ATTLEBORO — During the early 20th century, America was steeped in industry, with invention after invention bringing the country into an age of modern technology.
Churning out those inventions, with the best of his contemporaries, including his friend Thomas Edison, was Attleboro resident Frank Mossberg, whose life and work is being featured at the Attleboro Area Industrial Museum through June 15.
The exhibit, called “Local Genius: Frank Mossberg, Attleboro's Most Prolific Inventor,” opened with a reception Wednesday. It is the second in a series of exhibits at the museum that focus on tools and their use throughout the country's agrarian, industrial and technological history.
During his lifetime, Mossberg, a Swedish immigrant and wellknown Attleboro businessman, took out more than 200 U.S. patents and many foreign ones.
His inventions ranged from the smallest of items, such as a pencil sharpener called the Jupiter Pencil Pointer, patented in 1906, to larger items, such as Attleboro's first automobile, which he drove in the local flower parade in 1902.
Among the 50 or so items on display will be the pencil sharpener, a variety of tools and automobile wrenches and two complete socket sets. Mossberg's inventions were manufactured by the various companies he owned.
Set up in Gallery II, the back gallery of the museum, the exhibit also features about 50 photographs, including some of the many tools he invented, some of the companies he owned, and even some family snapshots.
There are also catalogs, advertisements, drawings and patent information about Mossberg's many inventions.
Only the beginning
Even in its entirety, however, it is just a tip of the iceberg in portraying Mossberg and his work, according to museum Executive Director Kathleen McAreavey.
“As we've researched the exhibit, we have found that as much as we have to present, there's a long list of inventions from this man, and we have more work ahead of us,” she said.
As such, she noted that in the fall of 2008, the museum will cel ebrate the 150th anniversary of Mossberg's birth with a more comprehensive exhibit titled “A Frank Mossberg Sesquicentennial Celebration.”
For the future exhibit, the museum urges family, friends and former employees of Mossberg to consider loaning any related items they might have or relaying any pertinent information.
“We hope that the current exhibit will peak their interest and start the wheels turning in their memory banks, and we look forward to a productive interaction from this exhibit,” she said.
Private collections contribute
The current exhibit, while mostly from the museum's collection, also includes a few items from private collections.
The small adjustable wrenches on display in the exhibit were so popular in Mossberg's day that they were sold all over the world, with the Frank Mossberg Co. at one time producing more wrenches than all of the other wrench manufacturers in the United States combined.
Among his other inventions of tools and devices, which were applied to such industries as typewriter manufacturing, sewing machines, automobiles and parts for artillery, those attending the exhibit will learn that Mossberg was particularly proud of the roller bearing.
According to exhibit information, he was the first to patent and perfect roller bearings in journals of rolling mills and gun carriages. He took particular pride in the perfection of patents held by the Ross Rifle Co. of Canada.
Special bearings developed from his ideas went into heavy artillery and, during World Wars I and II, the bearings were used for anti-aircraft artillery.
His proudest inventing achievement, however, was to provide roller bearing equipment for the Panama Canal from small sizes to as large as 15 inches in diameter.
The exhibit also provides information on what Mossberg considered his second most important patent, for the braider carrier. The invention doubled the speed at which braiding machines operated.
Focusing also on Mossberg's life, achievements and devotion to Attleboro, visitors to the exhibit will learn of such milestones as his being awarded a medal in 1940 from the World's Fair Corp. for being the oldest living American inventor at the Hall of Inventors.
He also won the World's Fair Award of Merit, and Thomas Edison presented him with a gavel made from his own desk.
Despite his busy schedule, Mossberg was also involved in many civic organizations in Attleboro and engineering organizations and such in Boston, New York and Washing-ton, D.C.
Of the many facets of Mossberg's life that visitors will learn about, however, the most compelling is that that he had an innate need to invent, even up to his death in 1953, McAreavey said.
“Part of it was the thrill of discovering, but he was the type of person who, if it wasn't necessary or if it wasn't going to be of any benefit, would drop it because he had so many other wonderful ideas,” she said.
“He could have been a millionaire 20 times over with the things that he invented, but he was comfortable. That wasn't the reason that he was doing it,” she said.
rdrtrdrsrdrw15rsp160 Janette Sears can be reached by phone or fax at 508-222-2442 or by email at jsears(at)(at)thesunchronicle.com.