Appeals from officials in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York to President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 resulted in the reappointment to federal government service of “undoubtedly the greatest inventive genius that Essex County has ever produced.”
Benjamin R. Stickney, a Moriah Center native, was a chief engineer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing when President Warren Harding dismissed Stickney and 27 other federal bureaucrats, without notice, on March 27, 1922.
Stickey, who invented more than 40 devices for the bureau, had just finished design of a new machine, which he had been tinkering with for about three months. He went home, ate dinner, and took his family to an entertainment at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., unaware of his fate.
“That dark message from the President arrived when I was following my nightly custom of bedside praying,” Stickney told reporter Milton Heckaye of The Washington News.
Presumably Harding selected the 28 bureaucrats for dismissal because of their high salaries. Stickney earned $5,000 a year – the equivalent of $77,819 in 2020 dollars – at the time.
Stickney, who lived for some years in Ticonderoga, left Essex County on in September 1897 to work as a machinist at the bureau, and worked his way up the ranks, holding the bureau’s record for most promotions in the shortest span of time. Previously he had operated a bicycle repair shop, been a machinist for the Ticonderoga Pulp and Paper Co., and operated his own machine shop on the Buskirk’s Block in Ticonderoga.
Supporters of reinstating Stickney said his inventions had saved the federal government far more in expenses than what he was paid in salary.
Stickney developed the machine in 1913 and 1914 that automated the process of printing, gumming and perforating postage stamps.
The machine operated by just two workers could turn out 12,000 postage stamps a minute, amounting to six miles of postage stamps in an eight-hour day.
Stickney also designed machines that increased the efficiency of printing federal currency.
“He pondered over the machinery – dreamed great dreams – prospected for new and better ways to do the tasks of the bureau. He found them,” Heckaye wrote.
After his dismissal, Stickney designed and sold stamp-printing machines to the government of Cuba and Sweden, releasing the patents to the U.S. government free of charge. Still later in his career he designed and sold stamp-printing machines to Mexico, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia and other foreign governments, likewise releasing the patents free of charge to the U.S. government.
Stickney came back to the Adirondacks to spend the summer of 1923. “Mr. Stickney spent last summer in Keene and while here interested Essex County people in his effort to secure reinstatement,” the Sentinel reported on Feb. 28, 1924. “A petition bearing the signature of every Essex County official was sent to Washington in his behalf.”
He was reinstated to his position and continued working until around 1930. Stickney and his wife spent the summers of 1932 and 1943 at Ticonderoga and died at Washington, D.C., at age 78. He was buried at Union Cemetery at Port Henry, NY.
Photo of Stickney Presses in action and below, a working model of Stickney Press (US Treasury Department).