S. B. Nickum

From Kook Science

S. B. Nickum, as depicted in 1903 newspapers.

Sylvanus B. Nickum was an American inventor who, while resident at Logansport, Cass Co., Indiana, claimed in 1898 to have produced a perpetual light source, one that would neither dim nor require replenishment of fuel, the secret power being captured in a hermetically-sealed glass globe. Nickum was the object of regional and sometimes national press attention for the next several years as he took on new investors while refusing to give any public exhibition or allow private inspection, always insisting on more time, which led to his being brought before a grand jury twice, and finally sued by dissatisfied investors, leading to the seizure of most of his assets in 1900. Despite this, Nickum staunchly insisted that he had accomplished what he claimed and went on attempting to raise funds to continue his work on the project late into his life, but with little success as he ended his days in isolation and poverty, his final years spent as an inmate of the Marion County Poor Asylum at Wayne Township, Indiana.

Press Coverage


Perpetual Light

  • "A WONDERFUL LIGHT. S. B. Nickum Claims He Has Invented a Perpetual Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 1 Jan. 1898 
  • "REJECT NEW THEORIES - The Metropolitan Papers Refuse Inventor Nickum's Copy.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 3 Jan. 1898 
  • "Nickum's Refuse Bucket is Coveted by Thieves.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 5 Jan. 1898 
  • "LET THERE BE LIGHT. Nickum's Invention Still Screened From Eyes of the Public.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 6 Jan. 1898 
  • "What They Say. Interviews With Logansport People Concerning S. B. Nickum's Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 10 Jan. 1898 
  • "PERPETUAL LIGHTS. S. B. Nickum Talks Further About His Theories and Invention.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 19 Jan. 1898 
  • "A PRACTICAL JOKE. A Wag Reports the Nickum Light on Exhibition.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 28 Jan. 1898 
  • "WAITING, SIMPLY WAITING. Nickum Will Say Nothing Until His Foreign Patents Come.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 29 Jan. 1898 
  • "WAITING FOR NICKUM. Perpetual Light Business Affects the Orders for City Electricity.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 5 Feb. 1898 

National Interest

  • "FROM ISLANDS OF THE SEA. Even the Hawaiians Want Some of Mr. Nickum's Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 14 Mar. 1898 
  • "WANTED TO SEE NICKUM. Man Journeys From the Far West to Interview the Inventor.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 31 Mar. 1898 
  • "Nickum's Book.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 2 Apr. 1898 
  • "LIGHTS WILL BE SEEN. Inventor Nickum Outlines His Plans in Agents' Letters.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 4 Apr. 1898 
  • "READY TO SPRING IT. S. B. Nickum Entitled to Further Newspaper Mention.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 6 Jun. 1898 

New Digs

  • "Leased the Harrison property on East High street", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 14 Jun. 1898 
  • "Removed to the residence on High Street", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 22 Jun. 1898 
  • "NICKUM LIGHT. May Give an Exhibition to the Public July 4th.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 23 Jun. 1898 
  • "An Outside View.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 7 Jul. 1898 

Under Investigation

  • "NICKUM ARRESTED. Inventor's Business Methods are Under Investigation.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 29 Jul. 1898 
  • "U. S. MARSHAL TALKS. The Man Who Arrested Nickum Puts No Stock in Him.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 1 Aug. 1898 

Interested Parties

  • "CAN'T GET ANY WORD. An Iowa Man Wants Information Regarding Nickum.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 13 Aug. 1898 
  • "EXPERT CHEMIST HERE. Came From Yonkers, N.Y., to Investigate Nickum's Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 19 Aug. 1898 
  • "LONG DUSTY JOURNEY. An Investor in Nickum Light Arriving on Uneasy Street.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 9 Sep. 1898 
  • "Sylvanus B. Nickum", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 4, 1 Oct. 1898 
  • "IS HE A FRAUD?", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 5 Oct. 1898 
  • "PORTENTOUS MONTH. Mr. S. B. Nickum Has Until November to do Something.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 7 Oct. 1898 
  • "MORE PUBLICITY. E. S. Link is Editing Some of Nickum's Effusions.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 1 Nov. 1898 

Grand Jury

  • "GRAND JURY PUZZLED. Federal Grand Jurors Wrestle With the Case of S. B. Nickum.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 17 Nov. 1898 
  • "S. B. NICKUM INDICTED. The Federal Grand Jury Handles Him Without Gloves.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 19 Nov. 1898 
  • "LIGHT FOR NICKUM. May Emerge From the Shadow of His Federal Indictment.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 30 Nov. 1898 
  • "TO TALK WITH NICKUM. Believed That Judge Baker Desires to Converse With Inventor.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 1 Dec. 1898 
  • "NO INVESTIGATION. The Indictment Against Inventor Nickum Will be Quashed.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 2 Dec. 1898 
  • "CLOUDS ROLLED BY. Inventor Nickum Free Until the First of May.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 3 Dec. 1898 

Public Exhibition Promised

  • "RAY OF LIGHT PROMISED. S. B. Nickum Will Exhibit His Light, He Says, in a Few Weeks.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 14, 20 Dec. 1898 
  • "AFTER IDES OF JANUARY. Nickum's Perpetual Light Will be Exhibited.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 21 Dec. 1898 


No Exhibition

  • "January 14, 1899: No Exhibition", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 4, 14 Jan. 1899 
  • "USURPING NICKUM. E. W. Harleman the Light Inventor an Object of Interest.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 11, 14 Jan. 1899 
  • "THREATENS TO MOVE. S. B. Nickum May Hie Himself and His Light to St. Louis.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 19 Jan. 1899 
  • "STILL IN THE DARK. Brother Nickum Fails to Come to Taw With His Perpetual Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 1 Feb. 1899 
  • "THE NICKUM LIGHT And Book Will Be 'Out' Within a Month, It Is Reported.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 14 Feb. 1899 

Ex-Stenographer Claims

  • "NICKUM DENIES, Refutes Miss Hall's Story Through His Attorney.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 13 Mar. 1899 


  • "NICKUM AGAIN TALKS. Promises Private Exhibition and Discusses Plans in Detail.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 18 Mar. 1899 
  • "MUST SHOW UP. Grand Jury Will Likely Indict Nickum Again.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 29 Mar. 1899 
  • "NICKUM'S EXHIBITION. Time Draws Nigh for the Unveiling of the Light.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 4 Apr. 1899 
  • "MIDNIGHT CALL.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 16, 11 Apr. 1899 
  • "FEARS DEATH. Cincinnati Post Man's Story of Nickum. Says the Inventor Stands in Fear of Violence.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 14 Apr. 1899 

Albert Nickum Goes Missing, Returns

  • "BOLD SCHEME. Albert Nickum May Have Been Abducted By Cranks After Perpetual Light Secret.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 15 Apr. 1899 
  • "ALBERT HOME AGAIN. Probably Tired of "Peanutting" on the Road.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 6, 3 May 1899 

Grand Jury (Again)

  • "NICKUM INVESTOR", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 2 May 1899 
  • "LOUIS RETHY TALKS, Tells of One Man Who Paid $150 for a County.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 13, 3 May 1899 
  • "Nickum's case is before the grand jury in Indianapolis.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 4, 5 May 1899 
  • "NICKUM ANXIOUS. Alleged That He Tried to Placate Louis Rethy.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 16, 8 May 1899 
  • "NO INDICTMENT. Federal Grand Jury Lenient With S. B. Nickum.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 13 May 1899 
  • "ANOTHER REPRIEVE May Fall to the Lot of Sylvanus B. Nickum.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 11, 13 May 13, 1899 


  • "NICKUM NOT TALKING. He Refuses to be Interviewed About His Plans.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 28 Jun. 1899 
  • "THE NICKUM CASE.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 16, 26 Jul. 1899 
  • "THE NICKUM LIGHT. Nothing Known of the 'Private' Exhibition.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 1 Aug. 1899 
  • "HOW NOW, MR. NICKUM?", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 31 Aug. 1899 

Investor Lawsuits

  • "AND STILL THEY COME - Another Suit Filed Against Sylvanus B. Nickum.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 1 Sep. 1899 
  • "MORTGAGES MAY FIGURE In Suit for Possession of S. B. Nickum's Goods.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 3, 11 Oct. 1899 
  • "ADVERTISED FOR SALE. Nickum Effects Under Execution Goes to Highest Bidder.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 8, 13 Oct. 1899 
  • "NICKUM PROMISES AGAIN. Says That He Will Produce Light in Six Months.", Logansport Reporter (Logansport, IN): 5, 13 Nov. 1899 


Ex-Assistant Claims

  • "SAYS NICKUM USED FIREFLIES. Charged That Logansport 'Perpetual Light' Man Kept Great Box of Bugs.", Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL): 5, 15 Jan. 1900 

Post Office Ban

  • "NICKUM'S MAIL IS WITHHELD. Logansport Postmaster Waits for Settlement...", Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL): 4, 5 Feb. 1900 
  • "NICKUM CASE DISMISSED. Federal Officers Think His Perpetual Light a Delusion.", The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, IN): 6, 15 May 1900 

Asset Forfeiture

  • "NICKUM'S RETREAT ENTERED.", The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN): 6, 16 May 1900 
  • "SOLD UNDER A LEVY.", The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN): 5, 28 May 1900 

In Summation

  • "'PERPETUAL LIGHT' FAILS. An Indiana Inventor's Nervy Bid for Fame and Unique Success.", The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, MO): 7, 4 Jun. 1900 
  • "LIGHT THAT FAILED: A Former Kansas Man's Invention Did Not Work. BUT HIS SCHEME WORKED.", The National Field (Salina, KS): 6, 8 Jun. 1900 
  • "NICKUM SUBSIDIZED.", The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN): 3, 15 Jun. 1900 

Counterfeit Coinage (1902)

  • "BAD COIN IN THE RIVER. Police Think that Nickum Might be Able to Explain.", The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, IN): 3, 23 Jul. 1902 

Resurgent Interest (1903-04)

  • "NICKUM AND HIS RADIUM. May Have Been Discoverer of the Radium.", Daily News-Democrat (Huntington, IN): 5, 5 Dec. 1903 
  • "MR. NIKUM HAS WON OUT: PERPETUAL LIGHT MAN FROM INDIANA IS ON TOP.", The Richmond Item (Richmond, IN): 5, 17 Dec. 1903 
  • "NICKUM WORKING ON HIS NEW LIGHT: Inventor in Secret Workshop Thought to Have Completed the Machine.", The Star Press (Muncie, IN): 6, 2 Jul. 1904 

Disappearing Acts (1905)

Charged and Bonded (1906)

  • "Skipped His Bond.", The Monticello Herald (Monticello, IN): 1, 5 Apr. 1906 
  • "DENIES STORY. Montpelier Man Comes to the Defense of Nickum.", The Tribune (Seymour, IN): 1, 27 Feb. 1909 

Suicide Letter (1913)

Struck by a Mail Wagon (1916)