Here's a couple of questions for some old timer out there.
I knew the late Orv Carlisle, who patented the first modern model rocket back in the late 50s. I only knew him a very few years before his death though. I was told at one point that he had sued the Estes people over patent infringement. Yet since money talks in our society, it was practically a given that he lost the suit. So, does anyone out there know about the particulars of the suit? I recall that Orv was quite bitter about it, but I don't know much about how it happened. I've seen his patent documents -- they are easy enough to look up on the USPTO web server. They look pretty clear to me, and they do predate anything from Estes or Stine..
I also looked at the patents Orv cited in that original patent. One item seems conspicuously absent. That would be the Rock-Kit that was made by National Fireworks Company of Boston (and West Hanover MA) in the 1930s. Perhaps that was never patented, but it seems so unlikely given what a major player National was in both civilian and military pyrotechnics at that time. Does anyone out there have any specific information relating to the Rock-Kit that is more detailed than what is shown in the advertisements of the time?
I know some folks are sensitive about the historical connection between model rockets and fireworks, but hey, they were invented by fireworks people. There is simply no arguing that point, as Orv was a fireworks man and the model rocket was just one of many of his projects.
This is just a shot in the dark. I am seeking information that could lead to a publication, by the way, so be advised that I do have an agenda here. Please send any specific information via return e-mail or e-mail me for snail mail address. I will be glad to cover expenses for any copying, mailing, etc.
-- Warren Klofkorn Phoenix AZ (WPA, PGI, definitely not NAR)
Orv got much of his inspiration for the patent from a publication by George James of Rocket Research Institute (an amateur rocket club (1943-present). George still lives in Washington DC (be glad to meet you there with scanners, cameras, microphones and recorders).
His buddy Chuck Piper (Sacremento,CA) has a lot of stuff on it as well as war stories to tell.
warren: I know nothing about the lawsuit , although I would think the suit was filed either in Nebraska or Colorado. I am attaching an article that appeared about Orville circa 1988:
You could call it a hall of flame
By Sally Simon Stitch Chicago Tribune 4vii88
Find Carlisle's Correct Shoes on the main street in Norfolk, Neb., and you find the home of the world's only firecracker museum. Find Orville Carlisle, owner of the shoe store and curator of the museum and you find the father of modem model rocketry.
What makes this inventor interesting is that despite his pyrotechnical genius, he describes himself as a yokel from the wind-blown plains," a guy who's your average small-town shoe salesman with an above average interest in fireworks. Believe that and you've been suckered by this internationally known pyrotechnician.
When he's not entertaining the townsfolk on the 4th of July with a fireworks display, he might be consulting with the Smithsonian Institution on a celebration at the capital. When he's not fitting the townsfolk with sturdy, sensible workshoes, he might be taking pyrotechnical aficionados from all over the ,country through his museum, a curtained-off room on the right-hand side of the store.
His unsophisticated side is revealed only when he describes himself as curator. "People ask if they can see my stuff," he says, "and I say, 'Sure.'" What they see is a room chockfull of firecracker memorabilia, much of which predates the Civil War.
Carlisle's exhibit is simply the result of a 60-year collection run amok-too big for his basement, just right (well, maybe a bit cramped) for the old storeroom. Besides having his beloved avocation in his place of business, he's also found the collection a great way to distract balky children, fatigued by shoe shopping.
The 24-by-12-foot room contains firecrackers (all defused), cap pistols and various noisemaking devices, as well as sample display cases formerly carried by firecracker salesmen. Posters and labels for Red Devils, Black Cat and Yankee Boys grace the walls.
There are so many pieces, Carlisle. doesn't even know the count, but ultimately, that's an insignificant detail. The significance of the collection lies in the sense of wonder, the nostalgia it evokes in adults who remember what ' fireworks and the 4th of July were like before World War II.
In addition to every kind of firework imaginable, Carlisle's collection also includes 4th of July postcards that were sent between the Spanish-American War and World War 1, cards that said such things as, "Hurrah for the 4th of July! Where are you going?"
Carlisle sees the collection of fireworks and labels as historically representing a cross-section of American political thinking. Several explosives (Smoldn' Sarnbo, for example) painfully remind visitors of periods in America's past when bigotry and racism reigned. Carlisle also shows a cap -gun that, when shot, reveals a flag stating "Chinese Must Go" representative of America's outrage at Chinese laborers who glutted the job market after the building of the transcontinental railroad.
But Carlisle's main interest in fireworks is not as a political historian. It is as a man whose boyhood sense of curiosity toward things pyrotechnical never waned. He traces his interest to the days when his father, a traveling candy salesman, would bring firecrackers back to his three sons from his journeys across Nebraska and South Dakota. On the 4th of July, Carlisle recalls, the three brothers would start setting off their explosive booty at 4 in the morning. They'd continue until midnight.
Carlisle never formally studied pyrotechnics, but he credits much of his knowledge to a good high school chemistry teacher, who gave him carte blanche after school hours; and to chemistry sets he received for Christmas, the kind of sets, he adds, that had "real chemicals in them, not the wimpy kind sold today."
He went into the shoe business in 1940, after a stint as a department-store salesman, continuing his hobby, adding to and enhancing his collection. It wasn't until 1957 that he was thrust into the limelight of the pyrotechnical world shortly after he read an article in Mechanix Illustrated magazine written by G. Harry Stine, an aerospace engineer.
"Here was this article about safety rules that amateurs should follow when setting off rocket models," he recalls. "and this was during a time when rocketeers routinely lost fingers and hands due to crude rocket construction."
Carlisle wrote in response to the article about a model rocket he and his brother Robert had developed, a design on which all present-day models are based. He asked Stine if he wanted to see some samples.
Warily, Stine accepted, but he was soon to see a sight that has been repeated millions of times since: a rocket fueled by a single propellant rising 300 feet, then gently descending, carried by a bright red parachute. Stine found that by installing a new rocket motor, the rocket could be flown over and over.
Stine wrote in a 1983 recollection in Aviation Space magazine, "Here was the answer to people wanting to build their own rockets. It was safe and it was fun.
Carlisle timing was impeccable. "Because America was caught up on Sputnik fever in 1957," he says, "it was my one chance for glory."
Unfortunately, stories of inventors and patents often have sad endings, and Carlisle's story is no different. After three years of a legal battle with a model-rocket firm that was to produce his propellant, he lost his exclusive patent rights on a technicality known as "failure to give adequate notice of infringement."
He says, without rancor, that "the guy who invents always gets screwed , and though the judge in the case told him he could appeal, he made the decision then to close the chapter on that part of his life. "It had all been too emotionally draining," he says, "and I made the decision never again to invent anything pyrotcchnical for profit." It was a hobby that would remain a hobby, a love that would stay pleasurable.
But glory comes in many different packages, and in August, 1976, he received a letter from Stine telling him that his Mark V and Mark
2 Rock-a-Chute model rockets were on display in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution with Orville Carlisle's name on them.
He also told Carlisle: "There will never be any doubt in anyone's mind as to how, when, and where the first model rockets were developed. It's something that nobody will ever be able to take away from you, because you did it, and the records and models are all in the Smithsonian with the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the X- 1, the X- 15, Friendship 7 and Apollo 11 for the whole world to see and know."
It's a good thing Carlisle is the type to take comfort in emotional satisfaction. Otherwise, he'd be fretting over not having made millions years ago. He'd be frustrated that he's still selling shoes. But that's not Orville Carlisle. He insists that even if he had won the lawsuit and become rich, it would have changed his life little.
Either way, his reputation in the business of explosives is international, and he has been consulted for some pretty impressive affairs, such as Queen Elizabeth's 25th anniversary celebration, when he received a trans-Atlantic call asking about a formula for the color blue, a color in fireworks that doesn't show up well on television.
Or Ronald Reagan's first inauguration, when security guard Andy Williams (Carlisle asked him, "How's the singing business?") called to find out about placing mortars near the Smithsonian Institution. Would the windows shatter? Carlisle asked which fireworks companies were orchestrating the shindig. Pyrospectacular and the Gruccis, he was told. "Trust 'em," Carlisle replied.
Carlisle's list of friends -isn't shabby either. He met George Plimpton at a Pyrotechnical Guild international convention in 1972 or 1973 and has since been the subject of an Esquire article by Plimpton and a reference in Plimpton's book, Fireworks" (Doubleday, 1984). Carlisle even flew into New York for the publication of the book and speaks of Plimpton as "Old George."
"Old George," he says, "is just an ordinary guy. Oh, he speaks with a Boston accent, but it's not like Kennedy's-his woulda gagged a buzzard. But not Old George's-he's okay." To read Plimpton on old Orv, one senses a reciprocal feeling, particularly when Plimpton writes of spending retirement with Orv, the two of them traveling to the Orient to be professional shell namers.
Carlisle's international fame and friends notwithstanding, he's still just a good old Nebraska boy who shares his love of firecrackers each year with his friends and neighbors in Norfolk. His annual 4th of July celebration is a visual delight that's as far from a flag-in-the-sky show as, say, great art from velvet paintings.
In fact, this self-proclaimed yokel not only fills the sky but also the ground, water rafts and suspended wires. He's even famous in these parts for a firecracker stunt called, "Norfolk Avenue on Saturday Night," a series of streaking, squealing explosives that imitate the town's main drag on the busiest night of the week.
That sense of whimsy characterizes Orville Carlisle, a simple man who says his neighbors know he's not crazy, in spite of his love affair with explosives, because he still has all his fingers and toes.
"As long as I do," he says, "they can count on this yokel for a bang-up 4th of July."
I have most of the Patents that Vern Estes applied for if you would like to see those....you of course can get them yourself from the USPTO web site...and was a patent ever issued for this Rock-Kit? I'd like to see that..
And I don't think anybody will argue with you that model rocket engines are descended from pyrotechnic sky rockets..and in fact Estes/Quest BP motors are still considered pyrotechnic devices..
I am trying to find a reference to the name of a speech that G.Harry Stine gave circa 1976(?) about "his" history of model rocketry. I have lost my reference to the name of this speech/article but I think it was published at least one other time. It was given at least once at the IAF ?(not FAI)
A small part of this speech came from this: The Old Rocketeer: the First Model Rockets
Hmmm - did they predate chinese fireworks from the first century? It is a common myth that you can patent anything that hasn't been patented before, but many patents (some say as high as 50%) are overturned at their first challenge because they shouldn't have been granted in the first place. Carlisle pressed black powder into a paper tube - he can't claim that he invented that,or the delay and ejection charge either, they have been used in fireworks for centuries. He perfected it and gave use our hobby, but there was no chance of that patent standing up in court.
Looks like a pile of shit to me. Irrelevant to say the least.
And just FYI, Chinese fireworks don't go back as far as the 1st century, certainly they haven't been dated back that far, or are you by chance more familiar with the historical documentation than am I? As far asI know no-one (in the West at least) has documented fireworks any further back than has Partington (q.v.).
Huh? I posted a link to a patent in response to the "Chinese fireworks" post. Perhaps you should first figure out how to read others' posts before you start slinging. At the very least, respond to the right person's post.
The fact is, my post was quite relevant to the claim that many patents are issued covering something that was in fact prior art, and are therefore easily overturned when challenged.
No chance without big money & lawyers. Same can be said of almost anything. In the USA one can have the finest justicve money can buy. Some things don't change. Carlisle did invent the system commonly known today as a model rocket and later differentiated legally from other fireworks. Chinese fireworks from the 12th century on (can you date them earlier than that?) bear very slim resemblance to Carlisle's invention. Estes type rockets, on the other hand, certainly do. I'm just saying, Estes ripped off Carlise just liike a second rate con man regardless of what the court said. Feel free to quote me. After all, I don't have enough money for the Estes Inc lawyers to be interested in me.
I knew the late Orv Carlisle, who patented the first modern model rocket back in the late 50s. I only knew him a very few years before his death though. I was told at one point that he had sued the Estes people over patent infringement. Yet since money talks in our society, it was practically a given that he lost the suit. So, does anyone out there know about the particulars of the suit? I recall that Orv was quite bitter about it, but I don't know much about how it happened.
1) I don't know details...
2) Orv is widely creditted with having invented the model rocket, so Estes didn't "steal" his invention in the classic sense. (He as given NAR #1, and apparently was an active participant with NAR for some time...)
3) You might have to explain that "money talks" bit. I wasn't aware that Estes ever "hit the big time" in the sense that they could afford to snowball someone under lawyers the way an IBM or Exxon could. They were at best a toy company, and closer to a craft company. (Although I guess 'the books' have never been public.)
4) Vern Estes is creditted with the rocket-motor-making machine. Orv was apparently making his motors by hand.
5) Bitterness tends to grow with time. It's quite possible that Orv felt, or was, inadequately monetarily compensated for his contributions to model rocketry. OTOH, he wasn't the only contributer. You can look at the acquisition of Estes/Centuri or Quest and see a big bunch of money of which you got none, but that was years and lots of stuff after the "inventions" were pretty much done. It certainly has always looked to me like those were acquisitions of "operating toy companies" rather than "intellectual property."
It would be interesting to know the details, I guess. I would fear that it would only make people think less of ALL of the people involved, though. Lawsuits tend to work that way.
Production matters. But one suspects Orv was seeking something like 5% of wholesale and based on the Wal-Mart thread a $9.95 per pack of motors fetches $2 wholesale and 5% of that is $0.10. Not much till you express that as a fraction of $20m peryear for 40 years.
As do released facts of back room back stabbing. What is unique about TRA back stabbing is the internet has made better than 30% of it public.
Or there's this one, "Method of Exercising a Cat" at
For those who don't want to wait on it here's the abstract:
A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.
No kidding. US Patent 5,443,036, granted August 22, 1995.
Doug -- I'm a historian of sorts. My specialty is dredging up old crap. IMO, a fortune was probably in fact stolen; at least a fortune to a man of Orv's means. However, my agenda here isn't righting of wrongs. I'm just looking into an oddd bit of history to see if an interesting article can be written. If I can find the paper trail, I can get it published. ;-}>