William Hoyt: A day late and a dollor short

There was, at one time, a great controversy pertaining to the invention of an improvement to the cog rail system used on the Madison incline. It seems Andrew Cathcart, master mechanic for the M & I, and William Hoyt both claimed the invention. The railroad evidently paid both men for the rights to the mechanism; Cathcart receiving $6,000 and Hoyt a mere $1,000. This seems to have “stung” Mr. Hoyt as he offered this article in the Madison Daily Banner: “ TO THEPUBLIC – I noted a communication in your paper of the 5th of July concerning this new and useful invention for ascending incline planes on railroads, in which the writer refers me to what Columbus said, viz: It is a very easy thing to make an egg stand on end when we have once been shown how. My reply to this is that I, William Hoyt, of Dupont, Jefferson County, Ia, laid a noble egg, Columbus like, on its end, on the Madison inclined plane in 1839, and have sat on it until 1848, and the egg was about to hatch when one Andrew Cathcart, a Scotchman, slipped on my nest, and, by the assistance of our worthy directors, has hatched out the chicken and is now living sumptuously on the fowl, while I have not as yet had a chance to suck the tip of the wing.”

George S. Cottman looked into the controversy by inspecting the patents each man applied for and in an article for the “News” dated April 15, 1922, he reported: Patent #6321, dated April 17, 1849 contained specifications of a “cog gearing of locomotives for ascending inclined planes” claimed as the invention of William Hoyt of Dupont, Indiana. He continues: Patent #6818 dated October 23, 1849, contains specifications of an “improvement in locomotives for ascending inclined planes.”

Hoyt’s patent was of the earliest date but Cathcart contended his invention was slightly different than Hoyts’ and Hoyt maintained Cathcart had modified his, Hoyt’s, invention. The dilemma was never satisfactorily resolved. The railroad, however, continued to use the mechanism, staying above the fray.