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

by Geoffrey N. Stein


Over more than a half century, Daniel and Floyd Hungerford imagined and developed a variety of inventions. While this book elsewhere mentions important Hungerford products, e.g. aircraft engines and the rocket car, this section identifies additional projects. Some Hungerford work was only incomplete, elusive sketches. Other inventions, including some that were patented, came closer to production.

Two-Cylinder Opposed Aircraft engine
Dated 1909–1910, a two-cylinder, thirty-horsepower engine combined air and water cooling using fins and copper water jackets. The layout was similar to the Detroit Aero Engine, an air-cooled device used in light aircraft of the 1910 period. Additional description appeared in part earlier in chapter two of this book. The engine survives in the collection of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport. 

Figure 21:
Daniel and Floyd Hungerford, left to right, posed with the two-cylinder aircraft engine designed and built by them in 1909.

Automatic Stop and Reverse Mechanism a.k.a. Furnace Regulator
A handbill promoting Daniel Hungerford for assembly in the election of 1948 included the information that among Hungerford's inventions was “the all-electric furnace regulator”. The 1910 patent granted to Hungerford for the automatic stop and reverse mechanism suitable for use in a thermostat was described above in chapter one. The rights to the patent were assigned to Hungerford's employer, the American Thermostat Company.

Rotary Aircraft Engine
Working with Amos P. Newlands, the Hungerfords, in 1928,  applied and received a patent in 1932 for the valve fitted to the hub for a five-cylinder, two-stroke engine (cylinders each firing during one revolution). Curtiss Museum curator Merrill Stickler noted in 1979 that there were two Hungerford “cased rotary engines of unusual design” in the Museum's collection.171 One example is the five-cylinder engine, while the second is a smaller, four-cylinder machine. Photographs from the Hungerfords show both free-standing engines operating. The author does not know if either engine ever was installed in an airplane. 

Figure 22:

A patent for Daniel and Floyd Hungerford and Amos P. Newland was granted on April 12, 1932. The rotary "internal combustion engines" invention patent application was filed more than four years previous, on February 8, 1928.

Newlands (1875–1973) appears in the 1906, 1938 and 1949 Elmira city directories as a painter. In 1912, he was an engineer at the Hotel Rathbun. And from 1914 until 1933, he worked as a chauffeur for the Copeland family in Elmira.172 Newlands was identified (1940) as a carpenter residing with his wife Millie on West First Street a few blocks from the Hungerfords. His work as a chauffeur and, if independently employed as a painter or carpenter, likely left him time to visit and consult with the Hungerford brothers. What education he had beyond the ability to read and write reported in the 1920 census is unknown here.

Schuyler Lathers related that Daniel Hungerford received $10,000 from the federal government during World War One for an aircraft engine. With no camshaft, no valves, and no connecting rods, the pistons were mounted directly on the crankshaft. Lathers said he saw a model of the engine in 1935 or 1936.173 One wonders if Lathers after the passage of forty-five years might actually have seen a model of the rotary engine patented by the Hungerford brothers and Amos Newlands. Or, more likely, perhaps he saw the smaller, four-piston rotary which appears to be encased in a box, actually a frame.

Peg Gallagher said Lathers told her he remembered a science instructor and Hungerford discussing an “unusual aircraft engine that Daniel told him the federal government had given him $10,000 to develop.” Lather recalled,

        He took me to his barn and he claimed to have collected one of every kind of aircraft engine in the world. And, in a box, you couldn't see much that looked like an engine, but supposedly it was one of their prototypes and he did tell me he got $10,000 from the federal government for it.

Lathers said he couldn't substantiate Hungerford's claims, which he says, “may have been inflated.” Neither, however, can he dismiss them. He remembers Dan's description of the engine. “It was not a turbo type like your jet engines of today. But he claimed he could develop a flame – which was apparently true today – that was as hard as a bar of steel.” Lathers said.

“I don't know...that's quite a statement. But on the other hand, a jet engine when it takes off is nothing more than a column of air which is under high compression. He was essentially doing the same thing with his little rocket.”174 One wonders if Lathers at the end was talking about Hungerford's “electro-magnetic space drive” mechanism described in chapter seven of this book.


In an excerpt from a conversation about Chemung County aviation history, someone named Crandall spoke of the Hungerford rotary engine.

Crandall --- I remember, in his backyard, for a long time, I was called to take a picture of a new engine that he had created. He had reversed the old radial engine which had all the connecting rods meeting in the middle out of a central crankshaft and he had the pistons going outward. The entire outside of the engine was the crankcase. His idea was that the centrifugal force, when this thing turned around, would keep the oil in that area and the connecting rods instead of being flexible in connection with the pistons, were rigidly set, and at the ends, they had little rollers that climbed on an inclined plane at about seven different angles that went around in the middle of this crankcase. Do you remember that?

Griswold --- No, but I know that he had a lot of ideas.

Crandall---Of course, it was an idea that didn't work because it was too doggone heavy.175

Patent attorney George L. Wheelock in 1942 wrote to Daniel Hungerford, Floyd Hungerford, and Amos Newlands asking if the men might wish to acquire their original letters patent, #1,853,563, since Wheeler was closing his office in Manhattan.  Daniel Hungerford responded by sending postage stamps to Wheeler to mail the documents.  Wheelock answered, “As you write to me that you may have some new work for me in the near future, I will send you my new address in California, if you wish to do business with me out there.”176 The writer knows of no further correspondence with Wheelock.

In 1927, the Elmira Sunday Telegram stated that Daniel Hungerford, the “recognized authority in aerial matters”, was familiar with the work of Charles S. Teasdale, who in Elmira in 1910 had built a glider and planned to add an engine. The “five cylinder rotating plan” was to weigh ninety pounds and develop sixteen horsepower.177 Whether this plan related to the Hungerford-Newlands patent in 1932 is unknown.

Both engines at the Curtiss Museum were on exhibit in 2013. The larger, five-cylinder engine was shown taken apart so that visitors could see the mechanism.

Figure 23:
This photograph of a five-cylinder engine shows the
Hungerfords posing with the parts before assembly.

Rocket-powered soldering iron 
Daniel Hungerford said he and his brother devised this item to speed aircraft construction work. Keith Marvin wrote it was the press of the aircraft repair business that induced the Hungerfords to develop their soldering iron.

The Hungerfords said the idea was that the iron with a blast of burned gas would push itself away from the soldered area. Marvin said gasoline was used for fuel in the iron and added,

Low octane - air - spark plug principle. This they soon had, and after some experience they perfected it, Attached to an air hose, once activated, the hose and head gave a quick but firm jolt, not unlike the kickback of a rifle or shotgun. When asked why the head was used instead of the more conventional iron which wouldn't kick, Daniel explained: “In the repair business, particularly during the annual soaring contests, we had more than enough business and had to do perfect work. Much of this involved soldering, and after all, if you have a rocket iron which works four times or so faster than the regular type, it really does seem more practical.”178

The iron was a gift from Marvin to the State Museum in 2005.

Rocket-powered lawn mower 
Marvin wrote, “This, sad to relate, was never finished; it would have been more interesting to see how quickly grass and weeds might be cut by rocketry, or how much mayhem might have been created with hedges, bird baths and the like, had the machine ‘gotten away.'”179


Automotive Chassis

Marvin donated to the New York State Museum a sheet of typing paper on which is marked by hand in pencil “D. D. & F. S. HUNGERFORD INVENTORS AXLESS-AUTIMOBILE MOUNT AND DRIVE.” A second notation says “EXACT DATE OF CONCEPTION NOT AVAILABLE AT THE MOMENT MODEL OUT IN OUR SHOP SOME WHERE BUT IN LATE 20'S OR EARLY 1930'S”. 

The drawing on the page shows what appears to be a vehicle with four, independently-suspended wheels; in an era of solid axles at both ends of automobiles, the independently suspended wheels, indeed, were unusual. Taped to the drawing is a letter Daniel Hungerford sent to Keith Marvin on June 6, 1964.

Dear Keith:
       Appended here to is an idea Floyd and I – puzzled over once for some time many years ago – and actually built some parts of a model – It is out in our shop -. It will be some task to locate the parts we did make - You will understand with one look into our shop. Such a mess.
      Full detail is now shown – obviously[.] Floyd was right – when he said one day –
Dan we have enough planned to consume ten thousand years – building-.
Keith – I'm amazed –at the amount of work you have done [on the ‘Wizards' article].
        Most sincerely
D.D. & F.S. Hungerford

If the model to which Daniel Hungerford referred was a full, or near full scale, device, then it was attached to the fuselage of a Curtiss Oriole airplane which George Mapes remembers seeing in the Hungerford shop in the 1940s. He recalls the airplane covered with junk “ever since I knew him [Dan]”. The fuselage had two wheels on it with a mechanism. “I really couldn't understand” for making them lean to change the center of gravity. The idea was to use such a system in automobiles for high speed cornering.180  A photograph of the Oriole fuselage being transported to the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport shows a portion of the left side of the fuselage with a balloon type automobile tire and wheel mounted under a fender. The fuselage subsequently was rebuilt, without the suspension device, as the part of a complete Oriole airplane on display at the Curtiss Museum.

Automotive Brake and Accelerator Pedal

Robert Boyles has observed Daniel Hungerford was a genius who could do anything mechanically. Boyles, as a young man spending time at the Hungerford shop, saw many of Hungerford's inventions which did not pay off.  For example, there was a device for taking a car out of gear when the driver's foot was applied to the brake pedal which Hungerford installed on a Terraplane car he owned.

A surviving, rough, pencil drawing showing a similar device is labeled “Combination Foot Brake and Acc. Pedal Invented by D. D. Hungerford Oct. 10-1962”. The names of Guy W. Harder, a Hungerford neighbor, and Russell L. Barr, an inventor and Hungerford colleague, are attached to the sheet as “witnesses”.181

A 1965 letter from Joseph Crupi, of the Ford Motor Company's engineering “New Devices” staff to Hungerford acknowledges receipt of a Hungerford letter concerning the combined brake and accelerator system. Crupi noted a number of “similar constructions” were proposed both by Ford employees and outsiders. He indicated that in the case of a “particularly novel construction” the Ford Company would consider it, preferring to deal with patented ideas as an indication of novelty with the “rights of the patentee...established.”182

An undated newspaper clip notes:

Only six years ago, Dan picked me up at my store and took me for a test ride in an old car wherein the accelerator and brake all worked on the SAME pedal. He'll never know until he reads this how scared I was that afternoon. As I recall, you pushed your foot part way down to feed the gas, and all the way down to apply the brakes. Gosh, I shiver at the thought of one-pedal cars downtown on Friday Nights, but then...Dan's invention was only in the blueprint stage at that time...and traffic was lighter.183

Key Ejector

H. Steven Sekella recalls a Daniel Hungerford device to prevent a person from leaving a key in a lock. Primarily intended for house doors, the device was also applicable to automobile locks. A spring would eject the key if the user did not pull it from the lock. The experimental model Hungerford devised was “too powerful”, throwing the key from the test lock across the Hungerford yard.184

Vine Tying Tool
In an August 1966 letter, Daniel Hungerford noted that “loosing [sic] 823 [his house at 823 West Second Street] and loss of my arm has tied up work on the Vine Tiiing [sic] Tool.” Then on November 7 [?], 1966, Hungerford wrote to Harry O. Bright, an attorney at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to seek compensation of $2,000,000 for an injury working with the Elmira Water Board. This injury then led to

       My inability to complete a contract, to develope [sic] a tool for one of the wine companie's [sic] in Hammondsport, N.Y. Shortly be fore [sic] my injury, I was most fortunate the agreement was verbal and not bonded. I don't [sic] mean that I wanted to squirm out of the deal. Not at all. I was making good progress with the invention, until [sic] two and one half years ago. When I had a relapse of my condition, rendering my right arm almost completely, [sic] I could barely lift my crutch, much less handle tools.....
       Returning to my invention, for a moment, same when completed, and put on the market is worth, millions of dollars.185

Unfortunately, the author has no additional information about this device.

Snow Plow
In the fall of 1966 in an undated letter to Mayor Howard H. Kimball and the Elmira city council, Hungerford mentioned that he, and his late brother Floyd, had devised “an invention, to be attached, to road scraper and, [sic] snow plow blades.” During the previous winter, he had sent “drawings, specifications, and, letter of terms, under which we would be willing to let Elmira, develope [sic] and use our invention”. Hearing nothing from the city, Hungerford in his letter asked for the return of the material, enclosing “postage to cover cost of mailing.”186

Robert Boyles remembers a motorcycle Hungerford “built from scratch”. Boyles added, “I never saw the motorcycle in operation, but noted that it was chain driven.”187

Self-Moving Wheel
In January 1967, Hungerford wrote he was “working on a machine of a different [unlike the electro-magnetic space drive] – that may have a promice [sic] – some thing we (I) can do here in my little rooms--.”188 This likely was the “self-moving wheel” shown in Hungerford drawings dated December 26 and 31, 1966, as well as January 3, 1967. On the first drawing Hungerford noted,

I just dreamed – sitting here – a man came in carrying – large – wheel –wire spokes – that extended beyond a sort of rim but not a rim-. The wheel was a good 3-feet in diam – and looked like this – The thing happened so quick I couldn't catch all the details. The hoop [?] looking at the edge looked like this... 

The drawings also are marked “SELF-MOVING WHEEL-. Our idea – not the wheel –with the spokes” and “Supporting bracket and Frame For Self Moving Wheel...D.D. & F. S. Hungerford”.

Steven Sekella recalls a perpetual motion machine in the Hungerford apartment on East Third Street. This device resembled a Ferris wheel and used ball bearings. One wonders if that might have been the self-propelling wheel.189 

Figure 24:
Daniel Hungerford proposed his "self-moving wheel" in the drawing dated January 3, 1967.

Concrete Drill
Drawings of a “Rock or Concrete drill” are identified as “DESIGNED -5-30-58 RUSSELL BARR. 531 CENTER STREET. ELMIRA”.  Although Barr's name appears on the images and captions and he was close with the Hungerfords, the drawings and lettering for the drill resemble Daniel Hungerford's work.  One wonders if the Hungerfords recorded most of the invention.    

171 Stickler to Geoffrey N. Stein, March 30, 1979.

172 I. Seymour Copeland was the owner of the Evening Star, one of the two newspapers which merged in 1907 to form the continuing Star Gazette.

173 Lathers to Geoffrey Stein in conversation, August 9, 1979. No patents were issued to Daniel Hungerford between 1914 and 1922. In fact, the only patents granted to him at all apparently are for the automatic start and reverse mechanism described above and for the joint Daniel, Floyd Hungerford and Amos Newlands invention of the rotary engine.

174Peg Gallagher, “Moonstruck”, New York Alive, March/April 1986, p. 52.

175 Three pages of this conversation are preserved in photocopy form at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum and at the Chemung County Historical Society among items collected in the early 2000s by research David Smith. “Crandall” possibly was G. Wells Crandall, a photographer.

176 Wheelock to D. D. Hungerford, March 17, 1942 and March 23, 1942.

177 September 11, 1927. The article is a “review of the history of airplane construction as it related to this city in particular”.

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

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

180 George Mapes in telephone conversation with Geoffrey Stein, July 23 and 24, 2008. If, indeed, the Oriole is the item in question, it actually had been transferred to the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum a few years prior to the time Hungerford wrote to Marvin. That fuselage since has been restored to original, Curtiss factory form in the recreation of a complete Oriole aircraft. If, on the other hand, Hungerford actually had a small-scale model in mind, that likely has been lost.

181 A photocopy of the drawing was provided to the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum by researcher David Smith. The original may be in the hands of Linda Hungerford Lathrop, a granddaughter of Daniel's brother William.

182 September 16, 1965.

183 The writer's “at my store” suggests the column clothing store operator was Leon Markson who wrote regularly for the Elmira Star-Gazette.

184 H. Steven Sekella to Geoffrey Stein via telephone, September 30, 2008.

185 Daniel D. Hungerford to Harry O. Bright, November 7[?], 1966.

186 Daniel D. Hungerford to Howard H. Kimball et al. The letter is signed “Daniel D. & Floyd S. Hungerford by DDH”

187 Robert Boyles in telephone conversation with Geoffrey Stein, July 31, 2008; Boyles to Stein via letter, October 25, 2008. 

188 Daniel D. Hungerford to H. Steven Sekella, January 12, 1967.

189 Sekella to author by telephone, November 3, 2008.

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