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Nathan Read his invention of the multi-tubular boiler and portable high-pressure engine, and discovery of the true mode of applying steam-power to navigation and railways. A contribution to the early history of the steamboat and locomotive engine online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870, by


in the Clerk s Office of the District Court of the United States for the District of



THE successful application of steam-power to boats
and locomotives forms a most important era in the
history of this world s progress ; and the men who
took a part in accomplishing that great work, are en
titled to the remembrance of all such as respect hu
man genius, and look upon the advance of knowledge
and civilization as a blessing. The subject of this
memoir was one of those men, and the interesting
incidents relating to his inventions were liable to be
lost to history by the lapse of time, and with them
his just claims for the essential part he took both in
the invention of the steamboat and locomotive engine.
To preserve these facts, was indeed the motive that
led to the preparation of this little volume.

The facts relating to the inventions of Nathan Read,
so far as they were spread on paper, were preserved
by him during his lifetime, and by his family after
his decease ; and the reasons why they were not pub
lished by himself, will appear in the closing chapter of
this book. He having, however, failed to accomplish
this end, which is much to be regretted, the question



arose, should the evidence of his labors pass off for
ever, or be presented to the public ?

This was a matter that upon every consideration
both of a private and public character scarcely al
lowed hesitation ; the truth of history, the dictates of
friendship and justice, and the claims of Science to a
knowledge of all who have been devoted to her ser
vice, seemed to require the publication ; and under
this aspect of the case the labor of collecting the evi
dence and preparing it for the press was undertaken
by the subscriber, without expectation of fee or re
ward. And it may be added, that a desire to con
tribute to the early history of the steamboat and lo
comotive this additional testimony of the talent and
genius of our own native citizens, will also, it is be
lieved, be appreciated by a generous public.

In prosecuting our inquiries we have found it neces
sary to compare the respective claims of inventors ;
but this occupies no distinct portion of the narrative,
and is drawn from the facts here presented, and from
the published accounts of various authors ; and such
extracts as have been deemed proper to elucidate the
subject, or to give interest to the reader, have been
duly credited, by reference to the authorities.

It will be seen that different projectors, supported
by different countries, come in as contestants for the
honor of these inventions: England, Scotland, France,


and Spain, claim the invention of the steamboat ; and
France and England the locomotive engine ; when,
in truth, they were both inventions of our own coun
try ; and it will be left for the reader to decide who
among us contributed most toward the invention of
that machinery, which resulted in their success.

The original descriptions, plans, and drawings of
Judge Read, so far as they relate to the subject, have
been carefully copied into this volume ; and, on in
spection, no one will doubt the genuineness of the
papers. His manuscripts, in the mean time, contain
numerous plans, drawings, and descriptions, of other
inventions and experiments in the mechanic arts, made
by him. These, and many other matters, would prop
erly come within the scope of a biography, but not
within the plan of this work.

To show the necessity of a complete revolution in
the steam-engine to prepare it for navigation, even
after Watt had made his great improvements upon
it, a brief account of its invention as it progressed
from one step to another, from its earliest history up
to the close of Watt s improvements, has been given.
The engine of Savary, Newcomen, or Watt, could not
be successfully applied to boats ; and all attempts
made with them utterly failed ; which in itself shows
the fallacy of all the claims to the invention of the
steamboat, before the discovery and existence of ma-


chinery necessary to give it success. In order to show
this, it became important to notice the numerous ex
periments, both in this country and Europe, with the
old form of engine, whether of Newcomen or Watt,
or those tried by Rumsey and Fitch ; and, to show
wherein their failure consisted, to compare their en
gines with that afterwards invented by Read, which
it is claimed was the engine applied by Fulton on
his first boat upon the Hudson, and led to the final
success of navigation by steam.

The same may be said of the numerous experiments
with the locomotive engine. All proved unsatisfactory
or wholly failed until the multi-tubular boiler and
high-pressure engine, which had been invented by
Read to fit Watt s engine to the purposes of loco
motion, gave triumphant success to the locomotive, as
applied by George Stevenson.

These various inquiries make up an interesting por
tion of the volume ; and although they may be felt
at first to be inapplicable to its general purpose, yet,
as the reader progresses, he will see both the necessity
and importance of this portion of the narrative ; more
especially as the design of the work is purely his


BURLINGTON, VT., October, 1860.




Steam-engine. Watt s Improvement. Early Discovery of
Steam Force. Hero of Alexandria. Cardan and others.
Progress of the Invention. Fulton. Watt s Engine not
adapted to Boats and Locomotives. Nathan Eead and his
Improvements. His Papers, Drawings, etc. ... 1


Nathan Read. Biographical Notice. Parentage, Birth, etc.
Enters Harvard University. Graduates. Tutor in College.

Study of Medicine. Mechanic Arts. Invention of

Steamboat and Land Carriage. Marriage. Member of
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Salem Iron
Foundry. Invention and Patent of the Nail Machine.
Member of Congress. Judge in Essex and Hancock County
Courts. Member of the Linmean Society. Removal to Bel
fast. Invention of Agricultural Implements. Farm.
Social and Educational Improvements. Death. Personal
Attainments. Purpose of introducing Steam-power to
Navigation, and Land Transport 5


Watt s Rotary Engine. Blasco de Garay. Account of his Ex
periment. Mr. Marsh s Translation and Note. Credibility
of the Account considered. Early History of the Steam-
engine, Hero s Experiments. The ^Eolipile. Jack of
Hilton. Difficulty of de Garay s reputed Invention. Car
dan s Discovery. Battista Porta. Solomen de Caus.
Marquis of Worcester. Galileo. Torricelli. De Guer-
icke. Pascal. Boyle. Denys Papin. Savary.
Newcomen and C awley. Humphrey Potter. De Garay s



reputed Experiment reviewed. Smeaton. Atmospheric
Engine. Watt s Improvements. His Copartnership with
Boulton. Parallel Motion. Throttle-valve. Governor,
etc. His first Double-acting Rotary Engine. De Garay s
Claims further considered and concluded . . . .10


Idea of applying Steam to Boats. Paddle-wheels. Animal
Power. Steam Power proposed. Jonathan Hulls. Beli-
dor. Daniel Bornouilli Genevois. Comte de Auxiron.
Earl of Stanhope. Perrier. Marquis de Jouffroy Pat
rick Miller Symington. Lord Dundas. Henry Bell.
British Writers. Woolhouse. " London Journal " of the
Society of Arts. " London Quarterly." Miller s Book.
Washington. Bell s Plans. Fulton. Symington s Plans
and Boat. The Steamboat an American Invention . . 27


Progress of the Invention in the United States. James Rumsey
and John Fitch. Rumsey s Pole Boat. His first Steam
boat. Dr. Franklin. Rumsey goes to England. His
Death. His Pipe-boiler. Fitch s Experiments. Contro
versy with Rumsey. His Ignorance of the Steam-engine.
Henry Voight. Fitch s first Engine and Skiff-boat. His
second Boat with Oars at the Sides. His third Boat with
Paddles at the Stern. His fourth Boat. Tried Seven dif
ferent Condensers without Success. The Eighth does better.

His Boat run for Passengers three Months. Given up.

Attempted a fifth Boat. Abandoned. His Poverty.
Genius. Perplexities. Goes to Kentucky. Death . . 37


Read s Invention of new Machinery. His Modification of Watt s
Engine. His Portable Furnace Boiler. Its Multi-tubes.
His Patent and Specification. First Multi-tubular Boiler
invented. Its Importance. Letter to Mr. Jefferson. Its
necessity for Locomotives. Rocket Engine. M. Seguin.
Robert Stephenson. His Description of the Rocket Boiler.

Stevens. Henry Booth. Trial of Locomotive Engines



at Rainhill. The Rocket takes the Prize, owing to the
Multi-tubular Boiler and Steam-blast. Claims to these In
ventions 46


Read s Boiler may be used Vertical or Horizontal. With the
Water or the Flame passing through the Tubes. Number
of Tubes. Size. Description of Boiler. Its Application
by George Stephenson. Smiles Remarks. American In
ventors 64


Railroad Invention. Railway Track. Beaumont. Plank
and Timber. Parallel Rails. Wheels. Benjamin Ou-
tram. Cast-iron Wheels.. Tram-roads. Duke of Nor
folk. Iron Rails. Worked by Horses. Sails proposed.

Steam proposed. Chapman. His Chain and Barrel
Wheel. Bronton. His " Mechanical Traveller." Block-
ett. Toothed Wheels unnecessary. Stationary Engines.

Tredgold and Horse-power. Stockton and Darlington
Railway. Prejudice of the Laboring Classes. Progress
notwithstanding. Dr. Cotton. Read s Purpose and In
ventions. His High-pressure Engine. Leopold. Oliver
Evans. Trevethick & Vivian. Their Engine and first Ex
periment. Coleridge s Account of it. Their Tram-road
Engine at Merthyr Tydvil. Blenkinsop. Evans s Dredg
ing Machine. Read s Boiler with the Flame passing through
the Tubes. Description of it 68


Read s Steam Cylinder. His Patent and Specification of it.
Land Carriages. Comparison with Trevethick s Cylinder.
Letter to Timothy Pickering. Watt. Murdock. Evans s
Machine, or Mud Scow. Professor Renwick s Remarks.
Evans s Boiler and Engine. His Experiment. His Ma
chinery for moving his Scow to the River. High-pressure
Engine. Joseph Sampson and Evans s Plans and Drawings.

Read s Specification of his Land Carriage and Engine.
Murdock s Experiment. Petition to Congress withdrawn.


tion Steamers built at Albany. Legal Proceedings. Con
stitutional Powers of Congress. Livingston & Fulton
alarmed, and secure a Patent for Paddle-wheels. They bring
the Albany Company to Terms. Additional Act of the
New York Legislature. Its Arbitrary Character. New Jer
sey Opposition. Colonel Ogden. William Duer. Report
of Committee. Connecticut. Thomas Gibbons. Decis
ion of United States Court. Monopoly broken up . . 147


Read s Machinery and Fulton s compared. Read s Paddle-wheels.

Cylinder. Boiler. Floats. Axis. Working-beam dis
pensed with, and Cross-head Substituted. Parallel Motion
dispensed with. Rotary Motion. Fly-wheel. Cold-water
Cistern dispensed with, and Water injected from under the
Boat. Fulton s Machinery. Working-beam suppressed,
and Cross-head substituted. Axis. Fly-wheel. Cold-
water Cistern dispensed with, and Water injected from under
the Boat. Condenser. Paddle-wheels. Car of Neptune.

Stevens s Machinery. Fulton s Letter to Boulton &
Watt. Summary of Comparison. Machinery substan
tially alike. Letter to Colonel Pickering . . . .157


How did Fulton get his Plans of Machinery. Fitch. Sym
ington. Bell. Aaron Vail. Fitch s Plans. Fulton
used no Part of Fitch s Inventions. Symington s Boat Char
lotte Dundas. Fulton s Machinery wholly different from
Symington s. " Encyclopaedia Britannica." Its Preten
sions. Fulton s Visit to the Charlotte Dundas. Symington s
Account of it. Fulton s Sketch. British and American
Experiments. Professor Renwick s View of Symington s and
Fulton s Boats. Modification of Watt s Engine. Fulton s
Directions to Boulton & Watt. His Engine a new thing to

them. Description of Symington s Boat Bell s Plans

and Boat Comet. Its Machinery copied after Fulton s . 166


Fulton s Claims to Invention examined. Colden s Views.
Royou s Memoir. Remarks of Westcott. Henry Howe.



" New York Review." Of " Encyclopaedia Britannica."
Professor Renwick. Fulton s Machinery traceable to Read
alone. Read s Inventions regarded as Original by American
Academy of Arts and Sciences. His Exhibition of his
Plans and Models to Stevens and others. Stevens & Liv
ingston s Copartnership. Livingston informed Fulton, etc.
Coincidence of the Chain-wheel. Combination of Machin
ery. Fulton not the Author of it. Judge Read s Account
of his Inventions." Article in the " Philosophical Transac
tions " 176


Why Read s Inventions have not before been published. His
own Purpose. Letter of Rev. J. W. Hanson. Reply.
Commences his Autobiography. Death. His Papers left
for others to publish. Additional Considerations. His
Boat and Machinery the Type of present Steamers. The
Great Eastern. His Multi-tubular Boiler and High-pressure
Engine the same in Principle as our present Locomotives.
Concluding Remarks , 186



Likeness of Nathan Read Frontispiece.

Hero s Inventions. Nos. 1 and 2 .... 14

The ^Eolipile. No. 3 14

Battista Porta s Invention. No. 4 14

Solomen de Cans Invention. No. 5 14

James Rumsey s Steamboat. No. 7 ..... 38

John Fitch s first Steamboat. No. 8 38

Nathan Read s Multi-tubular Boiler ; perspective view. Plate

1, Fig. 1 50

Nathan Read s Multi-tubular Boiler ; vertical section of. Plate

l,Fig.2 50

Nathan Read s Multi-tubular Boiler ; horizontal section of

lower part. Plate 1, Fig. 3 50

Nathan Read s Multi-tubular Boiler ; horizontal section of

upper part. Plate 1, Fig. 4 50

Read s Improved Steam Cylinder. Plate 3, Fig. 3 . . 79
Read s Improved Steam Cylinder, as applied to his Land Car
riage. Plate 3, Fig. 6 79

Read s Land Carriage, or Locomotive ; View of the running

part. Plate 5, Fig. 1 86

Read s Steamboat; View of the hulk, paddle-wheels, etc.

Plate 3, Fig. 5 102

Rumsey s Pipe-boiler and Furnace. No. 11 . . . 124
Read s Steamboat ; perspective view, drawn from his general

description and plans. No. 12 157

Fulton s Steamboat, from " Appleton s Cyclopaedia of Biogra
phy." No. 13 159

Symington s Steamboat, from " Young s Natural Philosophy,"

Vol. 1. No. 14 174



THE invention of the steam-engine prepared the
way for a series of experiments, with a view to apply
it to navigation, and at length to land transport. The
great improvements of Watt had changed its charac
ter from a machine of comparatively small importance,
and limited in its application and use to the single pur
pose of pumping water and lifting ore from the mines,
to an instrument applicable to the use of mills and fac
tories, and most kinds of mechanical industry, where
a stationary motive power was required. This essential
change in the utility of the steam-engine, was effected,
not only by reducing the expense of working it, but
by converting the rectilinear motion of the old New-
comen engine into a rotary motion, uniform and con
tinuous ; which improvement not only made it possible,
but a convenient motive power, to turn the wheels of
mills and factories.

It is very proper here to notice, that the invention of
the steam-engine, which in its operative power at this
day far exceeds the whole amount of hand labor upon
the habitable globe, 1 was not the work of one man, or
one generation of men ; indeed, we may well imagine

1 Loffidon Quarterly Review, vol. civ. p. 411, 1858.


that the force of steam must have been known to some
extent, as early as man had the power of observation
and fire and water were brought in contact before him.
From the time Hero of Alexandria amused himself by
the use of steam as a mechanical force to move the sim
ple machinery he had invented, up to the time Watt
perfected his improvements and set his double-acting
rotary-engine at work, was nearly two thousand years.
And although no sensible improvement was made with
steam force, before Cardan discovered the effect of
condensation, for the seolipile used by the Greeks
and Romans, and Jack of Hilton, of feudal notoriety,
were no improvement upon Hero s invention, yet
from Cardan s day to the time of Watt, a period of
some two hundred and ten years, scientific men and
men of genius were successively engaged in the work,
and adding something towards the invention of the
steam-engine. Battista della Porta, Solomen De Caus,
the Marquis of Worcester, Torricelli, Pascal, De Gar-
ricke, Papin, Savary, Newcomen, and others, not for
getting little Humphrey Potter, each one made some
important addition to it. Notwithstanding this, when
it went into the hands of Watt it was at best but a very
imperfect thing, compared with engines of the present
day. To suppose that the steam-engine, steamboat,
or locomotive, could be invented by one man, would
be contrary to the truth of history. Indeed, inventions
in steam-power, and in most cases of like complication
and importance, have been progressive. It would be
absurd to suppose, that one single mind would be able
to acquire, in the first place, so perfect a knowledge of
all those intricate principles of natural and mechanical


science, as it must needs understand, to construct a
steam-engine ; and in the second place, conceive and
put together the several parts of a machine so complex
and extensive. Facts show that these inventions are
brought about by successive improvements, first by
one and then by another. How often do we hear the
remark, "Fulton invented the steamboat," as if every
thing connected with it, keelson, hulk, wheels, and the
engine it carries, were new discoveries by him alone.

Indeed, to Watt himself, who never had any settled
purpose or intention of applying steam power to boats
or land carriages, 1 and made no special improvements
in the engine directed to those purposes, there is due a
large item of credit, in both cases, for his inventions.
The steam-engine, however, as improved by him, was
but partially prepared for navigation and land trans
port. He gave it the rotary principle, 2 without which
it would have been useless ; but his massive boilers,
and great weight of fuel and machinery, were not
suited to the capacity of boats and land carriages,
nor was the form of his engines adapted to those pur
poses. His double-acting cylinder and separate con
denser, would both apply to boats ; but in the case of
land carriages it became necessary to dispense with the
condenser, the working beam, and some other parts of
the machinery, for the want oi water for condensation,
as well as the want of space ; and a new sort of engine,
constructed upon different principles, became necessary
for that particular use. 3

It is believed that Nathan Read, as early as 1788-89,

i Muirhead s Life of Watt, p. 330. 2 Ibid. p. 227.

3 Woolhouse On the Steam-engine, vol. i. p. 42.


while a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, invented the
necessary machinery to adapt Watt s engine to boats
and land carriages, with the avowed and special pur
pose of applying it to both of those objects. That he
constructed a model of a steamboat, with paddle-wheels
and his improved engine to drive it, being the same
machinery, substantially, that Fulton used eighteen
years after, in his first experiment upon the Hudson ;
and being also the first combination of that machinery
which gave Fulton his success, and success to the ap
plication of steam-power to navigation. That he at
the same time constructed a model of a land carriage,
to run on common roads (and equally applicable to a
railroad-track), and fitted his engine, with special ref
erence to that purpose, upon the high-pressure prin
ciple, dispensing with the condenser and working-beam ;
which machinery was substantially upon the principle
as that which gave Stevenson his success, and which
is now in use for locomotive engines.

The evidence relating to these inventions of Read
is mainly derived from the papers he left behind him
at his decease, the originals of which are open to the
inspection of any who may have the curiosity to ex
amine them, from which the extracts and drawings
contained in this publication have been taken. It is
proposed to examine this evidence, and compare it
with the claims of other projectors.


NATHAN READ l was a native of Warren (formerly
Western), Worcester County, Mass., born July 2,
1759. His ancestors originally came from New-
castle-upon-Tyne ; they then settled in the County of
Kent, where they lived for several generations. From
thence they emigrated to America at an early day,
about 1632, and settled in the vicinity of Boston, where
they resided for many years. His grandfather when
the country was new, and but few settlements in that
section of the State purchased a large tract of land
in Warren, upon which he settled, and where he spent
the remainder of his life in the improvement of his
lands. His father, Major Reuben Read, was an officer
in the Revolutionary service ; and his mother, whose
maiden name was Tamison Eastman, was first cousin
to Major-General Nathaniel Greene, of Rhode Island.
His father was an only son, and resided upon the
homestead during his life. At the age of fifteen years,
Nathan commenced his preparatory studies for College,
and at the close of the summer vacation of 1777, en
tered Harvard University. His parents were desirous
that he should qualify himself for the ministry, and he

l The likeness of Judge Read faces the title-page. It was engraved at
Philadelphia during his attendance there as a member of the House of
Representatives in Congress, in 1801-2, at which time, he was in the forty-
second or third year of his age. The likeness is a very perfect one, and
is struck from the original plate, which has been preserved in the family.


attended Professor SewalPs Lectures on the Hebrew
Language. He acquired a good knowledge of the lan
guage, and by appointment, gave a Hebrew Oration at
a public exhibition of the University ; and during the
interval between the death of Professor Sewall and
the appointment of his successor, Mr. Parsons, he was
engaged to instruct the class in Hebrew. He gradu
ated in 1781, on which occasion he was selected to de
liver the valedictory address. He was distinguished as
a scholar, and left College with the respect of officers
and students. After graduating he was engaged in
teaching in Beverly and Salem, until 1783, at which
time he was elected a Tutor in Harvard University,
where he continued his labors as such until the com
mencement of 1787. He then resigned his place as
Tutor, and entered upon the study of medicine with
Dr. Edward A. Holyoke of Salem, until October, 1788,
when he gave up the idea of following medicine as
a profession, relinquished its study, and opened an
apothecary store, in Salem.

While engaged in the study of medicine with Dr.
Holyoke, and also- while in his store, he devoted him
self, more or less, to study and experiment in the me
chanic arts, which indeed held a higher place in his
mind than his medical studies or merchandise. It was
during this period of time that he invented and con
structed his models of a steamboat and locomotive
carriage, before noticed.

In October, 1790, he was married to Miss Elizabeth
Jeffrey, daughter of William Jeffrey, Esq., Clerk of the
County of Essex, and granddaughter of Joseph Bow-
dish August 24th, 17 Jl, he was elected a member of


the American Academy of Arts and Sciences April
4th, 1795, he removed to his farm in Danvers, and
built a permanent structure across Water s River,
which served the double purpose of a dam and bridge.
In 1796, he and his associates erected and put in opera
tion the Salem Iron Factory, for the manufacture of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

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