The thing about the greatest inventions is, it's difficult to imagine they wouldn't have been obvious when looking back with hindsight.
The fly swatter is a perfect example. How hard would it really have been to come up with a tool for neatly killing bothersome flies? But nobody did, not until Decatur resident Robert R. Montgomery invented the first wire-screen swatter in 1900. And within less than a decade, his “King Fly Killer” was a national success, a fixture in homes all across the country.
Despite that undeniably impactful invention, though, there's little doubt that Hieronymus Mueller remains the king of inventors as far as Decatur history is concerned. The German immigrant settled in Decatur by 1857, and his natural brilliance led to the foundation of the Mueller Co. in Decatur, which manufactured the various objects his mind conceived.
“The most important single invention as far as Decatur is concerned is probably Mueller's water-tapping machine,” said Laura Jahr, the assistant director of the city's small Hieronymus Mueller museum, located next to the Mueller Co. factory. “He invented it in 1872 for tapping into water mains that are under pressure, and it allows you to make a clean connection without losing water, cracking the pipes or shutting down service. It was a revolutionary device that is still used to this day.”
Mueller and his sons went on to claim 501 patents, which included water pressure regulators, faucet designs and the first sanitary drinking fountain. He also famously imported an 1892 Benz automobile from Germany and won the nation's first unofficial road race in 1895 in the heavily modified car.