Elmer Gates

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Elmer Gates (b. 1859 near Dayton, Ohio; † 1923 in Washington, D.C.) was a U.S. scientist and inventor.


Gates was born to Jacob Goetz, an American teacher and preacher, and his wife Phoebe. The family came from Germany.[1]

Gates’ inventions include the foam fire extinguisher, an improved electric iron, an aseptic brewing and fermentation process, electric loom mechanisms, diamagnetic and magnetic separators for extracting gold from sand,[2] an incandescent gas mantle furnace, the “Box and Block” educational toy, and numerous other mechanical, scientific, psychological and educational devices.[3]

At the turn of the 20th century, the Elmer Gates Laboratory in Chevy Chase, Maryland, was the largest private laboratory in the United States.

Although Gates was a prolific inventor, he considered himself a psychologist. He used scientific experiments to observe himself and used invention to study the processes by which the mind discovers new knowledge. This study led him to “psychotaxis,” the hierarchy of sensory distinctions required to create a valid and complete mental rendition of a particular part of the physical world. Psychotaxis is a major component of “psychurgy,” Gates’ art of using the mind, which he saw as an improved scientific method.[4]

He conducted many animal experiments to determine the effects of refined sensory discriminations on the structure of the brain. He researched the chemistry and physiology of human emotions. He kept three series of detailed recordings four times a day for two years to determine the environmental and physical conditions under which his own judgments were most successful.

The novelty of his research excited the imagination of the popular press of his time. Misinterpretations and fabricated reports were common. Despite Gates’ repeated clarifications and denials, the reports took on a life of their own. Some persist today.

Gates and his system of idea generation were mentioned in Napoleon Hill’s popular book Think and Grow Rich


  • James McKeen Cattell: Professors’ Garner and Gates” (letter to the author). In Science. Issue 3, No. 56, 24 January 1896, p. 134.
  • D. E. Gates: Elmer Gates and the Art of Mind-Using. Exposition Press, New York 1971, ISBN 0-682-46994-7.
  • E. Gates: The Relations and Development of the Mind and Brain. Theosophical Society, New York 1904.
  • E. Gates: The Science of Mentation and some New General Methods of Psychologic Research. In: The Monist. Issue V, No. 4, 1895, pp. 574-597.
  • Napoleon Hill: Think and Grow Rich. The Ralston Society, Meriden 1937.
  • Thomas Mills: The Science of Mentation” (Letter to the Editor). In Science. Issue 2, No. 46, 15 November 1895, p. 667.

Web links

Wikisource: Elmer Gates– Sources and full texts (English)

Individual references

  1. Gates, Elmer. In: The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. X, 1899, p. 354(online as PDF)
  2. Diamagnetic separation. 26.September 1899 ( [accessed 21 March 2020]).
  3. Christopher Ruggiero:Guide to the Elmer Gates Papers.Archives Center, National Museum of American History, 2012, accessed March 21, 2020 (English).
  4. Elmer Gates.March 14, 2011, accessed March 21, 2020 (American English).