Historical Beer Birthday: John Lofting

Today is as good a day as any to celebrate the birthday of John Lofting (1659–June 15, 1742). Like many people born centuries ago who weren’t royal or otherwise well-born, we don’t know the exact day he was born, but we do know that he died today. Lofting was a Dutchman who lived in London as an adult, and patented several devices, the most famous of which was the fire engine, but he may also have been responsible for the beer engine.


Here’s his Wikipedia entry:

Originally Jan Loftingh, John Lofting was an engineer and entrepreneur from the Netherlands. His parents were Herman and Johanna. He moved to London, England, before 1686. He patented two inventions being the “sucking worm engine” (a fire engine) and a horse-powered thimble knurling machine. His mill was set up in Islington, where Lofting Road is named after him. However, in or about 1700, he moved his main operation to Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire to take advantage of the River Thames’ ability to turn a water wheel which improved productivity, enabling the production of over 2 million thimbles per year.

The Sucking Worm Engine, from the British Museum.

And while Joseph Bramah patented the first practical beer engine, Lofting’s design made it possible for Bramah to build on and create his. Although there’s little I could find specific about Lofting’s invention, it is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for the beer engine:

A beer engine is a device for pumping beer from a cask in a pub’s cellar.

The beer engine was invented by John Lofting, a Dutch inventor, merchant and manufacturer who moved from Amsterdam to London in about 1688 and patented a number of inventions including a fire hose and engine for extinguishing fires and a thimble knurling machine as well as a device for pumping beer. The London Gazette of 17 March 1691 stated “the patentee hath also projected a very useful engine for starting of beers and other liquors which will deliver from 20 to 30 barrels an hour which are completely fixed with brass joints and screws at reasonable rates.”

The locksmith and hydraulic engineer Joseph Bramah developed beer pumping further in 1797.

The beer engine is normally manually operated, although electrically powered and gas powered pumps are occasionally used; when manually powered, the term handpump is often used to refer to both the pump and the associated handle.

The beer engine is normally located below the bar with the visible handle being used to draw the beer through a flexible tube to the spout, below which the glass is placed. Modern hand pumps may clamp onto the edge of the bar or be mounted on the top of the bar.

A pump clip is usually attached to the handle by a spring clip giving the name and sometimes the brewery, beer type and alcoholic strength of the beer being served through that handpump.

The handle of a handpump is often used as a symbol of cask ale. Keg beer dispensers usually feature illuminated countertop fittings behind which a handle opens a valve that allows the gas pressure in the keg to force beer to the attached spout.

A modern beer engine.

Historic Beer Birthday: Joseph Bramah

Today is the birthday of Joseph Bramah (April 13, 1748-December 9, 1814). Bramah was an English engineer, and inventor, whose most famous invention was the hydraulic press. But he also made improvements and created a practical beer engine, creating his beer pump and engine inventions between 1785 and 1797.

Joseph Bramah- portrait in oils

Another summary of his achievements is quite flattering:

English engineer and inventor whose lock manufacturing shop was the cradle of the British machine-tool industry. Central in early Victorian lockmaking and manufacturing, he influenced almost every mechanical trade of the time. Like Henry Ford, his influence was probably greater for the manufacturing processes he developed, than the product itself. He took out his first patent on a safety lock (1784) and in 1795 he patented his hydraulic press, known as the Bramah press, used for heavy forging. He devised a numerical printing machine for bank notes and was one of the first to suggest the practicability of screw propellers and of hydraulic transmission. He invented milling and planing machines and other machine tools, a beer-engine (1797), and a water-closet.

As for the actual patents, there were two of them. The first was in 1785 and was for what he called a “beer pump.” Then, in 1793 he was granted Patent No. 2196 for his improved version, now referred to as a “beer engine.” It was actually a Dutchman, John Lofting, who had first invented the beer pump in 1688, but Bramah’s were more refined and practical, and more importantly, patented. Curiously, Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History lists the patent dates as 1787 and 1797, so it’s unclear which are the correct dates.

In this engraving, entitled Men of Science Living in 1807-8, Bramah is on the left side, the tenth one in the back from the left. He’s the one with the wide sash across his chest and the star-shaped badge on his jacket. Others include Joseph Banks, Henry Cavendish and James Watt.

NPG 1075a; Engraving after 'Men of Science Living in 1807-8'

There’s even a J.D. Wetherspoon’s pub in his home town of Bramley called The Joseph Bramah


Patent No. 616336A: Means For Racking Beer

Today in 1898, US Patent 616336 A was issued, an invention of Emil Kersten, for his “Means For Racking Beer.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The invention relates to means for racking beer contained in casks partly filled with chips or shavings, for attracting and retaining the heavier substances forming part of the products of fermentation, and for fining the beer.

The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved means for first drawing the beer in a perfectly pure and fine state from such cask without causing the beer to become turbid when running close to the sedimentcovered bottom and chips in the cask, and then drawing the remaining portion of the beer from the cask with as little sediment as possible.


Patent No. 222696A: Improvement In Apparatus For Pitching Beer-Casks

Today in 1879, US Patent 222696 A was issued, an invention of Albert Grossmann, for his “Improvement in Apparatus for Pitching Beer-Casks.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

I have invented a new and useful Improvement in Apparatus for Pitching Beer-Casks, of which in the employment, within the keg, cask, or barrel, of a pitch-consuming device, by which the pitch is prepared or melted and fitted for use, the apparatus employed consisting, in the instance here given, of an extensible tube mounted upon a suitable base and adapted to extend to or near the bottom of the keg, cask, or barrel, so as to permit the ingress within the keg of a fire to melt the pitch, a suitable chimney being provided for the escape of the smoke or vapor, and means employed for regulating the extension of the tube and for stopping the consumption of the pitch.


Patent No. 777463A: Barrel Holder

Today in 1904, US Patent 777463 A was issued, an invention of Albert M. Woltz and Charles A. Suman, for their “Barrel Holder.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The invention relates to a barrel-holder, and has for its object to improve the construction of barrel-holders and to provide a simple and comparatively inexpensive one adapted to be readily applied to a counter and capable of ready adjustment to suit the height of the same.

A further object of the invention is to provide a device of this character of great strength and durability adapted to readily engage barrels of different sizes and capable of enabling the same to be conveniently swung to a position beneath the counter to arrange the barrel out of the way and from under the counter when it is desired to obtain access to the contents of the barrel.


Patent No. 637826A: Combined Corkscrew And Valve For Beer Pumps

Today in 1899, US Patent 637826 A was issued, an invention of Frank Preston, for his “Combined Corkscrew and Valve for Beer Pumps.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The invention relates to a combined corkscrew and valve for beer-pumps.

The object of the present invention is to improve the construction of beer-pumps and to provide a simple, inexpensive, and efficient device designed more especially for use at picnics and for private use and adapted to serve as a corkscrew and capable of enabling the proper pressure to be maintained on a keg or other receptacle of beer or other liquid to maintain the same in a fresh condition until it is entirely consumed.

A further object of the invention is to provide a device of this character adapted to be readily carried in the pocket and capable of being quickly applied to a receptacle.


Patent No. 184795A: Improvement In Vent-Valves For Casks

Today in 1876, US Patent 184795 A was issued, an invention of Herman F. Peter, William A. Klinge, Paul Assman, and George Schweikert, for their “Improvement in Vent-Valves For Casks.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

Our invention relates to an improved vent-valve for casks, &c.

The invention consists, first, in the combination, with a perforated valve seat, formed on the end of a screw-threaded stem, of an elastic valve and strap or holder, to admit air to a cask, barrel, or other receptacle; second, in the combination, with the valve seat and its stem, of a guard or cap, removably secured to the stem of the valve-seat by a set-screw, whereby the valve is protected and its displacement prevented third, in the combination, with the stem of the valve-seat, constructed. with a conical bearing, of a nut having a conical bearing and an interposed elastic ring, whereby the ring may be set out by forcing the conical bearings toward each other.


Patent No. 637738A: Device For Handling Beer Barrels

Today in 1899, US Patent 637738 A was issued, an invention of Jacob Elmer Ludwig, for his “Device For Handling Beer Barrels.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

This form of device is intended for use with kegs or barrels containing dry contents and to accommodate barrels or kegs containing liquids. The turn-rod 28 is supplied with an inner disk, as shown by Fig. 7, which is secured to the head of said barrel or keg. In Fig. 8 a further modification is shown, and consists of a series of arms 32 on the turn-rod 28 and having outer angular ends in which set-screws 327 are mounted and adapted to take over the end of a barrel or keg and the set-screws caused to engage the body of said barrel or keg ahead of an end hoop, and there by provide a means of securement. The last device set forth can be used alone or in combination with the other devices. Of course the barrel or keg is permitted by all the devices to have a free rotatable movement, which is Very desirable. When the said holding arm 26 is arranged against the end of a barrel or keg, the flat links 24 are positioned as shown in Fig.2, the joints of said links being so constructed as to prevent them from being thrown forward beyond a predetermined point and the rearmost link from being depressed below the horizontal plane of the next link to which it is attached.


Patent No. 307412A: Ale Or Beer Cask

Today in 1884, US Patent 307412 A was issued, an invention of Henry A. Rueter, for his “Ale or Beer Cask.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

My invention relates to the tap-hole bushing and the stopper and packing used in it; and it consists in the form given to the inside of the tap-hole bushing, and in the use of a stopper to close the tap-hole, which fills about half the length of the bushing at the inner end thereof, and a plug which fills about half the length of the bushing at the outer end, having a central chamber through it to receive the entering end of the faucet, which will form a packing around the faucet between it and the bushing when the faucet is driven in to its place.


Patent No. 144119A: Improvement In Beer-Drawing Attachments For Casks

Today in 1873, US Patent 144119 A was issued, an invention of Samuel Marks, for his “Improvement in Beer-Drawing Attachments for Casks.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The object of my invention is to provide an attachment to a cask or other vessel by means of which beer, ale, or porter, under a pressure of gas, can be drawn into glasses, bottles, or other vessels without the usual excess of foam, but regulated by the operation from brisk sprinkling to any extent of foam desired; and it consists of a receptacle having a controllable valve and a porous plug in it, arranged between the keg and the point of drawing the beer, whereby I am enabled to allow the escape of more or less of the gas from a small quantity of the beer in said receptacle.