The Franklin Institute Logo
Case Files logo

Combination:Calculating Machine and Printer, 1897

The Scott Medal

The process of selecting William S. Burroughs as the recipient of the 1897 Scott Medal involved a full examination by the Committee on Science and the Arts, according to their rules.The archive of this process exists here as a legacy to the careful consideration of the scientist and his work.

A Scottish chemist named John Scott bequeathed the sum of $4,000.00 in funded 3% interest stock of the United States to the corporation of the city of Philadelphia. His will, written in the year 1816, stipulated that interest and dividends yielded by this stock were to be distributed in the form of premiums to men and women judged to have come up with ingenious inventions. Each premium was not to exceed the amount of $20.00, and was to be rewarded along with a copper medal bearing the inscription, “To the most deserving.” The Select and Common Councils of the city of Philadelphia passed an ordinance in February of 1834 that vested the award of the premium and medals in the Franklin Institute. In 1869, administration of the John Scott Legacy Premium and Medal was conferred on the “Board of Directors of City Trusts,” which in turn referred control of the aforementioned award to its own Committee on Wills’ Hospital and Minor Trusts. April of 1882 saw a resolution made by this Committee to “favorably receive the names of any persons whom The Franklin Institute may, from time to time, report to the Committee on Minor Trusts as worthy of receiving the John Scott Legacy Medal and Premium.” Having accepted the above resolution, The Franklin Institute put its Committee on Science and the Arts in charge of making the necessary evaluations and recommendations.

The Committee on Science and the Arts (CSA) took care to compile a report on each invention or improvement its committee members judged worthy of the premium and accompanying medal. That report was then published three times in the Journal of The Franklin Institute, with the first publication occurring three months before the CSA would make an official recommendation to the Council on Minority Trusts. These publications allowed the public to review the inventions, and to raise objections as to their originality. If no such objections were made, the Secretary of the Institute certified the recommendation of the award to the Committee on Minor Trusts of the Board of City Trusts. Access the full set of rules outlined by the CSA in its founding year by clicking on the links to the rules in the table at left. Digitalized documents pulled from the Burroughs case file illustrate the process that resulted in his receipt of the John Scott Medal.