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The Inventors - Abner Peeler & Liberty Walkup

   The fathers of the oscillating needle airbrush. They wern't the first to use air to spray with but they did create a unique airbrush that lives on in the famous Paasche "AB." These two are forever tied together in airbrush history for neither would have gotten nearly as far without the other. Peeler was the inventor, Walkup was the promoter; it was Edison meets P.T. Barnum. The article below is from a 1929 Nebraska newspaper and documents peelers airbrush and it's story. Click on it to see the whole article; it opens in a new window. ( Courtesy Charmayne Bischel's genealogy site) Abner Peeler and his description of the airbrush's early years.

   The story begins in Iowa in 1879 when Abner Peeler through  together some odds and ends with a small vaned wheel (it  resembles a tiny pinwheel) and the “paint distributer” was born. “Paint distributer?” - the name alone tells you he wasn’t exactly a The first airbrush! Invented by Abner Peeler of Iowa. marketing whiz. It was crude but it worked and since the T-shirt hadn’t been invented, he chose to dabble in a little retouch job on a photo of himself. It’s the primary use of the airbrush for the next fifty years. So what does Abner do? He sells it for ten bucks. He shoulda’ put it on eBay. Anyway, in October 1881 he files for a patent on his “paint dis tributer” and its granted in April of 1882. But wait what's this? There are two assignees(owners).

   Enter the flamboyant one time Bible salesman, Liberty Walkup and his older brother Charles, the silent moneyman. In 1881 they buy the rights to Peeler's invention and become assignees(owners) on the first airbrush patent. Peeler got $700 and an additional $150 for further improvements, most notably, the "walking bar(arm)." In the original airbrush, the needle was mounted directly to the "wind-wheel" and this limited the reciprocating movement of the needle. The only way to get more movement was to mount the needle toward the edge of the wheel. Since the distance of the needle from the center of the wheel is greater, it is mirrored at the other end of the needle. The needle tip now moves in a circular pattern under the air blast tube causing a sporadic pattern. To solve this problem, Peeler comes up with the "walking bar." It's a thin idler bar anchored atLiberty Walkup used Peeler's new "walking bar" on his first airbrush patent. one end to a bellcrank and attached via an arm to the "wind-wheel" at the other. Now when the wheel turns, the "walking bar" moves back and forth. The needle has a bend creating a small post that in a slot of the "walking bar." The needle now has a greater movement and the end of the "walking bar" attached to the bellcrank allows the "walking bar " to be pushed toward and away from the wheel. This changing geometry allows the range of needle movement to be adjusted varying how much of the tapered needle is in the air blast; more needle equals more paint and vice-versa. We now have all the mechanisms in sync. He files for a patent on it in 1882 and it's granted on September 18, 1883.

   In March of 1883, with a $50,000 in common stock sales, the Walkups form "The Rockford Manufacturing Co." to produce the new "Air Brush." Within 6 months the name is changed to "The Airbrush Manufacturing Company."

   Barely a week before he gets the patent on his first airbrush,  Walkup files one for an improved model and it's granted on May 6, The next Walkup patent brought the wind wheel inside the body. 1884. This model features two very great refinements. It's now "double action" meaning the air and the paint supply are controlled by one trigger; depress the trigger for air, pull it back for paint. This also allows for one handed continuous operation. (Hot Stuff!) The previous model used two separate controls to adjust the air and paint. The "wind-wheel" is put inside the body thus protecting it and giving the brush a more streamlined look and feel. He also adds a guide to give the needle added stability.

   In January, 1885, Walkup is granted a patent for an upgraded airbrush with two main improvements. First, the mechanism that pinches the rubber tubing to regulate the air flow at the rear is simplified and moved inside body. Second, the air blast tube can now be adjusted so as to maintain proper alignment with the needle.

   From the outset Walkup, along with his wife Phoebe, a photo retoucher, tirelessly promote his airbrush. Their first demonstration was at the 1882 Photographic Convention in Indianapolis. He was awarded silver and gold medals at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute exhibitions in 1884 and 1886. The airbrush is exhibited at the 1884 World Exposition in New Orleans. They traveled often to Chicago, the center of the thriving photo retouching industry. Color photography was decades away and if you wanted a color portrait, as everyone did, a black and white photograph had to be hand colored. It was a tedious, time consuming, and labor intensive art. It was done assembly line style with one person, a "spot knocker," specializing on a single portionThis 1885 Walkup patent featured an adjustible air blast tube to maintain proper alignment over the needle. of a photo(hair, ears, eyes, etc.) with "drapery men," "hanging" the background. The airbrush was made to order for these companies and photo retouching remained the primary use of the airbrush well into the first half of the twentieth century. In 1888 the Walkups open the Illinois Art School in the same building as the Air Brush Manufacturing Company. The main purpose was to teach airbrushing although other classes are taught as well. In 1891 he publishes "The Air Brush Journal," a quarterly publication promoting the airbrush and the school. The cost was 25 cents a year, in advance, payable in "postal note, money order, or stamps." It's a fabulous read and its available on-line at "Airbrush Archives." Pay special note to the article on page 3 about "How the Air Brush is Abused."

    Things were looking good for Liberty but the future wouldn't be kind. The airbrush was about to radically change and the manufacturing center was about to move some 80 miles southeastward to Chicago. New names-Burdick, Thayer & Chandler, Wold, Paasche were about to steal his thunder. Walkup patents an airbrush in 1905 but it is way too little and way to late to turn his fortunes. Liberty Walup died in 1927 and was buried in Mt. Morris, Illinois.

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