BRCO launches campaign to honor prolific Bethel inventor

By Evelyn M. Coltman | Apr 17, 2017
Calvin Filmore Christopher and his wife with a variety of computing scales

The Bethel Rural Community Organization’s Historic Preservation Committee has launched a campaign to fund a historical marker to honor Calvin Filmore Christopher, a prolific inventor from Bethel whose contributions were profound but unknown.

The significance of Christopher’s brilliant inventions lay dormant after his death for almost 80 years, until Carroll Jones with the Bethel Rural Community Organization’s Historic Preservation Committee decided to investigate.

Jones, with five North Carolina Society of Historians award-winning books to his credit, has an aptitude for ferreting out exceptional historical data that deserves acknowledgement.

Some of Christopher’s innovations are borderline whimsical according to Christopher’s granddaughter, Lois Davis, whose narrative about her grandfather appears in “Legends, Tales and History of Cold Mountain, Book 2,” “The inventor has logged more than 100 patents for complicated mechanical gadgets, some being useful and some being of quaint interest.”

Fitting into the whimsical category were his inventions of a continual motion cradle, the compartmentalized lunchbox and a mechanical cow tether. Sprinkled among his creations such as a brick-making machine, a turfing needle, an automatic monkey wrench, a flytrap and a butter churn were innovations that impacted the railway system and military warfare.

But the inventor’s most impactful developments involved the computing scale. La Nae and Jack McCracken own Christopher’s patent drawing for the computing scale, which is a precursor to today’s modern scales that are used in grocery stores.

Jones researched the 1912 patent in depth as well as approximately 35 other inventions. In 1900, Christopher organized the Independent Scales Company to produce his most financially successful invention.

At the time of his death on May 12, 1940, an article in The Waynesville Mountaineer, titled “Noted inventor dies,” stated, “The world’s grocers and butchers today never have to take pen and paper to figure out the cost of weighed purchases. Millions of us save labor, time, and money with 100 other devices. They owe it to an obscure Pigeon River inventor, but they don’t know it.”

Jones said that despite Christopher’s obscurity, the invention of the price scales changed lives.

“Few people in Haywood County and North Carolina had heard of him when he lived,” he said. “Today, more than 75 years after his death, he is an all-but-forgotten man; and one must wonder how in the world can that be?”

BRCO wants to place a historic marker on Highway #110 near Christopher’s home place, which was destroyed in the 2004 floods. A total of $2,500 is needed and approximately $1,500 has been raised.

To make a donation, send cash or checks to Bethel Rural Community Organizaiton, PO Box 1333, Waynesville, NC 28786 Attention: Historic Marker.