What we can learn from Walter's corkscrew

One thing I find especially interesting about the images we have of two Walter Ruby patented corkscrews (one is above) is that they are both inscribed with promotional information about Carioca Rum. That leads to the conclusion that even though he was no longer an employee of American Spirits at the time the corkscrews were manufactured he was still working on the company's behalf.

When I showed the new information to Walter the younger yesterday, he reminded me that he has reported family lore from Stanley that Walter received payments or royalties in the amount of $50,000 related to the corkscrew invention. I am wondering now if his major client remained American Spirits and that if it is the source of the funding. Maybe his departure from the company was not on the bad terms we supposed but in an alternative arrangement where he continued work for the company on a consulting or supplier basis.

I don't think we know of a date for when he left the company, but it could have been late 1937 or early 1938. The timeline on the patent is interesting. He applied for the patent on August 3, 1937, possibly as a side project while employed at American Spirits. The patent was issued on May 31, 1938, by which time he was likely self-employed. From the death certificate, we know that he occupied his Rockefeller Center office as a "manufacturer" for only five months preceding his death in July. That would make it January or February of 1939 when he set up shop as a manufacturing business.

Finally, the device itself. It is not an invention in the common sense of the word as a technology innovation. It is, as he describes it in the patent claim, "an ornamental design." Gaining a patent for the design gave him protection that nobody else could manufacture a similar product for a period of 14 years.

As nifty a design as the device is, I can't imagine that there was a great market for specialty corkscrews. I don't think it was meant as a item for retail sales to home bartenders. I think it was designed as a promotional vehicle for companies like American Spirits to give away to professional bartenders. They hoped the device would be used behind the bar at all the best cocktail lounges—each one bearing a cocktail recipe for the Carioca Cooler, Walter's signature drink.

That could explain why we see Walter's invention being used to promote Carioca Rum in 1939 even though he was not then employed at American Spirits.