Henry Brown patented a "receptacle for storing and preserving papers on November 2, 1886" This was a kind of strongbox, a fire-safe and accident-safe container made of forged metal, which could be sealed with a lock and key. It was special in that it kept the papers inside it separated, A precursor to the personal safe? It was not the first patent for a strongbox, but it was patented as an improvement.
Who Was Henry Brown?
No biographical information about Henry Brown could be found, other than his being noted as a black inventor. He lists his place of residence as Washington DC at the time of his patent application, filed June 25, 1886. There is no record of whether Henry Brown's receptacle was manufactured or marketed, or whether he profited from his ideas and designs. It isn't known what he did as a profession and what inspired this invention.
Receptacle for Storing and Preserving Papers
The box designed by Henry Brown had a series of hinged trays. When opened, you could access one or more of the trays. The trays could be lifted separately. This allowed the user to separate papers and store them securely.
He mentions it was a useful design for storing carbon papers, which might be more delicate and could be damaged by scraping against the lid. They could also transfer carbon smudges to other documents, so it was important to keep them separate. His design helped ensure that they didn't come into contact with the lid or the tray above each lower tray. That would minimize any risk of damaging documents when you opened and closed the box.
The use of typewriters and carbon papers at this time likely presented new challenges in how to store them. While carbon papers were a handy innovation for keeping a duplicate of typewritten documents, they could be easily smudged or torn.
The box was made of sheet metal and could be locked. This allowed for secure storage of important documents at home or the office.
How do you store your important papers? Have you grown used to being able to scan, copy, and save paper documents in digital formats? You may have difficulty imagining the world where there might be only a single copy of a document that could be lost and never recovered.
In the time of Henry Brown, fires that destroyed homes, office buildings and factories were all too common. Papers being flammable, they were likely to go up in smoke. If they were destroyed or stolen, you might not be able to retrieve the information or proof they contained. This was a time when carbon paper was the commonly used way to make multiples of important documents. It was a long time before the copying machine and before documents might be saved on microfilm. Today, you often get documents in digital form from the outset and have a reasonable reassurance that copies can be retrieved from one or more sources. You may never print them out.