Adolph Zalkin Germains – Inventor and Adventurer

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Life with Adolph Germains (1850-1908) would certainly not have been humdrum. He became a British citizen in 1875 as Aaron Simon Zalkin Germans, giving up his Russian identity. The following year he married Emma Levetus in Birmingham and they travelled to the USA where his first son, Victor, was born in 1878. Emma was a novelist, having some success with Left to Starve, and No-one Wants the Blame, published in 1878, a complex tale praising Jewish social and political interaction, while warning against assimilation.

Newspaper accounts of his misdemeanours

By 1881 they were back in London in a lodging house in Highbury, and he was working as a patent medicine vendor to support Emma and his two sons. That year a newspaper article tells us that he was acquitted of indecent assault and discharged from the Central Criminal Court. Two years later a newspaper reported that he, his wife and three children were sent back to England having attempted to return to the US. The Ladies’ Committee of the Jewish Board of Guardians in London had paid their passage to New York but the US authorities were refusing penniless immigrants, and so they returned to London by the same ship.

His son, Victor, died in 1887 and then in 1889 Adolph, described as an inventor, was again in court in dispute with an ex-maidservant. He maintained that she had stolen a lady’s jacket; she countered that he had given her the jacket and made improper advances to her. The court found in favour of the girl.

A year later he was back in the news. He had a Naptack Wine stall at an Exhibition and, when the organisers refused to let him enter free of charge with his exhibitor’s ticket, he threatened to shoot the manager and burn down the Exhibition buildings. He had, apparently, brought the ban upon himself due to ‘the flower-pot incident on 26th June’, which unfortunately was not described in the article.

His Inventions

With a family of four children to support, his next venture was the invention of a Globeless Chimney for oil lamps. A limited company was incorporated in 1895 and the new lamp was demonstrated at the Brewers’ Exhibition in London in October of that year. However, in December, on one eighth of the patent being sold, he failed to pay a £15 commission until taken to court by the secretary of the Globe Gas Enricher Company. His affairs declined and in 1897 he was declared bankrupt. His sixteen-year-old son, Percival died at the end of that year.

In 1899 he registered patents in the UK and a year later in the US for a smoke-consuming and fuel-saving device that could be fitted to the funnels of steamships. The photograph below shows the device when fitted to the funnel of the Japanese war vessel ‘Hikisima’. Germains can be seen standing on a step ladder pointing at the device. This is the only photograph of him that has been traced. It was found in the National Archives. Apologies for the poor quality.

Germains' Patent

Still full of ideas in 1906, he was publicising the ‘Germains’ Patent as applied to steamers’ following a successful test in Germany using the SS Borussia. At some point he found a new wife and they had five children, the last being born some months after his death. After spending most of his life in London, he moved to Ashby Woulds on the borders of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, where he died in July 1908. There are no records explaining why he was finally laid to rest at Jewish Gilroes but his grave is one of the many unmarked plots for which the Project has provided a stone name plaque.