Mention the word "ladder" and most people picture long rails crossed by parallel rungs--that is, the rods or bars that form the steps. It's hard to imagine a ladder without rungs, and yet that was the vision of one Kansas inventor.
There are many means to work your way up in the world, but a rungless ladder probably isn't one of them.
Sylvester Baringer was a farmer, legislator, and community leader. The Emporia man's hobby was invention. Baringer had some success as a young man with his innovations. While living at Beattie, Kansas, he received a patent for a cutting apparatus on a harvesting machine. Patent number 689,533 was issued to Baringer on December 24, 1901.
Over 60 years passed before the inventor received his next patent, one for a ladder without rungs. Baringer's model of the device is pictured here. He described his invention as "a ladder which may be used in painting or working against a wall to permit ready access to the wall without the impediment of ladder rungs in front of the worker." Baringer went on to explain that a rungless ladder would allow a worker to paint an entire wall without the use of scaffolding. The U.S. Patent Office issued patent number 3,075,611 for the ladder on January 29, 1963. View Baringer's technical drawing of the ladder.
The invention caught the attention of Popular Science magazine . Editors offered this explanation of how the ladder worked in the "New Ideas from the Inventors" column for the month of August, 1964:
"Rungless ladder frees work area. Instead of climbing this ladder you'd crank yourself up to the best working height, stand comfortably on wide steps. The steps would ratchet up--or down--on toothed supports. A few cross rails would hold the uprights together, but wouldn't block the work area between them or in front of the ladder."
The first annual Kansas Inventors Congress was held at McPherson, Kansas the following year. More than 75 inventions were on display, but none attracted more attention than Baringer's ladder. The Emporia Gazette reported one woman claimed to have driven 100 miles with her husband just to see what a rungless ladder looked like.
Baringer believed in his product, offering the following opinion:
"Here is an invention which fills a real need and at the same time provides the novelty necessary in the promotion of any generally new idea. It would appear that the sales potential is large. It presents no problem in its distribution and is such that it lends itself to a strong sales presentation."
Despite the inventor's confidence in his creation, manufacturers were not interested. Baringer never made a full-sized rungless ladder. His daughter, Bonnie Hatch, donated this model to the Kansas Museum of History along with the patent records in 1993.
Entry: Rungless Ladder
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: October 2009
Date Modified: December 2014
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