[Washington: H. Peters], 1887. Folio (30.5cm.); ribbon-bound engraved self-wrappers, wax-sealed and accomplished in manuscript; ll. of photo-engraved plans printed on versos only, followed by pp. text printed in double columns on rectos only. Previous mail folds, extremities a bit chipped and toned, ribbons slightly frayed, else Very Good, internally clean and sound. Signed by Acting Secretary of State D.L. Hawkins and Commissioner of Patents Burton J. Hall. Item #1386
Detailed patent application submitted by the Superintendent of the Chicago Bridewell Prison on September 13, 1887. Charles E. Felton (ca. 1832-1909) was the prison's longest serving overseer, having held the position from its opening in 1872 until his retirement in 1890. Formerly a printer in Buffalo, New York, Felton entered the field of prison administration through the usual political platforms, though he assumed his position in Chicago not through the usual channels but based on his previous experience serving as director of the Erie (PA) correctional facility. A Democrat and avid duck hunter with a rather unfocussed eye on the mayoralty of Chicago, Felton was especially interested in enforcing labor in his prisons as a means of reducing costs and galvanizing individual reformation, a position he clung to even past his retirement.
The present patent, submitted with steel manufacturer Herbert B. Streeter (1833-1919), offered substantial air circulation improvements for prisons "or other structures where the tiers of cells or dormitories have an open hall or corridor, without separation by floors or otherwise." Previously, the Chicago House of Corrections had just one small ventilating flue, leaving the air "absolutely foul and poisonous." The plans depicted here show two foul air flues and one steam-coil heating device per cell, as well as additional open air gratings for increased circulation. Though it is unclear whether the patent was ever approved, Felton, in an address delivered before the Prison Congress four years later, complained that the increase in crime rates could be blamed in part on "the comfortable quarters" offered prospective convicted criminals. Also to blame, "the present views of the public, and acts of legislatures as to systems of prison labor and its ease to the prisoner...[the] quality of food; their [the prisoners'] easy access to visitation, and the readiness with which a sympathetic public accepts as true the complaints of the prisoners" ("Inter Ocean" newspaper, October 14, 1891). This patent, submitted to improve the comfortable prison cells Felton so bemoaned, an important document for students and historians of prison reform, architecture, and engineering.