PUBLICATIONS :: NYSM RECORD :: Daniel & Floyd Hungerford

cover Daniel and Floyd Hungerford: Rocket Power, Interstellar Travel and Eternal Life

by Geoffrey N. Stein

Chapter 1: EARLY YEARS

In the late nineteenth century William Martin Hungerford (1849-1903), a sometime Elmira silversmith, tried farming in Pennsylvania to “improve his luck”.1 So his younger sons, Daniel D. Hungerford (1886–1967) and Floyd S. Hungerford (1888–1963), spent their early years in the rural area south of Elmira, apparently Jackson Township in Tioga County and Wells Township in Bradford County, both in Pennsylvania, as well as in the Town of Southport in Chemung County, New York. In addition to William, the family included his wife, Mary (Ward) Hungerford (1856-1944); an older son, William J. Hungerford (1883-1955); and a daughter, Jennie May Hungerford (1892-1964), later Mrs. Fred H. Badger. Census records document a peripatetic existence for the family with father William having been born in New York, Mary in Pennsylvania, son William in New York, Daniel in Pennsylvania, and both Floyd and Jennie in New York.2

Figure 1:
The Hungerford siblings posed in the 1910s: Jennie and, from left to right, Floyd, Daniel and William. The photo probably was taken in Elmira, New York.

Growing up in a rural, and claims Australian automobile historian Igor Spajic, impoverished environment, the Hungerfords had only a public school education. But, Spajic continued, the brothers had the motivation to leap ahead into unexplored realms of science and technology.3  Daniel David Hungerford himself after noting his birthplace in Wells, Bradford County, Pennsylvania on August 14, 1886, wrote that his education was “graded schools” and his early work as “Farmer to 1905; box factory and school to 1906.”4 Late writing of his life and that of his brother Floyd, he noted that “as boys we had no bicycle so built one—c. Changed a clock works into a self-propelled vehicle—dad was quite surprised. built a threshing machine & built a hand sled. Flood took our thresher. Boys stole [?] our sled. [B]uilt steam engine—have that. P.S. will send a list of our exploits down to the sled moving wheels & etc. D.D & F.S. Hungerford by D.D.H.”5

In 1967, an unidentified appreciation of Daniel Hungerford’s life noted that

      His flair for mechanics showed up at an early age. He wondered why a traction engine had a governor. So, when no one was looking, he unhooked it, eased back the throttle and discovered the governor’s purpose. It wasn’t long before he was taking things apart and studying them. The engine always ran better when he got through.6

Keith Marvin in the 1960s wrote that because of Daniel and Floyd’s limited formal schooling, the two as adults exploring rocket power had “taught themselves advanced algebra, plane and solid geometry, trigonometry, logarithms and calculus.” After discovering imprecision in a slide rule, “they perfected a higher form of mathematics which they found to be foolproof and which they used in all subsequent engineering design and building.”7 Marvin also noted, “This form of mathematics has no known name, but all future work carrying the Hungerford name was based on it.”8 Daniel Hungerford in a handbill promoting his election to the state assembly in 1948 said he had “studied mechanical engineering, electricity, and social science by correspondence.”9

In January 1903, William M. Hungerford was “killed instantly by falling lean [-] to roof—load of snow”10 leading to the eventual Hungerford family’s move back to Elmira. Years later Daniel Hungerford after learning of a roof collapse on a shelter in a city park wrote to a newspaper editor, probably of the Elmira Star-Gazette

      Perhaps the writer is over-sensitive to this sort of thing. In the winter of 1903 he and four others were called to look at a lean-to cowshed roof that had split one of its supporting posts under a moderate load of snow. The group walked under the roof to get a view of the split post. Father, a brother and cousin were under the roof when the farmer shouted a warning. The roof fell and father was killed outright and brothers [sic] and cousin seriously injured.11

Brothers Daniel and Floyd first appear in the Elmira city directories in 1907 residing with their widowed mother Mary and their sister.12 Daniel’s profession was listed as machinist and Floyd as a “shoe operator”; by 1909 both Hungerfords were listed as machinists with Daniel employed by John T. Young on Railroad Avenue in Elmira. Although the 1910 federal census identified Floyd as a laborer in the masonry trade, the directory again listed both brothers as machinists. A surviving photograph shows the two in working clothes, posing with two other men, one likely John Young himself, in front of the Young machine shop. Daniel Hungerford in the Who’s Who in American Aeronautics reported, in the mid-1920s, that he had worked in the “General Machine Repair Shop of John T. Young” until 1911 when he became “inventor, designer and foreman, American Thermostat Co., Newark, N.J., to 1914”.13  

Figure 2:
Posing in front of Young’s Machine Shop located on Railroad Avenue in Elmira ca. 1910.  Left to right are, likely, J. Philip Young, (John Young's son), Floyd Hungerford, John Young (proprietor), and Daniel Hungerford.

The American Thermostat Company with directory listings from 1909 through 1914 actually was located in Elmira. In the years Hungerford was employed by American Thermostat, the offices were first on East Water Street, then on East Church Street, and finally in the Robinson Building, a multi-story structure largely housing lawyers, insurance agents, and similar offices.

In 1909, Burchard Johnson, previously associated with the Queen City Electric Company, was American Thermostat president and proprietor. For the 1910 and 1911 directory years, Harry M. Swartz, previously secretary-treasurer, was president. From 1912 through 1914, a completely different group was in charge with Albert S. Bevans serving as president. The turnovers in management and addresses suggest an unsettled state for the business. One might conclude the company was created, unsuccessfully it appears, to exploit a Hungerford invention.

An American Thermostat patent application was filed on July 22, 1909 and the patent granted March 22, 1910 to Daniel Hungerford with assignment to American Thermostat. For an “automatic stop and reverse mechanism” suitable, according to the patent, were a “thermostatic damper regulating apparatus, automatic clock winders, and the like.” The sophisticated and complicated device suggests the depth of Hungerford’s mechanical insights. The description of Hungerford’s patent (#952,991) notes

      The object of my invention is to provide a means whereby the reverse motion will be accomplished without reversing the motor, in combination with an automatic stop and reverse switch, whereby the connections leading to the circuit closing device will be short circuited immediately upon the closing of the motor circuit; thereby eliminating the effect of any fluctuation in the circuit closer, and insuring the continuous operation of the mechanism for the prescribed period, or number of revolutions.  

Figure 3:

Daniel D. Hungerford’s patented invention in 1910 for an “automatic stop and reverse mechanism” was assigned to the American Thermostat Company in Elmira.


Daniel, Floyd, their sister Jennie, and their mother Mary moved from the east side in Elmira, probably in the summer of 1911, to far West Second Street, a generally undeveloped area near the city line.14  Daniel Hungerford wrote later that his house and the neighboring structure to the west were built for Peerless officials of a dye factory located in the 700 block of Second Street. The two houses probably were erected in the mid-1890s, possibly 1896.15

Beyond the city’s water and sewer system, the Hungerfords shared a shallow well with the residents in the similar house to the west. Hungerford later recalled the cost of his property was $1,100 in a “land contract from a Mr. John Holleran [sic] who took the contract from Arnot Realty Co. E. J. Dunn was the co. agent.”16 Over the years, the house was piped for water and wired for electricity by the Hungerfords. A “pipeless” furnace was replaced by a “piped job”. Floyd Hungerford undertook major exterior repairs in 1961. A new water heater was installed in 1965.17 This work is mentioned here because of the confiscation and demolition of the house by the city described later in this book. 

From 1915 Daniel Hungerford was a “garage owner”, and by 1916 Daniel and Floyd together were listed in the directory as Hungerford Brothers with a machine shop at 825 (usually 823) West Second Street. 18  The operation was in an outbuilding behind the house.19 Hungerford wrote that “We built our Shop—1914–15 and added north addition 1917” as Charley Hungerford helped in the initial construction with Charley Osman [?] the addition.20

Success in the garage, at least in one point, included as many as twelve employees.21 For decades to follow, from the 1910s to the 1950s, the Hungerford Brothers garage was the staple business in Elmira for repairing automobiles and aircraft. 

Figure 4:
The Hungerford siblings posed in the 1910s: Jennie and, from left to right, Floyd, Daniel and William. The photo probably was taken in Elmira, New York.



1 Notes made June 22, 1992, by the author after listening to a tape recording made in 1974 of Keith Marvin reading a lengthier, unpublished version of his “The Wizards of West Second Street”. One assumes that the data came from Marvin’s interviews with Daniel Hungerford in 1964.

2 Daniel Hungerford to “Ed & Helen”, August 26, 1966, wrote that his brother William was born in Southport (New York) on the Kile [?] Kinsman’s farm; Daniel at the “head of Bird Creek in Wells Township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania; Floyd on Jay Street in Elmira; Jennie on Miller’s Farm at Pine City, New York; father William at Latta Brook; and mother Mary Ward at Troy, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. He also noted that his father died at the Lyman Brescre [?] farm in Mosherville, Pennsylvania; his mother and brother Floyd at 823 W. Second Street; his brother William at the home of his daughter Vivian Wells at Daggett, Pennsylvania; and his sister of Gang Mills, New York, in the Corning hospital. The 1930 federal census indicates that farmer Fred Badger was twelve or thirteen years older than his wife. They married about 1920. According to city directories in the 1910s, Jennie Hungerford was employed by an Elmira “manufacturing confectioner”.

3 Spajic, Igor, Restored Cars , Numbers 139 and 140, March-April and May–June 2000,

4 Who’s Who in American Aeronautics (1925). Apparently Daniel Hungerford himself provided the biographical data for this publication.

5 Daniel Hungerford to Keith Marvin, June 11, 1964. Several of these inventions are mentioned again later in this work. The signature is typical of that used by Daniel Hungerford after the death of his brother Floyd.

6 Unidentified newspaper clip marked by hand “…67”.

7 Keith Marvin, “The Wizards of West Second Street” manuscript version, pp.10–11. Unfortunately, there is no explanation of the new mathematics.

8 Marvin, “The Wizards of West Second Street.”

9 See Chapter 5, “Politics.”

10 Daniel D. Hungerford to “Ed and Helen”, August 26, 1966.

11 Undated, unidentified newspaper clip.

12 Keith Marvin in the manuscript version of his “The Wizards of West Second Street”, p. 8, says the Hungerfords returned to Elmira in 1905.

13 Newark, New Jersey city directories from 1911 through 1914 have no listings for an American Thermostat Company or for Daniel Hungerford. There is an American Transformer Company, a manufacturer of electrical apparatus.

14 Daniel Hungerford in 1966 wrote that Mary Hungerford and all four of her children purchased the house for $1,100. He added that the “sister house” to the west was purchased by the “Harders from Adison [sic], N.Y. a year or 2 later.” A third house, at number 829, was built later. His brother William moved a house from Guinnip Avenue to the rear of the lot at 819 West Second Street. He lived there for “several years. Some of his children were born there. W.J.H. later turned the [sic] (819) in as first payment on a farm at Caton, N.Y.” Daniel D. Hungerford to “Ed & Helen”, August 26, 1966. Directory listings confirm William’s residence at 819 West Second Street in 1914 through 1917, when he was employed at the Hotel Rathbun.

15 City directory listings for 1897 show William S. Love, a solicitor for the New York and Pennsylvania Telephone and Telegraph Company, residing at 823 West Second Street and Henry Pelham, a carpenter, at 827 West Second. The 1896 directory shows Pelham living at 816 W. Gray Street and no Love listing.

16 The agent likely is Edward J. Dunn (1866-1927). The Elmira Advertiser, October 24, 1927, notes Dunn worked at the Arnot Real Estate office in the 1880s. Later Dunn was an executor of the Mathias H. Arnot Estate, See below for a story of the Dunn funeral.

17 Daniel D. Hungerford to “Ed & Helen”, August 26, 1966.

18 Daniel Hungerford in a letter to “Ed & Helen”, August 26, 1966, noted that when his family moved to the Second Street house, “it was [numbered] 825  - at the time and changed to 823 – later”. 

19 Daniel Hungerford in a letter to Keith Marvin, July 15, 1964, described the construction of the garage around 1917.

20 Daniel Hungerford, August 26, 1966.  Charles A. Osman, a carpenter, rode in the Hungerford rocket car in 1934. See below. 

21 Erwin D. French to Paul Edward Garber, December 30, 1967.

« previous   |   next chapter »

Museum Open Tuesday-Sunday: 9:30 am to 5 pm | Carousel Hours: 10 am to 4:30 pm
Office of Cultural Education | New York State Education Department
Information: 518-474-5877 | Contact Us | Image Requests | Terms of Use
Join us on Facebook See us on YouTube See us on Flickr