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Alarm Industry History: Who was Augustus Russel Pope  Part 6
November 18, 2020
Alarm Industry History: Who was Augustus Russel Pope  Part 6
            The beginning of the alarm industry is traced to Augustus Russel Pope.  The below article, contributed by John G. Fischer of Affiliated Monitoring, provides more details than were included in the November 11, 2020 article.  Thanks John.
            The modern burglar alarm industry dates back more than 160 years. It all started with a Unitarian minister in New England who had a penchant for studying telegraphy and electricity. His name was Augustus Russel Pope. We start with what is commonly known as the “Pope Patent” and its designer Augustus Russell Pope.
            Patent number 9802, issued to Augustus Russell Pope on June 21, 1853, remains the seminal design in the evolution of the modern burglar alarm industry. Pope sold the rights to the patent in 1858 to Edwin Holmes and it was Holmes’ dedication to the implementation and success of this invention that would make the burglar alarm a viable and recognized device. While Holmes and others would improve upon its design extensively in subsequent years, the original patent and its inventor deserve both recognition and consideration, as they represent the starting point of what would become known as the “alarm business”. 
            Augustus R. Pope remains an obscure figure, little more than a footnote in the annals of burglar alarm history. Many people cede the invention of the modern burglar alarm to Edwin Holmes, and yet, while Holmes may be known as the “Father of the Burglar Alarm Industry”, Augustus Russell Pope remains the true inventor of the modern burglar alarm.
            Pope was born on January 25, 1819. His ancestry traces itself to the Mayflower, and distant cousins would eventually include both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur. His father, Lemuel Pope served as President of the Boston Insurance Company for many years, while his mother, Sally Belknap Russell would outlive her son by a decade. Pope graduated from Harvard University with the class of 1839 and earned a Divinity degree at Harvard in 1842. 
            Initially ordained the pastor of the Unitarian Church in Kingston, Rhode Island, in 1849 he was installed at the Unitarian Church in Sommerville, Massachusetts where he would live out the reminder of his life. By all accounts, Pope possessed a curious mind and was keenly interested in science, religion and the social consciousness of his day. A committed abolitionist, a letter published in 1846 in The Liberator advocating the end of slavery may still be read today. Called upon by both his church constituents and community, Pope would deliver lectures on everything from Christian virtue to education. When possible, he would apply his knowledge of physics, electricity and telegraphy to his discourses. He served on the Massachusetts Board of Education and devoted what little spare time he had to his endeavor with the “burglar-alarm”. In an 1867 patent extension affidavit, his son Lemuel recalled the energy and interest that his father possessed while working on this device. Evidence of this may be found in a letter published by the editors of Scientific American on June 12, 1852. In this, Pope defends Dr. William Channing as the true inventor of the Fire Alarm telegraph and proves it by enclosing an 1845 newspaper clipping authored by Channing detailing the design of the fire alarm telegraph. Pope goes on to state that he has invented a similar “burglar-alarm” device and installed it at his own home. 
            The development of Pope’s “burglar-alarm” in Sommerville, a town just outside of Boston, was not an accident. Boston, long hailed as the center of the United States telegraphic manufacturing, was home to a shop owned by Charles Williams Jr. Nationally known for his expertly crafted telegraph equipment, Williams was well acquainted with many telegraphic businessmen and inventors of the time including Holmes, Pope, Channing, Alexander Graham Bell and Moses Farmer. Known as the premiere “electrician” of the time, Moses Farmer’s worked with Channing to develop the municipal fire alarm telegraph. At the Williams shop, these men would gather to design, build and discuss their latest inventions and ideas in electricity and telegraph communication. According to testimony given by Williams at the aforementioned patent extension hearing, Pope spent considerable time in the Williams workshop between 1856 and 1858. 
            The design of the Pope patent, simple by today’s standards, proved to be highly effective. It called for a normally open circuit. Doors and windows were connected in parallel and when physically opened they would close the circuit and activate the alarm. It is worth noting that the alarm did not “latch”. That is to say, the bell would stop ringing once the violated door or window was physically shut. 
                        According to Pope’s wife Lucy, Pope attempted to market his invention by advertising in several newspapers. In 1856, he exhibited his alarm at the Fair of the Mechanics Charitable Association of Boston and won both a diploma and a silver medal. He hired a salesman to help sell the device, and completed one installation in a shoe factory near Boston; however, failing health and the need to provide for his family prompted him to sell the patent rights to Edwin Holmes in 1858 for $1800.00 in cash and $8000.00 in notes. Interestingly, the details surrounding this assignment are not entirely clear. Lucy Pope would state in an 1867 affidavit that this assignment had indeed transpired, but this change does not appear in the patent assignment digest of the time. Due to a printing error in the text of the original patent, Pope applied for a reissue of the patent (possibly at Holmes’ request) shortly before his death. He passed away at age thirty-nine of typhoid fever on May 24, 1858. The patent was reissued on June 8, 1858. Pope’s demise, before the patent was reissued, may have something to do with the patent assignment confusion, and the subsequent testimony of Pope’s family and friends for the patent committee in 1867. Ironically, this recorded testimony gives us much of what little information we have about this very prolific man. 
            Tomorrow we will discuss the changes that Edwin Holmes introduced to the alarm industry and how he overcame public doubt using tenacious marketing techniques at a time when the industrial revolution was changing the face of America.  
John G. Fischer
​Affiliated Monitoring ​

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