Local Character: John Hammond, The Big Idea Guy

June 22, 2020 / Good to Know, History/Maritime, Local Characters, Things to Do & See

When John Hays Hammond, Jr. died in 1965, he was America’s 6th most prolific inventor. His death ended a 55-year career of doing what inventors do—applying new technologies, meet market demands, react to global and regional events, and solve the problems we face every day. In this sense, Hammond was very much an inventor’s inventor, the big idea guy.

In 1909, Hammond submitted his first successful patent application, a Wireless Control Apparatus. This began a lifelong journey resulting in 437 US patents and 40 foreign patents. During the 1910s, Hammond directed most of his energies towards radio-controlled torpedoes and weapon technologies for World War I. He also applied radio control to aircraft and boats. The drones of today can be traced back to Hammond’s research during this decade. Besides radio control, Hammond also sought control by light, leading to the world’s first robotic dog, Seleno, who would follow its master about as it was guided by a light bulb. The post-war peace of the 1920s led Hammond to develop patents for toys, automobiles, cameras, radio, and early television. The decade also saw more than 40 patents for the piano and the pipe organ.

With the Great Depression of the 1930s crashing the global economy, Hammond confronted his own financial needs by addressing the public’s insatiable appetite for recorded music, talking pictures, and radio through dozens of sound reproduction and amplification patents. As World War II approached, Hammond reacted by developing variable pitch propellers to conserve the fuel of naval vessels and to increase their maneuverability. Hammond’s work with radio control and the variable pitch propeller resulted in the 1963 IEEE Medal of Honor, the highest award given to electrical engineers. After World War II, Hammond turned his attention to consumer goods. The patents of this era became magnetic bottlecap openers and stoves which made their own disposable pans.

In a letter to his father in 1924, John Hays Hammond, Jr. explained that he knew his patents would be improved upon and his name as an inventor would fade from memory. In this letter, he states that his true legacy would be a “modest museum” filled with artifacts and architectural pieces brought from Europe. Built between 1926 and 1929, and opened as a museum in 1930, Hammond’s Abbadia Mare, or the Abbey by the Sea, would be the residence for him and his wife, Irene, a talented painter of local fame. The museum is well known for combining many elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, from its flying buttresses, to its glass-ceilinged courtyard. The Castle became a destination for the rich and famous. It also became a destination for organists who wished to perform on the massive pipe organ, one of the world’s largest when it was installed in 1941.

First coming to Gloucester as a boy, Hammond was very much steeped in the city’s legacy of innovation and creativity. Today, his legacy continues at his “modest museum” on the shores of Gloucester.

Discover Hammond Castle

The Museum is temporarily closed will open in the Third Phase of the state’s Reopening Plan. Once permitted, their regular season will run through the end of October.

The Hammond Castle Museum is open April through December. They offer guided as well as self-guided tours from May through October, and host a series of events. Plan an excursion to see this magnificent Museum. For more information, visit hammondcastle.org.