Smith was a small investor in fish canning and brick making ventures who was obsessed about finding a way to automate the cleaning of fish. He worked for months in his Seattle waterfront workshop at the foot of Connecticut Street (renamed South Royal Brougham Way) to find a solution.
In a classic flash of inspiration, he awoke at 3:00 a.m. one day and shouted to his wife that he "had it." He emerged from his workshop 10 days later with a workable design and then borrowed money to go to Washington, D.C. to obtain a patent. Cannery operators were at first skeptical, but the economics were unavoidable. The new device had to be adjusted for different sizes of fish but it could clean 110 fish a minute versus two fish a minute by an experienced worker.
Smith became wealthy and he arranged to display his invention at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition at the University of Washington. However, he died in an automobile accident on his way to the fair's opening.