The Growth of the Ash-Heap.
WHILE the August fire losses in the United States and Canada showed but little increase over those of the corresponding month of last year, and were below the figures for August, 1889, yet the aggregate for the elapsed eight months of 1891 is far ahead of the total for the same period of 1890. The following table compiled by The Commercial Bulletin furnishes figures which will serve for purposes of comparison :
As we have frequently stated before, these statistics must be taken with a very large grain of salt as regards the volume of the losses, as they are compiled from the telegraphic reports to the daily press, frequently grossly exaggerated, without later revision. As remarked, however, as a means of comparison they will serve.
While the past month has been noticeably free from the forest fires to be expected at this season, it has been marked by several destructive blazes, which bear heavily upon the insurance companies, Jacksonville, Fla., having suffered from’ a conflagration which cost the underwriters about $500,000 (the total losses being now put at about $800,000′, while Waco and Dallas, Tex., each saw over a quarter of a million of dollars worth of property vanish in the flames. Chicago contributed a loss of over $600,000, Boston another quarter of a million and St. Louis about $200,000 more.
These heavy losses in the Southern and Southwestern cities have called the attention of the underwriters sharply to the condition of the fire protective service in some of these places which had been already pointed out as dangerous, more especially because of inadequate water supply systems, and there is likely now to be a pretty thorough stirring up in this particular. Already a sharp advance in insurance rates has been ordered at Dallas, while it is reported that several of the companies have given notice of their intention to refuse business altogether in Dallas and Jacksonville until the fire protection is improved.
The month of September also starts off merrily with a $600,000 fire at The Dalles, Ore., and another doing about $200,000 damage in New York city with a number of others varying from $50,000 up to $150,000, the indications being that if the year closes showing a total fire waste for the United States alone of much under $120,000,000, it will be as low as can fairly be expected.
THE town of The Dalles, Ore., was visited by fire the other day and the best portion of the place, covering about seventeen acres, was swept by the flames, the losses on property exceeding $400,000. Only a shift of wind, we are told, saved the whole business district from destruction. The place has a population of 5000, add, according to all accounts, a fairly strong fire department, but there were on the water-works system but sixteen fire hydrants to cover the whole exposed area. A press dispatch says : “ About a year ago the question of a water supply which would put a fire plug at every corner was agitated, but at the city election was defeated.” The citizens have now something to think about.
WHILE the New York State Board of Health is sampling Croton water, analyzing its impurities and puzzling itself over the problem of how to prevent the pollution of the water supply of the Empiie city, our neighbors beyond the Hudson, in Jersey City, are agitating themselves mightily over the question of what to do in the matter of a decent supply for themselves, realizing the impossibility of longer safely drinking the sewage laden fluid from the Passaic. On Tuesday of this week a committee representing the Propertyowners’ Association of the Sixth aldcrmanic district had a long conference upon the subject with Mayor Cleveland. One of the members said that the vile water was driving people from the city, as he had lost two tenants and had received notice that two others were about to leave. The Mayor stated that he did not believe in increasing the city’s debt and that the supply would have to come from a private corporation. The committee then decided to circulate petitions demanding a new and pure water supply, and it is understood that the matter will be closely followed up, the dissatisfaction and alarm in the city over the present condition of affairs having become general and marked. Still we have seen the Jersey Citizens pretty well stirred up over the water ’ question a number of times before in years gone by without accomplishing anything.
THK most important decision which has been rendered for a long time in a patent case was that given last week by Judge Hoyt H. Wheeler of the United States Circuit Court in New York city, in the suit of Christopher C. Campbell against the city of New York. Campbell is the assignee in trust of James Knibbs, superintendent of the fire alarm telegraph system of the city of Troy, N. Y., and patentee of a relief valve used on steam fire engines in hundreds of fire departments throughout the United States. The suit was for damages for infringement of patent in using the valve on the engines of the New York department, and had been before the courts for fourteen years. Judge Wheeler’s decision sustains the patent, and unless the city takes a final appeal to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, and wins, it will be obliged to pay to Mr. Knibbs and his associates nearly $3,000,000 in royalties for the use of his invention. When it is noted that about 500 similar claims, for sums aggregating about $15,000,000, against different cities are affected by this decision, its importance will be realized. It is stated that a number of cities using the device on their engines compromised with Mr. Knibbs, among them the city of Troy, and this decision would appear likely to induce other communities to adopt the same course.
Speaking of suits for infringement of patents upon fire department devices, it is to be noted that William A. Hirckill and associates of New York are also claiming heavy damages from the cities of New York, Chicago, Boston, Cambridge and Springfield for the use of a heater for steam fire engine boilers, which Hirckill claims that he invented and patented in 1868. It is stated that the damages for which he will bring suit against some twentyfive or thirty places will aggregate $4,000,000 or $5,000,000. What part of an apparatus or what tool will furnish the next ground for this terribly wasteful litigation ? Practical mechanics and machinists in our fire departments are constantly bringing out more or less valuable improvements suggested to them by experience ; it would seem decidedly more advisable for the cities to promptly buy from them the right to use anything of real merit than to ignore the legal rights of the inventor and appropriate his work, only to have to pay some enormous sums in damages and lawyers’ fees ten or fifteen years later.