November 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt was an inventor who developed new materials and machines that resulted in hundreds of patents. He is mostly known for his invention of a commercially viable way of producing solid, stable nitrocellulose, which he patented in the United States in 1869 as “Celluloid.” However, he was one of the early developers of commercial filtration systems in the U.S. He invented improvements to mechanical filtration systems, which are called rapid sand filters or granular media filters today. During the 1880s, mechanical filters were installed to remove particles and “organic matter.” Filtration to control microbial pathogens would come later with better bacteriological methods and the maturation of the germ theory of disease.
“John Hyatt, an inventor and manufacturer of Newark, N.J., applied for a patent February 11, 1881, on what was virtually a stack of Clark’s filters, placed in a closed tank and operated each independently of the others by means of common supply, delivery and wash pipes. His application, like Clark’s, was granted on June 21, 1881, and assigned to the Newark Filtering Co. On the same day, Hyatt obtained a patent in England.
Col. L. H. Gardner, Superintendent of the New Orleans Water Co., after making small-scale experiments on coagulation at New Orleans, was convinced that it was more efficacious than filtration for the clarification of muddy water.
Isaiah Smith Hyatt, older brother of John, while acting as sales agent for the Newark Filtering Co., was baffled in attempts to clarify Mississippi River water for a New Orleans industrial plant. Colonel Gardner suggested using a coagulant. This was a success. Isaiah Hyatt obtained on February 19, 1884, a patent on simultaneous coagulation-filtration. Although unsound in principle, it largely dominated mechanical filtration for many years….
Thus in 1880-85 did four men join in the evolution of mechanical or rapid filtration. Clark soon faded out of the picture. Gardner entered it only by suggesting to Isaiah Hyatt the use of a coagulant, and Isaiah Hyatt, still a young man, died in March 1885. John Hyatt was then alone. Already he had taken out 20 filter patents while only two were granted to his older brother. By the close of 1889, John had obtained about 50 patents. Scattered grants in the 1890’s brought his record above 60. Most notable of all these were three on washing systems, including sectional wash; several on strainers for underdrain systems; and two on aeration, primarily in connection with filtration. The Hyatt aeration patents, like those granted to Professor Albert R. Leeds a little earlier, were of little practical importance, but they marked an era in water purification during which stress was laid on the removal of organic matter.”
Reference: Baker, Moses N. (1981). The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver: American Water Works Association, 183-5.