Floyd B. Merrill

From Kook Science

F. Bertrand Merrill
Alias(es) Robert E. Montaine; Ellsworth Sperry;[1] Ernest Kenneth Bryce; James D. Burke; Arthur C. James; Charles B. Smith
Born Floyd Bertrand Pritchard [2]
29 April 1894(1894-04-29) [3]
Hersey, Osceola, Michigan
Died Date of death unknown
Affiliations Merrill Patents Trust; Electrogen Patents Corp.

Floyd Bertrand Merrill (April 29, 1894 - unknown), also known as James Fred Burke, Robert E. Montaine, and Charles B. Smith (among other names), was an American counterfeiter and forger who claimed to have devised a method of electrolysis whereby the removed hydrogen produces five to ten times more energy than was required to produce it - in effect, a perpetual motion machine.

Inventions and Detentions

While serving time in 1920 at the Marquette Branch Prison (Michigan) on a forgery conviction, Merrill drew interest and investment in what he then called the "Merlogen" process of electrolysis,[4] among other inventions (including an automated train control); his enthusiastic investors helped him to establish Merrill Patents Trust and assisted him in securing an early parole. After his release, however, Merrill skipped out of town with the investment money.

Some years later, in 1931, now going by the name of James Fred Burke, he was again arrested on counterfeiting charges,[5] ultimately serving eight years at Folsom State Prison, where he reportedly continued his hydrogen extraction research.[6] After being paroled in 1939, he renewed his electrolysis grift, this time earning financing from the United States Rural Electrification Administration, under the supervision of Felix J. Frazer,[7] as well as private funding from financier John J. Raskob, Jr. and others (through Electrogen Patents Corp.). A year later, Burke was supposed to have disappeared, his last known whereabouts thought to have been Arizona, where he had been believed to have been conducting research "along metallurgical lines, of unusual background."[8]

At the same time that Burke went missing from the R.E.A.'s records, Charles B. Smith was arrested for passing bad checks, an incident that he would paint as little more than "bad judgment," exclusively intended to cover contracts until he could sell a "revolutionary" beryllium extraction process that he claimed to have developed at his camp on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona.[9] During his renewed incarceration, James promoted his invention as "light iron," claiming it was as strong as steel but lighter than duralumin (an aluminium alloy), thus ideal for use in aircraft production.[10]

In 1945, Smith, who insisted he was Arthur Curtiss James, Jr., ostensibly a son of the wealthy speculator, was again in legal trouble, this time for transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes.[11] He was convicted and given three years for that charge, in addition to further time for the violation of his parole in California.[12]

Selected Patents

  • US1554113A. Permissive train control. 1925-09-15, filed 1922-10-16. Assigned to Merrill Train Control Corp. "This invention relates to a controlling system for trains, and has for its object to provide a system of such class."


  1. "Detectives of the Buick Motor Co. and police of Flint, Detroit, Grand Rapids and other cities are seeking trace of Ellsworth Sperry", Saline Observer (Saline, Mich.): 3, 6 Mar. 1919, 
  4. "Makes Fuel from Water Is Claim", Automobile Topics: 1091, 17 July 1920,, "Obtaining heat and power from water by means of the Merlogen process of "electrolysis" is claimed to be the accomplishment of F. Bertrand Merrill, who is serving a term for forgery at the Marquette, Mich.. prison. Under Merrill's process it is claimed water is decomposed into two constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, a small amount of water being used to produce a substance that will give a great amount of power. Merlogen plants can be made for automobiles and can be furnished to provide the mixed gases to be burned under boilers, the plants requiring but little space and working automatically. Estimated cost of liquid-Merlogen produced on a large scale is given at .01 cent per gallon. In his experimenting, Merrill claims to have discovered two new laws which oppose the present established laws of electrolysis and that he has evolved several new principles of application founded upon these new laws." 
  5. "FAKED CHECKS LAID TO COUPLE", Oakland Tribune: 16, 24 Feb. 1931, 
  6. "Convict's Scientific Discovery May Revolutionize Fuel Supply Now Used In Home And Industry - Forger Has Process for Extracting Hydrogen From Water That Has Attracted Many Experts to Prison Laboratory", Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio): 12, 24 Apr. 1934, 
  7. "New Hydrogen Process", Administration of Rural Electrification Act, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, U.S. Senate, Seventy-Eighth Congress, 3, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944, p. 1345-1346, 
  8. Administration of R.E.A., 1944, p. 1370
  9. "BAD CHECK CHARGES", Los Angeles Times: 35, 3 May 1940, 
  10. Bright, T. M. (19 Nov. 1941), "Folsom Prisoner Claims Invention of New Light Metal for Airplanes; SUBSTANCE OF ADVANTAGE TO AIR INDUSTRY; Material Would Reduce Weight Of Planes in Half and Keep Strength at High Level", San Bernardino Daily Sun: 4, 
  11. "COURT REFUSES TO VACATE TRIAL - Charles Smith Held By District Court On Mann Act Charge", Arizona Daily Star: 4, 6 Feb. 1945, 
  12. "CHAS. B. SMITH GIVEN 3 YEARS - Enters Plea Of Guilty To Mann Act Violation But Probation Refused", Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Az.): 2, 14 Feb. 1945,