James KNIBBS, son of Joseph KNIBBS and Hannah BENNETT , was born 05 October 1827 in Oxfordshire, England. He married Emma LAWS 17 December 1878 in Green Island, Albany County, New York, USA. He died 16 April 1901 in Troy, Rensselear County, New York, USA. Emma LAWS was born December 1850 in Colonie, Albany County, New York, USA. She died 23 October 1930 in USA.

Other Marriages/Unions for James KNIBBS:
See James KNIBBS & Rhoda Ann HARVEY

Notes for James KNIBBS:

I'm sure James would chuckle at this one, taken from the History of Troy, New York - "James Knibbs was the chief engineer of the fire department, and thus it has been said that calling an important man 'His Nibs' also originated in Troy."

James is perhaps best well know for having invented and patented a device called the "Knibbs Run Around" and applied it to the Arbba Read Steam Fire Engine. It's a pressure valve with the main objective of the invention being to allow one, two, three or more discharge pipes or hoses to throw streams of water from the fire engine at the same time, without any waste of water or risk of injury or damage to it's operators or the engine itself. It appears that at James' request, for experimental purposes, the device was installed into an engine constructed by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Amoskeag then manufactured and sold engines containing James' invention for two years before James eventually applied for the patent.
James fought many court cases against the State Of New York to obtain money on his invention. He tried to get $26,000,000.00 and fought from 1881 till his death. The family continued to fight for it after his death but ended up settling for just $1,500.00.

Unless an inventor is careful in deciding when and in what way an invention is patented, the danger of infringement is greatly increased, and court fights to protect the invention can easily become costly and time consuming. A perfect example of this calamity is the case of James and his fire engine relief valve, otherwise known as the "Knibbs Run Around"./
James Knibbs was born October I827, in Somerton, England. At the age of thirteen, his family immigrated to New York and settled in Troy where he learned the machinist trade at the shop of Starbuck Brothers. In 1859, Knibbs perfected an important pressure valve for steam fire engines. Until that time. there was no effective method for using more than one hose on each fire engine without wasting water and subjecting the operators to the risk of injury, The danger would arise when one hose was shut off and the excess water was then diverted to the remaining open hoses. If two or more hoses were shut off, the full force of water would flow into the remaining hose. which sometimes burst from the pressure.
The Knibbs Run Around relief valve solved this problem by diverting the extra pressure to the receiving side of the pump. This meant that the pressure within the pump was the same whether one hose was in use or four. As an
experiment, he had the valve manufactured and placed on a steamer for Troy`s Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Company In a series of` tests. The valve not only made it safer to operate different numbers of hoses, but each stream of water was more powerful than the water streams of other engines The fire company then appointed Knibbs as the first full time steam engineer in the city of Troy and paid him the respectable sum of` fifty dollars per month. According to the Troy Times, Knibbs and his steamer helped check the flames of the great Troy fire of 1862. which rapidly burned five hundred buildings.
In applying his valve to practical use, Knibbs made a grievous error. Rather than patent his invention fast, he gave the specifications to the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of New Hampshire so that it could install the device on the Arba Read engine. Amoskeag found that fire engines with the Knibbs valve installed performed so much better than those without the device that, unknown to Knibbs, the company immediately began installing the valve on every engine it produced. Since there was no patent to protect the device, municipalities and fire companies around the Northeast began to adopt the design into their engines Curiously, this arrangement went on for about two years before Knibbs finally applied for a patent in 1864
To complicate matters, Knibbs licensed a portion of the patent rights to Marcus Norton, who began a series of lawsuits against those who used the valve, One of the most public of these lawsuits was against the City of Boston.
Norton asked for $450,000 in damages but lost when the city proved that it had been purchasing Amoskeag fire engines before the patent was issued. After that defeat. the patent rights were sold and resold to a string of investors until finally ending with Christopher Campbell of East Chatham, New York. Campbell commenced a milIion·dollar lawsuit against the City of New York. Since Knibbs retained a portion of the rights to his patent, he also filed a series of lawsuits, These court cases eventually expanded to include over five hundred cities around the country.
The lawsuits did not end after Knibbs`s death on April I6, l901. His heirs. as well as the heirs of Campbell`s estate, continued the fight with millions of dollars at stake, which was widely publicized around the country. Those municipalities that chose to fight, such as Boston and New York City, prevailed, while others chose to settle out of court. When the lawsuits finally ended, they together constituted one of the largest patent fights in United States history.

The "Knibbs Run Around" wasn't the only device that James invented. He invented at least two other devices that were also aimed at improvements to fire fighting.
The first was an Automatic Harness Suspender. From what I can understand, it's purpose was to simplify and thus hasten the activies required to preapre an engine for use, once it had reached a fire.
The second device was a Wire-Cutter. It was based on the design of a regular garden priner for lopping small branches from the tops of trees. James redesigned it so that it could be used for cutting overhead electric wires that were interfereing with the operation of firemen accessing a birning building.

Full details of these devices can be seen at

James' entry in the Inventive KNIBBS
section of this web site.

A sample of James' signature taken from his Patent from 1864.

Please visit my Notable KNIBBS Page for James


It can be seen that James applied for Naturalization at Albany County, New York, USA on 16 April 1849

James and Rhoda can be seen living at Rensselear, NY, USA at the 1850 census. They appeared to be living at the home of Rhoda's parents:
Henry Harvey 49 Cooper Vt
Roxana Harvey 44 Vt
James Knibbs 23 Machinist England
Rhoda Knibbs 23 NY
Henry Buell Harvey 12 NY
Emily A Harvey 8 NY

In 1855, we see James in the New York State Census living at E.D. Western, Glenville, Schenectady, New York:
James Knibbs Head Mar 27 Farmer England
Rhoda Ann Knibbs Wife Mar 27 Vermont
Joseph H Knibbs Son 3 Rensselear

In 1860 the Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1 was formed at Troy, and a steam pumper was purchased from the Amoskeag Co. of Manchester, New Hampshire. James was employed as the first fully paid engineer, hired to operate this highly technical piece of equipment. He was the engineer of the Arbba Read Co, between 1860-1873 and was paid a substantial wage of $50.00 a month.

He invented a device called the "Knibbs Run Around" and applied it to the Arbba Read. It was a pressure valve designed to greatly improve the control of water from the pump.

We can also see James still living at Rensselear, this time with Joseph, their first child:
James Knibbs, Rensselaer, 30
Rhoda Knibbs, Rensselaer, 30
Joseph H Knibbs, Rensselaer, 10

He is listed as living at 47 Grand Division St.1850 to 1862. Then at 67 Grand Division St. till his death.
His house at 47 burned in the great fire of 10 May 1862.On that day, Troy suffered its greatest loss by fire. A spark from a locomotive ignited a covered wood railroad bridge to Center Island, and a strong west wind drove the fire into Troy. By evening 508 buildings had been destroyed and at least 8 persons lost their lives. The financial loss was $3.9 million dollars.

The following is an extract from article that appeared in the Troy Times of 11 May 1862:

The Terrible Fire of Troy. N.Y.
The fire originated in the bridge, by, it is supposed, a spark from a locomotive. So rapidly did the flames spread, that several vehicles got off with difficulty. The hurricane blew flames directly towards the city, and carried the embers far back, setting a number of buildings instantly on fire.
The spread of the flames was so fast and fearful that any attempt at a connected narrative would be in vain. At noon the danger was unexpected. At 6 o'clock seventy five acres of the city had been swept over as by the hand of a
destroying fiend. Before sunset it was all over, and the streets - alas! Streets of the tombs to all appearances - were quite passable. Even the piles of brick and crumbling walls had become cool.
The scene of desolation on River Street in indescribable. Franklin Square can with difficulty be distinguished. The sign over the door of the Troy City Bank is still standing, and the vault appears to be intact. All the valuables was
removed from the building before the fire approached. The fire was stopped in River Street, at the pork store of C. Warner & Co. On the other side of River Street the flames were checked in Greenman's furniture store, and the Museum Building was this saved. The Read and Osgood steamers were stationed at this spot all the afternoon, and checked the flames.
James Knibbs, engineer of the Read, received a message from his wife that his house was in danger. His only reply was: "Let it burn – the city needs my services and I must stay here." The company have raised between $100 and
$200 to partially reimburse him. The steamers worked until early morning.


1864 he applies and is granted a patent for his invention. He applies it to another steam engine.

James can be seen at the 1870 census living at Troy, Rensselaer, Ney York, USA:
James KNIBBS 43 Engineer England
Rhoda KNIBBS 43 New York
Joseph KNIBBS 19 Machinist New York
William H KNIBBS 9 New York
Martha B KNIBBS 5 New York
Value of Real Estate $3,000
Value of Personal Estate $600
Locality: 13-WD TROY M593-Roll: 1084 Page: 352 State: NY

In 1875, James was living at Ward 13, Troy, Rensselaer, New York, United States :
James Knibbs Head Mar 38
Rhodeanna Knibbs Wife Mar 33
Joseph H Knibbs Son 24
William H Knibbs Son 14
Martha B Knibbs Daur 10

From the Chicago Daily Tribune., August 06, 1875:
Self-Propelling Fire-Engine
Troy Press
Fire Commissioners Hotchkin and Ranken, who, togetber with Capt. Smith and Engineer Knibbs, visited Menchester, N. H., to purchasa a new steamer for the Read, returned this morning. Messrs. Hotchkin and Ranken have purchased a second-class self-propeller for $4,800, 'subject to the approval of tho Board of Fire Commiesioners, who meett to-night. Tho visitors were shown through the works at Manchester and wore given an opportunity to become acquainted with the working of the self-propelling flre-engine. The propeller consists of two enless chains which run over drums on the hinder axle and over shafts projecting from the fly-wheels. The rear wheels axe very heavy, and the tires are studded to prevent slipping when the steamer is ancending a hill. Yesterday, one of this class of steamers was taken from the works to the race-course at Manchester, where it run a mile in three minutes. It was afterwards tensed on ordinary roads, and in ascending a hill, steeper than any in Troy. It went up hill faster than either of the four Trojans could. Nino of this class of steamers have been made and sold; two are in New York, two in Brooklyn, one in Boston. and one lin Detroit. The steamer which was tested yesterday can be finished in about a month, but it is considered too heavy for Troy. If the Fire Commissioners ratify the bargain made by the Committee, a second-class steamer will be built within three mouths for this city ut a coat of $1,800. On their way home the Trojans stopped in Boston, and looked at the self-propellor in use there. It gives great satisfaction. In going to a fire the tender is hitched behind, and no horses are used at all, saving the cost of buying horses, and of replacing them when worn out, and their keeping, and of the wages of a driver. Sixty pounds of steam is kept up constantly at a cost of 50 cents per diem. It looks as if the days of horne-ficall in our Fire Department were numbered. The cost of keeping the steamers supplied with horses has been one of the largest items of expense, A tearn will last not to exceed two years, when they must be sold for almost nothing and another team purchased ; besides it costs about $9 per week for each steamer to keep the horses, and $60 per month for a driver. The self-propeller costs as much more than an ordinary steamer as a team of horses, and eats nothing and wants no driver.



There is a picture of him and several pages of written information in Arthur Weise's book, "Troy Firemen and Fires" This book was written in 1878.

From the 1880 Federal Census for Troy, Rensselaer, New York, we can see James, aged 53, an Engineer, living with his wife Emma aged 29, and two of his children, Martha aged 16 and William aged 19. William is also listed as an engineer. They were all living at 66 North 3rd Street.
James Knibbs Head 53 Engineer England
Emma Knibbs Wife 29 Keeping House New York
William Knibbs Son 19 Engineer New York
Martha Knibbs Saur 16 At Home New York

From the Utika Morning Herald, Tuesday November 3rd, 1881:
Made a Fortune Easily:
Captain D.S. Goodell, a retired sea captain, of Searsport Me., advanced money to enable James Knibbs, of Troy, N.Y. to prosecute a suit for an infringement against his fire engine valve patent, on condition that he should have a certain percentage of the damages recovered, if any. Captain Goodell's share of the winnings this far looks up to $750,000


From the New York Times, Saturday 31 March, 1883
Boston March 30 - Judge Lowell has rendered a decision on the bills of complaint of the cities of Concord, Dover, Portsmouth, Manchester and Nashua against Marcus P Norton. Trustee and others in the United States Court. The complainant cities sought to restrain the defendants from prosecuting certain suits for damages for the use of an improvement in steam fire engines known as the Knibbs patent. The court refuses the injunction prayed for saying that it cannot undertake to decide upon the validity of the patent or restrain the present case at law unless some purely equitable defense is made out which would not be equally available at that action.

From the New York Times, Friday 4 May, 1883:
The Knibbs valve suits against four of the cities of New Hampshire are to be tried at Portsmouth next week. and an old steam fire engine, to be used in evidence, has been taken there from Vermont. The engine has been in existence since 1859 and is said to contain an arrangement covering the principle of Knibbs's patent, this antedating it.

From the New York Times, Thursday 26 July, 1883: (General Notes)
It has cost the New Hampshire cities $20,000 to contest successfully the Knibbs valve suits, and the city council of Dover asks an itemized bill.

From the New York Times, Sunday 23 December, 1883
Boston, Mass, Dec 22. - In the United States Circuit Court today before Judge Nelson in the patent suit of Marcus P Norton and another against the city of Boston, which has been on trial for several days, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. This was an action to recover $450,000 for an infringement of what is known as the Knibbs patent for improvement in steam and fire engines, consisting of a short pipe and valves which control and regulate the supply and discharge of water in the hose. This is a case of great importance to all cities and towns using steam fire engines, as it was the first of a series of suits for the recovery of royalty on the Knibbs valve which the jury has declared by its verdict to have been antedated.

From the Philadelphia Ledger, December 25, 1883
It is expected that the old Philadelphia, the first steam fire engine which was recently taken to Boston as evidence in an important patent suit against that city, will be returned to its owners, the Insurance Patrol, to-day or to-morrow. The suit was by Marcus P> Norton and others, Assignees of James Knibbs of Troy, N.Y., who claimed to hold the original patent for a relief valve, which was extensively used upon its steam fire engines by the city of Boston and elsewhere throughout the country. In the former city alone royalties claimed by the plaintiffs amount to $450,000. The part taken in the case by the old engine Philadelphia was interesting. It seems from a statement of those who accompanied her to Boston that she was wanted to prove that the valve, for which the complainants claimed the patent right, had been used on her two or more years before the patent was issued. During the trial the court and jury adjourned to the Boston Commons to witness a practical demonstration of the working of the valve of the old engine with that of one of the latest construction. The result, it said, was amazing, as the old engine, which many feared could not stand the strain, threw a larger stream with two pieces of hose than the other did with one. The valves, it was stated, were shown to be the same, to the satisfaction of the jury, and a verdict for the city of Boston was rendered on Saturday last. Among those who testified with reference to the valve of Philadelphia was Jacob Neaffie, builder of the engine and member of the firm of Neaffie & Levy; Joseph L. Parry, the designer: Richard Warren, an engineer of the present Fire Department, and George Kurtz, the original engineer of the Philadelphia, who conducted the practical test at the trial, and who managed the engine over 20 years ago, when her usefulness was exhibited in the city of Boston, near the same spot, and a prize of $600 won.


From The Catskill recorder., February 15, 1889:
Superintendent Knibbs of the F. A. T. has invented a steel cutter with which eight strands of ordinary telegraph wire can be cut at a time. It is somewhat of the tree-trimming machine style .

James appears in the 1890 Troy, New York City Directory with the following entry:
Name: James Knibbs
Location: house 2194 Sixth Avenue
Occupation: supt. fire alarm tel.
City: Troy
State: NY

From the Observer, 2 May 1890:
Patents Granted
The following list of patents granted to citizens of eastern Now York is expressly reported for the WASHINGTON COUNTY OBSERVER by H. Judd Ward, solicitor of patents and counselor In patent cases, Union National Bank Building, Troy, N. Y.
Adelbert Chambers, assignor to J. A. Manning, Troy, apparatus for treating vegetable imbalances; Harry Comstock, Fulton, pipe cutter; George Cooper, assignor of one halt to C. Cooper, Bennington, Vt,, trimming attachment for sewing machines; James Knibbs, Troy, wire cutter; Hiram N. J. Mansfield, Mulone, machine for grinding mill rollers;
Whole number of patents granted 405, of which 9O were issued to residents of Now York state.


The following is an excerpt from Troy's One Hundred Years 1789-1889, compiled by Arthur James Weise, M. A., and published in 1891 by William H. Young of 7-9 First Street in Troy:
"Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Company, No. 1, informally organized in November, 1859; constitution and by-laws adopted December 19th; first officers elected January 9th, 1860. First engine received March 28th, that year. The engine-house, next north of the present [i. e., 1891] one, on the north-west corner of Third and River streets, was built in 1860; the present one was erected in 1875. The "law relating to the establishment and organization of a steam fire company of the city of Troy," passed by the Common Council, February 16th, 1860, designated the members of the Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Company, No. 1, as firemen of the city, limiting them to sixty persons. On May 24th, 1860, a span of black horses was purchased for the company. On January, 1862, the trustees transferred the apparatus and property to the city. James KNIBBS was appointed engineer of the company February, 1860, which position he filled until December 1st, 1863."

From the Troy Daily Times, 8 October 1891:
—Last night the electric-light and fire-alarm telegraph wires came in contact In several places on River and Fulton Streets, and two or three poles were set on fire. Several blows were sounded on the fire-alarm at intervals. This morning Superintendent Knibbs started out to investigate the fire-alarm system, to see if It bad been damaged. Superintendent found box 36 burned out partly. The alarm was caused by the burning-off of a bracket fastened to a tree on Broadway. near Fifth avenue.


From Le Roy Gazette, 28 October, 1891:
Made a Fortune Easily
Captain D. S. Goodell, a retired sea captain, of Searsport, Me. , advamced money to enable James Knfbbs, of Troy, N.Y.. to prosecute a suit for an infringement upon his fire enginee valve patent, on condition that he should have a certain percentage of the damages recoveredl, if any. Captain Goodell's share of the winnimgs thus far foots up $750,000 --- Bangor Letter.


From the Galveston Daily News, (Houston, TX) September 06, 1891:

Mr. Knibbs, the Millionaire.
NEW YORK, Sept 5.- The chief of Troy fire department, James Knibbs, inventor of the relief valve for fire engine pumps, won his suit against the city of New York for using his device since 1864. The amount in nearly $2,250,000. Five hundred similar cases are pending against other cities in the United States, involving $15,000,000, all of which Knibbs will probably win.


From the Olean Democrat 12 April 1895, New York
GREAT PATENT CASE. What is probably the largest patent case ever known in the courts of this country is being conducted by Judge Hadlock, the Boston lawyer. The case is that of Christopher C Campbell, assignee in trust, against the city of New York, for alleged infringement of patent, and the amount involved is $15,000,000. Up to the present time about $200,000 has been spent in litigation,. It has been in the courts for nearly 20 years. In 1864 a patent was granted to James Knibbs for a valve controlling water pressure in fire and other steam engines, and this valve has since come to be used wherever steam fire engines are in service. - Boston Journal

From the Post Standard, Syracuse, New York, Friday December 16 1904
Decision in New York City Suit is Far Reaching - CASE IN COURTS 30 YEARS.
Brought by Knibbs Heirs for Alleged Infringement by Patent of Device Employed on Fire Engines
A decision handed down yesterday by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals relieves the city of Syracuse for liability of an infringement upon the Knibbs churn valve, which Chief John P Quigley of the Fire Department said last night, is an appliance found on every fire engine in use. 
The suit has been in the courts nearly 30 years and involved more than $15,000,000. It became known as the "Campbell Patent Suit" and was brought against the city of New York in 1877 by the heirs of Knibbs, an engineer in the Troy Fired Department, inventor of the appliance. The device was adopted by the New York city fire department in 1865 and soon after in almost every other large city where steam fire engines were in use. 
The decision is in favor of the defendant.


From a document headed Landmarks of Rensselear County, by George B Anderson, published 1897, Syracuse, N.Y.:
Knibbs, James, was born in England, October 5, 1827, and is a son of Joseph and Anna (Bennett) Knibbs who came to this country in 1840 and sett1ed in Albany. His father was for thirty years janitor of the Albany Medical College. He died in 1874 and his wife died in 1884. James was educated in the common schools and came to Troy in 1848 and learned the machinist's trade in Starbuck Bros. shop in Troy, and worked at his trade until 1860, when he became connected with the Arba Reed Steamer Company. He took charge of the engine until 1888, when be was appointed superintendent of the Troy Fire Alarm telegraph, which position he has since held. He is a member of Mount Zion Lodge F. &A.M., of which he is a past master, of Apollo Chapter. Bloss Council, Apollo Commandery, and is also a member of the Masonic Veteran Association, and is the present treasurer. He has held all the offices in Athenian Lodge of Odd Fellows and in the Encampment and is the present treasurer of both bodies. In 1850 he married Rhoda A. Harvey of Troy who died in 1876. His present wife is Emma Laws of Cohoes, whom he married in 1879. Mr. Knibbs has one son and one daughter by his first wife, viz.: William H., who is in the drug business at Stillwater and Mrs. Frank B. Marks, of Elmira, N. Y.

From the New York Journal and Advertiser, June 6, 1897:
Had James Knibbs held onto the patents that he obtained for his inventions he would now be In a fair way to beeome a millionaire. He Is a veteran employe of the Fire Departtnent of Troy. and probably a few thousand dollars would express his present possessions after an honorable and faithful service that began before the civil war. When the first steam fire engine came to Troy he was selected for its engineer. That was in March, 1860, and he continued In that capacity until about a dozen years ago, when a promotion came and he was elected superintendent of the fire alarm telegraph system. He has since been re-elected annually. Every one in Troy knows "Jim" Knibbs and his horse "General Coxey." Daily they are seen about the streets together wherever a break in the fire alarm system calls them. His services in the Troy Fire Department have been rendered with rare devotion to duty and often at great personal sacrifice. At the time of the big fire In 1862, when 507 buildings scattered over seventy-five acres in the central section of the city were burnt In the short space of six hours. Mr Knibbs was one of the hardest workers In the endeavor to save the whole city from, destruction. When he was working at the fire his wife came and told him his own house was burning. "Let it burn." he said, and so it did. During the years of Mr. Knibbs's connection with fire circles he naturally noticed ways In which the service needed Improvement, and applied his talent in that direction. The result has been several contrivances that have proved of value, although not of the pecuniary profit to their deviser that their utility deserved. Among' the number were a cutter for electric wires, deviser thnt their utility deserved. Among the number were a cutter for electric wires, an attachment for the harness of horses In steam houses, and next important of all, the siamese fire hose coupling. Long ago the idea of the hose coupler came to him and he at once began experi-menting. What he wanted was a valve that shut oft the water In the nozzle attached to the hose pipe, his plan being' to obviate unnecessary loss of property by needless drenching of fires. He continued working on the idea until May, 1864, when he perfected and patented the "run around" nozzle. The value of the contrivance was recognized, and fire departments In the principal cities soon commenced to use the valve without regard to the rights of the patentee. This precipitated many suits, Mr. Knibbs's Interests being looked after by Marcus P. Norton, a well known patent lawyer, of New York. The legal expenses finally became more than the meagre pocketbook of Knlbbs could stand and he assigned the larger share In the patent to Christopher G. Campbell, a former conductor on the Boston & Albany Railroad, whose home Is in Cheshire, Mass. The matter has since been in numerous courts, with varying verdicts. Five New England cities were among the defendants—Lawrence. Mass.. and Nashua, Concord. Manchester and Portsmouth, N. H. The Button Fire Engine Company was another defendant, but the final action was a suit against the city of New York.


From the 1900 census Vol 220 ED 71, Sheet 2 line 96:
James Knibbs b. Oct 1827 age 72, married 22 years (m. 1878) born in England, mother and father born in England, Year of Immigration 1840, 60 yr. in US, Naturalized, Superintendant (Fire Alarm), Owns house, free of mortgage. Grand St, 84.
Married to Emma Knibbs v. Dec 1850, age 49, born in NY, mother & father born in Virginia.

In 1900, the address may be 68 Grand St.:
Knibbs, James, Head, born Oct 1827, age 72, married 22 years, self and parents born in England, immigrated in 1840, illegible scribble in the citizenship column, occupation: "Supt (Fire Alarm)", able to read, write, and speak English, owns his house free of a mortgage.
Knibbs, Emma, Wife, born Dec 1850, age 49, married 22 years, 0 children, born in New York (state), parents born in Virginia, able to read, write, and speak English, no occupation.

From The New York Times, December 13, 1900:
a judgment has been entered against the City of New York for $818,074.82, with interest from May 14, 1897, being the amount of damages awarded the trustee of the successor of the assigneeof an inventor named KNIBBS for the use by the city of a device applicable to steam fire engines. The patent to KNIBBS was granted in May, 1864, and is very much broader in its scope than The present rules of the Patent Office would permit. The invention is undoubtedly useful. It consists of a relief valve in the discharge nozzle of the pump by which the water discharged, when impelled under greater treasure than the hose will carry, opens a clog-pass for itself and is returned to the suction pipe. The object of the device was to permit any of the streams discharged by a steam-fire engine to be cut off without interfering with the other streams, or bringing an undue strain upon the hose linen. It was undoubtedly a useful improvement in attachments for power pumps;
The same result could be reached by a dozen mechanical devices wholly different from that used. Mr. KNIBBS'S patent was drawn, as to its tint claim, to cover the principle of the invention, independent of the specific means by which the result was attained. Such a claim would be impossible of allowance under the rules of practice now enforced, and a patent which should contain such a claim would not be sustained by the courts. Nothing is better established in Patent Office practice than that an inventor is entitled to his invention; That to
establish his invention he must show a. way of attaining the result described, and that if he wants to cover other means he must take out other patents.
The principle underlying the invention of KNIBBS was applied to all steam fire engines as a necessary detail of construction. In this way it was adopted and used by the New York Fire Department. Suits fo recover what the owners of the patent alleged to be due them were begun in 1877. The details of the litigation are unimportant. In 1897 a decision sustaining the patent was obtained. and a Master appointed to determine the amount of profits. Those for whom it has interest will find it indexed as CAMPBELL vs. The Mayor, &c., 28 Blatchford, 67, 9 Fed. Rep. 500; 47 Fed. Rep., 515. The. Master, after a critical examination, reported that the city had profited by the use of the invention to the amount of $28,886 This was probably fair and just - it was certainly liberal. It probably represented a good many times what the inventor would have been extremely glad to take for the local rights, but that is of no consequence. Exceptions were taken by both parties. These exception, were argued before Judge WHEELER in the United State Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York. who, on the 14th of May, 1897, rendered a decision to the effect that, by the use of KNIBBS’S device, the city had saved $183,394.32 in hose,
$28,336 in machinists’ wages, and over $606,344 in salaries of men. The sum of these colossal economies, $818,074.32, was the award. This Judgment. though rendered three and a half years ago, has just been entered. Interest and costs will bring the amount for which the city stands as a judgment debtor well over a million dollars.
It is not the province of a newspaper to review the opinion of so learned a jurist as Mr. Justice WHEELER. We may respectfully suggest, however, in the language of Solon Shingle, that $818,074.32 "is a lot of money," especially when rounded out with costs and interest for
three and a half years. The lay mind is incapable of appreciating the judicial acumen which is capable of weighing economies practiced on so large a scale in a balance so delicate as to determine a saving in the item of hose alone of $183,394.32 during a period of fifteen years and four months.We think the award of the Master, $28,336 was extremely liberal, and that the representative, of the city were warranted in
taking exception to it as excessive. Had it been sustained it would have been abundantly compensatory to the owners of the patent, who long ago extinguished the rights of the inventor in the outcome of the suit against. New York when $10,000 was accepted from the City of Troy for the local right of use, we incline to the belief that the United States Circuit Court of Appeals will promptly reverse Judge WHEELER and confirm the report of the Master. The maintenance of a Fire Department is not a gainful occupation for the city. It is extremely doubtful if any of the theoretical economies discovered by Judge WHEELER were, or could be realized. It would be equitable for the city to pay an
amount representing a fair royalty upon the device claimed in KNIBBS’S patent, and then to recover the same from the companies building steam fire engines which appropriated the device without license and embodied it in their


April 17,1901
New York Times
James Knibbs

KNIBBS, James. The funeral of James Knibbs, late superintend of the Fire Alarm telegraph system, was held this afternoon from the family residence of 34 Grand St.,Rev. R.D. Williamson of the United Presbyterian Church officiating. The obsequies were largely attended, delegations from the Masonic bodies, The Odd Fellows and the Fire Department being present. Here were beautiful floral tributes from friends and organizations. Apollo Commandery sent a facsimile of its badge. Mount Zion Lodge F. and A.M., gave a Masonic emblem Floral piece. The Read Steamer Company presented a facsimile of it's badge and appropriate pieces sent by Athenian Lodge and the Encampment. In addition to these pieces there were numerous floral tributes from many friends. The Empire Male Quartet, including Ben Franklin, Ed Humphrey, Fred C. Comstock and James Laing sang at the house and at the grave. At the residence the selections were " Lead Kindly Light" and, "Abide With Me," At the grave the quartet sang in the Masonic burial service " O Solemn Strikes the Funeral Chapel and " My heavenly Home" The Bearers were Frank C. Morey and Melvin S. Marble, representing Mount Zion Lodge. Assistant Chief James H. Loyd and John N. Squires , representing the Fire department and Charles F. Hilke and George L. Harger, representing Athenian Lodge. And W.W. Lee and George M. Payfer, representing the Encampment, M[?].O.O.F. The Masonic burial service was conducted at the grave in Oakwood cemetery under the direction of Mr. Master Anaon R. Thompson. Delegations from the Masonic and Odd Fellows bodies and from the companies of the fire department were present at the grave. The members of the Arba Read Steamer Company, of which the deceased was an organizer and it's first engineer attend the funeral. At a meeting of the company last evening a committee was named to draft revolutions of respect. The captains of the fire Department met and decided to send delegations from each company to the funeral. (from The Troy Times, April 17, 1901

KNIBBS, James. James Knibbs, Superintendent of the Troy (NY) fire alarm system and for many years engineer of the Arba Read Steamer Company in that city, died at his home there yesterday. He was stricken with paralysis a few days ago. Mr. Knibbs was born in England in 1823 and came to this country in 1840. He was twice married, his second wife surviving him. His only son died several years ago. Mr. Knibbs was very prominent in Masonic and Odd fellows circles, but was best known throughout the country by his invention of what is known as the "Knibbs Run Around" This is an attachment to steam fire engines which prevents a waste of water and saves the hose and suction pipes. " The Run Around " was utilized almost everywhere, and by the advice of counsel he brought suits against many municipalities. Many of the latter settled for large sums, but the City of New York defended the action. Recently a verdict was given in the United states court for nearly $1,000,000 in the favor of the persons to whom Mr. Knibbs assigned his invention. One of these is ex-collector of customs Thomas Murphy of New York. (from The New York Times, April 17,1901).

NOTE: As welll as his year of birth, there is one inaccurate part to this. He had a second son named William H. alive at the time of his death.

From the Elmira Daily Gazette, April 16th, 1901:
A telegram was received in this city to-day conveying the sad news of the death in Troy N.Y. of James Knibbs, one of the best known and most highly respected residents of that city. Death was due to a
stroke of paralysis. The deceased was seventy-two years of age and was engineer of the first steam fire engine in the city of Troy in the year 1860. For the past sixteen years he has been superintendet of the fire alarm telegraph system of that city. He is survived by his wife, who resides in Elmira, a son, William, and a brother, Cornelius Knibbs, of Athens, Pa. The time of the funeral has not been announced


He was a member of the Mont Zion Lodge and was buried at Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, Rensselaer County, New York, USA.

James died at 6:40 a.m. at his home, 84 Grand Street at the age of 73. He'd been in poor health for the two previous years.

From the Troy Daily Times, 7 May 1902:
A Will Contest.
On the opening of the Supreme Court this morning case 9 was called. The action is entitled William H. Knibbs against Jennie Mosher Eggers. Annie E. Eggers, Lena May Eggers, Emma L. KnIbbs, James Knibbs, Charlotte Knibbs Fitzpatrick. Martha Ball Marks. Bertha Knibbs, Thomas F. Maxwell. Emma L. Knibbs, Luhr Eggers. Jr.. and Thomas F. Maxwell, as executors and testa-mentary trustees of the last will and testament of James Knibbs. deceased. County Judge Nash Rockwood of Saratoga County and T. F. Hamilton of Saratoga represented the plaintiff and J. K. Long of Long & Maxwell appeared for the defendants. In opening the case Mr. Long stated that the action was brought by William H. Knibbs of Still-water, Saratoga County, to have revoked and set aside the probate of the codicil of the will of James Knlbbs, deceased. which was drawn in April, 1901. and was admitted to probate in July of that year. The testator, James Knlbbs, was formerly Superintendent of Fire Alarm Telegraph of the city of Troy. He had been in the employ of the city from 1810 to the time of his death, being the first engineer of the Read Steamer Company. Mr. Long said that he understood that the plaintiff would set up that at the time the codicil of the will was drawn, Mr. Knibbs was so far affected by a stroke of paralysis and illness as to be incapable of knowing what he was doing, or that undue influence had been used by a third person, the widow of the deceased or her attorney, Thomas F. Maxwell. Mr. Long also said that the assignagent of a patent, an invention of Mr. Knibbs, on which the sum of about $800.000 had been recovered against the city of New York, might also enter into the case.
The will, codicil and proof of the probate were admitted in evidence, being presented by Clerk Anthony P. Finder of the Surrogate's Court.
The case was opened for the plaintiff with the testimony of Frederick W. Clough and his wife. of Mechanieville, who testified to calling at the Knibbs reside 'early in the year 1901. when Mr. Knibbs seemed to have some difficulty recognizing them, although he had known them for ten years.
Charles S. Brintnall and Carl Stockman testified to signing the codicil to the will. Mr. Stockman testified that he was a boarder at the Knibbs residence. and saw James Knibbs several times after be had suffered a stroke of paralysis and was confined to bed. To questions by the court he said Mr. Knibbs seemed to be rational up to two weeks before he died.
Henry W. Harvey, a letter carrier and nephew of Mr. Knibbs, stated that after his ilIness he seemed not to take an interest in what was going on.
The testimony of Dr. W. W. Seymour, the attending physician of the deceased. which was represented in the Surrogate's Court, was read as Dr. Seymour Is out of town.
William L. Horsfall, a neighbor of the Knibbs family, testified that when he called during the early pat of 1901 Mr. Knibbs did not seem to comprehend what was going on. but understood when spoken to.
Mrs. Frances Philo testified that when she called to see Mr. Knibbs and spoke to him he made no response. She stated that Mrs. Knibbs told her that Mr. KnIbbs mistook Mr. Horsfall for Mr. Maxwell. Mrs. Philo would not say that she believed Mr. Knibbs insane. but did not think he was competent to understand at all times.
Thomas Jessup. a member of the Masonic order, who acted as attendant for Mr. Knibbs at night during fifteen days In March. 1901, said that Mr. Knibbs showed no evidence of being irrational except when he first woke up. He wanted to be raised up frequently, and called for a person who was not In the room. He said. however, that Mr. Knibbs always spoke to him when he came in and exchanged the Masonic greeting with him.

NOTE:The Eggers family are in-laws of James Knibbs' wife Emma's sister, Lizzie S (Laws) Eggers.

From the Troy Daily Times, 12 July 1901:
Objected to the Codicil.
The hearing on the contest of the codicil of the will of James Knibbs was continued today before Surrogate Com-tock. Mr. Knibbs made his will in 1896. and in January of this year made a codicil appointing Thomas F. Maxwell one of the executors of his will. William H. Knibbs contests the codicil. It is stated that he desired Mr. Maxwell not to qualify as an executor, unless he was willing to bring actions to set aside certain conveyances by the deceased to Mrs. Knibbs. Upon Mr. Maxwell's re-fusal to consent to bring such actions Mr. Knibbs contests the codicil on the ground that Mr. Knibbs was of unsound mind when he executed the codicil. The hearing was adjourned until July 19.


Our gratitude goes to the members and volunteers at Find A Grave web site for recording the details, in memory of James, Rhoda and Emma.

Sources for James KNIBBS:

  1. Oxfordshire Parish Register - Somerton,
  2. Book: Landmarks of Rensselear County,
  3. Cemetery Inscription,
  4. Personal Contact with Ana Knibbs Rizzo,
  5. 1880 Federal Census, Rensselear County, Troy NY-11th Ward,
  6. 1870 US Federal Census,
  7. 1900 US Federal Census,

Notes for Emma LAWS:

We believe that Emma had a sister named Lizzie S Laws (1848-1910) married to Luhr Eggers (1847-1916). They had a daughter Anna L Eggers (1876-1954) and another daughter named Jennie born in about 1874.

Three of these names appear on the Knibbs Monument at Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, Rensselaer County, New York, USA.

The above three can be seen at the 1880 census living at West Troy, Albany, NY:
Luhr EGGERS Self Mar 32 Manuf. Of Bone Dust NY
Elizabeth S EGGERS Wife Mar 31 NY
Jennie M EGGERS Daur 6 NY
Annie L EGGERS Daur 4 NY

We can also see from the 1880 census return that Luhr's parents Luhr and Mary Eggers were also living at Troy NY with his siblings Christopher, Anna, Edward and Fred. Luhr Eggers Sr. was a Tallow Handler by trade, and Christopher also worked in the Tallow Factory. Luhr's parents were born in Hanover, Germany.

From the Daily Times,Troy, 14 August 1896:
Thew People of the State of New York. To Richard V. Freeman, Mrs. William H. Hamiltom, Margaret Mead, Robert J Laws, Eliza Eggers, Emma L. Knibbs, heirs-at law and next of kin of JEANETTE MOSHER, , late of the City of Troy, the county of Renaselsear, deceased.
Greeting: You and each of you are herby cited and required personally to be and appear before our surrogate of the county of Rensselaer, in the Surrogate's Court, In the city of Troy, is said county, on the 21st day of,Septetuber. 1896. at ten o'clock In the forenoon of that day, to attend the probate of the last will and testament of the said deceased, which will then be offered for that purpose, by James Knibbs, the executor muted in the said will, who has applied to said surrogate, for the proof of said will, which relsates to real and personal estate, and that if any of the persons interested be under the age of twenty-ine years, they are required to appear by their guardian. If they have one. or if they have none, that they appear and apply for one to be appointed. or in the event of their neglect or failure to do so, a guardian will be appointed by the surrogate to represent and act for them in the proceeding.
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, we have caused the seal of office of our said surrogate to be hereunto affixed.
(L.S.) WITNESS, Hon. Albert C. Costock. surrogate of said county. at the city of Troy, the 31st day of July. 1896.
CLARENCE E. BETTS. Clerk of Surogitte's Court.
LONG & MAXWELL. Attorneys for pettitionrt
13 10-2 State Street, Troy, N.Y. State street. Troy, N. Y.


In 1910, at 608 Grand St.:
Knibbs, Emma, head, age 54, widowed, 0 children, born in NY, parents in VA, able to speak English, occupation: Proprietor of a lodging house.
There were five lodgers enumerated.

From the Toy Times, Thursday October 23, 1930:
Emma Laws Knibbs, wife of the late James Knibbs, died this morning at her residence, 1809 Fifth Avenue, after a short illness. Mrs. Knibbs was born in Colonie. The survivors include three nieces, Miss Anna L. Eggers and Mrs, Alson Lusty, both of this city, and Mrs. E.G. Saunders of Averill Park. The funeral will be strictly private from the funeral home of Robert Morris & Sons, with Rev. Dr. D. R. Wilcox officiating. Mrs. Edith Cleghorn Weaver will sing during the service and the interment will be in Oakwood Cemetery.

Sources for Emma LAWS:

  1. Cemetery Inscription,
  2. 1880 US Federal Census,
  3. See Notes for James Knibbs,
  4. Book: Landmarks of Rensselear County, Book: Landmarks of Rensselear County gave Cohoes which is in Albany County, NY 
  5. 1900 US Federal Census,
  6. Obituary,
  7. 1910 US Federal Census,