Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Bribery and Corruption

by Graham Forsdyke
ISMACS News
Issue No. 34

IT WASN'T until years after the attempt to extend the S-M Combinations patents before a congressional committee that the truth behind the attempt came out.

An old congressman finally revealed all to a reporter of the Chicago-based S M Advance trade paper. The story read thus:

"As an old habituary of Congress I have never known more than half a dozen instances in which I was satisfied bribery had been used. One of these was the memorable contest of the re-issue of the s-m patents.

"The owners of all the patents were on hand to secure a renewal as the 17 years on which they were to run had expired.

"My relations were such that I was able to watch narrowly every movement of the attorneys of the wealthy corporations which owned the patents.

"Chairman of the Congressional committee was representative, afterwards senator, Conger of Michigan, a man famed for his fair thinking.

"The s-m men had the best soundly money could procure, and emissaries of all kinds on the ground to buttonhole and wine and dine and influence in every possible way the congressmen.

"Of course, the great fight was before the committee. No matter how thorough the work the lobbyist might do with the general congress, if the committee should make an unfavorable report the chances for success would be immeasurably lessened.

"The arguments in committee were almost interminable. The committee was patient, the chairman always suave and polite, but he cross-questioned in his homely way so keenly as to put the attorneys constantly at a disadvantage.

"It was plain that Conger was bent on doing, so far as he could under the law, what he thought was for the greater good of the greater number. Nearly every claim for re-issue was refused except in a rare case of a poor inventor who had been forced to place a patent at the mercy of a capitalist and who had received almost no benefit from the invention.

"In the case of the re-issue of such patents they reverted to the inventor.

"Well toward the close of the hearings things began to grow hot. It was clear the agents of the corporations must make some tremendous effort to gain their purpose or all would be lost.

"Their chance came when chairman Conger was called away for two days. The s-m PR lobby homed in on the remaining committee members and had them reverse several earlier decisions. When Conger returned there was a heated argument. But he had the last word. He declared that if the former decisions were not restored he would go upon the floor of Congress, announce his resignation and give his reasons in the most unmistakable language. This had the desired effect and the committee backtracked.

"As a last desperate effort, agents of the s-m lobby determined to attempt to reach the chairman himself.

"Accustomed to the theory that everyone had a price, they assigned that the great show of virtue on behalf of Conger was merely for the purpose for the striking of a higher figure and so they put their heads together and to beard this moral lion in his den. The leading attorney of the S-M Combination himself was given the job. He set about to cultivate the chairman and one evening called on him and made it clear that the interested companies would be willing to spend almost any amount at the moment to accomplish their ends.

""Do you mean that to say that the companies would be willing to pay a large amount of cash to have their patents re-issued?" asked Conger timidly and yet with a show of expectation.

""That is exactly what I mean", said the attorney. "About how much?" said the chairman in a thoroughly businesslike tone. A few hundreds?"

""A few hundreds, shriek, thousands! thousands upon thousands!, tens of thousands upon tens of thousands! You may write the figures yourself."

"What!, tens of thousands, said Conger sweetly. I may write the figures myself?"

""You may."

"Quick as lightening the entire demeanor ---- could say a word Conger was on his feet towering over him, his eyes blazing with fury.

""At last I have made you unmask yourself, you infernal scoundrel", he thundered. "I have suspected from the beginning you were here to bribe and corrupt and now you have exposed the full extent of your damnable villainy.

""Do you see that door? Get out of it at once and never enter it again. One more word and I will have you kicked into the street. Get out of this city. If you are here tomorrow I will expose you and put you under arrest".

The attorney got out, went straight to his hotel, packed his bag and was never seen in Washington again. The re-issue of all of the patents was refused. "