I think I may have just taken on the task of dis/proving a family legend.
…Well, more like clarifying what exactly happened.
See, my great-uncle Charlie Whitney was a state trooper with the Iowa State Patrol. It’s “common knowledge” (I’m a scientist at heart, I have to put that in quotes) in our family that Charlie invented that device that police officers and state troopers and the like use to measure the length of skid marks on the road – that little wheel on a stick thing. He never patented it (for what reason, I don’t know), but we have pictures of him with the materials he used. I even have one of the original wheels, sent to me by one of Charlie’s old friends.
But my questions are these: Was Charlie really the first one to invent a device with this specific design/for this purpose? Did he just come up with the idea independently? Was he influenced by previous patents for surveyor’s wheels and other things of that ilk?
So now I’ve made it my mission of sorts to figure out what exactly happened there. I guess in a larger sense, I’m researching the history of the measuring wheel (surveyor’s wheel, trundle wheel, that sort of thing). I want to know where Charlie fits into that. If I can prove that Charlie invented this specific device before it was patented (because I’m about 99% positive someone else holds that patent), that would be one heck of a story. If that’s what happened, then I may very well write it up and submit it to mental_floss. If not, then I’ll probably publish my findings on here. Either way, it’ll be interesting to know. 🙂