Updated 24-XII-2018

John H. Guest

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

John H. Guest6

Several names appear in the early technical writings on incandescent lamps but many of these names are forgotten as the years go by. A name that appears in lists of incandescent lamps collected by William J. Hammer is that of Guest. John H. Guest was a Brooklynite who was granted at least 42 patents in the United States as well as patents in other countries. The subject matter of these patents includes arc and incandescent lamps, manufacture of lamps, various aspects of systems for railways, ticket register apparatuses, motor, and automatic fire alarm telegraphs.

Although Guest was granted several patents on incandescent lamps his name is little known today in that regard. Indeed, it is difficult to find mention of his name at all. Lamp patents were granted to him as early as 1880 and his last patent, which was granted in 1905 for a lead-in wire, is perhaps his best known endeavor. It now appears that his many patents did not bring wealth to him and his life ended in a tragic way.

A brief periodical article (letter to the editor) by Guest will be presented here regarding platinum filaments. In addition, through the courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library two newspaper articles regarding Guest were obtained. These will be presented in their entirety. The photograph of Guest was scanned from the 1907 article6.

The 1884 letter to the editor2 was written in response to an earlier abstract written about the Cruto incandescent lamp1. Both letters will be presented here.

The Cruto Incandescent Lamp
"Herr Goetz has made a series of experiments showing some of the peculiarities of the Cruto lamp. The carbon filament is deposited upon a very slender core of platinum. It was originally supposed that this core was melted and dissipated by the application of a current of sufficient strength, and that there remained in the completed lamp simply a very fine hollow cylinder of pure carbon. It now appears, however, that the platinum core is not dissipated, but that it unites with the carbon, forming a compound filament. Herr Goetz did not go beyond a luminosity of 17 candle power, which he attained by the expenditure of 32 volt-ampères. Tests with some specimens of the lamps indicated an increase of resistance, with an increase of electro-motive force. No information has been reported as to their length of life, which is a most important qualification."
John Guest then made the following comments regarding the above article.

Experiments with Platinum Filaments
"In the 'abstracts and extracts' of your valuable paper of April (March ?) last, I was reminded of some of my early experiments in incandescent lamps, through reading of 'Herr Goetz's' experiments on the 'Cruto' lamp. Who Herr Goetz and Cruto are I know not, never having heard of them before, but the subject of depositing carbon and platinum wire was pretty well ventilated by me in the early boom of incandescent lighting, and as you have shown some interest in that direction perhaps my experience and observations of that time may be important.

"My first experimental lamp in that precise direction I yet have. The object I had in view was to form a case for or to surround the platinum wire for the purpose of holding the metal when in the fused state. The plan for doing this was as follows: I introduced the fine platinum wire into an apparatus similar to that as described in the U. S. patent of mine of April 11, 1882, No 256,213, in which I surrounded it with a carbonaceous atmosphere, and with sufficient current heated the wire to a white hot heat, and in this manner very soon had the wire fully incased in a carbon shell. It was then introduced into the glass globe, the pump applied and lamp finished.

"I made several of them by this method. I found their resistance, when compared with carbon filament lamps to be very low. The light-giving body soon gave out in those I first burned, in consequence of not having a rheostat with which to regulate the supply of current. I managed, however, through the use of carbon dust, to improvise a pretty fair regulator for the supply of current, and in this way kept them alive; but at no time was I enabled to raise their incandescence equal to my carbon filament lamps. My workmen, friends and myself were very much interested upon examining the broken filaments of the destroyed lamps, some parts of the same filament would be tubular and other parts solid. We took fine hairs and strung the tubular parts as you would beads, and in place of finding platinum in the centre of the solid pieces we found a very black core surrounded by a light lead colored casing; we found all parts of the filament to be hard and brittle.

"My impression at that time was that the unequal expansion between the platinum wire and carbon caused the former to strain its confines, and in this way became dissipated. Having a curiosity to look further into the subject, I took some platinum wire and packed it in the centre of carbon dust, all of which I fixed in a crucible, this I put in a hot coal furnace for some thirty minutes, after which, upon examination, I found the platinum wire to be dirty, hard and brittle like glass, and porous, and my impression is, had I left it in long enough it would have been entirely dissipated."

J. H. Guest, Brooklyn, N. Y., April 1884

John Guest applied for a patent in May of 1904 that was an attempt to eliminate the platinum wire used in the stem press of the incandescent lamp. The following is a newspaper article6 that appeared two years after the patent was issued in 1905.
"Invents a New Factor in Incandescent Lights
"John H. Guest Successfully Substitutes Copper for Platinum in Globe Stems
"Big Saving to the Public
"Brooklyn Inventor's Discovery Will Greatly Reduce Cost of Manufacture

"John H. Guest, a Brooklyn electrical inventor at 158 South Elliott place, has invented a new factor in the incandescent light, which if used in connection with the silicon filament employed in the helion light, recently invented by Professor H. C. Parker, another Brooklynite, will, in the opinion of electrical experts who have watched demonstrations, reduce the cost of the manufacture of the incandescent light to a remarkable extent. In a word, Mr. Guest has discovered a means by which the links of platinum in the present incandescent globes can be eliminated, copper wire alone being used in the stems.

"It took Mr. Guest, who is now in his seventy-fourth year, two years and a half to solve the problem, and so great a saving does the substitution of copper wire represent that his invention is likely to make him a very wealthy man in the decline of his life. Until he hit upon the solution, experts the world over had been trying for nearly a quarter of a century to find some means of doing away with the necessity of employing platinum.

"Only a glance at market prices is required to illustrate what an immense saving in the manufacture of the lights Mr. Guest's invention involves. Platinum is a metal much more valuable than gold. It sells today at from $ 40 to $ 50 an ounce and is frequently rather difficult to obtain in large quantities. Copper, which Mr. Guest has substituted for platinum, sells to-day, on the other hand, at 23 cents a pound, or not quite 1-1/2 cents per ounce.

"While the amount of platinum used in a single incandescent light is very small the amount annually used by the big manufacturers of the lights is considerable. The sum expended every year for platinum by the management of an incandescent light factory not far from this city is, for example, not far from $ 125,000. That represents about 3,124 ounces of the precious metal. A similar number of ounces of copper would cost the company about $ 4,086, a savings of more than $ 120,000 a year.

"Another important feature is also involved in the discovery of Mr. Guest. Nine-tenths of the world's total output of platinum at the present time comes from Russia. It is taken from the sand which forms the beds of some of the great rivers in the Czar's domain. Should the Czar, for any reason, ever take it into his head to do so, he could, by one stroke of his pen, abolish the gathering of the platinum, or, at least, the sale of it to the outside world, and thus in a very short time leave in utter darkness that part of the world which depends for its illumination on the incandescent light. Of course, there is probably not a community in the civilized world where gas could not be immediately substituted for the incandescent light, but so accustomed have millions of persons become to electric illumination that to deprive them of it would entail great inconvenience and in many cases real hardship.

"In view of Mr. Guest's invention the Czar might issue an edict forbidding the export of a single ounce of platinum from Russia and it would have no effect on electrical illumination in other countries. In the stem of the incandescent globe Mr. Guest uses copper alone. And copper is found in abundance in most of the countries of the globe, especially in the United States.

"So valuable does Mr. Guest regard his discovery that he has had it patented not only in the United States, but in eleven other countries. One of these countries is Germany and the inventor points with pride to the widely-known fact that it is next to impossible for a foreigner to get an invention patented in Germany unless the invention is worth while.

"Examine an ordinary Edison incandescent light globe, and you will see in the stem a link, or possibly two links of platinum joining the tiny knots at the ends respectively of the copper wires which enter the stem from the head and which extend from the bottom of the stem to the filament. Platinum has always been used to join these thread-like wires because the co-efficient of expansion in copper is almost equal to that of glass. Frequent experiments with a copper link, or an all-copper wire, in the past showed that the expansion of the metal was so marked as to make its use impracticable.

"Mr. Guest, from an accidental observation of iron tires such as were used not so many years ago on most wagon wheels, noticed that the expansion of the metal was always in a circle. When he undertook the problem the solution of which he has just discovered, he accordingly brought to bear upon his task the knowledge he had acquired through watching the repairing of old tires. He reasoned that by making loops in the stem the copper could expand as much as it was accustomed to in the circular direction, instead of laterally and consequently not interfere with the position of the filament or the efficiency of the light. Two and a half years of experimenting has proved that his theory was correct.

"Mr. Guest brought two of his incandescent light globes to the Eagle office this morning for the purpose of giving a practical demonstration. It was easy enough to see that there was no platinum in the stems—that the stems contained nothing but thin copper wires. Unfastening an Edison globe from one of the electric chandeliers, Mr. Guest adjusted one of his newly patented globes. As soon as the globe was screwed on tightly the current was turned on and Mr. Guest's light gave an illumination in which the layman could detect no difference from that given by an adjacent Edison light. The light burned steadily and brightly.

"In discussing his invention with a reporter, Mr. Guest said:

'Understand that I have made no experiments with filaments; I am leaving the improving of that factor of the incandescent light to others. I simply set about to see if it was not possible to eliminate platinum from the incandescent light and, after two years and a half of experimentation, I have learned that it is. When the relative cost of platinum and copper is taken into consideration it will be seen what an enormous saving in the manufacture of incandescent lights my invention will involve.

'By combining my invention with the filament invention recently made by Professor Parker and Walter G. Clarke, a tremendous expense could be saved to the public which uses electric illumination. I would like to say that I was the guest of those two scientists the other evening. They tested their helion light for me, and I am in a position to state that it is all they have ever claimed for it.

'The helion light will give three times the illumination of the ordinary incandescent light for the same electrical energy, or a similar amount of illumination with one-third the electrical energy now employed. That, in itself, involves a big saving in the cost of electrical illumination. And when you come to add to it the elimination of platinum, the most expensive factor in the common incandescent light, you can readily appreciate to what an enormous extent a combination of the two inventions would reduce the cost of manufacture, and, therefore the cost of consumption to the incandescent light-using public.'"

Apparently the copper lead-in wire invention did not make John Guest into a wealthy man. Indeed, quite the opposite—as the following article8, which appeared after his death, clearly indicates:
"John Guest, 82 years old, an inventor, and his wife, Augusta, 80, were found dead in their furnished room in the house at 133 Felix st. this morning at 3 o'clock. The police believe they commited suicide by agreement. A note pinned to a Masonic apron that hung on a wall read: 'Please bury this with me.'

"Guest is said to have made a fortune some years ago in devising an improvement to the electric light bulb, but lost his money through defending litigation over the patent. He has been blind and paralyzed for the past year, and the police believe the motive for the double suicide was Guest's illness and his financial worries.

"They were found in bed, entwined in each other's arms. Gas was pouring from all the jets in the room. The police disregarded a theory that Guest might have turned on the gas without his wife's knowledge.

"Mrs. Catherine Maguire, who conducts the rooming house, smelled gas and traced the odor to the Guest's room. The door was locked. Mrs. Maguire summoned Patrolman Edward Stanton of the Bergen street station, who broke down the door. Dr. Brown of the Brooklyn Hospital worked in vain with a pulmotor for 45 minutes.

"In addition to the note on the Masonic apron was a sealed letter addressed to Mrs. Fannie Wiatt of 1227 Union st. Mrs. Wiatt said that she had known the couple for years and that the only theory she could give for the motive was Mr. Guest's illness and financial straits.

"Mrs. Dennis E. Bristol of 550 Eastern Parkway said her family had known the Guests for eighteen years. She stated that her father-in-law, James E. Bristol, had been providing food and money for the couple for some time."

This writer attempted to determine more about John H. Guest by viewing the United States patents granted to him. Those found are shown below. The number on the left is the patent number, followed by the patent date and then the description.

An examination of the various patents shows that Guest apparently lived in Brooklyn at least through the year 1888. The address given for Guest in those patents starting in 1895 was in Boston, Massachusetts. The patent granted on May 31 1898 still gave a Boston address. It appears that Guest then moved back to Brooklyn because the patent granted on Feb 2 1904 again shows an address there. The last patent listed, No. 782,749, is the patent described in this writing—that is, for a copper lead-in wire.

There are examples of Guest's lamps as well as the Helion lamp in the William J. Hammer Collection that is housed in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Descriptions of these lamps can be found on this website under the Hammer Collection writeup in Section 12 (Lamp Collections and Exhibits), for the year 1907.

This write-up amounts to only a brief look into the life and accomplishments of John H. Guest. Perhaps in the future someone will be able to add to this information so that a greater appreciation of this man will result.

The writer is appreciative of the help provided by the Brooklyn Public Library and the Cincinnati Public Library.

  1. "The Cruto Incandescent Lamp," The Electrician and Electrical Engineer, Vol.3, Mar 1884, p.60.
  2. "Experiments with Platinum Filaments", J. H. Guest, The Electrician and Electrical Engineer, Vol.3, May 1884, p.112.
  3. "All-Copper Incandescent Lamp Leading-in Conductor," Electrical World and Engineer, Vol.45, Mar 18, 1905, p.551.
  4. "Copper Leading-In Wires for Incandescent Lamps," American Electrician, Vol.17 No.4, Apr 1905, pp.219-220.
  5. "The William J. Hammer Collection of Incandescent Electric Lamps," Journal of the Franklin Institute, Vol.CLXII, Nov 1906.
  6. "Invents a New Factor in Incandescent Lights," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 14, 1907, p.12.
  7. "The William J. Hammer Historical Collection of Incandescent Electric Lamps", W. J. Hammer, Transactions of the New York Electrical Society, New series, 1913, No.4, pp.15-30.
  8. "Inventor, Aged 82, Dies With Wife in Suicide Pact," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 29 1920.