If you ask someone about Royal House, they would probably tell you it has something to do with Queen Elizabeth II and her family.
Or, perhaps, they might suggest that it sounds like one of those places where you order the specially made pillow with your monogram on it, or have a party with friends to buy the Royal House version of Tupperware.
However, if you were to say who was Royal House, they would likely throw their hands into the air and say, who?
That’s a shame, since Royal Earl House deserves much more acknowledgement that that. He was one of the revolutionary inventors who transformed the communication industry in the mid-19th century.
Royal Earl House was born in Rockingham, Vermont on Sept. 9, 1814. When he was a young child, his family moved to Choconut in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While still a youth, his tendency to invention brought his development of a submerged water wheel for a sawmill — later known as a scroll wheel.
He studied law for a short while in Buffalo in the early 1840's, but it was his fascination with electricity and communication that him back to this area. He developed a complex device that would be able to record using communications coming over a telegraphic system that would be printed in normal form using letters rather than Morse’s series of dots and dashes. An early version of House’s printing telegraph was shown in New York City at the Mechanic’s Institute in 1844.
Two years later, in 1846, House’s invention was ready for the world and to be marketed. House was up against Samuel F.B. Morse and his system, which required a telegraphic operator at each terminal to capture the message and translate it into the written word. House’s invention did not, and it could print out that message as delivered.
While it seems as if that should be an improvement, House’s apparatus was very complex and difficult to manufacture. Mass manufacture appeared to be out of the question, so the volume of sales was not as extensive.
By the mid-1850's, House had purchased property in the Binghamton area. By the late 1860's, House had constructed a home just south of the city of Binghamton line, near the top of Mill Street in an area that became known as House’s Hill. It was a secluded location for House to continue to invent. During the period from approximately 1860 to 1885, House used the Binghamton area as his base of operations.
An 1879 newspaper mentioned that young boys felt intimidated by the “inventor” and avoided going near the home of that “strange” man. Yet, during this period, House continued his efforts.
He invented what has become known as the glass insulator — a glass item with a screw socket for attachment to a pole — and he invented the device to make it. In 1865, House presented his model of the printing telegraph to the Patent Office for the federal government — a model that is now located in the Smithsonian Institute. During his life, he applied and received thousands of patents on devices.
While all that might sound successful, House was also the recipient of lawsuits by both Morse and by the Bell Company that sought to stop House from his communication success. In both instances, Morse and Bell lost in court because House’s devices did not impede on the litigants’ designed systems of communication.
Now approaching 70, House made one last move. He left Binghamton for Bridgeport, Connecticut. There he spent that last 10 years of his life in a quiet setting.
On Feb. 23, 1895, at the age of 81, Royal Earl House passed away. His death was noted in several scientific journals of the day, praising his abilities and inventions. His efforts to keep his and Morse’s telegraphic companies separate were lost after he and Morse died, and they combined into one giant telegraphic concern.
Today, only the vigilant in the history of communication are likely aware of Royal House’s efforts. Yet, his printing telegraph changed the way we communicated, and his many inventions are still used in some form today. We were lucky to have him in our area as part of our community.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Samuel Morse competitor and inventor Royal House lived in Binghamton