mouse easy access," she said.
The baiter, containing grain mixed with a poison such as strychnine, was held in place on the orchard floor by a wire yoke.
Because the Bu-Ro-Des is made of glass, mice could see the grain from all directions and orchard workers could quickly determine which baiters to replenish, Rissler said.
Rissler would love to have more information about Bushong and his idea, as well as the other patent holders who called Jefferson County home.
Seven of the county's 47 patents were granted before the Civil War, 15 in the last three decades of the 19th century, 20 in the first third of the 20th century, and two in 1970, Rissler said.
Six of the county's patents pertain to food production, including a grain and fertilizer drill, a cider press, products to eliminate rodents (including Bushong's baiter), artificial bait for bass fishing and a humane trap for mammals.
Other patents issued to county residents involved blacksmithing, sewing machines, product assembly and more.
In her research, Rissler learned George S. Eyster of Halltown Paperboard Co. won two patents in 1880 for ideas involving machinery for making paper from straw. Like many other paper mills of that era, the Halltown plant used straw as the raw material for making paperboard, Rissler said.
In Ranson, A.D. Goetz - the owner of the city's Goetz Harness Factory - was awarded two patents, one in 2013 and one the next year. Rissler said Goetz and his family lived on Fairfax Boulevard, in the stately structure that now houses the Melvin T. Strider Colonial Funeral Home.
She said the county's inventions mirrored some of the larger transformations that occurred in the transportation and manufacturing systems nationwide.
"Seventeen of the patents reflect changes in transportation, ranging from locomotive steam engines in 1847 to automobiles in 1933," Rissler said. "Two involve animal-powered transport, three deal with bicycles and 11 concern railroads."
Ten of the Jefferson County inventors earned more than one patent each, with Charles Willson of Summit Point holding the record at five, Rissler said. Willson's patents are related to the railroad.
Rissler originally shared on her research on the county's patent holders in an article for the Guardian, the newsletter of the Jefferson County Historical Society.
Want to know more?
The Jefferson County Museum at 200 E. Washington St. in Charles Town is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, go online to jeffctywvmuseum.org.
To join the Jefferson County Historical Society and get the Guardian newsletter four times a year and the society's annual magazine, go to jeffersonhistoricalwv.org or send a check for $20 for a one-year membership to JCHS Membership Secretary, P.O. Box 485, Charles Town 25414.