Mr. Wilber Confesses

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Mr. Wilber Confesses
by Zenas Fisk Wilber
366349Mr. Wilber ConfessesZenas Fisk Wilber
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A New Light Thrown Upon the Granting of the Bell Telephone Patent— An Affidavit Gives the Story in Detail Prof. Bell's Denial.

The proceedings of the Telephone Investigation Committee yesterday were extremely common place until just before the time for adjournment, when there was a decided sensation. Col. Casey Young, who was in the room, stated that he had a line of evidence to offer and he wished to state to the committee that it was in the form of an affidavit, the signer to which could he summoned as a witness. Col. Young was immediately interrupted by Mr. Ranney, who wanted to know who the witness was. Col. Young declined to give his name, but offered to read the statement to the committee. Again Mr. Ranney objected, although Chairman Boyle suggested that the paper be read. A lively discussion followed. Mr. Ranney opposed the' reading of the affidavit and was equally firm in objecting to having a statement of its contents made verbally. Finally it was agreed that the paper should not he read in open session, but that Col. Young should briefly state its contents.

"It is briefly this." said Col. Young. "This affidavit shows that the Bell Telephone patent was obtained by direct fraud and corruption of a Government official and that the direct agent was the patentee himself."

This remark, as might be imagined, caused a profound silence, Mr. Hubbard and Prof. A. M. Bell, the father-in-law and father of Prof. Bell, were among those present in the room. The committee decided to consider the paper in executive session today and decide whether it should go into this new phase of the case.

The affidavit states in effect, that Prof. Alexander G. Bell paid to Zenas F. Wilber, while the latter was an examiner in the Patent Office, the sum of $100 for information contained in the caveat of Prof. Elisha Gray. It is in detail as follows:


Zenas Fisk Wilber, being duly sworn, deposes and says: I am the same Zenas Fisk Wilber who was the principal Examiner in the United States Patent Office, in charge of a division embracing all applications for patents relating to electrical inventions, during the years 187576, and till May 1,1877, about which latter date I was promoted to be Examiner of Interferences; that as such examiner the application of Alexander Graham Bell, upon which was granted to him letters patent of the United States, No. 174,465, dated March 7,1876, for ""multiple telegraphy."" was referred to me and was by me personally examined and passed to issue.

And I am the same Zenas Fisk Wilber who has given affidavits in the telephone controversy, commonly called the ""Bell controversy,"" in which a bill has been filed and suit brought in the Southern district of Ohio by the United States for the avoidance of letters patent No. 174,465, issued 3 March 7.1876, and No. 180,787. issued January 30.1877, both to Alexander Graham Bell, which affidavits so given by me were used at the hearing before the commission In the Interior Department, consisting of Secretary Lamar, Assistant Secretaries Muldrow and Jenks and Commissioner of Patents Montgomery, which commission sat for the purpose of advising the Department of Justice as to the advisability and propriety of the General Government bringing the suit. In none of such affidavits heretofore made by me, and referred to in this affidavit, have the exact facts and the entire truth been told by me in relation to the circumstances connected with the issuance of the said patent 174,465. These affidavits were made by me under circumstances which I propose to relate herein, and obtained from me to serve the ends and purposes of the parties who influenced me.

In order that parties may be vindicated and injustice rectified. I have concluded to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It will be Impossible for the courts of the country to mete out exact justice without a knowledge of the Influences brought to bear upon me while examiner In the Patent Office, In 1875,1876 and 1877, which caused me to show Prof. Bell Elisha Gray's caveat, then under my charge and control, as by law provided, and which caused mo to favor Bell, in various ways, In acting on several applications for patents by him made.

This conclusion has not come upon me suddenly, but after due and deliberate consideration, and after having carefully weighed the consequences which must result from this disclosure. I am fully aware that it may place me In an awkward position with some of my friends, and, possibly, before the public: that it may even alienate some of my friends from me; nevertheless I have concluded to do as above stated, regardless of consequences, without the hope or promise of reward or favor on the one hand, and without fear of results on the other band.

The affidavits herein before referred to were excuted July 30 and August 3,1885 (these being duplicates), October 10,1885, November 7, 1885, and October 21,1885. One of these affidavits, viz., the one of October 21, 1885, given at a request of the Bell Company by Mr. Swan, of its counsel, was given when I was afflicted with and Buffering from alcoholism, and was obtained from mo when I was so suffering; and, after it had been so obtained from me, I was vilified and attacked before the commission referred to.

Under such conditions my faculties wore not in their normal condition, and I was, in fact, duped to sign it—not fully realizing then, as I do now, the statements therein contained. I had been drinking, and was mentally depressed, nervous, and not in a fit condition for so important a matter. As stated, I did not realize (could not in my then condition) the effect or scope of the affidavit, the data for which were supplied by Mr. Swan, who paid me S100 therefore for the Bell Company. In this instance, and at this time, I am entirely and absolutely free from any alcoholic taint whatever; I am perfectly sober and a conscious master of myself, mentally and physically. This affidavit is, consequently, the outcome of a changed mode of life and a desire on my part to aid in righting a great wrong done to an innocent man. I am convinced that, by my action while Examiner of Patents, Elisha Gray was deprived of proper opportunity to establish his right to the invention of the telephone, and I now propose to tell how it was done.

The attorneys for Prof. Bell in the matter of the application which became patent No. 174,465 wore Messrs. Pollok & Bailey, then a leading firm of patent practitioners in Washington City (since dissolved and each In business for himself). Maj. Bailey, of that firm, had the active management of the CAS, and several times appeared before me, during its pendency, in relation thereto. Maj. Bailey and I had then been acquainted for almost thirteen years, had for a time been officers In the same regiment and staff officers upon the same stuff of the same brigade commander. Upon my appointment to the Patent Office, In 1S70, our old acquaintance was renewed and for years we were exceedingly friendly, and still are so even to this day. I was poor when I became examiner, and consequently was in constant and great straits. I had several times borrowed money from Maj. Bailey, notwithstanding the fact that Commissioner Leggett had. in 1871 or 1872, issued an order prohibiting employees of the Patent Office from borrowing, in any way or under any subterfuge, from attorneys practicing before the office or from inventors; which order was then and is still in force.

I was consequently In debt to Mac. Bailey at the time the application or Bell was filed in the office; in addition, I was under obligations to him for a present to my wife—a very handsome and expensive gold hunting case lady's watch, which I understood be procured from George P. Heed & Company, of Boston. Mass. I consequently felt under many and lasting obligations to him, and necessarily felt like requiting him in some degree at least. by favoring him in his practice whenever and however I could.

As I recollect, I borrowed $100 from him about the time the Bell application was filed. He was known as a liberal man, and gave expensive presents and loaned money to others In the office. Feeling thus in his power from the obligations noted, surrounded by such environments, I was called upon to act officially upon the application of Alexander Graham Bell.

When I suspended Bell's application because of the Gray caveat, I did not, in the official letter to Bell, give the name or ho caveator, nor his date of filing Maj. Bailey appearing before me in regard to such suspension. I allowed him to become acquainted with both facts—telling him personally the same, so that he immediately Knew the ex¬act facts upon which to bade the protest be subsequently filed against such suspension, and which was referred by me to the Commissioner. in person, for instructions.

The Commissioner directed me to investigate and determine if possible which (the application of Bell or the caveat of Gray) was filed the earlier on February 14,1876, and to be governed by such finding of fact as to the maintenance or dissolution of such suspension.

From the circumstances herein before detailed I was anxious to please Mac. Bailey— keep on the best and most friendly terms with him: and hence was desirous of finding that the Bell application was the earlier filed; and I did not make as thorough an examination as I should have done, In justice to all concerned. So when I found in the "Cash Blotter" the entry of the receipt of Bell's fee ahead of the entry of the receipt of Gray's fee, I closed the examination and determined that Bell was the earlier: whereas I should have called for proofs from both Bell and Gray and have investigated in other directions, instead of being controlled by the entries alluded to and the statements of Maj. Bailey to me. The effect of this was to throw Gray out of court without his having an opportunity to be heard or of having his rights protected, and the issuance of the patent hurriedly and in advance of its turn to Bell.

After the suspension of Bell's application bad been revoked. Prof. Bell called upon mo in person, at the office, and X showed him the original drawing of Gray's caveat and fully explained Gray's method of transmitting and receiving. Prof. Bell was with me quite a time on this occasion—probably upwards of an hour— when I showed the drawing and explained Gray's methods to him. This visit was either the next day or the second day after revocation of the suspension. Bell had been in the office before this on several occasions in relation to other cases, so we were then acquainted; on this visit he was alone and the visit occurred in the forenoon. About 2 P. M. of the same day he (Bell) returned to the office for a short time. On his leaving I accompanied him into the hall and around the corner into a cross ball leading into the courtyard, where Prof. Bell presented me with a 3100 bill. I am fully aware that this will be denied by Prof. Bell, and that probably the statements that I have made as to my relations with Mac. Bailey and his influence will be denied, but nevertheless they are true. Gray's caveat was a secret, confidential document under the law, and I should not have been influenced to divulge the same. but I did so, as herein before related. The caveat was for some weeks in a file box on my desk and could have been taken there from and from the office and kept over night without my knowledge. Prof. Bell, in his testimony in the Dowd case, admits having had a conversation with me in relation to the caveat, but says, as I remember it that I declined to show him the caveat, which is not true. I did show him the original drawing as herein before stated. In corroboration of the fact stated herein, that Maj. Bailey had an influence over me, I desire to refer to several other applications of Prof. Bell's which were acted on and became patent In remarkably quick order, as will be shown by the records of the Patent Office. [Several cases are hero cited in proof of this assertion and the affidavit Continues as follows: Such rapid progress from application to patents are exceptional and few such instances. if any, can be found outside, of Bell's cases. I stand ready and shall always be ready and willing to verify this statement before any court or proper tribunal In the land.


(Seal of Notary.)

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 8th day of April, 1886.



""There is not a particle of truth in the story,"" said Prof. A. Graham Bell to a POST reporter last night when seen in connection with this matter. ""I have only seen Mr. Wilber two or three times in my life. The first time was when he was a patent examiner in the Patent Office at about the time when the Bell patent came out, but after the caveat had all been settled. The second time was about two years ago in New York. We met on the street and he claimed acquaintance. I did not recognize him and he introduced himself as Mr. Wilber. Even then I did not know who he was, and he then said that he was a patent examiner when our patent came out. I then said I was glad to see him. But as for the statement that I ever paid him a cent or offered to pay him anything at any tune, it is not true. Neither do I know of any one else paying him anything. I know at the tune the Bell patent was issued I would have been glad to have had $100 in my possession.""

""I have never seen Mr. Wilber, never had any communication with him and had never heard of him until recently in connection with these conflicting affidavits,"" said Prof. Alexander M. Bell to a POST reporter. ""There is not a shadow of foundation for the story. Of course I am not in a position to answer for the rest of the company, but I know that any such accusation applying to any officer of the Bell Telephone Company in Washington is equally false. They must be on their last legs to get up such a story as that.""

The reporter was then placed in telephonic communication with Gardiner G. Hubbard, the other Washington member of the Bell Telephone Company, and received from him an emphatic denial of the story.

[The above diagram was furnished to us by Mr. Wilber. We print it because it is pictorial, end not because it proves anything in particular.—Ed.]

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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