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Top Inventor - The Master Inventor - History of Overhead Garage Doors Automation of Textile Machines - 140 Patents

Updated on October 23, 2015

Howard Colman is perhaps one of the world's top inventors with over 140 patents to his name. He started inventing at age 5! Most importantly as patent attorneys confide most patents never go into production. Worst yet, most new products never get off the ground due to lack of marketing dollars. Not true for Howard Colman. He partnered with the very best, was persistent, and it also helped a little that he was simply a genius at mechanical inventions. Who is Howard Colman? What did he invent? One of his first inventions was stated to have been among the most profitable of all patented items. In fact the very shirt on your back is attributable to Mr. Colman - he invented the process of automating the knots in weaving cloth. See the machine in operation, the multi-national company that he built and hear how he had the first thought of the famous binary bits which provided the foundation for all computers as we know them today.

Knot Tying Machine

vintage line drawing of a female worker manually tying knots on a textile loom - Howard Coman invented the knot tying machine that catapulted the industrial revolution
vintage line drawing of a female worker manually tying knots on a textile loom - Howard Coman invented the knot tying machine that catapulted the industrial revolution

Howard Colman = Master Inventor

black and white photo of Howard Coleman
black and white photo of Howard Coleman | Source

Barber Colman Company

logo of Barber Colman Company
logo of Barber Colman Company
radio controlled garage door opener news clipping about Barber Colman
radio controlled garage door opener news clipping about Barber Colman | Source

Examples of Colman's Inventions - Oscilating Fan

Sample Overhead Garage Door Mechanism photo courtesy of
Sample Overhead Garage Door Mechanism photo courtesy of
Barber Colman Thermostat
Barber Colman Thermostat
Barber Colman fan
Barber Colman fan
Colman HVAC switches
Colman HVAC switches

Master Inventor

Author Jon Lundin captured the facts of Mr. Colman's life in a book he aptly named "The Master Inventor". The "Master Inventor" chronicles the engineering masterpieces Colman not only initiated but perfected and successfully took to market. At one point in his career in the turn of the century, his company had over 10,000 employees.

Barber's Connection - Financial Not "Operating Partner"

Howard Colman grew up in Wisconsin, subsequently moved to Rockford and his company operated under the name of Barber Colman. For decades, Rockfordians assumed Mr. Barber and Mr. Colman were partners. That was not the case at all. Mr. Barber was an entrepreneur who took an interest in Colman's endeavors (actually Barber was the father of a boyhood friend of Howard Colman) and assisted financially in the start of his many inventions. To the integrity and credit of Colman, he always gave credit to Mr. Barber and the return on Mr. Barber's investment was not only monumental financially but also historically.

The Master Inventor - Aptly Named - Oscillating Fan Overhead Garage Door Automotive and More

You see in Jon Lundin's book, The Master Inventor, Howard Colman has been credited by an engineer to have given birth to the very first inkling of a computer and the binary bits. Howard Colman was aptly labeled The Master Inventor not just for multitude of US patents and international patents but also for the breadth of industries that he serviced. The overhead garage door, the isolating fan were the items my Grandmother told me about. But Colman also was responsible for over 20 automotive patents, milk measuring patents in addition to countless other electrical patents.

Stairway Story with Santa Claus

As a fitness professional, I found interesting a wonderful story about how Howard Colman (during the time of the 10,000 employees) always took the stairs - never the elevator!

But the book details how humble Mr. Colman was and how few people knew who he was and how few people ever saw a photo of him - even his very own employees. The book recounts how one day Colman took the elevator and a fellow employee stated that he had not seen him around the plant before and asked his name.

Colman replied openly and honestly "Howard Colman". The fellow employee replied honestly also without hesitation "And I am Santa Claus"!

This story exemplifies the real life that Howard Colman lead. A humble man who was unassuming and yet one of the world's greatest inventors of all time! His dedication to invention and his dedication to physical activities of taking the stairs are two very admirable and very rare traits.

The Second Patent - The First Professional Attempt

Howard Colman started on the tying machine patent at a young age and it would not be complete for over 14 years! While he was working on this complicated endeavor he turned his attention to other needs in the farming world and his first patent was for measuring milk. It was the tying machine technology that was needed around the world. His global patents for this one device were perhaps the most profitable in relative terms in all of history. First begun in the wonderful state of Wisconsin, locating to Rockford, Illinois and then launching worldwide where his technology continues to be utilized throughout the world even today!

Most Profitable Invention Ever - Warp Machine - Threads for Textiles

photo fhte manual process of tying on the warp textile machine
photo fhte manual process of tying on the warp textile machine | Source

The Invention of the Mechanical Knot Tying Machine

One of the Most Profitable Patents In History - Warp Tying Machine

Warp is a verb and noun pertaining to distortion and twisting, and to lines and ropes used in the contexts below.

One of the major problems for the textile industry at the time was the complete automation of the weaving process. The looms were automatic but the knots were hand tied.

Just stop and think a moment how cumbersome it must have been to run a machine only to stop it and hand tie knots! The threads had to be manually pieced together. This is what the original invention Howard Colman created. It took him several years, and then he had patiently waited for a possible competing patent which may have been an infringement to expire! The genius to create an invention, the diligence to keep trying and then the patience to make sure the patents were clear ownership - true genius.

Interestingly, one historian noted that Edison (the inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph among many others) spent the majority of his career fighting for his patents. The number of patents for Edison are stated to be 1093!

Other Inventions

While he was working on this complicated machine, Colman turned to other useful devices such as milk measuring.

Later on in his established career, he wanted to explore electrical devices. His board of directors were not convinced of the profitability of this new area. Colman took his own funds and time and went so heavily into electrical that during the time of the depression, it was the electrical patents that kept this great manufacturing company solvent.

Over the years the Barber Colman Company transitioned from textile to electrical to HVAC. When I worked for them in Loves Park, IL they had an aircraft division and was concentrating on controllers for heating and air conditioning. The best way for me to describe the devices is everything in the ceiling and walls for commercial heating and ventilation - they manufactured the pieces that controlled the vents and ducts - from temperature gauges to sensors for temperature and humidity to valves to regulate the flow of energy.

Original Inventor of the Computer Binary Bit System

In his book "The Master Inventor", one engineer credited Howard Colman with the original binary bit technology that lead to the modern day computer. Remember Colman worked on a full spectrum of devices - not limited to just mechanical, just electrical, he also has over 40 patents related to the automobile! One of the inventions was in regards to the telegraph system - yes, this gives us a better perspective of the age that Colman was invention in - no cell phone - not even a telephone - he literally lived and invented during the horse and buggy area and was a pivotal force in the industrial revolution.

It was the groundwork on the telegraph system that Colman discovered and refined what has become the foundation of the computer system.

Proper Place In History - Pivotal to the Industrial Revolution

After reading Jon Lundin's book, I had a better understanding of many of Colman's master pieces but the volume of work just completely astounded me. If you review the breadth and depth of his work and how each piece touched all of us from the electrical switches to the clothing that we wear to the automotive to the garage door opener and the oscillating fan, this man was not just a master inventor, this man was pivotal to the industrial revolution. He set the stage for the entire world to follow. The ground breading inventions took civilization leaps and bounds into the many conveniences that we now enjoy.

Howard Colman Library - Rockford College, Rockford, IL

Howard Colman Library on the campus of Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois
Howard Colman Library on the campus of Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois | Source

Rockford College Connection - Rockford, IL

My connection to Howard Colman is mainly visiting the many buildings he is credit with building and donating. The Howard Colman Library at Rockford College, Rockford, Illinois is where I studied. At the time I was in school, on the walls hung ancient original tapestries. These tapestries have since been removed and I presumed preserved. The tapestries were further accentuated by the deep earthy brown hues of brick walls - identical to the exterior brick shown in the photo.  A beautiful building rich in both tapestries and history.  Sadly, I didn't learn the real background of Howard Colman until I had an opportunity to read Jon Lundin's book.

Master Inventor: How Howard Colman Created a Multi-National Corporation (Hardcover)

Master Inventor: How Howard Colman Created a Multi-National Corporation
Master Inventor: How Howard Colman Created a Multi-National Corporation
Rockford historian, Jon Lundin, has written the life of Rockford's twentieth century inventor and industrialist Howard Colman, founder of Barber-Colman Company, Rockford's first multinational corporation. He is credited with 149 patents, but he inspired or worked on many more inventions. He was a creative genius, an inventor of Thomas Edison's caliber. Colman invented a warp drawing mechanism and numerous kinds of knotters for use in textile manufacturing. He produced drawings for a jet engine in the 1920's, and invented and patented a dot matrix device that was used decades later in digital computer technology. (Information from World CAt.)

© 2010 Ken Kline


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Your article states you were an engineer for Barber Coleman. So was my grandfater, Kenneth Day, and my fatehr Don Day. My Grandfather was a boiler engineer down town and my father was and electrical engineer initially working in Industrial Instruments with the likes of John Steiner (inventor of the dollar bill changer) and later in the Enviromental Controls Division. He also work on the early development of the computer at Barber Coleman and later had seven patents while working there. Obviously an inspiring enviroment. Do you know anything else about Don Day.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      9 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      No, I didn't know that! Love the information - thank you for sharing! You give life to the inventor's legacy. The scope and presence of BC - the many inventions, the foresight of Howard Colman to invest in electrical with his own funds - fascinating man. Howard Colman is an unsung entrepreneurial hero.

      The Universe of Energy is fascinating especially given the launch of the Wall Street Money movie which focuses upon the future of energy.

      Here is the intro and the website for the Guide to Disney:

      "Inside the Pyramid Pavilion of Future World is a Universe. Opened in 1982, visitors can Travel through time with Ellen DeGeneres aboard large passenger vichicles from the creation of the universe, through to the age of Dinosaurs and onto the modern ages of man. It is a fun filled journey with the power of energy."

      Greatly appreciate the info - thank you!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Did you know that Barber-Colman company designed all the environmental control systems for the opening of EPCOT in 1982? Including the innovative pre-historic dinosaur area of the Universe of Energy! My father supervised the design.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Pretty smart fellow! My grandfather invented a ceiling fan for the automobile but there was too much "over-head"!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      9 years ago from UK

      What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man! Well done :-)

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      9 years ago from Portugal

      Great hub... I really enjoyed reading it and learn about this very important personage. We tend to forget all the work behind every object we use in a daily basis.


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