115 Year Old Patent By Indian For Chess Recorder

Today I got to know a fascinating thing about Chess. There is a 115 year old patent awarded in the US to an Indian for coming up with a system called Chess Recorder!

An electronic chess board is now well established and common for all Grand Master level events. It is still not common for local tournaments because it’s very expensive. The electronic board automatically recognises and records the moves played on the chess board. It is also connected to a computer/internet and hence the game can be transmitted to the world over at the same time!

Here is a short video on the most popular electronic chess board.

It is also common to use electronic chess clocks for chess tournaments at all levels – including at the local unrated tournaments. There used to be mechanical chess clocks when I started playing way back in 1989-90. Those were soon replaced by the digital clocks and now the mechanical clock has been reduced to a piece of art, a collectible for archives.

However, I never explored when the electronic chess clock and chess board came into being or how they evolved. Also, it never occurred to me that there could have been mechanical versions of them.

Now it seems that there were multiple attempts to make a system for recording the chess moves and timing even before the era of computers and electronic gadgets started.

A US Patent (No. US810899A) was granted to an Indian named Lala Raja Babu, way back in 1906 – on 30th January 1906, to be precise! That’s 115 years ago! The patent was filed on 14th July 1903, that’s 118 years ago!

Isn’t it amazing! Here is a link for the patent called “Chess Recorder” which explained a system for recording chess moves and time mechanically.

Link: Chess Recorder

The patent document is 13 pages long and details with elaborate diagrams how the system works.

It seems that there is no working prototype of the system/machine. So I’m not sure if it was just a concept or it was actually developed at some point in time. I had never heard or read about this in the chess history literature, so don’t know if it was widely known/popularised.

I also tried to look about Lala Raja Babu and couldn’t find any information. Was he a chess player? Was he based in the US? In India? No idea.

Interestingly this patent was referenced by 3-4 other inventors over the next few decades (mostly for the similar concept of Chess Recorder)but those are also almost anonymous/unknown.

Let me know if you know more about this patent or similar efforts.


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