Who was the Indian Edison?
Around the middle of the nineteenth century, some hesitant creative sparks were ignited in a sporadic manner. In the fields of science and technology emergence of people like Jagadish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and Bhau Daji Lad pierced the darkness to some extent. The trend continued and other Scientific luminaries like S.N. Bose, C.V.Raman, Meghnad Saha, S.P. Agharkar made their presence felt in the subsequent period. They made some outstanding discoveries.
The building of steel plants and textile mills laid the foundation of truly indigenous industries. One who made a name for himself caught World attention with his inventions at the time was Shankar Abaji Bhise. He had an aptitude for science from an early age. When barely fourteen he constructed a Small apparatus to make coal gas at home. To demonstrate his mechanical skills he tried his hand at becoming a conjurer. In the 1890s he held public shows leaving the audience spellbound with his optical illusions.
He would convert a Solid object into a totally different one. He even set up a show at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. The contraptions he had conceived and then built to help him in his endeavour were superior to those invented by Europeans. Alfred Webb who presided over the Indian National Congress held in Mumbai in 1894 was so impressed that he conferred a gold medal on young Bhise. While at Bombay, as it was then called, Bhise founded a science club and started publishing a science magazine in Marathi titled Vividh Kala Prakash. He intended to popularise science through this medium. He demystified science and explained intricacies of advances in different branches of science in a simple language with which common man was familiar around this time opportunity came knocking on his door. A Worldwide competition was announced.
Bhise read about in the Inventors’ review and Scientific Record, a periodical published from London. A handsome prize was to be won for inventing the automatic machine that could weigh and deliver from bulk such consumer items as sugar and flour. Bhise entered the competition with his design. There were Several others from all parts of the world. But Bhise’s entry was adjudged the best. This caused quite a flutter in the industry and overnight Bhise shot into the limelight. He was described as an inventive genius. The reputed magazine Scientific American took note of his contribution and wrote at length about him. That encouraged him to go ahead full steam.
He migrated to the US. Once there, he started working at a furious pace. His most acclaimed invention was that of typecasting and composing machines. A type-casting machine of the time could cast only 150 types per minute. Many tried to bring about a significant increase in this rate but to no avail. Bhise took up this challenge to make a multiple casting machine. He wanted his machine to cast not just a single but many types simultaneously. He came up with one that could cast as many as 32 different types at the same time. That, of course, was too much for the community. They
could not believe that this is possible. His claim was disputed by engineers from the Caxton Type Foundry of London. Bhise was not deterred. On the contrary, he accepted the challenge and set up his own foundry, the Bhise Type Limited. With financial assistance from a London bank, he produced a machine as per his design in 1908. His critics, as well as the doubting engineers, were silenced for he had surpassed his own claim. The machine could automatically cast and assemble as many as 1200 different types every minute.
Caxton with the same name as the engineering company was an independent magazine catering to the printers’ world. It carried a review of Bhise’s machine and commented that a native of India should produce results which the ablest engineers of the World have so far failed to accomplish’. Bhise never looked back after that. He kept on producing better, and even better, casting machines. He even invented the automatic dwell machine and obtained a patent for it. The particular patented product was incorporated in every single Bannerman type-casting machine. His outstanding feats caught banner of the Indian National Industrial Congress which invited as a guest of honour to its convention held in Chennai.
There he came to notice of such political leaders as Gopal Krishna Gokhle and Dadabhai Naoroji. Sir Ratan Tata was present at the convention. Bhise made a deep impression on him. He agreed to finance Bhise’s projects and a joint venture, Tata-Bhise Invention Syndicate was established in 1910. Bhise Went on to invent rotary multiple type-caster. It could cast and assemble up to 3000 different types every minute.
Having demonstrated in full measure that there was no limit to the pace at which types could be automatically assembled, Bhise turned his attention elsewhere. One of the major stumbling block in the type-casting process than was the non-availability of a mould that could suit types of varying sizes. Bhise, therefore, invented such a mould and removed that major hurdle. Scientific American was so overwhelmed by Bhise’s exploits that it magnanimously commented, While India has achieved a brilliant success in Science, literature and arts, it had given little to the world in the way of invention. This might be the general opinion of the world.
The work of Mr Bhise should do much to dispel that illusion. 1920, Bhise founded the Bhise Type Casting Corporation in New York. Machines produced by this company were marketed all over the world. His success led even his competitors to respect his talent.
He developed a washing compound called Rola but Sold all rights to an English firm. He also came up with an electrically operated instrument for separating various gases in the air. He was the first to devise a process of transmitting photographs telegraphically. During the First World War, Atomidine-a drug developed by him widely used by the American army. He wanted to manufacture it in India. But his efforts did not materialise.
No wonder Americans loved this inventive genius and called him ‘Edison of India”. When he died at an age of 68 he had to his credit 200 Odd inventions, out of which he held world patents for 40 of them.
Narendra Kr. Sharma