Shattuck’s “Mobile Fort” of Early Nineties Was Forerunner of the “Tank” Now Used by the British


Minneapolis Man Proves Inventor of British Tank


William P. Shattuck Concocted Machine as Defense From Indians.


Machine in Early Nineties Called “Mobile Fort” – Wood as Fuel.


By Beverly White


Many persons will recall that the Frank Reade stories of nearly two generations ago, while fiction, no doubt had much to do with stimulating the inventive minds of Americans, and played an important part in the development of the automobile.  However, credit for the invention of the British “tank” is due to an American, whose father was killed by Indians.


That seems to be a flat statement, but when one is backed up by indisputable facts, he is well calculated to make his claim valid.  Who is the man that invented the tank?  What facts establish his claim?  He is William Pitt Shattuck, 2125 Girard avenue south, Minneapolis.  These reasons support his claim:


First, he has in his possession a letter from Straub, the administrator, or secretary for King Leopold, of Belgium.  King Leopold was father of Albert, the present king, whose armies held the Germans until France and England could mobilize and check the Huff.  


Tribune Prints Its Picture


Second, the file of the Minneapolis Tribune of Sunday, March 23, 1890, in which was displayed drawings of the “mobile fort”, now called the tank in the 28 years that have elapsed since the mechanical principle of the tank has not been changed.


Third, the signature of Henry M. Stanley, the great explorer, whose plight in Africa was the inspiration of the invention, and whose card Mr. Stanley gave the inventor when the great explorer was in the country after his return from the Dark continent.


Mr. Shattuck was born near Lake Osakis, Minn., where as a child he followed his father when the elder was a trapper.  As a child he learned to love nature, and became well versed in woodcraft.  Woodcraft in those days was a valuable asset.  There were few trails through the woods, and the woods were ranging grounds of hostile Chippewa Indians.


The elder Shattuck was murdered by Little Six and Medicine Bottle, two chiefs of the tribe, who were later hanged for murder at Fort Snelling reservation.  Before death, they admitted the murder of the elder Shattuck, and assigned as the cause the fact that they had been robbing one of his pelt caches and murder followed to hide the lesser crime.


First Offered to Belgium


March 31, 1888, or just two years before Mr. Shattuck’s invention was announced in The Minneapolis Tribune, the inventor wrote the King of Belgium.  Mr. Shattuck received a reply.  The missive, which is interesting is as follows:


“Mr. William Pitt Shattuck, Minneapolis, Minn., U.S.A.


“The king has your letter of March 31, 1888, charging me to thank you for the sentiments you express.  Without discussing the merits of your invention, which you have submitted to us, we think that we could not rescue Stanley, because his fate would be sealed before we could reach him.  We send you back your plans and indications that you confided to us.


“We have made no use of them, whatsoever, nor have we kept any trace of them in our archives, except, Sir, the assurance of our distinguished consideration.


Straub, Administrator


Mr. Shattuck’s name for his invention was “mobile fort.”


Being interested in trail finding, which art he learned as a boy, he read everything he could about the lost Stanley.  He figured that fever and starvation, while among the dangers that beset the explorer, were not the greatest.


Treachery, which he learned the meaning of so early in life, led him to his inventing the caterpillar “Mobile fort”, which could travel on both land and water, and would insure safety to explorers.  They could hide within the Mobile Fort or make it their sleeping quarters.  He also wanted to make it a thing of such power, that when fitted with scythes it could cut its way through a jungle or a forest.


Used Wood For Fuel


Wood was the intended fuel for the “Mobile Fort.”  When there was no timber around the grass and rushes cut by the scythe could be used as fuel.


Travelers through the jungle can cart only an outfit of 150 pounds, per capita.  Mr. Shattuck planned to make the carrying capacity of supplies 1,000 or more pounds per man.


When Henry M. Stanley came to this country early in the last decade of the nineteenth century he talked with Mr. Shattuck.  He went carefully over the mechanical drawings with the inventor.  Then he said:


“Marvelous, Mr. Shattuck; could I have had you with me your presence and invention would have been of unlimited value.”


Many wars, among them the Japo-Chinese, the Spanish-American, the Philippine, the Boer war, the Greco-Turkish, the Russian-Japanese wars, along with countless revolutions in Mexico and South America, have been fought since Mr. Shattuck designed the “Mobile Fort.”


Yet, not until the world’s war of today did any nation adopt the “Mobile fort” as a weapon of offense.  Now the “tank” is playing an important part of the world’s struggle for democracy.


Tribune Used Chalk Plate


When The Minneapolis Tribune in March, 1890, published the pictures of the “Mobile Fort,” the present art of making pictures for the public print was either not in use, or at best, in its infancy.  The pictures of the tank here shown were made with the old “chalk plate” system, but they show most clearly the principle now employed in operating the “tanks” in Europe.  The mechanical principle is the same.


The “tank” is only one of Mr. Shattuck’s inventions.  He is the man who invented the automobile trailer, enabling a light machine to haul weights in tow that would crush the vehicle if carried on the automobile body.  This is now used at the front for ambulance service, and throughout the world for transportation purposes.  It bears the inventor’s name.


Probably recollections of childhood in wild Minnesota were the inspiration of what thus far is considered by Mr. Shattuck as his greatest invention when the familiarity of the public is concerned.  Just before the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1893, Mr. Shattuck realized the parents and relatives who visited the fair would want to take something home to the children.  Economy, he knew, would be an asset.


Invented Jumping Monkey


The result of Mr. Shattuck’s work was a toy that sold for 25 cents.  If you have never seen his “climbing monkey on the string,” you are one of the few who have not.


His next invention of value to the commercial world was the machine for making picket fences.  Wire and pailing were fed in one end and the finished fence came out at the other.


He has just completed a machine for making berry boxes.  This mechanical production will make 50 berry boxes a minute, or approximately 200,000 a working day.  In this machine he feeds in the log of timber and it comes out at the other end in boxes that can be telescoped one into the other.


Mr. Shattuck also invented a transmission gear whereby power was saved and uniformity of power was gained.  Thomas Edison pronounced this machine wonderful.  He is now working on an automatic envelop making machine with the aid of which the dumb and crippled can turn a roll of paper into gummed envelopes by merely applying power and directing the gauges on the machine.  There are countless other things he is working on now, but these he does not care to disclose at this time.  It may be said, however, that he is trying to devise useful machines that will provide work for the crippled and maimed in this war.


Source:  “The Minneapolis Tribune”, March 31, 1918, page 12.





Comments by Nancy A. Shattuck, granddaughter of W.P. Shattuck:


There are some errors within this article.  William Pitt Shattuck (II) was born in Hutchinson, MN on July 13, 1860 where his family was living at the time.  His father, William Pitt Shattuck (I), also known as ‘Pitt’ Shattuck, went on a trapping expedition near Lake Osakis in early January of 1863.  While checking his trap lines, he surprised two Sioux Indians raiding his cache.  He was murdered and his body was pushed under the ice in order to conceal their crime.  W.P. Shattuck (II) was then 2 ˝ years old.  W.P. Shattuck (II) undoubtedly was taught “woodcraft skills” by his Mackenzie uncles who were well versed in the craft.  Two Sioux Indian chiefs, Shakopee and Medicine Bottle were apprehended from Canada, I believe in January of 1864, by Pitt Shattuck’s brother in law, John H. Mackenzie, an army scout and trader, by request of the government.  They were implicated for the crimes committed against the settlers during the Dakota Uprising of 1862.  According to family story, it was John H. Mackenzie who recognized Pitt Shattuck’s knife in the possession of one Sioux Indian while he was living in Canada, which aided with the apprehension and conviction of the two Sioux involved.  They were hung at Ft. Snelling.  W.P. Shattuck (II) married Margaret Knudsen of Chicago, Illinois on February 11, 1922 and had one son and my father, William Pitt Shattuck (III).  W.P. Shattuck (II) was the inventor of many more inventions beyond what is mentioned in the preceding article.  W.P. Shattuck (II) died on January 29, 1926 at his home on Girard Avenue in Minneapolis.  My father, his only child, was then three years old. W.P. Shattuck (II) was buried in Lakewood Cemetery overlooking the shores of Lake Calhoun, where he had once lived as a boy.