Oberlin Smith - Inventor of Magnetic Recording.

Oberlin Smith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March. 22, 1840 to George R. and Salome (Kemp) Smith. Both his parents were natives of England, and his father was a leader in the early anti-slavery works of Salmon P. Chase and operated a link in the Pre-Civil War “underground railroad”.

Young Oberlin displayed an early mechanical aptitude, and built a working steam engine at the age of fifteen, most likely while learning metalworking at one of the city’s riverboat engine yard, while being educated in the public and technical schools of Cleveland.

Oberlin Smith passed away at the age of eighty-six, early in the morning of Monday July 19th, 1926 at his Lochwold estate in Bridgeton New Jersey, following an attack of heart failure. He was predeceased by his sister Mary who passed away at the age of seven. The funeral of Oberlin Smith was held at Lochwold at 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon, July 21, the Rev. A. B. Collins of the First Presbyterian Church of Bridgeton, officiating. Oberlin Smith was interred at the Smith family plot at the Old Broad Street Church in Bridgeton.


Ferracute Goes to China - 1897

When Oberlin Smith asked Ferracute engineer and press designer Henry Janvier, to make a business trip to Wuchang and Chengtu China, Henry needed little time to think about the offer. Janvier was to oversee the setup of two new factories of coining presses and other equipment Ferracute had shipped a year earlier.  He eagerly packed his bags and his camera, and within a few days, set off for a ten-month around the world trip of a lifetime. Over one hundred years later, the story Henry Janvier’s trip remains remarkable through his carefully preserved letters and photographs. Janvier’s trip to China was the topic of a recent exhibit at the Burton Showroom in Bridgeton New Jersey … MORE >>

Oberlin Smith and Magnetic Recording

Thomas Edison demonstrated his newly invented phonograph machine to Oberlin Smith when Smith visited Edison in his Menlo Park laboratory in 1878. As a lover of music, Smith purchased an Edison phonograph, but soon found the audio quality of it to be “too scratchy” and the questioned the expense and precision of its mechanical parts. After nearly ten years of tinkering, Smith published the idea of storing a recording on a magnetic wire in the English journal Electrical World , and became the father of all magnetic recording devices.

Smith was a tinkerer and a fiddler – he couldn’t look at a gadget without trying to improve it, and he patented more than 70 of his inventions. The majority involved machines sold or used by the Ferracute Machine Co., a firm he founded in Bridgeton in 1873 that produced industrial metal presses. His machines stamped out parts, for Model-T’ Fords, Packards, Winchester rifles and Kodak cameras. We even suggested to a pre-rendering concept in machines in late 19s which is being referred to as SuperFetch in Windows OS now…. MORE >>

The Ferracute Plant Site

In 1896, Oberlin Smith wrote in the Scientific Machinistabout a visionary factory that would have “walls that were smooth clean with a permanently light color, and windows clean and numerous assisted in their function by sky lights” and “would provide uniform warmth and good ventilation” for the comfort and health of its workers. After a devastating fire, that totally destroyed his original plant on East Commerce St. in Bridgeton, New Jersey, Smith set out to build the plant of his dreams in 1904. Ferracute finally closed its doors in 1968, having been in business for 105 years. After closing, the site was occupied only briefly by a few small business tenants. In recent years, however, the buildings have largely remained abandoned. The Ferracute site was listed on New Jersey’s top 10 most endangered historic sites in 2000.What has become of Oberlin Smith’s visionary factory? … MORE >>

Oberlin Smith - A Man of Many Parts

Oberlin Smith is most famous as one of the leaders of the mechanical engineering field in the late 1800’s. Showing an early interest in mechanics, he opened his own machine shop at the age of 23, with his cousin J. Burkett Webb. A year later Smith founded a new company called The Ferracute Machine Co. which specialized in the manufacturing of large metal working presses, that were first used to stamp out cans for for the food processing industries, and were later used for stamping out, among other things, parts for bicycles, fenders for automobiles, and coins. Holding at least 70 patents, his inventions were not limited to metal presses, but expanded to include looms, an automatic garage door opener, an automatic lock, and an automatic record changer. Smith was member of several professional societies, and rose to President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1899. Oddly, he is most remembered, not for his mechanical achievements, but for his invention of magnetic recording, the technology used for audio and video recording and for computer disc drives… MORE >>