Augustine Sackett, a student at Rensselaer in the 1850s, will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at a ceremony to be held May 4 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Sackett will be recognized as the inventor of drywall, which he patented in 1894.
“Few modern products have transformed construction as much as drywall,” reads his Hall of Fame citation. “Sackett Board, the prototype for drywall, was patented by Augustine Sackett in 1894, and the evolution of Sackett’s invention shaved weeks off the time needed to finish a building. Today, the average new house in America contains over 6,000 feet of drywall. It is a staple of modern structures.”
Augustine Sackett (1841-1914) studied at Rensselaer in 1857-58, and was listed as a member of the Class of 1862 when he attended an alumni event at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1912. His studies at Rensselaer were interrupted by the Civil War, during which he served as an assistant engineer in the Union Navy. After the war he settled in New York City, where he worked as an inventor and entrepreneur.
Prior to 1894, Sackett’s invention of a product intended as a sheath for walls and ceilings led to the formulation of Sackett Board.
“Consisting of a core panel of gypsum plaster sandwiched between two thick sheets of paper, Sackett Board was rigid but soft enough to admit nails, and tough enough not to crack during installation or ordinary use,” continues his citation. “It replaced the time-consuming and labor-intensive method of wet-plaster wall construction. Sackett Board could be installed in a single day.”
Sackett invented gypsum wallboard and the specialized machinery to make it, and his company built several plants for its production. In 1909 the U.S. Gypsum Company purchased the Sackett Plaster Board Company. Sackett Board was improved through the years, including its strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and fire resistance. Wartime rationing of lumber in the 1940s led to increased use of drywall, and its popularity grew. Today annual sales for drywall top $3 billion.
Sackett is the fifth Rensselaer alumnus to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He joins Marcian “Ted” Hoff ’58 (inducted in 1996), inventor of the microprocessor; W. Lincoln Hawkins ’32 (2010), inventor of polymer cable sheath; Steven Sasson ’72 (2011), inventor of the digital camera; and B. Jayant Baliga ’74 (2016), inventor of insulated gate bipolar transistor technology.