After Fox

After Fox

After Fox

After Fox

After Fox

After Fox

In the late 1920s, as sound film emerged as the growing universal medium favored by the film industry, Ted Case actively sought his escape from the restrictive world of business.

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Other Endeavors

Yearning for a return to the freedom of a small scale research scientist, Case eventually sold his shares in Fox-Case Corporation in September of 1929. As he enjoyed his early “retirement,” Case dabbled in a variety of scientific endeavors. With the Case Research Lab remaining an active manufacturing site for Fox Film Corporation, Case resumed his active research from his new mansion on South St., which is still to this day the largest residential structure in Auburn. Take a look at some of the inventions Case considered in this time!

Insect Repellant House Paint

As Case’s eclectic 1920s mansion neared completion, he became tired of the incessant nuisance of house flies and the abundant fly paper needed to keep them at bay. Rather than seek out existing methods for extermination, Case devoted his scientific mind to the problem. Having been burned in his patent dealings with Lee de Forest, Case became accustomed to drawing up legal records of his scientific curiosities. His creation is described in a 1931 patent:

It is a well known fact that a new house or a house that has been newly painted or refinished seems to collect an unwarranted number of insects, especially house flies, Mr. Case had the idea of incorporating in the paint or other finishing materials and also in the plaster some insecticide which would be as permanent as possible. If an actual insecticide is not practical, then to incorporate some chemical which is distasteful to insects and which would make them leave the house.

In Mr. Case’s new house he is having flytox incorporated in the finishing material in one room and expects to make further experiments along this line as rapidly as possible. He feels that if insects, particularly house flies, could be kept out of people’s homes in some such manner as outlined above that it would be a great assistance in maintaining good health and would assist in decreasing the spread of contagious and infectious diseases. Of course, the substances used to either drive away or kill the insects should be noninjurious to human life.

Ice Cube Tray

With his time largely devoted to his leisurely exploits, Case continued to devote his mind to his own curiosities and pastimes, one of which was the enjoyment of many cocktails and drinks requiring access to ice cubes. Clearly irritated by the common issue of ice cube trays spewing cubes while trying to remove them, he developed a simple method for preventing the nuisance:

“On account of the trouble and the more or less uncleanly way in which, at present, ice cubes are removed from the freezing trays of an electric refrigerator, Mr. Case had the idea of making a perforated cover with short legs on the upper side to go inside of the freezing trays. This perforated cover or screen would not only serve the purpose of keeping the ice cubes out of the sink when they are loosened up with water but would also keep them from falling on the floor or sliding around in general and making a mess. The underside of the screen, that is, the side towards the ice cubes would be retained in the screen.

With this device in the tray it could be brought direct from the freezing chamber and laid upside down in the sink while water is run over in the bottom of the tray in the usual manner and the cubes would fall out into the retaining cover or screen. In this way the ice would not come in contact with the sink and it would also make the operation of obtaining these cubes much more handy and simple.”

“Mechanical Nose”

With a continued interest in the unique application of light, Case considered a possible method to detect natural gas leaks:

“In view of the fact that gas is being used so much more nowadays for heating in houses and other places it might be a good thing to devise a mechanical nose to detect the presence of escaping gas. Her is one method which might be used which we intend to work on:

A)     Make up platinum black which has the property of igniting gas becoming warm in the process. In this first way the idea would be to mix the platinum black with some other material and dilute the platinum black to the point where if a gas were present in any material quantity it would merely make the mixture hot and not ignite. Then in this mixture or next to it touching it would be placed a thermostatic arrangement which would set off an electrical contact on the platinum black becoming warm and bending the thermostatic control.

B)     If this dilution cannot be satisfactorily accomplished so that we would only get heat there and no actual combustion then we must take advantage of the actual combustion property by inclosing the capsule of platinum black and the thermostatic control within a tiny miner’s lamp, gauze surrounding it so that the gas could get through to the inside and become ignited inside but not allow the combustion through the gauze to the outside and cause a dangerous explosion.”

“Tree Surgery”

Experimenting on an elm in the backyard of his South Street mansion, Case developed a method to promote the regrowth of bark on a tree, possibly as a response to Dutch Elm disease. In a description from his patent, the process was described that he, “discovered a method of tree surgery applicable to trees from which a section of bark has been removed or which have been girdled and by means of which such tree or limb will not only be maintained alive even if entirely girdled but also will grow faster, the leaves will become larger and greener than normal. Further, this method provides a means for causing non-symmetrical trees to become symmetrical.

The End of An Era

By the early 1930s, Fox would still rely on the Case Research Lab for the production of AEO lights for use in creating newsreels. As Case became less and less involved in the operations of the Laboratory, the space also lost its strongest advocate for the Lab’s operations remaining in Auburn. Earl Sponable became the head of Fox’s research division and would oversee the transfer of the Lab’s operations to New York City. Where Case’s career in sound film ended, Sponable’s was just beginning as he continued to develop Fox Film Corporation through its transformation into the media giant, 20th Century Fox.

With the Lab’s operations moved to New York, and with Case living in his grand home on South Street, the Willard-Case Mansion remained empty until 1936 when the first director of the museum, Walter Long, spoke with Case about contributing the space to become Auburn’s first dedicated art museum. Case agreed (apparently for a payment of a “box of stogies and $5”) and the Cayuga Museum moved into the space. Case’s role in sound film had ended, and in 1944 he died at the age of 55, leaving a legacy that continues to unfold to this day.

Crediting for Images on this Page

Header: Earl Sponable working at Fox Studios, c. 1926

Image: Ted Case with camera

Image: Construction of 108 South St.

Image: 108 South St. construction 1928-1929

Image: Ted Case, c. 1930

Image: Ted Case in car

Image: Elm tree surgery patent, 1933

Image: Earl Sponable in later years with camera