CHARLES LEWIS BAKER (1859–1926)
An American inventor, who patented the friction heater. Baker was born into slavery on August 3, 1859, in Savannah, Missouri. His mother, Betsy Mackay, died when he was three months old, leaving him to be brought up by the wife of his owner, Sallie Mackay, and his father, Abraham Baker. He was the youngest of five children, Susie, Peter, Annie, and Ellen, all of whom were freed after the Civil War. Baker later received an education at Franklin College. His father was employed as an express agent, and once Baker turned fifteen, he became his assistant. Baker worked with wagons and linchpins, which sparked an interest in mechanical sciences. friction heater friction heater
Baker worked over the span of decades on his product, attempting several different forms of friction, including rubbing two bricks together mechanically, as well as using various types of metals. After twenty-three years, the invention was perfected in the form of two metal cylinders, one inside of the other, with a spinning core in the center made of wood, that produced the friction. Baker started a business with several other men to manufacture the heater. The Friction Heat & Boiler Company was established in 1904, in St. Joseph, with Baker on the board of directors. The company worked up to 136,000 dollars in capital, equal to nearly 6 million dollars in 2022.
During his patent application, Baker stated that the friction heat could be produced with any mode of power like wind, water and gasoline.
His device, according to him, was set to be the cheapest source of heat production at the time which made him win accolades such as ‘King of Clean Energy and ‘St. Joseph Negro Inventor.’ friction heater
“Mr. Baker claims that the particular mode of power used in creating the friction is not essential. It may be wind, water, gasoline, or any other source of energy.
“The most difficult part of the inventor’s assertions to prove is that his system will light or heat a house at about half the cost of methods now in use,” The Draftsman 1908.
After years of trials, his device was near-perfect at the time it was invented. Baker’s device was made up of two metal cylinders, with one inserted into the other. A wooden spinning core was put in the center to produce the friction.
Any notable newsreels hailed his invention. “On March 27, 1904, the New York Times’ edition identified Baker’s invention as a “Clever Negro Invention”. Other newspapers such as Daily Gazette and News-Press also published his story in 1904 indicating that his invention would “revolutionize the then heating systems.”
Baker then created a factory called The Friction Heat and Boiler Company in 1904 in St. Joseph with him as the head of board of directors.
His company employed 50 skilled and unskilled labour to produce more radiators and had about $136,000 in capital stocks.
At the time, Baker’s capital stock was a lot of money which made him an affluent and honorable man in his hometown. His loyalty to his employees made his business thrive albeit racial prejudice which sometimes posed as a threat to his finances, his business flourished.
Baker was the youngest of five children and got married in 1880 at age 21 to Carrie Carriger and they had a daughter, Lulu Belle Baker. On May 5, 1926, he died in his daughter’s home in St. Joseph.
Baker died of pneumonia on May 5, 1926, in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Photograph showing inventor Charles S.L Baker and his assistant demonstrating heating/radiator system.