Inventor's latest silences faucets


April 22, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- The first time Harvey Wilder expected to strike gold was 1943, when he patented a large-scale pantograph.

"That was a great invention," he says of the flexible metal arms that would have enabled billboard painters to copy big pictures from small ones.

"I showed it to some people, but they weren't interested in putting any money into it. It just died."

Mr. Wilder, an engineer in Hagerstown, continued shining lights into darkened corners, as he puts it, searching for that better mousetrap. He illuminated several corners, each time believing he had hit the jackpot, each time seeing the bright promise of his invention fizzle before earning him a dime.

Now Mr. Wilder believes he has developed the gadget that will bring him the fortune that has eluded him so long. If you will, direct your attention to this string bean of a man as he announces his newest revolutionary idea: the water-faucet silencer.

"It's worth millions," says the ever-hopeful inventor, who is also a part-time pastor and writer of religious manuscripts. "Nobody will build a house without putting one of these on each faucet."

The 6-foot-6 Mr. Wilder has just swung a leg over the arm of his living room chair when, as if on cue, the resident in the other half of his duplex turns on the shower.

Mr. Wilder's face brightens as the whoosh disrupts the afternoon quiet.

He says his silencer reduces the pressure of the rushing water on the valve, eliminating that grating noise from whining shower heads. He says it eliminates that annoying sound from screaming kitchen faucets.

If only he can find a buyer . . .

It's been the same story for Mr. Wilder, 80, all his inventing days. Even as a teen-ager on his family farm in Kentucky, he developed things that went nowhere.

At 18, he says, he drew plans for an automatic transmission. But his father wanted a laborer, not a thinker, and discouraged such foolishness, he says.

So at 21 Harvey Wilder escaped the confines of farm life. He set out to study mechanical engineering and allow the innovative spirit trapped inside to burst forth.

"It just seemed natural to me to find a better way of doing something," he says. "Anything not solved is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I'll solve it, whether I get anything out of it or not."

He fed his family working for different companies as a contract engineer on everything from airplanes to submarines. But his spirit soared highest when he would sit at his drawing table designing things entirely new -- contraptions that could have had great impact on society, not to mention his bank account.

After moving to Hagerstown in 1960, he and a co-worker developed a device that could double or maybe triple the capacity of a milling machine, he says. Ford and Chevrolet were interested, he says, but wanted a working model, not drawings.

Mr. Wilder's partner wouldn't spend the $5,000 necessary to build the machine.

"That was a perfect invention," Mr. Wilder says. "But what could I do? That should have been, could have been, very profitable."

In the 1970s he patented a gizmo with such promise that reporters sought him out for comment.

"The potential for it is so large," he crowed at the time, "that I don't think anybody can project the future for it."

It was an apparatus for the kitchen that could produce boiling water -- not merely very hot water as dispensers do today -- in five minutes.

Five minutes turned out to be too long, Mr. Wilder says. That doomed his invention with unlimited potential, but not his unlimited optimism.

He says now he has figured out how to reduce those five minutes to 15 seconds.

"This is by far my most important invention," he says, "because it solves a problem no one has been able to solve: how to dispense water that is boiling."

But he no longer believes this is his most-promising invention. That title goes to his water-faucet silencer.

At this very moment the American Inventors Corp., which finds markets for inventions, is hawking Mr. Wilder's cherished brainchild.

Could this finally be his long-awaited breakthrough? Could this be the invention that makes Harvey Wilder a household name?

With utmost confidence, the undaunted inventor declares: "The world will someday come to it."

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