Ram’s Horn insulator - patented
May 7, 1889.
Page 2
(continued on page 3)
Lapp Insulator –
The Early Years
This article is part of the research for
the new exhibit at LeRoy House.
The story of Lapp Insulator Com-
pany, which was founded in 1916,
begins much earlier with the inge-
nuity of a telegraph operator and his
friend, John Lapp.
In 1883, Fred Locke, like his father
before him, was a telegraph opera-
tor for the New York Central and the
Pennsylvania Railroads in Canandai-
gua. He had been cited for not being
at his post to receive amessage,but he
knew he had been on duty.He walked
the line and never found any damage.
One day, as he was mopping the floor,
he got a shock when he touched the
telegraph key. The more he thought
about it, he wondered if the electric-
ity in the telegraph wire was “leak-
ing” over the wet glass insulators and
down the poles to the ground which
interrupted the electrical current.Ulti-
mately he came up with a new insula-
tor design and he enlisted the help of
a neighbor, John Lapp.
Both men were in their early 20s
and had grown up in Honeoye Falls.
Both men were known for their in-
genuity and resourcefulness. Lapp
was a wagon maker by trade but had
tried to improve Bell’s telephone,
and had built a couple of innovative
washing machines for his wife. For
a short time he was involved with
a new furnace and moved to Roch-
ester to promote it. He developed
a tool to tighten bicycle chains and
worked on a hot water heating sys-
tem for residential use.
Although Brent Mills, in his book,
Porcelain Insulators
, 1970, mentions
that Lapp and Locke began working
on insulator innovations in 1897, it
was almost ten years earlier that the
two men applied for their first pat-
ent for a glass insulator with a triple
“petticoat” design in 1888. The pat-
ent was granted on May 7, 1889 and
lists both Locke and Lapp.This insula-
tor, called a “rams horn,” had an iron
hook cemented with molten sulfur in
the center. The hook had two prongs
that resembled a ram’s horn and the
telegraph wire was suspended from
the prongs. The insulator was insert-
ed in holes bored in the underside
of the crossbeam of the telegraph
pole. It is believed that
Locke and Lapp shared
the start-up cost of
producing these insula-
tors. Although his early
insulator designs were
glass, Fred Locke even-
tually became known as
the father of the porce-
lain insulator. A historic
marker in Victor was
dedicated to Fred Locke
in 2008.
In the early 1890s,
there was an increased
demand for insulators
that could withstand
the conditions for trans-
mitting high voltage
alternating currant. Instead of glass,
Locke and others were working with
porcelain. At first the “dry press” pro-
cess was used. A granular dry clay
was pressed into a steel mold. These
insulators were often porous and
could only be used for low voltage
lines. There was interest in a “wet
porcelain” process that would create
a better insulator, and several com-
panies began experimenting with
this process.
Fred Locke submitted a dry press
insulator as a prototype to the Impe-
rial Porcelain Company in Trenton,
New Jersey. Brent Mills wrote that
it was John Lapp who approached
Imperial Porcelain on behalf of Fred
Locke. Which story is correct is un-
known but Imperial took Lock’s de-
sign and manufactured it with the
wet porcelain process.
One of Fred’s early designs was
the “Helmet”which was used on the
Niagara-Buffalo transmission line
in 1896. This was the first transmis-
sion of power from Niagara Falls. In
order to win the contract Locke’s
Helmets had to withstand a charge
of 40,000 volts while submerged in
a brine solution. Locke’s insulators
were the only wet process insula-
tors, and they were the only ones to
withstand the tests. Locke’s early in-
sulators were manufactured by oth-
er ceramic companies, but in 1898,
Fred Locke opened his own factory
and kiln in Victor.
During this time, it is unclear how
much John Lapp was involved with
Fred Locke, although Elton Gish, in
The Helmet insulator - 1896.
1 3,4,5,6