National Native American Heritage Month – Chapman Scanandoah, Inventor

Chapman Scanandoah, an inventor and decorated U.S. Navy serviceman who ultimately became chief of the Oneida people (one of the five founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy), was born in 1870 in the town of Lenox in upstate New York. The name Scanandoah means “He Moves with Fire” in the Oneida language. (This name was also spelled as “Schanandoah.”)

Scanandoah served in the Navy from 1897 to 1912, an era during which relatively few Native Americans were in that military branch. Scanandoah’s time in the Navy allowed him to travel far and wide. He even claimed to be the first Native American to circumnavigate the world.

Scanandoah’s naval service also provided him with the opportunity to further enhance his technical skills and work on a variety of inventions. One invention, in particular, proved to be beneficial for communications at sea. Over time, Scanandoah had observed how difficult it could be – even with the use of megaphones — for people on ships to communicate audibly with each other across the same deck or with people on nearby vessels. This breakdown in effective communication was due in large part to the loud sounds of surrounding ocean waves and strong winds, both of which interfered with the sending and receiving of verbal messages.

In trying to figure out how to permit messages to be transmitted more clearly without intrusive noises from the water and air, Scanandoah began tinkering with a megaphone to see if anything could help improve it. Scanandoah finally came up with a solution and, while serving as chief machinist’s mate at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1911, he applied for a U.S. patent for this invention.

Scanandoah’s invention, which he characterized in his patent application as a “simple and efficient device,” was an attachment to the traditional megaphone that would help filter out extraneous noises. The attachment, he explained in his application, would be wired to “assist in the collection and reproduction of sound waves.”

Scanandoah elaborated further on the attachment in his application. “In using the device the earpieces are placed upon the ears with the tube . . . extending around beneath the chin and this will bring the mouth opposite the mouthpiece,” he stated.  “The operator may face in the direction of the person with whom he wishes to communicate and by speaking into, the mouthpiece sound will be conveyed to him in the ordinary manner.” In 1912, Scanandoah was granted U.S. Patent 1,040,775 for this invention.

During the course of his long life, Scanandoah also achieved considerable success and renown as a tireless fighter for the rights and property of the Oneida people in New York. He died in 1953.

For more information on Chapman Scanandoah, please check out

Additional information on the device that Scanandoah invented for megaphones on ships is available at

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