Reminisce: The wizard of Wapakoneta turned trash into tools

What can a couple of fruit cans, wood from store cases, piano wire, type lead and other found items make? In 1935, 25-year-old Jacob E. Zint created a seismograph using items intended for the trash. One of only three seismographs of that caliber in Ohio, his sturdy homemade machine made clear and accurate recordings of earthquakes as far as China and Guatemala.

Zint made a name for himself through his seismograph. Shelby and Auglaize Counties experienced an earthquake with the magnitude of 4.9 on March 2, 1937, and another with the magnitude of 5.4 a week later. Twelve miles north of their epicenter in Anna, Zint’s sensitive seismograph recorded from the basement of The Dale, a nightclub that Zint and his brothers opened in 1934 and where he lived in the mid to late 1930s. Professors from St. Xavier University and Ohio State University spoke to Zint when they came to the area to study the earthquakes. The information that he provided helped determine their cause and effect.

Built in November 1935, the Bosch-Omori style seismograph in Zint’s basement contained an upright iron beam in concrete foundation. Piano wires stretched from the beam with 12-pound counterbalance weights made from stereotype lead scraps poured into tin cans. Long wooden arms extended from the beam and pivoted on clockwork bearings to capture tremors in different directions. His seismograph consisted of two instruments: one recorded north and south and one recorded east and west. Levers tipped with sewing needles scratched recordings into carbon paper attached to tin drums timed by alarm clocks. Zint glazed his own carbon paper by smoking it with an oil lamp.

Zint’s first love was the weather. He started documenting the weather using a rain gauge, wind indicator and maximum-minimum thermometer in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. Those devices were also made of found materials. In the 1930s the local inventor created his wind gauge and barometer using bits of glass, copper pipe and mercury. His anemometer on the top of a 75-foot tree measured wind velocity and sent electrical impulses to a counting signal bulb inside. An angled tool made from a tin can always facing the wind moved up and down on his roof to collect rainfall.

His kitchen housed more weather instruments. There he calculated rainfall to the hundredth of an inch. When he turned a radio dial while watching a meter, his tele-thermoscope electrically computed the outdoor temperature.

Zint moved back to his family home at 805 West Pearl Street in Wapakoneta by 1940 and lived there for the rest of his life. The basement housed his seismograph and his cluttered laboratory, which contained the weather board and tools to create his machines. “All over the basement you hear a clicking and clacking, the faint whirring of gears,” the Dayton Daily News reported in 1952. “All instruments are working, writing their daily stories on charts and graphs.”

Just like at The Dale, Zint strategically placed his equipment on the outside of his home. He wired his weather panel to a 60-foot-tall pole on top of his house. There he attached a tool to determine the wind’s speed and direction. His shelter house held a maximum-minimum thermometer and a recording hygrometer that served as a rain gauge.

Zint continued to perfect his devices and add to his toolkit. In the late 1950s his weather board consisted of eight tools enabling him to record the temperature, wind velocity, dew point and barometric pressure.

He added a solar flare indicator, a special radio focused on sun spot activity that transmitted anything unusual.

Jacob Zint’s uncles encouraged his interest in weather from childhood. George Zint was a local inventor, and William Zint was a weather observer. Ultimately between William and Jacob, the two supplied weather observations for the Wapakoneta area for over three quarters of a century.

From the late 1930s to his death, newspapers as far as Dayton regularly called to ask Jacob Zint about his findings relating to weather, earthquakes, and even the best time to view a comet. In 1978 after 45 years of daily recording, the Wapakoneta City Council proclaimed him the city’s weather forecaster.

At his day job Zint was a layout draftsman at Westinghouse Electric in Lima. He retired in 1971 after 32 years. Hobbyist Zint was known as a physicist, an amateur seismologist, an unofficial weatherman, amateur astronomer and engineer. Others called him the “Weather Wizard” or the “Wizard of Wapakoneta.” His genius, passion and ingenuity inspired many people. Students of science went to him for his expertise. He gave away what he knew for free.

A group from a high school in Fremont credited adjustments made after their 1938 visit to Zint’s laboratory for their ability to record an earthquake 9,000 miles away. Zint and astronomer Leslie C. Peltier of Delphos spoke informally on their areas of expertise at the Civitan Club in Cincinnati in 1938. Four years later, Zint spoke about astronomy at the local Irving Club.

Astronomy was another passion of Zint’s. In 150 hours he fabricated his eight-inch counter-balance telescope from stove pipes, roller wheels and a reflector that he ground and polished. The telescope gathered light up to 1,800 times that of the human eye and magnified up to at least 260 times. Using the telescope, he charted the stars and planets.

While living at The Dale, Zint placed his telescope in a mobile shed on a wheel and track system. Zint later constructed an observatory on the top of his garage at his West Pearl Street home. The 10-foot-diameter rolling roof moved on roller skates.

Zint offered tours of his observatory and taught adults and children how to use his telescope. Many scout and youth groups visited him. It is believed that Neil Armstrong obtained his first telescopic view of the moon in Zint’s observatory.

Zint kept busy thinking of new ideas and making daily recordings. This inventor modestly called his continuous designing and constructing of equipment “tinkering.” He did not just make tools to track nature. He worked on his family’s automobiles, built and wired new electric signs for The Dale, and constructed radios since his childhood. Zint let patrons record their voices on aluminum records in his “sound booth” during slow nights at The Dale. He also made a small short wave receiver for a brother attending summer school at Ohio State University enabling the user to discreetly listen to ball games during class.

Jacob E. Zint, the seventh child of Catherine Schmidt Zint and Jacob C. Zint, was born on March 16, 1911. His father owned the Zint Candy Kitchen, a saloon, and a shoe store in Wapakoneta. Jacob E. had six brothers and four sisters. The Zint children formed the Zint Family Orchestra and performed at local venues. Jacob was a pianist and continued to play throughout his life.

Jacob E. Zint graduated from St. Joseph High School and attended Ohio State University studying electrical engineering for two years. He taught himself about his hobbies through scientific magazines.

Zint served in the U. S. Army for six months in 1941. He was a member of the National Meteorological Society, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Holy Name Society, Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and Westinghouse Veterans Club. Zint was also a 30-year member of the Legion of Mary, where he served as president.

Jacob E. Zint died on February 1, 1984, due to a sudden illness. He was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Wapakoneta.

His observatory is on view at the Auglaize County Historical Society.





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society and the Auglaize County Museum and Historical Society.


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Reach Brittany Venturella at [email protected].