SUNKAR A. BISEY—PIONEER HINDU INVENTOR AND SCIENTIST
—by Ramlal Bajpai
India was, at one time, at the zenith of civilization, and the seat of Philosophy, Literature, Sciences, and the Arts. It was called the Golden Land and was the trade center of several nations. Amongst her contributions to Science and Art were Astronomy, Astrology, Algebra, Mathematics, Decimal System, Metallurgy, Music, Medicine, Vegetable Dyeing, Weaving, Enamelling and scores of smaller industries. The Science of Aerial Navigation was first known to the Hindus. There is, however, nothing everlasting in the world, and India gradually began to decline in her glory owing to several foreign invasions and internal warfare. Particularly during the last few centuries, while European nations made great progress in science, arts and inventions, India remained dormant. However, during the last fifty years India has been gradually awakening and striving hard to regain her past glory.
This is the age of scientific research and mechanical inventions which are the backbone of industries on which a nation's prosperity depends. During recent years, although Sir Jagadish Chander Bose startled the world with his original researches in plant life, India failed to materially contribute to mechanical inventions. In fact, the prevalent impression amongst the Occidental people was that while the Hindus could duplicate or operate a machine they could not invent original machines of any importance, as the inventive faculty was not their natural heritage.
With the object of removing such impression, Mr. S. A. Bisey undertook the pioneer work of successfully competing with the Occidental inventors in the field of original mechanical inventions, and during the last twenty-seven years he has been carrying out such work in England and America. Some of his epoch-making inventions in typecasting and composing machines have been internationally recognized. He has been frankly credited with solving intricate mechanical problems that many Occidental inventors previously attempted unsuccessfully.
Mr. Sunkar A. Bisey was born at Bombay on the 29th of April, 1867, and belongs to a high caste Hindu family. His father and three uncles held high judicial positions under the Government.
He was a born inventor, and his fondness for scientific research work was evident during his boyhood. When he was a student of the Dhulia High School, India, Divan B. R. V. Subnis, ex-Prime Minister of Kolhapur State was then the head master of that school. Mr. Subnis was the first one to admire and encourage Bisey in his scientific work and to declare that some day that young boy would be a celebrated inventor and scientist. In those days it was considered unbecoming for a son of a Judge to do mechanic's work, but Bisey with dogged determination fought his way without accepting any help from his parents.
During his school days he was very fond of reading the Scientific American, which inspired him to come to this country. In fact, he looked upon America as his "dream land," admirably suited to carry out his scientific work, but it took him over thirty years to realize that dream, as he wanted to carry out his plans solely depending on his earnings in preference to the financial help cheerfully offered by his wealthy parents. He had the inborn ambition to become a self-made man and finally he succeeded in arriving here in 1916 and since then has established himself permanently in America.
Bisey's Early Life in India
He completed his education in 1887 and entered the Government Service in the accounting department to please his parents and also to earn money independently to carry out his scientific work. During the years 1890-95 he invented in his spare time several optical illusions to show the transformation of one solid object into another, and exhibited those to several scientific men and Princes in India, and later, at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England. They were greatly admired and declared to be far in advance of those invented by the Europeans. The prominent citizens of Bombay honored him with a public address and presentation of a gold medal in 1895 in recognition of the merits and superiority of his work.
Studied Yoga Philosophy
During the years 1896-98 he devoted his spare time in studying the Yoga Philosophy and developed the power of concentrating his mind to such an extent that he was able to correctly read other people's thoughts through simple contact. Several medical and scientific men were convinced about his power to read thoughts. His Highness Sayajirao Gaikwar of Baroda held a special durbar at Baroda at the Palace in 1897 to witness Bisey's remarkable power and to honor him with the presentation of a valuable diamond ring. Bisey, however, found it impracticable to carry out such Yoga practices any further while giving his attention to government service, and so he decided to devote his energy only to scientific research and inventions. He believes that those latent powers have helped him considerably in quickly solving problems in his inventive work.
In 1898 Bisey won a competitive prize offered by the publishers of the Inventors' Review and Scientific Record in London for inventing a machine for automatically weighing and delivering from bulk powder substances, such as ground coffee, sugar, flour, etc. Although he had to compete with eighteen noted European inventors, he not only got the prize but an additional bonus for inventing other novel features. He had hardly a day's time to invent such a machine, but sent the particulars to London to reach in due time. A Hindu winning such a prize in London in competition with the European inventors created a great stir, and consequently Bisey was prominently brought before the Indian public as an inventive genius, and press notices appeared in Indian papers and in the Scientific American.
Bisey's Pioneer Mission
Some of the Hindu patriots and leaders who were aware of Bisey's previous scientific record, soon realized the significance of his winning the above-stated prize and the importance of sending him to England and America as the pioneer Hindu inventor and scientist, to prove to the Occidentals that Hindus were not lacking in inventive faculties, and with proper backing could successfully compete and even surpass the Occidental inventors in the field of original mechanical inventions. Bisey cheerfully answered the call of his country and resigned after nine years' government service. He left India in May, 1899, to go to England, and he has been steadily carrying out such inventive work since then, in spite of great personal sacrifice and much uphill work.
Bisey in England
Bisey came with a limited fund which was hardly sufficient to carry out his work in England successfully. So the late Honorable Dadabhai Naoroji, M.P., the "Grand Old Man" of India, took a personal interest in Bisey's pioneer work and helped him financially out of a national fund, till 1908.
Bisey's Principal Inventions
A type casting machine, such as is used by type founders, casts about 150 single types per minute. Many previous inventors had attempted to cast several types simultaneously to increase the output, but without any success. In fact, it was considered impracticable. Bisey undertook to solve the problem of multiple casting and in 1905 invented such a machine to cast thirty-two single types at one time. His method was so novel that the engineers of the Caslon type foundry openly challenged him to produce such a practical machine. He accepted the challenge, organized the Bhiso-type Limited, financed by English capital, produced his first machine in 1908, and won the challenge. That machine had the capacity of automatically casting and assembling 1,200 single types per minute. It was exhibited to the entire satisfaction of several type machine experts and representatives of printers' journals. Following is the extract from an illustrated article which appeared in the Caxton Magazine, a leading printers' journal in London, after several investigations and tests made by the publisher's experts. "The inventor of the machine is a native of Bombay and is recognized as the pioneer inventor of India. With the Indian population of our empire the mechanical inventive faculty is not a natural heritage, and it is all the more striking that a native of India should produce results which the most able engineers of the world have so far failed to accomplish."
Recognition in India
In December 1908, Bisey returned to India on a short visit, as the guest of honor at the Indian National Industrial Congress at Madras, and several public meetings were held in various cities to do him honor. While in India on this trip, he secured the financial backing of the late Sir Ratan Tata. With this capital Bisey returned to England in March 1910 and formed the Tata-Bisey Syndicate. A machine shop was opened to carry out further work, and Bisey improved his original machine, designing it on the rotary principle to cast and assemble over 3,000 single types per minute. He produced his first model in 1913.
Further London Inventions
However, the multiple type caster, owing to its enormous output, was suitable only for the type founders and not the printers. Mr. R. P. Bannerman, manufacturer of type casting machines in London, becoming convinced of Bisey's ability to solve intricate mechanical problems, advised Bisey to invent a single type caster with a universally adjustable mold suitable for printers to cast their own types. It had long been a keenly-felt need to make one mold universally adjustable to all sizes of type. In fact, it was a dream of inventors for the previous sixty years to invent such a mold, and while hundreds of patents were taken, no one succeeded in producing a practical mold.
Bisey therefore undertook to solve that difficult problem and succeeded in inventing the desired mold in 1914. He completed his first model machine in 1915, winning the praise of Mr. Bannerman and other type experts.
Bisey in America
Owing to the World War which involved England at this time, Bisey found it necessary to come to America to carry on his work. A further unforeseen difficulty arose when the illness and subsequent death of Sir Ratan Tata caused his financial support to be withdrawn. Bisey then set about making connections with an American firm. He approached the Universal Type Caster Corporation, who was his competitor. Its officers were delighted to meet him and frankly gave him credit for being the first inventor to solve the mold problem. They urged him to invent another mold to cast types as well as continuous strips of leads and rules, to meet the requirements of the American market. Bisey invented such a new machine based on principles entirely different from his previous mold, and as he did that work of inventing and designing the machine in only three days' time, it greatly astonished the engineers of the company, who wondered whether some Buddha or mysterious powers were helping him to solve the problems so quickly. He also invented a separate machine for casting leads and rules on original lines. The monotype caster has over 1500 operating parts, the Universal Caster has about 1000 parts, while Bisey's new type caster has only 250 parts. Therefore not only is it the simplest, smallest and cheapest of all, but it also gives a larger output than other machines and so the experts named it the "Ideal Type Caster." The Scientific American published an illustrated article on Bisey's machine, from which the following is an extract: "While the Hindu race has achieved brilliant success in science, literature and arts, it has given very little to the world in the way of invention; in fact, the prevalent impression amongst the Occidental people has been that the Indian brain was imitative and assimilative and sadly lacked inventive faculties. Whatever may have been the opinion of the world, the work of Mr. Bisey should do much to dispel this illusion."
Bisey Ideal Type Casting Corporation
This corporation was organized in New York in 1920 to develop and market the type casting and lead rule machine. The type caster was built and operated to the satisfaction of experts some time ago. The type caster was examined by several experts. The following is an extract from the opinion given by Mr. W. Ackerman, inventor of Type Casting machines and assistant consulting engineer of the Linotype Company of America:
"He (Bisey) has now solved a problem which had been the dream of type machine inventors for many years. He has succeeded in producing the first universally adjustable nonrubbing mold for casting single type. A machine equipped with such a mold would represent a distinct advance in type making machinery and should be able to compete successfully with other type casters on the market. It would represent an ideal towards which all have been striving and no doubt would be welcomed by the trade as the solution of many of the problems now connected with the commercial use of type casters."
Bisey's Chemical Inventions
Bisey's versatile inventive brain did not stop with inventing type casters but was applied to the solution of problems in the chemical and electrical field with equal success. His first venture in this new field was a washing compound called "Rola," which he invented in 1917. He sold the entire world rights for the process and formula to an English company for a handsome price.
His principal invention in chemistry is a unique compound known as Beslin and is prepared from sea-weeds under his secret process which is partly mechanical and partly chemical. Although Beslin is a very powerful germicide (Phenol co-efficient 1605) it is perfectly harmless, non-irritant, and non-poisonous for internal and external use and has the unique property of promoting tissue growth, not possessed by any other germicide. It is the result of his many years' research work, and is now marketed by the American Beslin Corporation.
One of his electrical inventions is an apparatus for separating various gases from the atmosphere by electrical means. Another invention is for deriving electrical energy directly from the sunlight. Both the inventions are entirely original in their conception and method. In 1906 he invented a simple process of transmitting photos by wire but could not get financial support in England at that time to market it.
Bisey's Love For Peace
While in England Bisey was urged by some people interested in ammunition work to undertake the solution of certain problems in connection with automatic guns. But he refused some very tempting offers for such work as he believes that the inventive faculty is a divine gift meant for constructive purposes and not for the destructive work of killing human beings.
Bisey brought his wife to England in 1904. He has two grown-up sons and a young daughter living with him in New York.
In spite of his advanced years Bisey has the activity, energy, ambition and sound health of a man of forty. However, the fact remains that he is nearly sixty years old and that he has decided to retire from the business world within four or five years, to devote the remainder of his life to the study of Yoga philosophy and occult sciences. He has just begun to reap the fruits of his many years' laborious work. He has half a dozen other inventions equally meritorious as those here mentioned, but which have remained undeveloped for want of capital. Some of his countrymen, friends, and admirers, realizing these facts, have organized Bisey Patents Company, and are endeavoring to raise capital to further finance his existing work, develop and market his other inventions, and give possible help to other Indian inventors.
Bisey has been elected an Hon. Fellow of the National Institute of Inventors, New York, and is recognized as an expert and authority in the particular field of typecasting and composing machinery and is often consulted on such matters. He has not only succeeded in inventing original machines and methods, but has gone a step beyond—of successfully solving problems given up as impracticable by Occidental inventors. His success is all the more remarkable because it has been won in foreign countries.
The primary object of Bisey's pioneer mission was to prove to the Occidentals that the inventive faculty is a heritage of the Hindus, and that India could produce inventive geniuses to successfully compete with Occidental inventors. This ambition has been amply fulfilled.
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