Abel Putnam Jr…Chester inventor


Every now and then I discover a long forgotten person or event. Such is the story of Abel Putnam Jr. of Chester. Putnam was born in Windham, Vermont in 1819 and died in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1904.

Putnam patent button front side. Photo provided

In the Chester Historical Society collection there are some very unusual brass Civil War buttons. The buttons themselves are identical to other Union buttons of the period. That is they have an eagle holding arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other talon.

On the reverse of these buttons is a patent date of Nov 11, 1862. Using this date and searching patent records I discovered Abel Putnam Jr. of Chester, Vermont was issued a patent for his “Patent Spring Eyelet Hook.”

What is different with Putnam’s patented buttons is the unusual shank. Normally buttons have a simple metal loop that passes through the cloth and then sewn in place. Putnam’s patented buttons have a double wire shank with two bends. Until I found his patent I couldn’t imagine how these buttons were used.

One document I found best describes their use. Below is that testament.

“Important to Soldiers, Patent Spring “Eyelet Hook” for fastening the soldier’s rubber blanket. By their use a double breasted overcoat, with sleeves, is formed, completely defying wind and rain. Every soldier should possess a set. Once fastened they can not be lost.

  “Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac, May 27th, 1863. I have examined the Patent Eyelet Hook, and have a very high opinion of its utility. Believing that it would be of great value to the troops, I recommend that authority be granted to introduce it to the Army.

  RUFUS INGALLS, Brig-General and Chief Quartermaster Army of the Potomac. Approved by Command of Major-General Hooker.”

  One set of hooks sent to any address, free, on receipt of One Dollar. A discount of 20 per cent to parties ordering one dozen sets and upward. Address: FERGUSON & BALCH, Importers of Watches, 208 Broadway, N.Y.


Putnam patent button back. Photo provided

These buttons would have passed through the grommets of the soldier’s rubberized blanket in a fashion so as to create an overcoat.

The above is an important document as it may answer a question Peter Farrar and I have. Did Putnam manufacture the buttons in Chester or sell licenses for others to manufacture? It seems he didn’t manufacture the buttons.

Abel Putnam Jr. attended Chester Academy in 1840. His residence was given as Windham. Putnam’s father Abel Sr. owned a lot of property in Chester, much of it on School Street.

I found other Abel Jr. patents. November 27th, 1877 Putnam was issued a patent for a new and improved barbed wire.

On Sept 20th, 1887 he was issued a patent for a new car heater. This heater was used to heat railroad cars.

I also found he patented a new water faucet and also a water cooler. The water cooler was cast iron with double walls. He may have held other patents.

I have known about Abel Jr. for quite a few years and planned on writing what I knew about him someday. What prompted me to write it now was a phone call I received from Peter Farrar earlier this summer. Peter was researching Chester land records for properties near the Swinging Bridge on School Street and kept encountering Abel Putnam Sr. in those deeds. Peter called to ask what I knew about Abel Putnam.

Abel Jr. married Hannah Harris. At the Chester Historical Society we have several Windham County Court records kept by Judge William Harris. These are bound copies by year dating to the 1850s. They are records of cases Judge Harris tried. Judge Harris was living in Windham in 1823. I didn’t do the genealogy but I bet Abel’s wife, Hannah, was the judge’s daughter.

Also from the Harris family are several dozen diaries and a few scrapbooks. One scrapbook is a collection of early documents, some dating to the late 1700s. One item in this scrapbook is a stock certificate from the Saratoga Star Spring Company. That certificate is to Abel Putnam Jr. for five shares at $100 each and dated February 8, 1868.

Abel Putnam Jr Saratoga Springs stock certificate.
Photo provided

At the historical society we have several of Putnam’s patent buttons. While the donor of the buttons is unknown they undoubtedly came from the Harris family.

Through Peter Farrar’s research we know Abel Jr. was living in Saratoga by November of 1866. It seems Abel spent the Civil War years in Chester.

This week’s old saying. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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