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How Ohio Invented the World by Curt Dalton

By Rebecca Lomax · December 6th, 2001 · Get Lit!

While working for the last three years at the Montgomery County Historical Society, Curt Dalton came across countless interesting things. And then came the yo-yo.

"When you find out that your state's responsible for the yo-yo, you just can't let it go if you can help it," he said. He began compiling the most interesting inventions and patents he could find and they became How Ohio Helped Invent the World: From the Airplane to the Yo-Yo.

Dalton is the Curator of Visual Resources and handles the society's 1.5 million images. He was hired when they took over the National Cash Register Archives (the cash register was invented by James Ritty of Dayton).

"I saw these different things that came from this area and I started getting interested," Dalton says. "I started putting together a book of Dayton inventions and I just couldn't help but do one statewide."

Dalton included more than 85 inventions but had plenty more to choose from. "I could have written probably 10 times as many," he says, adding that Ohio has been granted more than 24,000 patents in the last five years alone.

He narrowed it down focusing on two kinds: those that were easily recognized (the stethoscope) and those that were just down right funny (premature burial safeguards).

"You could either peek into the coffin to make sure they were still dead or they could ring a little bell from inside the coffin.," he explains. "There was also a device that was like a bomb so if you tried to dig up a grave it would explode."

Some of the more technically accomplished inventions also got left out. "A lot of the stuff now-a-days has to do with computers or DNA and it's interesting, but it's hard to explain," he says.

For instance, he came across one from a man who helped a paralyzed girl walk by sending electrical impulses through her legs. "But when you start getting into all of that and trying to explain it, it's not as fun as explaining, say, the hot dog," he rationalizes.

The research for the book took more than three years and a lot of rifling through patent books.

"The biggest problem was I'd hear about an invention but wouldn't know the patent number," he says, "and unfortunately patent books are not searchable. You have to go to the index for each year and try to find it."

The Internet was of some use. The U. S. Patent Office has put all the patent drawings on the Web for free, although you still have to know the patent number. This is where Dalton got the illustrations for the book.

Dalton does everything from content to layout to cover design.

"I always self-publish, all but one," he says. Unlike his first books, which were completely made by him, he now hires a printer for the final product.

He also does his own marketing, which is why he's had only 1,000 copies of this book printed so far.

"I hope to sell 10,000 or 15,000, but you never know and it doesn't really matter," he says. "It does because I'd like to have the money, but it's really the fun of it. Research is really what I'm strongly into, what I like to do more than writing the book. I just write the book to pay for the research."

He'll have more printed as needed. If the book sells well, he might also expand the idea to other states. If not, he'll think of something else to write about.

Oddly enough, as a high school student in Franklin, Ohio, Dalton never liked history. "That was one of my worst subjects," he says.

Instead, it was while researching his wife's genealogy that his interest was piqued. "They had been in Dayton since the 1860s, and going back that far I started seeing how much wonderful history there is in the city of Dayton."

High school was, however, about the time his interest in authoring began. "My very first book, sad to say, was called Thoughts of a Teenager. I was 16 years old," he says.

The crude-looking book was of a fold-the-pages-over-and-staple-them-together variety. He sold it in his high school hoping to raise money to go to South America as an exchange student.

"I actually did sell 25 copies, mostly to sympathetic teachers," he said. Needless to say, it didn't quite cover the trip, but it did start him on a path that led to his most recent endeavor.

"It's in my blood now," he says. "I don't think I'll ever be at a point where I become rich, especially since I'm not interested in letting other people help me. I wouldn't want to do it full-time anyway. I work about 30 hours a week on it as it is."

CURT DALTON signs and discusses How Ohio Helped Invent the World: From the Airplane to the Yo-Yo Wednesday, Dec. 12 at Books & Co. in Dayton.


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