Henry Howe.

Memoirs of the most eminent American mechanics: also, lives of distinguished European mechanics; together with a collection of anecdotes, descriptions, &c., &c., relating to the mechanics arts. Illustrated by fifty engravings online

. (page 1 of 45)
Online LibraryHenry HoweMemoirs of the most eminent American mechanics: also, lives of distinguished European mechanics; together with a collection of anecdotes, descriptions, &c., &c., relating to the mechanics arts. Illustrated by fifty engravings → online text (page 1 of 45)
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"The due cultivation of practical manual arts in a nation, has a greater tendency to
polish and humanize mankind, than mere speculative science, however refined and sublime
tl may be."



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1S4G, ly

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court tor the Southern District ol New York


It is singular thai BO tittle interest should heretofore have been
taken in the histoiy of those to whom we are indebted for the
arts and inventions constituting the glory of our time. The pen
has ever been more ready to record the brilliant than the useful
To this is to be attributed the neglect heretofore manifested in
relation to these subjects. Indeed, so little regard has been
evinced, that a late foreign writer, who happened incidentally to
be " thrown upon" some incidents in the life of an eminent
mechanician, considered it due to the fastidiousness of public
taste, to claim indulgence for diverging into so obscure and
tasteless a path of biographical research. But, thanks to the
more general diffusion of knowledge and the light of Christianity,
this false taste is rapidly dissipating, and mankind are beginning
to appreciate the labors of those to whom we are indebted for
our present unparalleled state of intellectual and social advance-

The memoirs of the benefactors of our race, in past ages, are
often histories of wrong; and those who have labored in the
department of mechanical invention, may truly be termed the
martyrs of civilization! The causes producing this state of


things are fading away before the intelligence of the times, and
wise and just laws are in operation to protect the defenceless.
As has been aptly observed, " the strife of trade has superseded
the strife of war," the clash and din of arms has given place to
the busy hum of industry, the ringing of the anvil, the melody
of the waterfall, and the puff of the steam engine. The days
of tournaments are past, the mechanic fairs are our " tilting
grounds," where the conflict is not for physical superiority, but
for inventions best promoting the comfort and elegance of life.
Although much has been done, more remains to be accomplished.
This new world is to be a theatre of mighty structures for the
development of resources, advancing, beyond present conception,
the welfare and happiness of our race

Biographies of public individuals have their peculiar advan-
tages ; but examples drawn from the common walks prove of
more practical utility. Such are here presented ; and it is judged
that their perusal will be found at least as useful as tracing the
progress of a military hero through scenes of blood, or witness-
ing the more peaceful triumphs of some champion in the field of
political strife.

With these views we have prosecuted this undertaking, in the
hope of producing a series of memoirs, which, while of general
interest, would be useful to the mechanic : and the aim being to
give as much variety as possible within our assigned limits, we
have reluctantly excluded several characters, who, but for their
similarity of pursuit, would have adorned our pages.

The materials are drawn from a variety of sources ; but we are
principally indebted to the various mechanical journals of the day,
including the publications of the Society for the Diffusion of UsefuJ


Knowledge. Most of the memoirs, however, in the American
department were written expressly for the work, while severaj
of the others in this as well as in the other portion have under-
gone more or less modification.

To those who have kindly furnished us with notices of their
respective friends, we feel duly grateful. To the public we pre-
sent the result of our labors, with the desire that it may excite
emulation, and illustrate and encourage the talent and persever-
ance required for a successful cultivation of the mechanic arts.




















. 1S8












M. GUINAND . * 270

JAMES WATT ... .... 279




HOHLFIELD ........ 323










Progress of Invention illustrated 353

Illustration of the Ignorance of Foreigners respecting

American Inventions 355

Singular Origin of the Invention of Frame-work Knitting 358

Ancient and Modern Labor . . . ... 360

The Slide of Alpnach .' .... 361

American Road-making 364

Archimedes 367

The Inventor of the Iron Plough 370

Cotton Manufacture of India .... 372

Description of the Bridge at the Niagara Falls . 376

Thomas Godfrey 378

Musical Kaleidescope ""9

Bernard Palissy ...... Sw9

Dyeing Cloth of two Colors 380

Remarkable Wooden Bridge . . . . . 380

Celebrated and curious Clocks . . . . . 381

Manufacture of Porcelain and Earthenware . . . 38, 6

Inventors and Poets 391

Public Works of the United States .... 392

Manufactory of the Gobelins ..... 394

March of Umbrellas 395

The French Machine-maker ..... 396

Manufacturing Establishments 400

The Mechanical Fiddler . 402



Corn Mills in ancient times . . . 404

The Obelisk of Luxor 409

American Steamers ..... . 416

Simple Origin of important Discoveries . . . 426

Invention of the Safety Lamp ..... 427

The Thames Tunnel 428

Watchmaking in Switzerfand . . . . . 441

Perpetual Motion ...... 445

The Balsa 448


Mechanical Automata of the Ancients . . . 450

Automata of Daedalus ...... 450

Wooden Pigeon of Archytas . . . . 450

Automatic Clock of Charlemagne .... 450

- Automata of Muller and Turrianus . . . 451

Camus's Carriage 451

Degennes 1 Mechanical Peacock .... 452

Vaucanson's Duck 452

Drawing and writing Automata .... 453

Maillardefs Conjurer 453

Benefits derived from the passion for Automata . 454

Duncan^ Tambouring Machine ..... 455

Watt 1 s Statue-turning Machinery ..... -457

Babbage's Calculating Machine 457

Automaton Chess Player ...... 460

Chinese Bamboo Irrigation Wheel .... 469

Discovery of Gunpowder, and Inventions arising there-

from ... ... 470

A few Remarks on the Relation which subsists between

a Machine and its Model . . . . . 471

Shoes and Buckles . 475

The Croton Aqueduct ...... 476

Cugnot's Steam Carriage 479

Eloquent Description . . . . . . . 480

Watchmaker's Epitaph ...... 483



Fitch's Steamboat 31

The first American Locomotive ; or, the " Oructor Am-

phibolis " of Evans ...... 77

View of Pawtucket 93

Birth-place of Whitney 103

Cotton Gin, (Plan) 108

Ditto, (Section) 109

View of Whitney's Armory 124

Tomb of Whitney 135

Destruction of a British Tender by a Torpedo . . 141

Stationary Torpedo 166

Fulton's first American Steamboat . . . . 179

Blanchard r s Engine for turning irregular forms . . 203

Eddystone Bond . 225

Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm ..... 227

Hall-in-the-wood, neac Bolton 251

Arkwright's first Cotton Factory at Cromford . . .266

Aqueduct over the Irwell 307

Menai Suspension Bridge ...... 333

The Hydrostatic Press 351

Progress of Invention illustrated .... 353, 354

Wooden Pavement . 367

Spinning-wheel of India ...... 372

Hindoos weaving 373



Longitudina. Section of Thames Tunnel, showing its course

under the river 434

Longitudinal Section of Thames Tunnel, with an end view

of the Shield 434

Cross Section of Thames Tunnel, showing the arrange-
ment of the masonry 439

The Balsa 448

Chinese Irrigation Wheel 469

Croton Aqueduct ........ 478


Benjamin Franklin



Worcester . .



Oliver Evans . .
Samuel Slater . . .
Eli Whitney . . .
Amos Whittemore
Robert Fulton . .
Jstcob Perkins

. 69
. 84
. 100
. 146
. 157

James Ferguson . .
Samuel Crompton
Richard Arkwright .
James Watt . . .
James Brindley .

. 236
. 248
. 259
. 278
. 299

Thomas Blanchard .
John Smeaton . . .

. 196

Matthew Boulton . .
John Whitehurst . .

. 326
. 343




"The invention all admired, and each how he
To be the inventor missed : so easy it seemed.
Once found, which yet untound, most would have thought
Impossible." MILTON.

Who invented the first steamboat "? Early experimenters in steam Blasco
de Garay. Jonathan Hulls. Fitch's manuscript. Birth. Character of his
parents. Loses his mother. Juvenile heroism. Mother-in-law. Schoolboy
days. Becomes a great arithmetician. Father's austerity. Hears of a won-
derful book. Great thirst for knowledge. Self-denial and industry. Makes
a purchase. Becomes a great geographer. Father purchases him scale and
dividers. Great joy thereat. Studies surveying. Surveys with the governor,
and paid in glory. Leaves school for the farm. Brother's tyranny. Desires
to study astronomy. Relaxes from studious habits. Embarks as a cabin-boy
in a coaster. Cruel treatment. Leaves, ?nd enters another. Makes a short
voyage. Returns.' Accidental meeting with a clockmaker. Wishes to enter
his service. Sellish opposition of his parents. Kindness of his brother-in-
law. Enters the clockmaker's service. His neglect. Leaves in ignorance
of his profession. Enters the service of a clockmaker and watch repairer.
Gross injustice. Leaves. New employment, and success. A change, and
misfortune. Marries. Unhappy life. Abandons his wife. Wanders.. Visits
the Jerseys. Sickly appearance a prevention to obtaining empbyment as a
day-laborer. Turns button-maker. Revolutionary war. Repairs arms for
the continental army. Employed in Kentucky as a surveyor. Taken prisoner
by the Indians, and carried into captivity. Release. Returns to the east.
Fast idea of a steamboat Curious reflections. Dr. Thornton's account of
his experiments. Note. Biographical Sketch of Rumsey. Description of
Fitch's boat. Goes out tc*France. Return. Misfortunes. Generosity of a
relation. Visits Kentucky. Better prospects. Death.

" WHO invented the first steamboat ?" is a question which has
excited great controversy, an achievement of which nations as
well as individuals have been covetous.

Several of the early experimenters in steam appear to have con-
ceived of the idea. The first account we have on the subject is
given in a work recently published in Spain, containing original
papevp relating to the voyage of Columbus, said to have been pre.


served in the royal archives at Samancas, and among the public
papers of Catalonia and those of the secretary at war for the year
1543. This narrative states that " Blasco de Garay, a sea cap-
tain, exhibited to the emperor and king Charles V., in the year
1543, an engine by which ships and vessels of the largest size
could be propelled, even in a calm, without the aid of oars or sails.
Notwithstanding the opposition which this project encountered,
the emperor resolved that an experiment should be made, as in
fact it was, with success, in the harbor of Barcelona, on the 17th
of June, 1543. Garay never publicly exposed the construction of
his engine, but it was observed at the time of his experiment, that
it consisted of a large caldron or vessel of boiling water, and a
moveable wheel attached to each side of the ship. The experi-
ment was made on a ship of 209 tons, arrived from Calibre, to
discharge a cargo of wheat at Barcelona ; it was called the Tri-
nity, and the captain's name was Peter de Scarza. By order of
Charles V. and the prince Philip the Second, his son, there were
present at the time, Henry de Toledo, the governor, Peter Car-
dona, the treasurer, Ravage, the vice-chancellor, Francis Gralla,
and many other persons of rank, both Castilians and Catalonians ;
and among others, several sea captains witnessed the operation,
some in the vessel, and others on the shore. The emperor and
prince, and others with them, applauded the engine, and especially
the expertness with which the ship could be tacked. The trea-
surer Ravago, an enemy to the project, said it would move two
leagues in three hours. It was very complicated and expensive,
and exposed to the constant danger of bursting the boiler. The
other commissioners affirmed, that the vessel could be tacked
twice as quick as a galley served by the common method, and
that at its" slowest rate it would move a league in an hour. The
exhibition being finished, Garay took from the ship his engine,
and having deposited the wood work in the arsenal of Barcelona,
kept the rest to himself. Notwithstanding the difficulties and
opposition thrown in the way by Ravag*, the invention was ap-
proved ; and if the expedition in which Charles V. was then
engaged had not failed, it would undoubtedly have been favored
by him. As it was, he raised Garay to a higher station, gave
him a sum of money (200,000 maravedies) as a present, ordered
all the expenses of the experiment to be paid out of the general
treasury, and conferred upon him other rewards."

The editor of the Franklin Journal, from which this extract has
been made, observes, " when the Public Records ' shall appear
in an authentic form, their evidence must be admitted ; until then
he should not be inclined to commence the history of the inven.


tion of the steamboat so far back as 1543. For circumstantial aa
the account is, it seems to have been written since the days of

He is not alone in this opinion, as it is universally regarded
as a mere fiction, the offspring of an individual jealous of his
country's reputation.

The most prominent and authentic account of the early projects
of applying steam as a motive power to the propelling of vessels,
is given in a treatise printed in London in 1737, entitled " De-
scription and draught of a new-invented machine, for carrying
vessels out of, or into any harbor, port, or river, against wind and
tide or in a calm : for which his majesty George II. has granted
letters patent for the sole benefit of the author, for the space of
fourteen years ; by Jonathan Hulls." The draught or drawing
prefixed is a plate of a stout boat with chimney smoking, a pair
of wheels rigged out over each side of the stern, moved by means
of ropes passing round their outer rims ; and to the axis of these
wheels are fixed six paddles to propel the boat. From the stern
of the boat a tow-line passes to the foremast of a two-decker,
which the boat thus tows through the water. There is no evi-
dence that Hulls ever applied his conceptions to practice.

Since that time, down to the period of the great and successful
experiments of Fulton, several attempts were made here and in
Europe, with varied success. Among the most, if not the most
conspicuous, were those made by the subject of this article.

A few years previous to his death, Fitch prepared a memoir of
himself, including a history of his experiments in steam. These
papers were bequeathed to the Franklin Library of Philadelphia,
with directions that they should be unsealed and perused thirl y
years from the time of his decease. At the appointed period they
were opened, and found to contain a very full account of his life,
particularly of that portion which related to his experiments in
steam, including the progress of his operations from the time the
thought first occurred to him, until the completion of the boat so
far as to make numerous experiments on the Delaware, the sub-
sequent alterations made, and the final abandonment of the schen e
by the original stockholders.

These manuscripts show but one tissue of discouragements and
perplexities, and prove him to have been a strong-minded but un
lettered man, with a perseverance almost unexa.mpled, and a de-
termination to let no difficulty in the execution of his plan prevent
him from endeavoring to bring it to perfection, so long as the
shareholders furnished the means of defraying the expenses.
IndeeH, disappointment and oppression appear to have borne him


company from his very youth ; and, as he himself rema ks, it i
the history of one of the most " singular," as well as one of the
most "unfortunate men in the world!"

From this narrative we shall make liberal quotations, especially
from thai portion relating to his younger days. It is the incidents
of youth that give a tone and direction to character. We can
all of us refer to some of the most apparently trivial events of
earlier years that have completely changed the whole current of
our thoughts and pursuits. In the memoir before us there can
be 1 raced, with a minuteness uncommon even in biography, those
circumstances which moulded his strong mind into its peculiar
model ; and we can there perceive the origin of that misanthropical
cast of thought, that eccentricity of character and that looseness
of sentiment hi regard to concerns of a serious nature, which so
sirongly marked the author of its pages.

This memoir is addressed to the " worthy Nathaniel Irwin. ot
Neshamoney," in Pennsylvania, a clergyman and a gentleman of
whose talents and kindness of disposition Fitch had formed the
highest estimate, and who, it appears, once requested him to pre-
pare something of the kind. The principal reason which Fitch
gives for complying with this request was, that his life had been
filled with such a variety of changes, affording such useful lessons
to mankind, that he considered it a neglect of duty were he to
suppress it.

" The 21st of January, 1743, old style," says he, " was the
fatal time of bringing me into existence. The house I was born
in was upon the line between Hartford and Windsor (Connecticut.)
It was said I was born in Windsor ;* but from the singularity of
my make, shape, disposition, and fortune in the world, I am in-
clined to believe that it was the design of Heaven that I should be
born on the very line, and not in any township whatever ; yet am
happy also that it did not happen between two states, that I can
say I was born somewhere."

Fitch's father was a farmer in good circumstances. His be-
setting sin seems to have consisted in a want of generosity in
pecuniary affairs, so much so that his son observes, " I presume
he never spent five shillings at a tavern during the whole course
of his life." This, in our day, would be considered as a very
singular and inapt illustration of that trait of disposition ; but when
we remember the. customs of society at that period, and the total
deprivation of every thing like " amusement," inseparable from
the isolated condition of agriculturists, we shall comprehend some.

* Now East Windsor.


thing like tne spirit of the allusion. Still, his parent appears to
have been a good provider ; for he goes on to state, " we always
had plenty of victuals and drink in the house. In the whole course
of my acquaintance with him, I never knew him out of cider but
about two weeks, and never out of pickled pork. Our victuals
were coarse, but wholesome, such as pork and beans, codfish and
potatoes, hasty pudding and milk," and, what was particularly
valued, " always a stout hasty pudding after dinner." His pa.
rents had five children, two sons and two daughters, besides the*
" unfortunate John."

" From the time of my birth," says he, " until I was five years
of age, nothing material happened to me that I can recollect, any
more than crawling along the floor and picking ants out of the
cracks, and now and then catching a fly, which made as lively
impression on my mind, as great, perhaps, as the Trojan war on
the minds of heroes."

" When I was four years old I went to school : I know from
the circumstance that my mistress used to ask me how my mother
was, and she died when I was five years old. I recollect that I
learned to spell the first summer before my mother's death, whilst
I went to Mrs. Rockwell. I remember frequently spelling there
without the book the words commandment, Jerusalem, &c. But
soon the fatal day arrived when my mother's guardianship should
be taken from me, and early in the fall I was deprived of her.
Although I did not consider my loss, natural affection carried my
griefs to a very great excess for a child of my age." He here,
and frequently elsewhere, speaks of his mother with regard, and
no doubt her loss proved injurious to him. She was a kind and
affectionate woman, without those disagreeable traits which marked
the character of his other parent.

" When about six years of age," he remarks, " a most extra-
ordinary circumstance happened to me, worthy of the notice of a
Roman soldier." Returning from school about dusk one day, he
found no one in the house except a little sister, his second brother
being in the barn yard holding a "wicked cow" for his eldest
sister to milk. This little sister being anxious to show h'.m a
present which she had received during the day, it being too dark
to see without, lighted a candle to find it. Unfortunately, in her
search she set fire to two large bundles of flax standing in a dis-
tant corner of the room, which young Fitch no sooner observed,
than, with a presence of mind truly wonderful in a child so young,
he ran and seized one of the blazing bundles, which was more than
he was enabled to lift without resting it upon his knees, carried r.
to the Tiearth, and threw it down. In so doing he blistered his


hands and set his hair in a blaze, but, smothering the file on hi*
head with his naked hands, he sprang and grasped the other
bundle and brought it to the same place, blistering his hands and
setting his head on fire the second time, and putting it out in like
manner. Having done this, he jumped upon the bundles until the
fire was extinguished. " In the mean time," he says, " whilst I
was thus occupied, my little sister Chloe being frightened, ran to
the barn yard, and probably told my brother some improper story.
..When I had the fire put out, notwithstanding my painful hands
and smarting face, which was then covered with blisters, I went
to relate the tale to my elder brother ; but no sooner did I arrive
in the yard than he fell foul of me, boxing my ears and beating
me beyond reason for the greatest fault, and would not give me
leave to say a word in my behalf. As my father had that evening
gone a courting, I had nowhere to apply to for redress, therefore
was obliged not only to submit to the greatest indignities, but to
the greatest injustice. On his return I made complaints, but with-
out satisfaction or redress. This being what I may call the first
act of my life, seemed to forebode the future rewards that I was
to receive for my labors through it, which has generally corre-
sponded with that."

When he was about seven years old, his father married " ne
Abigail Church," whom he describes as being an orderly, easy.
tempered old maid of forty, possessing sense sufficient to manage
the affairs of the house.

" My father," he continues, " kept me constantly at school until
I was eight or nine years of age, as my schooling cost him nothing.
When the weather was too bad to go to school, he had goodness
enough to encourage my learning my book at home, and would
frequently teach me. Before I was ten years old I could say the
New England Primer all by heart, from Adam's fall to the end of
the catechism. But the most surprising thing of my learning ap-
pears to me to be this : My father had an old arithmetic book in
the house, by one Hodder, with the old-fashioned division in it.
I was able at nine years of age to make figures pretty well, as
well as to write a legible hand. Whenever I had a minute's lei-
sure I would have that book in my hand, and learned myself out

Online LibraryHenry HoweMemoirs of the most eminent American mechanics: also, lives of distinguished European mechanics; together with a collection of anecdotes, descriptions, &c., &c., relating to the mechanics arts. Illustrated by fifty engravings → online text (page 1 of 45)