The J. R. Little Metal Wheel Company was formed shortly after the Bettendorf Metal Wheel Company bought the Quincy Metal Wheel Company. A patent disagreement between the Little and Bettendorf companies resulted in a request to the U. S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
After the sale of the Quincy Metal Wheel Company was arranged in November 1890, J. R. Little, a principal of that firm, made plans to initiate another metal wheel company.
A week after the sale was finalized in September 1891 a Quincy newspaper stated “Mr. J. R. Little…has invented and patented some device that will result in the establishment in this city of a new metal wheel works.”
Little’s patent No. 472,893, issued April 19, 1892, described the method of manufacturing the wheels. The wheels had a hub of malleable iron with a suitable number of openings for the spokes. The spokes were aligned in these holes and the metal of the hub was compressed to hold the spokes.
The patents filed by Little in the mid 1880s were assigned to the Quincy Metal Wheel Company. But this patent was filed on August 20, 1891, after the time of the agreed sale of the earlier company but before its finalization. Little was careful not to assign the patent rights to the old company that was being sold.
The J. R. Little Metal Wheel Company was incorporated in October 1891, a month after the sale of the old company. The incorporators were J.R. Little, W. H. Govert, and P. B. Williams.
William H. Govert was a prominent Quincy attorney who served eight years as the State’s Attorney. Born in Iowa in 1844, he came to Quincy in 1870 after graduation from the University of Michigan Law School. Plinery Bliss Williams was born in Cincinnati in 1845 and came to Quincy as a young man shortly before the Civil War. He was associated with Smith-Hill & Company, but became the business manager of the Quincy Metal Wheel Company.
Govert was president of the company, Williams was secretary/ treasurer, and Little was the technical brains. These men continued to be involved in the company. Williams had stock in the company when he died in 1919 and Govert was still a director at the time of his death in 1921. When J. R. Little celebrated his 85th birthday in 1918, the paper stated that he still went to the plant that bore his name twice daily.
In September 1892, J.R. Little Metal Wheel Company had their office at 430 Maine Street with the manufacturing facilities at Front and Delaware, the earlier location of the Quincy Metal Wheel Company. By 1897 the J. R. Little Company had about 25 workers.
The Bettendorf Wheel Company had been a competitor of the Quincy Metal Wheel Company before they purchased that company. Difficulties arose between the Bettendorf interests and the J. R. Little Metal Wheel Company.
William P. Bettendorf was a prolific inventor, having some 94 patents when he died at the age of 53. The Bettendorf Patent Company was formed to hold the title for many of these patents.
In March 1899 the Bettendorf Patent Company filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the U.S. for the Southern District of Illinois, charging J. R. Little Metal Wheel Company of infringement against Bettendorf patent No. 505, 815. In June 1902 District Judge J. Otis Humphrey found in favor of the Quincy firm, dismissing the complaint for “want of equity”, basically indicating that Bettendorf had not filed the objection in a timely manner.
Bettendorf appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the case was argued before the three-judge court in January 1903.
The Bettendorf patent was for both the wheel and the method of manufacturing. The court deemed that the wheel was covered by Little’s Patent No. 334,252 issued on January 12, 1886. Although it was for a different application, the court deemed that the manufacturing method was covered by Patent No. 419,009, issued January 7, 1890 to Peter Gendron. Consequently the appeal court ruled against Bettendorf in April, 1903 saying the Claim 2 of that patent was invalid.
In May, 1903 Bettendorf asked for a rehearing, but that petition was overruled. In the October 1903 term of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bettendorf Patent Company filed for a Writ of Certiorari, basically a request that the Supreme Court review the decision and proceedings to determine whether there were any irregularities.
In its brief the Bettendorf lawyers recognized that writs of certiorari were rarely granted in patent cases but argued that the case provided an opportunity for a more uniform rule for disposing of patent matters. But in their brief opposing the petition, the Little lawyers argued that this was an ordinary suit for patent infringement between two private parties and involved no questions of either public policy or public interest. The writ was denied and Little won the decision.
In early 1906 the manufacturing facility of the company was consolidated with the Quincy Corn Planter Company. The intent was to move the activities of Little Metal Wheel Company at Front and Delaware into the Quincy Corn Planter Company at Front and Cedar.
The Quincy Corn Planter Company was incorporated in 1897 taking over the plant of the old Barlow Corn Planter works, which had started in 1864. Two of the three incorporators of the Quincy Corn Planter Company were P. B. Williams and W. H. Govert, principals of the wheel manufacturing firm.
In the Spring of 1907 the J.R. Little company was still located at Front and Delaware and employed about 50 people. Later in 1907 the company moved to Front and Cedar. The following year, three additions were made to the combined facility and some of the real estate was transferred to the wheel company.
Around 1914 there was a combination of the J. R. Little Metal Wheel Company with Empire Manufacturing Company. But that is another story.
“A Big Item,” The Quincy Daily Journal, October 22, 1892, 4.
“A New Company,” The Quincy Daily Whig, November 11, 1897, 6.
“Death Claims W. H. Govert on Wednesday,” The Quincy Daily Journal, December 7, 1921, 2.
Harlan, James, Bettendorf Patents Co v. J R Little Metal Wheel Co – U. S. Supreme Court Transcript of Record with Supporting Pleadings, Series: The Making of Modern Law: U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832-1978.
“J. R. Little Metal Wheel Co.,” The Quincy Daily Journal, March 19, 1907, 12.
“James R. Little One of Quincy’s Oldest Residents Died Sunday Morning: Inventor, Scholar and Prominent Quincy Business Man,” The Quincy Daily Herald, November 30, 1925, 12.
Landrum, Carl and Shirley (compilers), Landrum’s Quincy, Volume 2, page 122
“Metal Wheels,” The Quincy Daily Herald, September 11, 1892, 10.
“Quincy Corn Planter Company,” The Quincy Daily Journal, May 10, 1899, 11.
“Robert Bagley Will Marry in Chicago,” The Quincy Daily Whig, July 2, 1914, 17.
“Two Plants to be Merged,” The Quincy Daily Journal, March 22, 1906, 3.
“Wed Sixty-Four Years,” The Quincy Daily Journal, February 22, 1917, 2.
The Quincy Daily Herald, September 11, 1908, 12.
The Quincy Daily Journal, April 27, 1897, 4.
The Quincy Daily Journal, July 21, 1908, 8.
The Quincy Daily Journal, September 12, 1908, 6.
United States Patent No. 313,004, James R. Little, Manufacture of Metal Wheels, February 24, 1885.
United States Patent No. 334,249, James R. Little, Metallic Wheel, January 12, 1886.
United States Patent No. 334,252, James R. Little, Metallic Wheel, January 12, 1886.
United States Patent No. 374,575, William P. Bettendorf, Metallic Wheel, December 13, 1887.
Unites States Patent No. 409,474, James R. Little, Method of Manufacturing Metal Wheels. August 20, 1889.
United States Patent No. 419,009, Peter Gendron, Securing Trimmings Upon Tubular and Other Bodies, January 7, 1890.
United States Patent No. 472,893, James R. Little, Manufacture of Metal Wheels, April 12, 1892.
United States Patent No. 505,815, William P. and Joseph W. Bettendorf, Metal Wheel and Method of Making Same. December 3, 1895.