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Industrial Biography by Samuel Smiles

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About this time a gas-work, the first in Glasgow, was projected, and
the company having been formed, the directors advertised for a
superintendent and foreman, to whom they offered a "liberal salary."
Though Beaumont had never seen gaslight before, except at the
illumination of his father's colliery office after the Peace of
Amiens, which was accomplished in a very simple and original manner,
without either condenser, purifier, or gas-holder, and though he knew
nothing of the art of gas-making, he had the courage to apply for the
situation. He was one of twenty candidates, and the fortunate one;
and in August, 1817, we find him appointed foreman of the Glasgow
Gasworks, for five years, at the salary of 90L. a year. Before the
expiry of his term he was reappointed for six years more, at the
advanced salary of 200L., with the status of manager and engineer of
the works. His salary was gradually increased to 400L. a year, with a
free dwelling-house, until 1847, when, after a faithful service of
thirty years, during which he had largely extended the central works,
and erected branch works in Tradeston and Partick, he finally
resigned the management.

The situation of manager of the Glasgow Gas-works was in many
respects well suited for the development of Mr. Neilson's peculiar
abilities. In the first place it afforded him facilities for
obtaining theoretical as well as practical knowledge in Chemical
Science, of which he was a diligent student at the Andersonian
University, as well as of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics in their
higher branches. In the next place it gave free scope for his
ingenuity in introducing improvements in the manufacture of gas, then
in its infancy. He was the first to employ clay retorts; and he
introduced sulphate of iron as a self-acting purifier, passing the
gas through beds of charcoal to remove its oily and tarry elements.
The swallow-tail or union jet was also his invention, and it has
since come into general use.

While managing the Gas-works, one of Mr.Neilson's labours of love was
the establishment and direction by him of a Workmen's Institution for
mutual improvement. Having been a workman himself, and experienced
the disadvantages of an imperfect education in early life, as well as
the benefits arising from improved culture in later years, he desired
to impart some of these advantages to the workmen in his employment,
who consisted chiefly of persons from remote parts of the Highlands
or from Ireland. Most of them could not even read, and his principal
difficulty consisted in persuading them that it was of any use to
learn. For some time they resisted his persuasions to form a
Workmen's Institution, with a view to the establishment of a library,
classes, and lectures, urging as a sufficient plea for not joining
it, that they could not read, and that books would be of no use to
them. At last Mr. Neilson succeeded, though with considerable
difficulty, in inducing fourteen of the workmen to adopt his plan.
Each member was to contribute a small sum monthly, to be laid out in
books, the Gas Company providing the members with a comfortable room
in which they might meet to read and converse in the evenings instead
of going to the alehouse. The members were afterwards allowed to take
the books home to read, and the room was used for the purpose of
conversation on the subjects of the books read by them, and
occasionally for lectures delivered by the members themselves on
geography, arithmetic, chemistry, and mechanics. Their numbers
increased so that the room in which they met became insufficient for
their accommodation, when the Gas Company provided them with a new
and larger place of meeting, together with a laboratory and workshop.
In the former they studied practical chemistry, and in the latter
they studied practical mechanics, making for themselves an air pump
and an electrifying machine, as well as preparing the various models
used in the course of the lectures. The effects on the workmen were
eminently beneficial, and the institution came to be cited as among
the most valuable of its kind in the kingdom.*
Article by Dugald Bannatyne in Glasgow Mechanic's Magazine, No. 53,
Dec. 1824.
Mr. Neilson throughout watched carefully over its working, and
exerted himself in all ways to promote its usefulness, in which he
had the zealous co-operation of the leading workmen themselves, and
the gratitude of all. On the opening of the new and enlarged rooms in
1825, we find him delivering an admirable address, which was thought
worthy of republication, together with the reply of George
Sutherland, one of the workmen, in which Mr. Neilson's exertions as
its founder and chief supporter were gratefully and forcibly
Glasgow Mechanic's Magazine, vol. iii. p. 159.

It was during the period of his connection with the Glasgow Gas-works
that Mr. Neilson directed his attention to the smelting of iron. His
views in regard to the subject were at first somewhat crude, as
appears from a paper read by him before the Glasgow Philosophical
Society early in 1825. It appears that in the course of the preceding
year his attention had been called to the subject by an iron-maker,
who asked him if he thought it possible to purify the air blown into
the blast furnaces, in like manner as carburetted hydrogen gas was
purified. The ironmaster supposed that it was the presence of sulphur
in the air that caused blast-furnaces to work irregularly, and to
make bad iron in the summer months. Mr. Neilson was of opinion that
this was not the true cause, and he was rather disposed to think it
attributable to the want of a due proportion of oxygen in summer,
when the air was more rarefied, besides containing more aqueous
vapour than in winter. He therefore thought the true remedy was in
some way or other to throw in a greater proportion of oxygen; and he
suggested that, in order to dry the air, it should be passed, on its
way to the furnace, through two long tunnels containing calcined
lime. But further inquiry served to correct his views, and eventually
led him to the true theory of blasting.

Shortly after, his attention was directed by Mr. James Ewing to a
defect in one of the Muirkirk blast-furnaces, situated about half a
mile distant from the blowing-engine, which was found not to work so
well as others which were situated close to it. The circumstances of
the case led Mr. Neilson to form the opinion that, as air increases
in volume according to temperature, if he were to heat it by passing
it through a red-hot vessel, its volume would be increased, according
to the well-known law, and the blast might thus be enabled to do more
duty in the distant furnace. He proceeded to make a series of
experiments at the Gas-works, trying the effect of heated air on the
illuminating power of gas, by bringing up a stream of it in a tube so
as to surround the gas-burner. He found that by this means the
combustion of the gas was rendered more intense, and its illuminating
power greatly increased. He proceeded to try a similar experiment on
a common smith's fire, by blowing the fire with heated air, and the
effect was the same; the fire was much more brilliant, and
accompanied by an unusually intense degree of heat.

Having obtained such marked results by these small experiments, it
naturally occurred to him that a similar increase in intensity of
combustion and temperature would attend the application of the
process to the blast-furnace on a large scale; but being only a
gas-maker, he had the greatest difficulty in persuading any
ironmaster to permit him to make the necessary experiment's with
blast-furnaces actually at work. Besides, his theory was altogether
at variance with the established practice, which was to supply air as
cold as possible, the prevailing idea being that the coldness of the
air in winter was the cause of the best iron being then produced.
Acting on these views, the efforts of the ironmasters had always been
directed to the cooling of the blast, and various expedients were
devised for the purpose. Thus the regulator was painted white, as
being the coolest colour; the air was passed over cold water, and in
some cases the air pipes were even surrounded by ice, all with the
object of keeping the blast cold. When, therefore, Mr. Neilson
proposed entirely to reverse the process, and to employ hot instead
of cold blast, the incredulity of the ironmasters may well be
imagined. What! Neilson, a mere maker of gas, undertake to instruct
practical men in the manufacture of iron! And to suppose that heated
air can be used for the purpose! It was presumption in the extreme,
or at best the mere visionary idea of a person altogether
unacquainted with the subject!

At length, however, Mr. Neilson succeeded in inducing Mr. Charles
Macintosh of Crossbasket, and Mr. Colin Dunlop of the Clyde Iron
Works, to allow him to make a trial of the hot air process. In the
first imperfect attempts the air was heated to little more than 80
degrees Fahrenheit, yet the results were satisfactory, and the
scoriae from the furnace evidently contained less iron. He was
therefore desirous of trying his plan upon a more extensive scale,
with the object, if possible, of thoroughly establishing the
soundness of his principle. In this he was a good deal hampered even
by those ironmasters who were his friends, and had promised him the
requisite opportunities for making a fair trial of the new process.
They strongly objected to his making the necessary alterations in the
furnaces, and he seemed to be as far from a satisfactory experiment
as ever. In one instance, where he had so far succeeded as to be
allowed to heat the blast-main, he asked permission to introduce
deflecting plates in the main or to put a bend in the pipe, so as to
bring the blast more closely against the heated sides of the pipe,
and also increase the area of heating surface, in order to raise the
temperature to a higher point; but this was refused, and it was said
that if even a bend were put in the pipe the furnace would stop
working. These prejudices proved a serious difficulty in the way of
our inventor, and several more years passed before he was allowed to
put a bend in the blast-main. After many years of perseverance, he
was, however, at length enabled to work out his plan into a definite
shape at the Clyde Iron Works, and its practical value was at once
admitted. At the meeting of the Mechanical Engineers' Society held in
May, 1859, Mr. Neilson explained that his invention consisted solely
in the principle of heating the blast between the engine and the
furnace, and was not associated with any particular construction of
the intermediate heating apparatus. This, he said, was the cause of
its success; and in some respects it resembled the invention of his
countryman, James Watt, who, in connection with the steam-engine,
invented the plan of condensing the steam in a separate vessel, and
was successful in maintaining his invention by not limiting it to any
particular construction of the condenser. On the same occasion he
took the opportunity of acknowledging the firmness with which the
English ironmasters had stood by him when attempts were made to
deprive him of the benefits of his invention; and to them he
acknowledged he was mainly indebted for the successful issue of the
severe contests he had to undergo. For there were, of course, certain
of the ironmasters, both English and Scotch, supporters of the cause
of free trade in others' inventions, who sought to resist the patent,
after it had come into general use, and had been recognised as one of
the most valuable improvements of modem times.*
Mr. Mushet described it as "a wonderful discovery," and one of the
"most novel and beautiful improvements in his time." Professor
Gregory of Aberdeen characterized it as "the greatest improvement
with which he was acquainted." Mr. Jessop, an extensive English iron
manufacturer, declared it to be "of as great advantage in the iron
trade as Arkwright's machinery was in the cotton-spinning trade; and
Mr. Fairbairn, in his contribution on "Iron" in the Encyclopaedia
Britannica, says that it "has effected an entire revolution in the
iron industry of Great Britain, and forms the last era in the history
of this material."

The patent was secured in 1828 for a term of fourteen years; but, as
Mr. Neilson did not himself possess the requisite capital to enable
him to perfect the invention, or to defend it if attacked, he found
it necessary to invite other gentlemen, able to support him in these
respects, to share its profits; retaining for himself only
three-tenths of the whole. His partners were Mr. Charles Macintosh,
Mr. Colin Dunlop, and Mr.John Wilson of Dundyvan. The charge made by
them was only a shilling a ton for all iron produced by the new
process; this low rate being fixed in order to ensure the
introduction of the patent into general use, as well as to reduce to
a minimum the temptations of the ironmasters to infringe it.

The first trials of the process were made at the blast-furnaces of
Clyde and Calder; from whence the use of the hot blast gradually
extended to the other iron-mining districts. In the course of a few
years every furnace in Scotland, with one exception (that at Carron),
had adopted the improvement; while it was also employed in half the
furnaces of England and Wales, and in many of the furnaces on the
Continent and in America. In course of time, and with increasing
experience, various improvements were introduced in the process, more
particularly in the shape of the air-heating vessels; the last form
adopted being that of a congeries of tubes, similar to the tubular
arrangement in the boiler of the locomotive, by which the greatest
extent of heating surface was provided for the thorough heating of
the air. By these modifications the temperature of the air introduced
into the furnace has been raised from 240 degrees to 600 degrees, or
the temperature of melting lead. To protect the nozzle of the
air-pipe as it entered the furnace against the action of the intense
heat to which it was subjected, a spiral pipe for a stream of cold
water constantly to play in has been introduced within the sides of
the iron tuyere through which the nozzle passes; by which means the
tuyere is kept comparatively cool, while the nozzle of the air-pipe
is effectually protected.*
The invention of the tubular air-vessels and the water-tuyere
belongs, we believe, to Mr. John Condie, sometime manager of the
Blair Iron Works.

This valuable invention did not escape the usual fate of successful
patents, and it was on several occasions the subject of protracted
litigation. The first action occurred in 1832; but the objectors
shortly gave in, and renewed their licence. In 1839, when the process
had become generally adopted throughout Scotland, and, indeed, was
found absolutely essential for smelting the peculiar ores of that
country--more especially Mushet's Black Band--a powerful combination
was formed amongst the ironmasters to resist the patent. The
litigation which ensued extended over five years, during which period
some twenty actions were proceeding in Scotland, and several in
England. Three juries sat upon the subject at different times, and on
three occasions appeals were carried to the House of Lords. One jury
trial occupied ten days, during which a hundred and two witnesses
were examined; the law costs on both sides amounting, it is supposed,
to at least 40,000L. The result was, that the novelty and merit of
Mr. Neilson's invention were finally established, and he was secured
in the enjoyment of the patent right.

We are gratified to add, that, though Mr. Neilson had to part with
two-thirds of the profits of the invention to secure the capital and
influence necessary to bring it into general use, he realized
sufficient to enable him to enjoy the evening of his life in peace
and comfort. He retired from active business to an estate which he
purchased in 1851 in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, where he is
found ready to lend a hand in every good work--whether in
agricultural improvement, railway extension, or the moral and social
good of those about him. Mindful of the success of his Workmen's
Institution at the Glasgow Gas-Works, he has, almost at his own door,
erected a similar Institution for the use of the parish in which his
property is situated, the beneficial effects of which have been very
marked in the district. We may add that Mr. Neilson's merits have
been recognised by many eminent bodies--by the Institution of Civil
Engineers, the Chemical Society, and others--the last honour
conferred on him being his election as a Member of the Royal Society
in 1846.

The invention of the hot blast, in conjunction with the discovery of
the Black Band ironstone, has had an extra ordinary effect upon the
development of the iron-manufacture of Scotland. The coals of that
country are generally unfit for coking, and lose as much as 55 per
cent. in the process. But by using the hot blast, the coal could be
sent to the blast-furnace in its raw state, by which a large saving
of fuel was effected.*
Mr. Mushet says, "The greatest produce in iron per furnace with the
Black Band and cold blast never exceeded 60 tons a-week. The produce
per furnace now averages 90 tons a-week. Ten tons of this I attribute
to the use of raw pit-coal, and the other twenty tons to the use of
hot blast." [Papers on Iron and Steel, 127.] The produce per furnace
is now 200 tons a-week and upwards. The hot blast process was
afterwards applied to the making of iron with the anthracite or stone
coal of Wales; for which a patent was taken out by George Crane in
1836. Before the hot blast was introduced, anthracite coal would not
act as fuel in the blast-furnace. When put in, it merely had the
effect of putting the fire out. With the aid of the hot blast,
however, it now proves to be a most valuable fuel in smelting.
Even coals of an inferior quality were by its means made available
for the manufacture of iron. But one of the peculiar qualities of the
Black Band ironstone is that in many cases it contains sufficient
coaly matter for purposes of calcination, without any admixture of
coal whatever. Before its discovery, all the iron manufactured in
Scotland was made from clay-band; but the use of the latter has in a
great measure been discontinued wherever a sufficient supply of Black
Band can be obtained. And it is found to exist very extensively in
most of the midland Scotch counties,--the coal and iron measures
stretching in a broad belt from the Firth of Forth to the Irish
Channel at the Firth of Clyde. At the time when the hot blast was
invented, the fortunes of many of the older works were at a low ebb,
and several of them had been discontinued; but they were speedily
brought to life again wherever Black Band could be found. In 1829,
the year after Neilson's patent was taken out, the total make of
Scotland was 29,000 tons. As fresh discoveries of the mineral were
made, in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, new works were erected, until, in
1845, we find the production of Scotch pig-iron had increased to
475,000 tons. It has since increased to upwards of a million of tons,
nineteen-twentieths of which are made from Black Band ironstone.*
It is stated in the North British Review for Nov. 1845, that "As in
Scotland every furnace--with the exception of one at Carron--now uses
the hot blast the saving on our present produce of 400,000 tons of
pig-iron is 2,000,000 tons of coals, 200,000 tons of limestone, and
#650,000 sterling per annum." But as the Scotch produce is now above
a million tons of pig-iron a year, the above figures will have to be
multiplied by 2 1/2 to give the present annual savings.

Employment has thus been given to vast numbers of our industrial
population, and the wealth and resources of the Scotch iron districts
have been increased to an extraordinary extent. During the last year
there were 125 furnaces in blast throughout Scotland, each employing
about 400 men in making an average of 200 tons a week; and the money
distributed amongst the workmen may readily be computed from the fact
that, under the most favourable circumstances, the cost of making
iron in wages alone amounts to 36s. a-ton.*
Papers read by Mr. Ralph Moore, Mining Engineer, Glasgow, before the
Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Edin. 1861, pp. 13, 14.

An immense additional value was given to all land in which the Black
Band was found. Mr. Mushet mentions that in 1839 the proprietor of
the Airdrie estate derived a royalty of 16,500L. from the mineral,
which had not before its discovery yielded him one farthing. At the
same time, many fortunes have been made by pushing and energetic men
who have of late years entered upon this new branch of industry.
Amongst these may be mentioned the Bairds of Gartsherrie, who vie
with the Guests and Crawshays of South Wales, and have advanced
themselves in the course of a very few years from the station of
small farmers to that of great capitalists owning estates in many
counties, holding the highest character commercial men, and ranking
among the largest employers of labour in the kingdom.



"L'invention nest-elle pas la poesie de la science? . . . Toutes les
grandes decouvertes portent avec elles la trace ineffacable d'une
pensee poetique. ll faut etre poete pour creer. Aussi, sommes-nous
convaincus que si les puissantes machines, veritable source de la
production et de l'industrie de nos jours, doivent recevoir des
modifications radicales, ce sera a des hommes d'imagination, et non
point a dea hommes purement speciaux, que l'on devra cette
transformation."--E. M. BATAILLE, Tr aite des Machines a Vapeur.

Tools have played a highly important part in the history of
civilization. Without tools and the ability to use them, man were
indeed but a "poor, bare, forked animal,"--worse clothed than the
birds, worse housed than the beaver, worse fed than the jackal. "Weak
in himself," says Carlyle, "and of small stature, he stands on a
basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot,
insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, Jest the very wind
supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load
for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft like a waste rag.
Nevertheless he can use tools, can devise tools: with these the
granite mountain melts into light dust before him; he kneads glowing
iron as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and
fire his unvarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools:
without tools he is nothing; with tools he is all." His very first
contrivances to support life were tools of the simplest and rudest
construction; and his latest achievements in the substitution of
machinery for the relief of the human hand and intellect are founded
on the use of tools of a still higher order. Hence it is not without
good reason that man has by some philosophers been defined as A

Tools, like everything else, had small beginnings. With the primitive
stone-hammer and chisel very little could be done. The felling of a
tree would occupy a workman a month, unless helped by the destructive
action of fire. Dwellings could not be built, the soil could not be
tilled, clothes could not be fashioned and made, and the hewing out
of a boat was so tedious a process that the wood must have been far
gone in decay before it could be launched. It was a great step in
advance to discover the art of working in metals, more especially in
steel, one of the few metals capable of taking a sharp edge and
keeping it. From the date of this discovery, working in wood and
stone would be found comparatively easy; and the results must
speedily have been felt not only in the improvement of man's daily
food, but in his domestic and social condition. Clothing could then
be made, the primitive forest could be cleared and tillage carried
on; abundant fuel could be obtained, dwellings erected, ships built,
temples reared; every improvement in tools marking a new step in the
development of the human intellect, and a further stage in the
progress of human civilization.

The earliest tools were of the simplest possible character,
consisting principally of modifications of the wedge; such as the
knife, the shears (formed of two knives working on a joint), the
chisel, and the axe. These, with the primitive hammer, formed the
principal stock-in-trade of the early mechanics, who were
handicraftsmen in the literal sense of the word. But the work which
the early craftsmen in wood, stone, brass, and iron, contrived to
execute, sufficed to show how much expertness in the handling of
tools will serve to compensate for their mechanical imperfections.
Workmen then sought rather to aid muscular strength than to supersede
it, and mainly to facilitate the efforts of manual skill. Another
tool became added to those mentioned above, which proved an
additional source of power to the workman. We mean the Saw, which was
considered of so much importance that its inventor was honoured with
a place among the gods in the mythology of the Greeks. This invention
is said to have been suggested by the arrangement of the teeth in the
jaw of a serpent, used by Talus the nephew of Daedalus in dividing a
piece of wood. From the representations of ancient tools found in the
paintings at Herculaneum it appears that the frame-saw used by the
ancients very nearly resembled that still in use; and we are informed
that the tools employed in the carpenters' shops at Nazareth at this
day are in most respects the same as those represented in the buried
Roman city. Another very ancient tool referred to in the Bible and in
Homer was the File, which was used to sharpen weapons and implements.
Thus the Hebrews "had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters,
and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads."*
1 Samuel, ch. xiii. v. 21.
When to these we add the adze, plane-irons, the anger, and the
chisel, we sum up the tools principally relied on by the early
mechanics for working in wood and iron.

Such continued to be the chief tools in use down almost to our own
day. The smith was at first the principal tool-maker; but special
branches of trade were gradually established, devoted to tool-making.
So long, however, as the workman relied mainly on his dexterity of
hand, the amount of production was comparatively limited; for the
number of skilled workmen was but small. The articles turned out by
them, being the product of tedious manual labour, were too dear to
come into common use, and were made almost exclusively for the richer
classes of the community. It was not until machinery had been
invented and become generally adopted that many of the ordinary
articles of necessity and of comfort were produced in sufficient
abundance and at such prices as enabled them to enter into the
consumption of the great body of the people.

But every improver of tools had a long and difficult battle to fight;
for any improvement in their effective power was sure to touch the
interests of some established craft. Especially was this the case
with machines, which are but tools of a more complete though
complicated kind than those above described.

Take, for instance, the case of the Saw. The tedious drudgery of
dividing timber by the old fashioned hand-saw is well known. To avoid
it, some ingenious person suggested that a number of saws should be
fixed to a frame in a mill, so contrived as to work with a
reciprocating motion, upwards and downwards, or backwards and
forwards, and that this frame so mounted should be yoked to the mill
wheel, and the saws driven by the power of wind or water. The plan
was tried, and, as may readily be imagined, the amount of effective
work done by this machine-saw was immense, compared with the tedious
process of sawing by hand.

It will be observed, however, that the new method must have seriously
interfered with the labour of the hand-sawyers; and it was but
natural that they should regard the establishment of the saw-mills
with suspicion and hostility. Hence a long period elapsed before the
hand-sawyers would permit the new machinery to be set up and worked.
The first saw-mill in England was erected by a Dutchman, near London,
in 1663, but was shortly abandoned in consequence of the determined
hostility of the workmen. More than a century passed before a second
saw-mill was set up; when, in 1767, Mr. John Houghton, a London
timber-merchant, by the desire and with the approbation of the
Society of Arts, erected one at Limehouse, to be driven by wind. The
work was directed by one James Stansfield, who had gone over to
Holland for the purpose of learning the art of constructing and
managing the sawing machinery. But the mill was no sooner erected
than a mob assembled and razed it to the ground. The principal
rioters having been punished, and the loss to the proprietor having
been made good by the nation, a new mill was shortly after built, and
it was suffered to work without further molestation.

Improved methods of manufacture have usually had to encounter the
same kind of opposition. Thus, when the Flemish weavers came over to
England in the seventeenth century, bringing with them their skill
and their industry, they excited great jealousy and hostility amongst
the native workmen. Their competition as workmen was resented as an
injury, but their improved machinery was regarded as a far greater
source of mischief. In a memorial presented to the king in 1621 we
find the London weavers complaining of the foreigners' competition,
but especially that "they have made so bould of late as to devise
engines for working of tape, lace, ribbin, and such like, wherein one
man doth more among them than 7 Englishe men can doe; so as their
cheap sale of commodities beggereth all our Englishe artificers of
that trade, and enricheth them."*
State Papers, Dom. 1621, Vol. 88, No. 112.

At a much more recent period new inventions have had to encounter
serious rioting and machine-breaking fury. Kay of the fly-shuttle,
Hargreaves of the spinning-jenny, and Arkwright of the
spinning-frame, all had to fly from Lancashire, glad to escape with
their lives. Indeed, says Mr. Bazley, "so jealous were the people,
and also the legislature, of everything calculated to supersede men's
labour, that when the Sankey Canal, six miles long, near Warrington,
was authorized about the middle of last century, it was on the
express condition that the boats plying on it should be drawn by men
Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 2nd Series,
Even improved agricultural tools and machines have had the same
opposition to encounter; and in our own time bands of rural labourers
have gone from farm to farm breaking drill-ploughs, winnowing,
threshing, and other machines, down even to the common drills,--not
perceiving that if their policy had proved successful, and tools
could have been effectually destroyed, the human race would at once
have been reduced to their teeth and nails, and civilization
summarily abolished.*
Dr. Kirwan, late President of the Royal Irish Academy, who had
travelled much on the continent of Europe, used to relate, when
speaking of the difficulty of introducing improvements in the arts
and manufactures, and of the prejudices entertained for old
practices, that, in Normandy, the farmers had been so long accustomed
to the use of plough's whose shares were made entirely of WOOD that
they could not be prevailed on to make trial of those with IRON; that
they considered them to be an idle and useless innovation on the
long-established practices of their ancestors; and that they carried
these prejudices so far as to force the government to issue an edict
on the subject. And even to the last they were so obstinate in their
attachment to ploughshares of wood that a tumultuous opposition was
made to the enforcement of the edict, which for a short time
threatened a rebellion in the province.-- PARKES, Chemical Essays,
4th Ed. 473.

It is, no doubt, natural that the ordinary class of workmen should
regard with prejudice, if not with hostility, the introduction of
machines calculated to place them at a disadvantage and to interfere
with their usual employments; for to poor and not very far-seeing men
the loss of daily bread is an appalling prospect. But invention does
not stand still on that account. Human brains WILL work. Old tools
are improved and new ones invented, superseding existing methods of
production, though the weak and unskilled may occasionally be pushed
aside or even trodden under foot. The consolation which remains is,
that while the few suffer, society as a whole is vastly benefitted by
the improved methods of production which are suggested, invented, and
perfected by the experience of successive generations.

The living race is the inheritor of the industry and skill of all
past times; and the civilization we enjoy is but the sum of the
useful effects of labour during the past centuries. Nihil per saltum.
By slow and often painful steps Nature's secrets have been mastered.
Not an effort has been made but has had its influence. For no human
labour is altogether lost; some remnant of useful effect surviving
for the benefit of the race, if not of the individual. Even attempts
apparently useless have not really been so, but have served in some
way to advance man to higher knowledge, skill, or discipline. "The
loss of a position gained," says Professor Thomson, "is an event
unknown in the history of man's struggle with the forces of inanimate
nature." A single step won gives a firmer foothold for further
effort. The man may die, but the race survives and continues the
work,--to use the poet's simile, mounting on stepping-stones of dead
selves to higher selves.

Philarete Chasles, indeed, holds that it is the Human Race that is
your true inventor: "As if to unite all generations," he says, "and
to show that man can only act efficiently by association with others,
it has been ordained that each inventor shall only interpret the
first word of the problem he sets himself to solve, and that every
great idea shall be the RESUME of the past at the same time that it
is the germ of the future." And rarely does it happen that any
discovery or invention of importance is made by one man alone. The
threads of inquiry are taken up and traced, one labourer succeeding
another, each tracing it a little further, often without apparent
result. This goes on sometimes for centuries, until at length some
man, greater perhaps than his fellows, seeking to fulfil the needs of
his time, gathers the various threads together, treasures up the gain
of past successes and failures, and uses them as the means for some
solid achievement, Thus Newton discovered the law of gravitation, and
thus James Watt invented the steam-engine. So also of the Locomotive,
of which Robert Stephenson said, "It has not been the invention of
any one man, but of a race of mechanical engineers." Or, as Joseph
Bramah observed, in the preamble to his second Lock patent, "Among
the number of patents granted there are comparatively few which can
be called original so that it is difficult to say where the boundary
of one ends and where that of another begins."

The arts are indeed reared but slowly; and it was a wise observation
of Lord Bacon that we are too apt to pass those ladders by which they
have been reared, and reflect the whole merit on the last new
performer. Thus, what is hailed as an original invention is often
found to be but the result of a long succession of trials and
experiments gradually following each other, which ought rather to be
considered as a continuous series of achievements of the human mind
than as the conquest of any single individual. It has sometimes taken
centuries of experience to ascertain the value of a single fact in
its various bearings. Like man himself, experience is feeble and
apparently purposeless in its infancy, but acquires maturity and
strength with age. Experience, however, is not limited to a lifetime,
but is the stored-up wealth and power of our race. Even amidst the
death of successive generations it is constantly advancing and
accumulating, exhibiting at the same time the weakness and the power,
the littleness and the greatness of our common humanity. And not only
do we who live succeed to the actual results of our predecessors'
labours,--to their works of learning and of art, their inventions and
discoveries, their tools and machines, their roads, bridges , canals,
and railways,--but to the inborn aptitudes of blood and brain which
they bequeath to us, to that "educability," so to speak, which has
been won for us by the labours of many generations, and forms our
richest natural heritage.

The beginning of most inventions is very remote. The first idea, born
within some unknown brain, passes thence into others, and at last
comes forth complete, after a parturition, it may be, of centuries.
One starts the idea, another developes it, and so on progressively
until at last it is elaborated and worked out in practice; but the
first not less than the last is entitled to his share in the merit of
the invention, were it only possible to measure and apportion it
duly. Sometimes a great original mind strikes upon some new vein of
hidden power, and gives a powerful impulse to the inventive faculties
of man, which lasts through generations. More frequently, however,
inventions are not entirely new, but modifications of contrivances
previously known, though to a few, and not yet brought into practical
use. Glancing back over the history of mechanism, we occasionally see
an invention seemingly full born, when suddenly it drops out of
sight, and we hear no more of it for centuries. It is taken up de
novo by some inventor, stimulated by the needs of his time, and
falling again upon the track, he recovers the old footmarks, follows
them up, and completes the work.

There is also such a thing as inventions being born before their time
--the advanced mind of one generation projecting that which cannot be
executed for want of the requisite means; but in due process of time,
when mechanism has got abreast of the original idea, it is at length
carried out; and thus it is that modern inventors are enabled to
effect many objects which their predecessors had tried in vain to
accomplish. As Louis Napoleon has said, "Inventions born before their
time must remain useless until the level of common intellects rises
to comprehend them." For this reason, misfortune is often the lot of
the inventor before his time, though glory and profit may belong to
his successors. Hence the gift of inventing not unfrequently involves
a yoke of sorrow. Many of the greatest inventors have lived neglected
and died unrequited, before their merits could be recognised and
estimated. Even if they succeed, they often raise up hosts of enemies
in the persons whose methods they propose to supersede. Envy, malice,
and detraction meet them in all their forms; they are assailed by
combinations of rich and unscrupulous persons to wrest from them the
profits of their ingenuity; and last and worst of all, the successful
inventor often finds his claims to originality decried, and himself
branded as a copyist and a pirate.

Among the inventions born out of time, and before the world could
make adequate use of them, we can only find space to allude to a few,
though they are so many that one is almost disposed to accept the
words of Chaucer as true, that "There is nothing new but what has
once been old;" or, as another writer puts it, "There is nothing new
but what has before been known and forgotten;" or, in the words of
Solomon, "The thing that hath been is that which shall be, and there
is no new thing under the sun." One of the most important of these is
the use of Steam, which was well known to the ancients; but though it
was used to grind drugs, to turn a spit, and to excite the wonder and
fear of the credulous, a long time elapsed before it became employed
as a useful motive-power. The inquiries and experiments on the
subject extended through many ages. Friar Bacon, who flourished in
the thirteenth century, seems fully to have anticipated, in the
following remarkable passage, nearly all that steam could accomplish,
as well as the hydraulic engine and the diving-bell, though the
flying machine yet remains to be invented: --

"I will now," says the Friar, "mention some of the wonderful works of
art and nature in which there is nothing of magic, and which magic
could not perform. Instruments may be made by which the largest
ships, with only one man guiding them, will be carried with greater
velocity than if they were full of sailors. Chariots may be
constructed that will move with incredible rapidity, without the help
of animals. Instruments of flying may be formed, in which a man,
sitting at his ease and meditating on any subject, may beat the air
with his artificial wings, after the manner of birds. A small
instrument may be made to raise or depress the greatest weights. An
instrument may be fabricated by which one man may draw a thousand men
to him by force and against their will; as also machines which will
enable men to walk at the bottom of seas or rivers without danger."
It is possible that Friar Bacon derived his knowledge of the powers
which he thus described from the traditions handed down of former
inventions which had been neglected and allowed to fall into
oblivion; for before the invention of printing, which enabled the
results of investigation and experience to be treasured up in books,
there was great risk of the inventions of one age being lost to the
succeeding generations. Yet Disraeli the elder is of opinion that the
Romans had invented printing without being aware of it; or perhaps
the senate dreaded the inconveniences attending its use, and did not
care to deprive a large body of scribes of their employment. They
even used stereotypes, or immovable printing-types, to stamp
impressions on their pottery, specimens of which still exist. In
China the art of printing is of great antiquity. Lithography was well
known in Germany, by the very name which it still bears, nearly three
hundred years before Senefelder reinvented it; and specimens of the
ancient art are yet to be seen in the Royal Museum at Munich.*
EDOUARD FOURNIER, Vieux-Neuf, i. 339.

Steam-locomotion by sea and land, had long been dreamt of and
attempted. Blasco de Garay made his experiment in the harbour of
Barcelona as early as 1543; Denis Papin made a similar attempt at
Cassel in 1707; but it was not until Watt had solved the problem of
the steam-engine that the idea of the steam-boat could be developed
in practice, which was done by Miller of Dalswinton in 1788. Sages
and poets have frequently foreshadowed inventions of great social
moment. Thus Dr. Darwin's anticipation of the locomotive, in his
Botanic Garden, published in 1791, before any locomotive had been
invented, might almost be regarded as prophetic:

Soon shall thy arm, unconquered Steam! afar
Drag the slow barge, and drive the rapid car.

Denis Papin first threw out the idea of atmospheric locomotion; and
Gauthey, another Frenchman, in 1782 projected a method of conveying
parcels and merchandise by subterraneous tubes,*
Memoires de l' Academie des Sciences, 6 Feb. 1826.
after the method recently patented and brought into operation by the
London Pneumatic Despatch Company. The balloon was an ancient Italian
invention, revived by Mongolfier long after the original had been
forgotten. Even the reaping machine is an old invention revived. Thus
Barnabe Googe, the translator of a book from the German entitled 'The
whole Arte and Trade of Husbandrie,' published in 1577, in the reign
of Elizabeth, speaks of the reaping-machine as a worn-out
invention--a thing "which was woont to be used in France. The device
was a lowe kinde of carre with a couple of wheeles, and the frunt
armed with sharpe syckles, whiche, forced by the beaste through the
corne, did cut down al before it. This tricke," says Googe, "might be
used in levell and champion countreys; but with us it wolde make but
ill-favoured woorke."*
Farmer's Magazine, 1817, No. ixxi. 291.
The Thames Tunnel was thought an entirely new manifestation of
engineering genius; but the tunnel under the Euphrates at ancient
Babylon, and that under the wide mouth of the harbour at Marseilles
(a much more difficult work), show that the ancients were beforehand
with us in the art of tunnelling. Macadamized roads are as old as the
Roman empire; and suspension bridges, though comparatively new in
Europe, have been known in China for centuries.

There is every reason to believe--indeed it seems clear that the
Romans knew of gunpowder, though they only used it for purposes of
fireworks; while the secret of the destructive Greek fire has been
lost altogether. When gunpowder came to be used for purposes of war,
invention busied itself upon instruments of destruction. When
recently examining the Museum of the Arsenal at Venice, we were
surprised to find numerous weapons of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries embodying the most recent English improvements in arms,
such as revolving pistols, rifled muskets, and breech-loading cannon.
The latter, embodying Sir William Armstrong's modem idea, though in a
rude form, had been fished up from the bottom of the Adriatic, where
the ship armed with them had been sunk hundreds of years ago. Even
Perkins's steam-gun was an old invention revived by Leonardo da Vinci
and by him attributed to Archimedes.*
Vieux-Neuf, i. 228; Inventa Nova-Antiqua, 742.
The Congreve rocket is said to have an Eastern origin, Sir William
Congreve having observed its destructive effects when employed by the
forces under Tippoo Saib in the Mahratta war, on which he adopted and
improved the missile, and brought out the invention as his own.

Coal-gas was regularly used by the Chinese for lighting purposes long
before it was known amongst us. Hydropathy was generally practised by
the Romans, who established baths wherever they went. Even chloroform
is no new thing. The use of ether as an anaesthetic was known to
Albertus Magnus, who flourished in the thirteenth century; and in his
works he gives a recipe for its preparation. In 1681 Denis Papin
published his Traite des Operations sans Douleur, showing that he had
discovered methods of deadening pain. But the use of anaesthetics is
much older than Albertus Magnus or Papin; for the ancients had their
nepenthe and mandragora; the Chinese their mayo, and the Egyptians
their hachisch (both preparations of Cannabis Indica), the effects of
which in a great measure resemble those of chloroform. What is
perhaps still more surprising is the circumstance that one of the
most elegant of recent inventions, that of sun-painting by the
daguerreotype, was in the fifteenth century known to Leonardo da
Vieux-Neuf, i. 19. See also Inventa Nova-Antiqua, 803.
whose skill as an architect and engraver, and whose accomplishments
as a chemist and natural philosopher, have been almost entirely
overshadowed by his genius as a painter.*
Mr. Hallam, in his Introduction to the History of Europe, pronounces
the following remarkable eulogium on this extraordinary genius: --
"If any doubt could be harboured, not only as to the right of
Leonardo da Vinci to stand as 'the first name of the fifteenth
century, which is beyond all doubt, but as to his originality in so
many discoveries, which probably no one man, especially in such
circumstances, has ever made, it must be on an hypothesis not very
untenable, that some parts of physical science had already attained a
height which mere books do not record." "Unpublished MSS. by Leonado
contain discoveries and anticipations of discoveries," says Mr.
Hallam, "within the compass of a few pages, so as to strike us with
something like the awe of preternatural knowledge."
The idea, thus early born, lay in oblivion until 1760, when the
daguerreotype was again clearly indicated in a book published in
Paris, written by a certain Tiphanie de la Roche, under the
anagrammatic title of Giphantie. Still later, at the beginning of the
present century, we find Thomas Wedgwood, Sir Humphry Davy, and James
Watt, making experiments on the action of light upon nitrate of
silver; and only within the last few months a silvered copper-plate
has been found amongst the old household lumber of Matthew Boulton
(Watt's partner), having on it a representation of the old premises
at Soho, apparently taken by some such process.*
The plate is now to be seen at the Museum of Patents at South
Kensington. In the account which has been published of the above
discovery it is stated that "an old man of ninety (recently dead or
still alive) recollected, or recollects, that Watt and others used to
take portraits of people in a dark (?) room; and there is a letter
extant of Sir William Beechey, begging the Lunar Society to desist
from these experiments, as, were the process to succeed, it would
ruin portrait-painting."

In like manner the invention of the electric telegraph, supposed to
be exclusively modern, was clearly indicated by Schwenter in his
Delasements Physico-Mathematiques, published in 1636; and he there
pointed out how two individuals could communicate with each other by
means of the magnetic needle. A century later, in 1746, Le Monnier
exhibited a series of experiments in the Royal Gardens at Paris,
showing how electricity could be transmitted through iron wire 950
fathoms in length; and in 1753 we find one Charles Marshall
publishing a remarkable description of the electric telegraph in the
Scots Magazine, under the title of 'An expeditions Method of
conveying Intelligence.' Again, in 1760, we find George Louis Lesage,
professor of mathematics at Geneva, promulgating his invention of an
electric telegraph, which he eventually completed and set to work in
1774. This instrument was composed of twenty-four metallic wires,
separate from each other and enclosed in a non-conducting substance.
Each wire ended in a stalk mounted with a little ball of elder-wood
suspended by a silk thread. When a stream of electricity, no matter
how slight., was sent through the wire, the elder-ball at the
opposite end was repelled, such movement designating some letter of
the alphabet. A few years later we find Arthur Young, in his Travels
in France, describing a similar machine invented by a M. Lomond of
Paris, the action of which he also describes.*
"l6th Oct.l787. In the evening to M. Lomond, a very ingenious and
inventive mechanic, who has made an improvement of the jenny for
spinning cotton. Common machines are said to make too hard a thread
for certain fabrics, but this forms it loose and spongy. In
electricity he has made a remarkable discovery: you write two or
three words on a paper; he takes it with him into a room, and turns a
machine inclosed in a cylindrical case, at the top of which is an
electrometer, a small fine pith ball; a wire connects with a similar
cylinder and electrometer in a distant apartment; and his wife, by
remarking the corresponding motions of the ball, writes down the
words they indicate; from which it appears that he has formed an
alphabet of motions. As the length of the wire makes no difference in
the effect, a correspondence might be carried on at any distance:
within and without a besieged town, for instance; or for a purpose
much more worthy, and a thousand times more harmless, between two
lovers prohibited or prevented from any better connexion. Whatever
the use may be, the invention is beautiful."--Arthur Young's Travels
in France in 1787-8-9. London, 1792, 4to. ed. p. 65.
In these and similar cases, though the idea was born and the model of
the invention was actually made, it still waited the advent of the
scientific mechanical inventor who should bring it to perfection, and
embody it in a practical working form.

Some of the most valuable inventions have descended to us without the
names of their authors having been preserved. We are the inheritors
of an immense legacy of the results of labour and ingenuity, but we
know not the names of our benefactors. Who invented the watch as a
measurer of time? Who invented the fast and loose pulley? Who
invented the eccentric? Who, asks a mechanical inquirer,*
Mechanic's Magazine, 4th Feb. 1859.
"invented the method of cutting screws with stocks and dies? Whoever
he might be, he was certainly a great benefactor of his species. Yet
(adds the writer) his name is not known, though the invention has
been so recent." This is not, however, the case with most modern
inventions, the greater number of which are more or less disputed.
Who was entitled to the merit of inventing printing has never yet been
determined. Weber and Senefelder both laid claim to the invention of
lithography, though it was merely an old German art revived. Even the
invention of the penny-postage system by Sir Rowland Hill is
disputed; Dr. Gray of the British Museum claiming to be its inventor,
and a French writer alleging it to be an old French invention.*
A writer in the Monde says: --"The invention of postage-stamps. is far
from being so modern as is generally supposed. A postal regulation in
France of the year 1653, which has recently come to light, gives
notice of the creation of pre-paid tickets to be used for Paris
instead of money payments. These tickets were to be dated and
attached to the letter or wrapped round it, in such a manner that the
postman could remove and retain them on delivering the missive. These
franks were to be sold by the porters of the convents, prisons,
colleges, and other public institutions, at the price of one sou."
The invention of the steamboat has been claimed on behalf of Blasco
de Garay, a Spaniard, Papin, a Frenchman, Jonathan Hulls, an
Englishman, and Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, a Scotchman. The
invention of the spinning machine has been variously attributed to
Paul, Wyatt, Hargreaves, Higley, and Arkwright. The invention of the
balance-spring was claimed by Huyghens, a Dutchman, Hautefeuille, a
Frenchman, and Hooke, an Englishman. There is scarcely a point of
detail in the locomotive but is the subject of dispute. Thus the
invention of the blast-pipe is claimed for Trevithick, George
Stephenson, Goldsworthy Gurney, and Timothy Hackworth; that of the
tubular boiler by Seguin, Stevens, Booth, and W. H. James; that of
the link-motion by John Gray, Hugh Williams, and Robert Stephenson.

Indeed many inventions appear to be coincident. A number of minds are
working at the same time in the same track, with the object of
supplying some want generally felt; and, guided by the same
experience, they not unfrequently arrive at like results. It has
sometimes happened that the inventors have been separated by great
distances, so that piracy on the part of either was impossible. Thus
Hadley and Godfrey almost simultaneously invented the quadrant, the
one in London, the other in Philadelphia; and the process of
electrotyping was invented at the same time by Mr. Spencer, a working
chemist at Liverpool, and by Professor Jacobi at St. Petersburg. The
safety-lamp was a coincident invention, made about the same time by
Sir Humphry Davy and George Stephenson; and perhaps a still more
remarkable instance of a coincident discovery was that of the planet
Neptune by Leverrier at Paris, and by Adams at Cambridge.

It is always difficult to apportion the due share of merit which
belongs to mechanical inventors, who are accustomed to work upon each
other's hints and suggestions, as well as by their own experience.
Some idea of this difficulty may be formed from the fact that, in the
course of our investigations as to the origin of the planing
machine--one of the most useful of modern tools--we have found that
it has been claimed on behalf of six inventors--Fox of Derby, Roberts
of Manchester, Matthew Murray of Leeds, Spring of Aberdeen, Clement
and George Rennie of London; and there may be other claimants of whom
we have not yet heard. But most mechanical inventions are of a very
composite character, and are led up to by the labour and the study of
a long succession of workers. Thus Savary and Newcomen led up to
Watt; Cugnot, Murdock, and Trevithick to the Stephensons; and
Maudslay to Clement, Roberts, Nasmyth, Whitworth, and many more
mechanical inventors. There is scarcely a process in the arts but has
in like manner engaged mind after mind in bringing it to perfection.
"There is nothing," says Mr. Hawkshaw, "really worth having that man
has obtained, that has not been the result of a combined and gradual
process of investigation. A gifted individual comes across some old
footmark, stumbles on a chain of previous research and inquiry. He
meets, for instance, with a machine, the result of much previous
labour; he modifies it, pulls it to pieces, constructs and
reconstructs it, and by further trial and experiment he arrives at
the long sought-for result."*
Inaugural Address delivered before the Institution of Civil
Engineers, l4th Jan. 1862.

But the making of the invention is not the sole difficulty. It is one
thing to invent, said Sir Marc Brunel, and another thing to make the
invention work. Thus when Watt, after long labour and study, had
brought his invention to completion, he encountered an obstacle which
has stood in the way of other inventors, and for a time prevented the
introduction of their improvements, if not led to their being laid
aside and abandoned. This was the circumstance that the machine
projected was so much in advance of the mechanical capability of the
age that it was with the greatest difficulty it could be executed.
When labouring upon his invention at Glasgow, Watt was baffled and
thrown into despair by the clumsiness and incompetency of his
workmen. Writing to Dr. Roebuck on one occasion, he said, "You ask
what is the principal hindrance in erecting engines? It is always the
smith-work." His first cylinder was made by a whitesmith, of hammered
iron soldered together, but having used quicksilver to keep the
cylinder air-tight, it dropped through the inequalities into the
interior, and "played the devil with the solder." Yet, inefficient
though the whitesmith was, Watt could ill spare him, and we find him
writing to Dr. Roebuck almost in despair, saying, "My old white-iron
man is dead!" feeling his loss to be almost irreparable. His next
cylinder was cast and bored at Carron, but it was so untrue that it
proved next to useless. The piston could not be kept steam tight,
notwithstanding the various expedients which were adopted of stuffing
it with paper, cork, putty, pasteboard, and old hat. Even after Watt
had removed to Birmingham, and he had the assistance of Boulton's
best workmen, Smeaton expressed the opinion, when he saw the engine
at work, that notwithstanding the excellence of the invention, it
could never be brought into general use because of the difficulty of
getting its various parts manufactured with sufficient precision. For
a long time we find Watt, in his letters, complaining to his partner
of the failure of his engines through "villainous bad workmanship."
Sometimes the cylinders, when cast, were found to be more than an
eighth of an inch wider at one end than the other; and under such
circumstances it was impossible the engine could act with precision.
Yet better work could not be had. First-rate workmen in machinery did
not as yet exist; they were only in process of education. Nearly
everything had to be done by hand. The tools used were of a very
imperfect kind. A few ill-constructed lathes, with some drills and
boring-machines of a rude sort, constituted the principal furniture
of the workshop. Years after, when Brunel invented his
block-machines, considerable time elapsed before he could find
competent mechanics to construct them, and even after they had been
constructed he had equal difficulty in finding competent hands to
work them.*
BEAMISH'S Memoir of Sir I. M. Brunel, 79, 80.

Watt endeavoured to remedy the defect by keeping certain sets of
workmen to special classes of work, allowing them to do nothing else.
Fathers were induced to bring up their sons at the same bench with
themselves, and initiate them in the dexterity which they had
acquired by experience; and at Soho it was not unusual for the same
precise line of work to be followed by members of the same family for
three generations. In this way as great a degree of accuracy of a
mechanical kind was arrived at was practicable under the
circumstances. But notwithstanding all this care, accuracy of fitting
could not be secured so long as the manufacture of steam-engines was
conducted mainly by hand. There was usually a considerable waste of
steam, which the expedients of chewed paper and greased hat packed
outside the piston were insufficient to remedy; and it was not until
the invention of automatic machine-tools by the mechanical engineers
about to be mentioned, that the manufacture of the steam-engine
became a matter of comparative ease and certainty. Watt was compelled
to rest satisfied with imperfect results, arising from imperfect
workmanship. Thus, writing to Dr. Small respecting a cylinder 18
inches in diameter, he said, "at the worst place the long diameter
exceeded the short by only three-eighths of an inch." How different
from the state of things at this day, when a cylinder five feet wide
will be rejected as a piece of imperfect workmanship if it be found
to vary in any part more than the 80th part of an inch in diameter!

Not fifty years since it was a matter of the utmost difficulty to set
an engine to work, and sometimes of equal difficulty to keep it
going. Though fitted by competent workmen, it often would not go at
all. Then the foreman of the factory at which it was made was sent
for, and he would almost live beside the engine for a month or more;
and after easing her here and screwing her up there, putting in a new
part and altering an old one, packing the piston and tightening the
valves, the machine would at length begot to work.*
There was the same clumsiness in all kinds of mill-work before the
introduction of machine-tools. We have heard of a piece of machinery
of the old school, the wheels of which, when set to work, made such a
clatter that the owner feared the engine would fall to pieces. The
foreman who set it agoing, after working at it until he was almost in
despair, at last gave it up, saving, "I think we had better leave the
cogs to settle their differences with one another: they will grind
themselves right in time!"
Now the case is altogether different. The perfection of modern
machine-tools is such that the utmost possible precision is secured,
and the mechanical engineer can calculate on a degree of exactitude
that does not admit of a deviation beyond the thousandth part of an
inch. When the powerful oscillating engines of the 'Warrior' were put
on board that ship, the parts, consisting of some five thousand
separate pieces, were brought from the different workshops of the
Messrs. Penn and Sons, where they had been made by workmen who knew
not the places they were to occupy, and fitted together with such
precision that so soon as the steam was raised and let into the
cylinders, the immense machine began as if to breathe and move like a
living creature, stretching its huge arms like a new-born giant, and
then, after practising its strength a little and proving its
soundness in body and limb, it started off with the power of above a
thousand horses to try its strength in breasting the billows of the
North Sea.

Such are among the triumphs of modern mechanical engineering, due in
a great measure to the perfection of the tools by means of which all
works in metal are now fashioned. These tools are themselves among
the most striking results of the mechanical invention of the day.
They are automata of the most perfect kind, rendering the engine and
machine-maker in a great measure independent of inferior workmen. For
the machine tools have no unsteady hand, are not careless nor clumsy,
do not work by rule of thumb, and cannot make mistakes. They will
repeat their operations a thousand times without tiring, or varying
one hair's breadth in their action; and will turn out, without
complaining, any quantity of work, all of like accuracy and finish.
Exercising as they do so remarkable an influence on the development
of modem industry, we now propose, so far as the materials at our
disposal will admit, to give an account of their principal inventors,
beginning with the school of Bramah.



"The great Inventor is one who has walked forth upon the industrial
world, not from universities, but from hovels; not as clad in silks
and decked with honours, but as clad in fustian and grimed with soot
and oil."--ISAAC TAYLOR, Ultimate Civilization.

The inventive faculty is so strong in some men that it may be said to
amount to a passion, and cannot be restrained. The saying that the
poet is born, not made, applies with equal force to the inventor,
who, though indebted like the other to culture and improved
opportunities, nevertheless invents and goes on inventing mainly to
gratify his own instinct. The inventor, however, is not a creator
like the poet, but chiefly a finder-out. His power consists in a
great measure in quick perception and accurate observation, and in
seeing and foreseeing the effects of certain mechanical combinations.
He must possess the gift of insight, as well as of manual dexterity,
combined with the indispensable qualities of patience and
perseverance,--for though baffled, as he often is, he must be ready
to rise up again unconquered even in the moment of defeat. This is
the stuff of which the greatest inventors have been made. The subject
of the following memoir may not be entitled to take rank as a
first-class inventor, though he was a most prolific one; but, as the
founder of a school from which proceeded some of the most
distinguished mechanics of our time, he is entitled to a prominent
place in this series of memoirs.

Joseph Bramah was born in 1748 at the village of Stainborough, near
Barnsley in Yorkshire, where his father rented a small farm under
Lord Strafford. Joseph was the eldest of five children, and was early
destined to follow the plough. After receiving a small amount of
education at the village school, he was set to work upon the farm.
From an early period he showed signs of constructive skill. When a
mere boy, he occupied his leisure hours in making musical
instruments, and he succeeded in executing some creditable pieces of
work with very imperfect tools. A violin, which he made out of a
solid block of wood, was long preserved as a curiosity. He was so
fortunate as to make a friend of the village blacksmith, whose smithy
he was in the practice of frequenting. The smith was an ingenious
workman, and, having taken a liking for the boy, he made sundry tools
for him out of old files and razor blades; and with these his fiddle
and other pieces of work were mainly executed.

Joseph might have remained a ploughman for life, but for an accident
which happened to his right ankle at the age of 16, which unfitted
him for farm-work. While confined at home disabled he spent his time
in carving and making things in wood; and then it occurred to him
that, though he could not now be a ploughman, he might be a mechanic.
When sufficiently recovered, he was accordingly put apprentice to one
Allott, the village carpenter, under whom he soon became an expert
workman. He could make ploughs, window-frames, or fiddles, with equal
dexterity. He also made violoncellos, and was so fortunate as to sell
one of his making for three guineas, which is still reckoned a good
instrument. He doubtless felt within him the promptings of ambition,
such as every good workman feels, and at all events entertained the
desire of rising in his trade. When his time was out, he accordingly
resolved to seek work in London, whither he made the journey on foot.
He soon found work at a cabinet-maker's, and remained with him for
some time, after which he set up business in a very small way on his
own account. An accident which happened to him in the course of his
daily work, again proved his helper, by affording him a degree of
leisure which he at once proceeded to turn to some useful account.
Part of his business consisted in putting up water-closets, after a
method invented or improved by a Mr. Allen; but the article was still
very imperfect; and Bramah had long resolved that if he could only
secure some leisure for the purpose, he would contrive something that
should supersede it altogether. A severe fall which occurred to him
in the course of his business, and laid him up, though very much
against his will, now afforded him the leisure which he desired, and
he proceeded to make his proposed invention. He took out a patent for
it in 1778, describing himself in the specification as "of Cross
Court, Carnaby Market [Golden Square], Middlesex, Cabinet Maker." He
afterwards removed to a shop in Denmark Street, St. Giles's, and
while there he made a further improvement in his invention by the
addition of a water cock, which he patented in 1783. The merits of
the machine were generally recognised, and before long it came into
extensive use, continuing to be employed, with but few alterations,
until the present day. His circumstances improving with the increased
use of his invention, Bramah proceeded to undertake the manufacture
of the pumps, pipes, &c., required for its construction; and,
remembering his friend the Yorkshire blacksmith, who had made his
first tools for him out of the old files and razor-blades, he sent
for him to London to take charge of his blacksmith's department, in
which he proved a most useful assistant. As usual, the patent was
attacked by pirates so soon as it became productive, and Bramah was
under the necessity, on more than one occasion, of defending his
property in the invention, in which he was completely successful.

We next find Bramah turning his attention to the invention of a lock
that should surpass all others then known. The locks then in use were
of a very imperfect character, easily picked by dexterous thieves,
against whom they afforded little protection. Yet locks are a very
ancient invention, though, as in many other cases, the art of making
them seems in a great measure to have become lost, and accordingly
had to be found out anew. Thus the tumbler lock--which consists in
the use of moveable impediments acted on by the proper key only, as
contradistinguished from the ordinary ward locks, where the
impediments are fixed-- appears to have been well known to the
ancient Egyptians, the representation of such a lock being found
sculptured among the bas-reliefs which decorate the great temple at
Karnak. This kind of lock was revived, or at least greatly improved,
by a Mr. Barron in 1774, and it was shortly after this time that
Bramah directed his attention to the subject. After much study and
many experiments, he contrived a lock more simple, more serviceable,
as well as more secure, than Barron's, as is proved by the fact that
it has stood the test of nearly eighty years' experience,*
The lock invented by Bramah was patented in 1784. Mr. Bramah himself
fully set forth the specific merits of the invention in his
Dissertation on the Construction of Locks. In a second patent, taken
out by him in 1798, he amended his first with the object of
preventing the counterfeiting of keys, and suspending the office of
the lock until the key was again in the possession of the owner. This
he effected by enabling the owner so to alter the sliders as to
render the lock inaccessible to such key if applied by any other
person but himself, or until the sliders had been rearranged so as to
admit of its proper action. We may mention in passing that the
security of Bramah's locks depends on the doctrine of combinations,
or multiplication of numbers into each other, which is known to
increase in the most rapid proportion. Thus, a lock of five slides
admits of 3,000 variations, while one of eight will have no less than
1,935,360 changes; in other words, that number of attempts at making
a key, or at picking it, may be made before it can be opened.
and still holds its ground. For a long time, indeed, Bramah's lock
was regarded as absolutely inviolable, and it remained unpicked for
sixty-seven years until Hobbs the American mastered it in 1851. A
notice had long been exhibited in Bramah's shop-window in Piccadilly,
offering 200L. to any one who should succeed in picking the patent
lock. Many tried, and all failed, until Hobbs succeeded, after
sixteen days' manipulation of it with various elaborate instruments.
But the difficulty with which the lock was picked showed that, for
all ordinary purposes, it might be pronounced impregnable.

The new locks were machines of the most delicate kind, the action of
which depended in a great measure upon the precision with which the
springs, sliders, levers, barrels, and other parts were finished. The
merits of the invention being generally admitted, there was a
considerable demand for the locks, and the necessity thus arose for
inventing a series of original machine-tools to enable them to be
manufactured in sufficient quantities to meet the demand. It is
probable, indeed, that, but for the contrivance of such tools, the
lock could never have come in to general use, as the skill of
hand-workmen, no matter how experienced, could not have been relied
upon for turning out the article with that degree of accuracy and
finish in all the parts which was indispensable for its proper
action. In conducting the manufacture throughout, Bramah was greatly
assisted by Henry Maudslay, his foreman, to whom he was in no small
degree indebted for the contrivance of those tool-machines which
enabled him to carry on the business of lock-making with advantage
and profit.

Bramah's indefatigable spirit of invention was only stimulated to
fresh efforts by the success of his lock; and in the course of a few
years we find him entering upon a more important and original line of
action than he had yet ventured on. His patent of 1785 shows the
direction of his studies. Watt had invented his steam-engine, which
was coming into general use; and the creation of motive-power in
various other forms became a favourite subject of inquiry with
inventors. Bramah's first invention with this object was his
Hydrostatic Machine, founded on the doctrine of the equilibrium of
pressure in fluids, as exhibited in the well known 'hydrostatic
paradox.' In his patent of 1785, in which he no longer describes
himself as Cabinet maker, but 'Engine maker' of Piccadilly, he
indicated many inventions, though none of them came into practical
use,--such as a Hydrostatical Machine and Boiler, and the application
of the power produced by them to the drawing of carriages, and the
propelling of ships by a paddle-wheel fixed in the stern of the
vessel, of which drawings are annexed to the specification; but it
was not until 1795 that he patented his Hydrostatic or Hydraulic

Though the principle on which the Hydraulic Press is founded had long
been known, and formed the subject of much curious speculation, it
remained unproductive of results until a comparatively recent period,
when the idea occurred of applying it to mechanical purposes. A
machine of the kind was indeed proposed by Pascal, the eminent
philosopher, in 1664, but more than a century elapsed before the
difficulties in the way of its construction were satisfactorily
overcome. Bramah's machine consists of a large and massive cylinder,
in which there works an accurately-fitted solid piston or plunger. A
forcing-pump of very small bore communicates with the bottom of the
cylinder, and by the action of the pump-handle or lever, exceeding
small quantities of water are forced in succession beneath the piston
in the large cylinder, thus gradually raising it up, and compressing
bodies whose bulk or volume it is intended to reduce. Hence it is
most commonly used as a packing-press, being superior to every other
contrivance of the kind that has yet been invented; and though
exercising a prodigious force, it is so easily managed that a boy can
work it. The machine has been employed on many extraordinary
occasions in preference to other methods of applying power. Thus
Robert Stephenson used it to hoist the gigantic tubes of the
Britannia Bridge into their bed,*
The weight raised by a single press at the Britannia Bridge was 1144
and Brunel to launch the Great Eastern steamship from her cradles. It
has also been used to cut bars of iron, to draw the piles driven in
forming coffer dams, and to wrench up trees by the roots, all of
which feats it accomplishes with comparative ease.

The principal difficulty experienced in constructing the hydraulic
press before the time of Bramah arose from the tremendous pressure
exercised by the pump, which forced the water through between the
solid piston and the side of the cylinder in which it worked in such
quantities as to render the press useless for practical purposes.
Bramah himself was at first completely baffled by this difficulty. It
will be observed that the problem was to secure a joint sufficiently
free to let the piston slide up through it, and at the same time so
water-tight as to withstand the internal force of the pump. These two
conditions seemed so conflicting that Bramah was almost at his wit's
end, and for a time despaired of being able to bring the machine to a
state of practical efficiency. None but those who have occupied
themselves in the laborious and often profitless task of helping the
world to new and useful machines can have any idea of the tantalizing
anxiety which arises from the apparently petty stumbling-blocks which
for awhile impede the realization of a great idea in mechanical
invention. Such was the case with the water-tight arrangement in the
hydraulic press. In his early experiments, Bramah tried the expedient
of the ordinary stuffing-box for the purpose of securing the required
water tightness' That is, a coil of hemp on leather washers was
placed in a recess, so as to fit tightly round the moving ram or
piston, and it was further held in its place by means of a
compressing collar forced hard down by strong screws. The defect of
this arrangement was, that, even supposing the packing could be made
sufficiently tight to resist the passage of the water urged by the
tremendous pressure from beneath, such was the grip which the
compressed material took of the ram of the press, that it could not
be got to return down after the water pressure had been removed.

In this dilemma, Bramah's ever-ready workman, Henry Maudslay, came to
his rescue. The happy idea occurred to him of employing the pressure
of the water itself to give the requisite water-tightness to the
collar. It was a flash of common-sense genius-- beautiful through its
very simplicity. The result was Maudslay's self-tightening collar,
the action of which a few words of description will render easily
intelligible. A collar of sound leather, the convex side upwards and
the concave downwards, was fitted into the recess turned out in the
neck of the press-cylinder, at the place formerly used as a
stuffing-box . Immediately on the high pressure water being turned
on, it forced its way into the leathern concavity and 'flapped out'
the bent edges of the collar; and, in so doing, caused the leather to
apply itself to the surface of the rising ram with a degree of
closeness and tightness so as to seal up the joint the closer exactly
in proportion to the pressure of the water in its tendency to escape.
On the other hand, the moment the pressure was let off and the ram
desired to return, the collar collapsed and the ram slid gently down,
perfectly free and yet perfectly water-tight. Thus, the former
tendency of the water to escape by the side of the piston was by this
most simple and elegant self-adjusting contrivance made instrumental
to the perfectly efficient action of the machine; and from the moment
of its invention the hydraulic press took its place as one of the
grandest agents for exercising power in a concentrated and tranquil

Bramah continued his useful labours as an inventor for many years.
His study of the principles of hydraulics, in the course of his
invention of the press, enabled him to introduce many valuable
improvements in pumping-machinery. By varying the form of the piston
and cylinder he was enabled to obtain a rotary motion,*
Dr. Thomas Young, in his article on Bramah in the Encyclopaedia
Britannica, describes the "rotative principle" as consisting in
making the part which acts immediately on the water in the form of a
slider, "sweeping round a cylindrical cavity, and kept in its place
by means of an eccentric groove; a contrivance which was probably
Bramah's own invention, but which had been before described, in a
form nearly similar, by Ramelli, Canalleri, Amontons, Prince Rupert,
and Dr. Hooke.
which he advantageously applied to many purposes. Thus he adopted it
in the well known fire-engine, the use of which has almost become
universal. Another popular machine of his is the beer-pump, patented
in 1797, by which the publican is enabled to raise from the casks in
the cellar beneath, the various liquors sold by him over the counter.
He also took out several patents for the improvement of the
steam-engine, in which, however, Watt left little room for other
inventors; and hence Bramah seems to have entertained a grudge
against Watt, which broke out fiercely in the evidence given by him
in the case of Boulton and Watt versus Hornblower and Maberly, tried
in December 1796. On that occasion his temper seems to have got the
better of his judgment, and he was cut short by the judge in the
attempt which he then made to submit the contents of the pamphlet
subsequently published by him in the form of a letter to the judge
before whom the case was tried.*
A Letter to the Right Hon. Sir James Eyre, Lord Chief Justice
of the Common Pleas, on the subject of the cause Boulton and
Watt v. Hornblower and Maberly, for Infringement on Mr. Watt's Patent
for an Improvement of the Steam Engine. By Joseph Bramah, Engineer.
London, 1797.
In that pamphlet he argued that Watt's specification had no definite
meaning; that it was inconsistent and absurd, and could not possibly
be understood; that the proposal to work steam-engines on the
principle of condensation was entirely fallacious; that Watt's method
of packing the piston was "monstrous stupidity;" that the engines of
Newcomen (since entirely superseded) were infinitely superior, in all
respects, to those of Watt;-- conclusions which, we need scarcely
say, have been refuted by the experience of nearly a century.

On the expiry of Boulton and Watt's patent, Bramah introduced several
valuable improvements in the details of the condensing engine, which
had by that time become an established power,--the most important of
which was his "four-way cock," which he so arranged as to revolve
continuously instead of alternately, thus insuring greater precision
with considerably less wear of parts. In the same patent by which he
secured this invention in 1801, he also proposed sundry improvements
in the boilers, as well as modifications in various parts of the
engine, with the object of effecting greater simplicity and
directness of action.

In his patent of 1802, we find Bramah making another great stride in
mechanical invention, in his tools "for producing straight, smooth,
and parallel surfaces on wood and other materials requiring truth, in
a manner much more expeditious and perfect than can be performed by
the use of axes, saws, planes, and other cutting instruments used by
hand in the ordinary way." The specification describes the object of
the invention to be the saving of manual labour, the reduction in the
cost of production, and the superior character of the work executed.
The tools were fixed on frames driven by machinery, some moving in a
rotary direction round an upright shaft, some with the shaft
horizontal like an ordinary wood-turning lathe, while in others the
tools were fixed on frames sliding in stationary grooves. A
wood-planing machine*
Sir Samuel Bentham and Marc Isambard Brunel subsequently
distinguished themselves by the invention of wood-working machinery,
full accounts of which will be found in the Memoirs of the former by
Lady Bentham, and in the Life of the latter by Mr. Beamish.
was constructed on the principle of this invention at Woolwich
Arsenal, where it still continues in efficient use. The axis of the
principal shaft was supported on a piston in a vessel of oil, which
considerably diminished the friction, and it was so contrived as to
be accurately regulated by means of a small forcing-pump. Although
the machinery described in the patent was first applied to working on
wood, it was equally applicable to working on metals; and in his own
shops at Pimlico Bramah employed a machine with revolving cutters to
plane metallic surfaces for his patent locks and other articles. He
also introduced a method of turning spherical surfaces, either convex
or concave, by a tool moveable on an axis perpendicular to that of
the lathe; and of cutting out concentric shells by fixing in a
similar manner a curved tool of nearly the same form as that employed
by common turners for making bowls. "In fact," says Mr. Mallet,
"Bramah not only anticipated, but carried out upon a tolerably large
scale in his own works--for the construction of the patent hydraulic
press, the water-closet, and his locks--a surprisingly large
proportion of our modern tools."*
"Record of the International Exhibition, 1862." Practical Mechanic's
Journal, 293.
His remarkable predilection in favour of the use of hydraulic
arrangements is displayed in his specification of the surface-planing
machinery, which includes a method of running pivots entirely on a
fluid, and raising and depressing them at pleasure by means of a
small forcing-pump and stop-cock,--though we are not aware that any
practical use has ever been made of this part of the invention.

Bramah's inventive genius displayed itself alike in small things as
in great--in a tap wherewith to draw a glass of beer, and in a
hydraulic machine capable of tearing up a tree by the roots. His
powers of contrivance seemed inexhaustible, and were exercised on the
most various subjects. When any difficulty occurred which mechanical
ingenuity was calculated to remove, recourse was usually had to
Bramah, and he was rarely found at a loss for a contrivance to
overcome it. Thus, when applied to by the Bank of England in 1806, to
construct a machine for more accurately and expeditiously printing
the numbers and date lines on Bank notes, he at once proceeded to
invent the requisite model, which he completed in the course of a
month. He subsequently brought it to great perfection the figures in
numerical succession being changed by the action of the machine
itself,--and it still continues in regular use. Its employment in the
Bank of England alone saved the labour of a hundred clerks; but its
chief value consisted in its greater accuracy, the perfect legibility
of the figures printed by it, and the greatly improved check which it

We next find him occupying himself with inventions connected with the
manufacture of pens and paper. His little pen-making machine for
readily making quill pens long continued in use, until driven out by
the invention of the steel pen; but his patent for making paper by
machinery, though ingenious, like everything he did, does not seem to
have been adopted, the inventions of Fourdrinier and Donkin in this
direction having shortly superseded all others. Among his other minor
inventions may be mentioned his improved method of constructing and
sledging carriage-wheels, and his improved method of laying
water-pipes. In his specification of the last-mentioned invention, he
included the application of water-power to the driving of machinery
of every description, and for hoisting and lowering goods in docks
and warehouses,--since carried out in practice, though in a different
manner, by Sir William Armstrong.*
In this, as in other methods of employing power, the moderns had been
anticipated by the ancients; and though hydraulic machinery is a
comparatively recent invention in England, it had long been in use
abroad. Thus we find in Dr. Bright's Travels in Lower Hungary a full
description of the powerful hydraulic machinery invented by M. Holl,
Chief Engineer of the Imperial Mines, which had been in use since the
year 1749, in pumping water from a depth of 1800 feet, from the
silver and gold mines of Schemnitz and Kremnitz. A head of water was
collected by forming a reservoir along the mountain side, from which
it was conducted through water-tight cast-iron pipes erected
perpendicularly in the mine-shaft. About forty-five fathoms down, the
water descending through the pipe was forced by the weight of the
column above it into the bottom of a perpendicular cylinder, in which
it raised a water-tight piston. When forced up to a given point a
self-acting stop-cock shut off the pressure of the descending column,
while a self-acting valve enabled the water contained in the cylinder
to be discharged, on which the piston again descended, and the
process was repeated like the successive strokes of a steam-engine.
Pump-rods were attached to this hydraulic apparatus, which were
carried to the bottom of the shaft, and each worked a pump at
different levels, raising the water stage by stage to the level of
the main adit. The pumps of these three several stages each raised
1790 cubic feet of water from a depth of 600 feet in the hour. The
regular working of the machinery was aided by the employment of a
balance-beam connected by a chain with the head of the large piston
and pump-rods; and the whole of these powerful machines by means of
three of which as much as 789,840 gallons of water were pumped out of
the mines every 24 hours -- were set in operation and regulated
merely by the turning of a stopcock. It will be observed that the
arrangement thus briefly described was equally applicable to the
working of machinery of all kinds, cranes, &c., as well as pumps; and
it will be noted that, notwithstanding the ingenuity of Bramah,
Armstrong, and other eminent English mechanics, the Austrian engineer
Holl was thus decidedly beforehand with them in the practical
application of the principles of hydrostatics.
In this, as in many other matters, Bramah shot ahead of the
mechanical necessities of his time; and hence many of his patents (of
which he held at one time more than twenty) proved altogether
profitless. His last patent, taken out in 1814, was for the
application of Roman cement to timber for the purpose of preventing
dry rot.

Besides his various mechanical pursuits, Bramah also followed to a
certain extent the profession of a civil engineer, though his more
urgent engagements rendered it necessary for him to refuse many
advantageous offers of employment in this line. He was, however, led
to carry out the new water-works at Norwich, between the years l790
and l793, in consequence of his having been called upon to give
evidence in a dispute between the corporation of that city and the
lessees, in the course of which he propounded plans which, it was
alleged, could not be carried out. To prove that they could be
carried out, and that his evidence was correct, he undertook the new
works, and executed them with complete success; besides demonstrating
in a spirited publication elicited by the controversy, the
insufficiency and incongruity of the plans which had been submitted
by the rival engineer.

For some time prior to his death Bramah had been employed in the
erection of several large machines in his works at Pimlico for sawing
stone and timber, to which he applied his hydraulic power with great
success. New methods of building bridges and canal-locks, with a
variety of other matters, were in an embryo state in his mind, but he
did not live to complete them. He was occupied in superintending the
action of his hydrostatic press at Holt Forest, in Hants--where
upwards of 300 trees of the largest dimensions were in a very short
time torn up by the roots,--when he caught a severe cold, which
settled upon his lungs, and his life was suddenly brought to a close
on the 9th of December, 1814, in his 66th year.

His friend, Dr. Cullen Brown,*
Dr. Brown published a brief memoir of his friend in the New Monthly
Magazine for April, 1815, which has been the foundation of all the
notices of Bramah's life that have heretofore appeared.
has said of him, that Bramah was a man of excellent moral character,
temperate in his habits, of a pious turn of mind,*
Notwithstanding his well-known religious character, Bramah seems to
have fallen under the grievous displeasure of William Huntington,
S.S. (Sinner Saved), described by Macaulay in his youth as "a
worthless ugly lad of the name of Hunter," and in his manhood as
"that remarkable impostor" (Essays, 1 vol. ed. 529). It seems that
Huntington sought the professional services of Bramah when
re-edifying his chapel in 1793; and at the conclusion of the work,
the engineer generously sent the preacher a cheque for 8l. towards
defraying the necessary expenses. Whether the sum was less than
Huntington expected, or from whatever cause, the S.S. contemptuously
flung back the gift, as proceeding from an Arian whose religion was
"unsavoury," at the same time hurling at the giver a number of texts
conveying epithets of an offensive character. Bramah replied to the
farrago of nonsense, which he characterised as "unmannerly, absurd,
and illiterate that it must have been composed when the writer was
"intoxicated, mad, or under the influence of Lucifer," and he
threatened that unless Huntington apologised for his gratuitous
insults, he (Bramah) would assuredly expose him. The mechanician
nevertheless proceeded gravely to explain and defend his "profession
of faith," which was altogether unnecessary. On this Huntington
returned to the charge, and directed against the mechanic a fresh
volley of Scripture texts and phraseology, not without humour, if
profanity be allowable in controversy, as where he says, "Poor man!
he makes a good patent lock, but cuts a sad figure with the keys of
the Kingdom of Heaven!" "What Mr. Bramah is," says S.S., "In respect
to his character or conduct in life, as a man, a tradesman, a
neighbour, a gentleman, a husband, friend, master, or subject, I know
not. In all these characters he may shine as a comet for aught I
know; but he appears to me to be as far from any resemblance to a
poor penitent or broken-hearted sinner as Jannes, Jambres, or
Alexander the coppersmith!" Bramah rejoined by threatening to publish
his assailant's letters, but Huntington anticipated him in A Feeble
Dispute with a Wise and Learned Man, 8vo. London, 1793, in which,
whether justly or not, Huntington makes Bramah appear to murder the
king's English in the most barbarous manner.
and so cheerful in temperament, that he was the life of every company
into which he entered. To much facility of expression he added the
most perfect independence of opinion; he was a benevolent and
affectionate man; neat and methodical in his habits, and knew well
how to temper liberality with economy. Greatly to his honour, he
often kept his workmen employed, solely for their sake, when
stagnation of trade prevented him disposing of the products of their
labour. As a manufacturer he was distinguished for his promptitude
and probity, and he was celebrated for the exquisite finish which he
gave to all his productions. In this excellence of workmanship, which
he was the first to introduce, he continued while he lived to be

Bramah was deservedly honoured and admired as the first mechanical
genius of his time, and as the founder of the art of tool-making in
its highest branches. From his shops at Pimlico came Henry Maudslay,
Joseph Clement, and many more first-class mechanics, who carried the
mechanical arts to still higher perfection, and gave an impulse to
mechanical engineering, the effects of which are still felt in every
branch of industry.

The parish to which Bramah belonged was naturally proud of the
distinction he had achieved in the world, and commemorated his life
and career by a marble tablet erected by subscription to his memory,
in the parish church of Silkstone. In the churchyard are found the
tombstones of Joseph's father, brother, and other members of the
family; and we are informed that their descendants still occupy the
farm at Stainborough on which the great mechanician was born.



"The successful construction of all machinery depends on the
perfection of the tools employed; and whoever is a master in the arts
of tool-making possesses the key to the construction of all
machines..... The contrivance and construction of tools must
therefore ever stand at the head of the industrial arts."
--C. BABBAGE, Exposition of 1851.

Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich towards the end of last century,
in a house standing in the court at the back of the Salutation Inn,
the entrance to which is nearly opposite the Arsenal gates. His
father was a native of Lancashire, descended from an old family of
the same name, the head of which resided at Mawdsley Hall near
Ormskirk at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The family were
afterwards scattered, and several of its members became workmen.
William Maudslay, the father of Henry, belonged to the neighbourhood
of Bolton, where he was brought up to the trade of a joiner. His
principal employment, while working at his trade in Lancashire,
consisted in making the wood framing of cotton machinery, in the
construction of which cast-iron had not yet been introduced. Having
got into some trouble in his neighbourhood, through some alleged
LIAISON, William enlisted in the Royal Artillery, and the corps to
which he belonged was shortly after sent out to the West Indies. He
was several times engaged in battle, and in his last action he was
hit by a musket-bullet in the throat. The soldier's stock which he
wore had a piece cut out of it by the ball, the direction of which
was diverted, and though severely wounded, his life was saved. He
brought home the stock and preserved it as a relic, afterwards
leaving it to his son. Long after, the son would point to the stock,
hung up against his wall, and say "But for that bit of leather there
would have been no Henry Maudslay." The wounded artilleryman was
invalided and sent home to Woolwich, the headquarters of his corps,
where he was shortly after discharged. Being a handy workman, he
sought and obtained employment at the Arsenal. He was afterwards
appointed a storekeeper in the Dockyard. It was during the former
stage of William Maudslay's employment at Woolwich, that the subject
of this memoir was born in the house in the court above mentioned, on
the 22nd of August, 1771.

The boy was early set to work. When twelve years old he was employed
as a "powder-monkey," in making and filling cartridges. After two
years, he was passed on to the carpenter's shop where his father
worked, and there he became acquainted with tools and the art of
working in wood and iron. From the first, the latter seems to have
had by far the greatest charms for him. The blacksmiths' shop was
close to the carpenters', and Harry seized every opportunity that
offered of plying the hammer, the file, and the chisel, in preference
to the saw and the plane. Many a cuff did the foreman of carpenters
give him for absenting himself from his proper shop and stealing off
to the smithy. His propensity was indeed so strong that, at the end
of a year, it was thought better, as he was a handy, clever boy, to
yield to his earnest desire to be placed in the smithy, and he was
removed thither accordingly in his fifteenth year.

His heart being now in his work, he made rapid progress, and soon
became an expert smith and metal worker. He displayed his skill
especially in forging light ironwork; and a favourite job of his was
the making of "Trivets" out of the solid, which only the "dab hands"
of the shop could do, but which he threw off with great rapidity in
first rate style. These "Trivets" were made out of Spanish iron bolts
--rare stuff, which, though exceedingly tough, forged like wax under
the hammer. Even at the close of his life, when he had acquired
eminent distinction as an inventor, and was a large employer of
skilled labour, he looked back with pride to the forging of his early
days in Woolwich Arsenal. He used to describe with much gusto, how
the old experienced hands, with whom he was a great favourite, would
crowd about him when forging his "Trivets," some of which may to this
day be in use among Woolwich housewives for supporting the
toast-plate before the bright fire against tea time. This was,
however, entirely contraband work, done "on the sly," and strictly
prohibited by the superintending officer, who used kindly to signal
his approach by blowing his nose in a peculiar manner, so that all
forbidden jobs might be put out of the way by the time he entered the

We have referred to Maudslay's early dexterity in trivet-making--a
circumstance trifling enough in itself--for the purpose of
illustrating the progress which he had made in a branch of his art of
the greatest importance in tool and machine making. Nothing pleased
him more in his after life than to be set to work upon an unusual
piece of forging, and to overcome, as none could do so cleverly as
he, the difficulties which it presented. The pride of art was as
strong in him as it must have been in the mediaeval smiths, who
turned out those beautiful pieces of workmanship still regarded as
the pride of our cathedrals and old mansions. In Maudslay's case, his
dexterity as a smith was eventually directed to machinery, rather
than ornamental work; though, had the latter been his line of labour,
we do not doubt that he would have reached the highest distinction.

The manual skill which our young blacksmith had acquired was such as
to give him considerable reputation in his craft, and he was spoken
of even in the London shops as one of the most dexterous hands in the
trade. It was this circumstance that shortly after led to his removal
from the smithy in Woolwich Arsenal to a sphere more suitable for the
development of his mechanical ability.

We have already stated in the preceding memoir, that Joseph Bramah
took out the first patent for his lock in 1784, and a second for its
improvement several years later; but notwithstanding the acknowledged
superiority of the new lock over all others, Bramah experienced the
greatest difficulty in getting it manufactured with sufficient
precision, and at such a price as to render it an article of
extensive commerce. This arose from the generally inferior character
of the workmanship of that day, as well as the clumsiness and
uncertainty of the tools then in use. Bramah found that even the best
manual dexterity was not to be trusted, and yet it seemed to be his
only resource; for machine-tools of a superior kind had not yet been
invented. In this dilemma he determined to consult an ingenious old
German artisan, then working with William Moodie, a general
blacksmith in Whitechapel. This German was reckoned one of the most
ingenious workmen in London at the time. Bramah had several long
interviews with him, with the object of endeavouring to solve the
difficult problem of how to secure precise workmanship in
lock-making. But they could not solve it; they saw that without
better tools the difficulty was insuperable; and then Bramah began to
fear that his lock would remain a mere mechanical curiosity, and be
prevented from coming into general use.

He was indeed sorely puzzled what next to do, when one of the
hammermen in Moodie's shop ventured to suggest that there was a young
man in the Woolwich Arsenal smithy, named Maudslay, who was so
ingenious in such matters that "nothing bet him," and he recommended
that Mr. Bramah should have a talk with him upon the subject of his
difficulty. Maudslay was at once sent for to Bramah's workshop, and
appeared before the lock-maker, a tall, strong, comely young fellow,
then only eighteen years old. Bramah was almost ashamed to lay his
case before such a mere youth; but necessity constrained him to try
all methods of accomplishing his object, and Maudslay's suggestions
in reply to his statement of the case were so modest, so sensible,
and as the result proved, so practical, that the master was
constrained to admit that the lad before him had an old head though
set on young shoulders. Bramah decided to adopt the youth's
suggestions, made him a present on the spot, and offered to give him
a job if he was willing to come and work in a town shop. Maudslay
gladly accepted the offer, and in due time appeared before Bramah to
enter upon his duties.

As Maudslay had served no regular apprenticeship, and was of a very
youthful appearance, the foreman of the shop had considerable doubts
as to his ability to take rank alongside his experienced hands. But
Maudslay soon set his master's and the foreman's mind at rest.
Pointing to a worn-out vice-bench, he said to Bramah, "Perhaps if I
can make that as good as new by six o'clock to-night, it will satisfy
your foreman that I am entitled to rank as a tradesman and take my
place among your men, even though I have not served a seven years'
apprenticeship." There was so much self-reliant ability in the
proposal, which was moreover so reasonable, that it was at once
acceded to. Off went Maudslay's coat, up went his shirt sleeves, and
to work he set with a will upon the old bench. The vice-jaws were
re-steeled "in no time," filed up, re-cut, all the parts cleaned and
made trim, and set into form again. By six o'clock, the old vice was
screwed up to its place, its jaws were hardened and "let down" to
proper temper, and the old bench was made to look so smart and neat
that it threw all the neighbouring benches into the shade! Bramah and
his foreman came round to see it, while the men of the shop looked
admiringly on. It was examined and pronounced "a first-rate job."
This diploma piece of work secured Maudslay's footing, and next
Monday morning he came on as one of the regular hands.

He soon took rank in the shop as a first-class workman. Loving his
art, he aimed at excellence in it, and succeeded. For it must be
understood that the handicraftsman whose heart is in his calling,
feels as much honest pride in turning out a piece of thoroughly good
workmanship, as the sculptor or the painter does in executing a
statue or a picture. In course of time, the most difficult and
delicate jobs came to be entrusted to Maudslay; and nothing gave him
greater pleasure than to be set to work upon an entirely new piece of
machinery. And thus he rose, naturally and steadily, from hand to
head work. For his manual dexterity was the least of his gifts. He
possessed an intuitive power of mechanical analysis and synthesis. He
had a quick eye to perceive the arrangements requisite to effect
given purposes; and whenever a difficulty arose, his inventive mind
set to work to overcome it.

His fellow-workmen were not slow to recognise his many admirable
qualities, of hand, mind, and heart; and he became not only the
favourite, but the hero of the shop. Perhaps he owed something to his
fine personal appearance. Hence on gala-days, when the men turned out
in procession, "Harry" was usually selected to march at their head
and carry the flag. His conduct as a son, also, was as admirable as
his qualities as a workman. His father dying shortly after Maudslay
entered Bramah's concern, he was accustomed to walk down to Woolwich
every Saturday night, and hand over to his mother, for whom he had
the tenderest regard, a considerable share of his week's wages, and
this he continued to do as long as she lived.

Notwithstanding his youth, he was raised from one post to another,
until he was appointed, by unanimous consent, the head foreman of the
works; and was recognised by all who had occasion to do business
there as "Bramah's right-hand man." He not only won the heart of his
master, but--what proved of far greater importance to him--he also
won the heart of his master's pretty housemaid, Sarah Tindel by name,
whom he married, and she went hand-in-hand with him through life, an
admirable "help meet," in every way worthy of the noble character of
the great mechanic. Maudslay was found especially useful by his
master in devising the tools for making his patent locks; and many
were the beautiful contrivances which he invented for the purpose of
ensuring their more accurate and speedy manufacture, with a minimum
degree of labour, and without the need of any large amount of manual
dexterity on the part of the workman. The lock was so delicate a
machine, that the identity of the several parts of which it was
composed was found to be an absolute necessity. Mere handicraft,
however skilled, could not secure the requisite precision of
workmanship; nor could the parts be turned out in sufficient quantity
to meet any large demand. It was therefore requisite to devise
machine-tools which should not blunder, nor turn out imperfect
work;-- machines, in short, which should be in a great measure
independent of the want of dexterity of individual workmen, but which
should unerringly labour in their prescribed track, and do the work
set them, even in the minutest details, after the methods designed by
their inventor. In this department Maudslay was eminently successful,
and to his laborious ingenuity, as first displayed in Bramah's
workshops, and afterwards in his own establishment, we unquestionably
owe much of the power and accuracy of our present self-acting

Bramah himself was not backward in admitting that to Henry Maudslay's
practical skill in contriving the machines for manufacturing his
locks on a large scale, the success of his invention was in a great
degree attributable. In further proof of his manual dexterity, it may
be mentioned that he constructed with his own hands the identical
padlock which so severely tested the powers of Mr. Hobbs in 1851. And
when it is considered that the lock had been made for more than half
a century, and did not embody any of the modern improvements, it will
perhaps be regarded not only as creditable to the principles on which
it was constructed, but to the workmanship of its maker, that it
should so long have withstood the various mechanical dexterity to
which it was exposed.

Besides the invention of improved machine-tools for the manufacture
of locks, Maudslay was of further service to Bramah in applying the
expedient to his famous Hydraulic Press, without which it would
probably have remained an impracticable though a highly ingenious
machine. As in other instances of great inventions, the practical
success of the whole is often found to depend upon the action of some
apparently trifling detail. This was especially the case with the
hydraulic press; to which Maudslay added the essential feature of the
self-tightening collar, above described in the memoir of Bramah. Mr.
James Nasmyth is our authority for ascribing this invention to
Maudslay, who was certainly quite competent to have made it; and it
is a matter of fact that Bramah's specification of the press says
nothing of the hollow collar,*
The words Bramah uses in describing this part of his patent of 1795
are these--"The piston must be made perfectly watertight by leather
or other materials, as used in pump-making." He elsewhere speaks of
the piston-rod "working through the stuffing-box." But in practice,
as we have above shown, these methods were found to be altogether
on which its efficient action mainly depends. Mr. Nasmyth
says--"Maudslay himself told me, or led me to believe, that it was he
who invented the self-tightening collar for the hydraulic press,
without which it would never have been a serviceable machine. As the
self-tightening collar is to the hydraulic press, so is the
steamblast to the locomotive. It is the one thing needful that has
made it effective in practice. If Maudslay was the inventor of the
collar, that one contrivance ought to immortalize him. He used to
tell me of it with great gusto, and I have no reason to doubt the
correctness of his statement." Whoever really struck out the idea of
the collar, displayed the instinct of the true inventor, who
invariably seeks to accomplish his object by the adoption of the
simplest possible means.

During the time that Maudslay held the important office of manager of
Bramah's works, his highest wages were not more than thirty shillings
a-week. He himself thought that he was worth more to his master--as
indeed he was,--and he felt somewhat mortified that he should have to
make an application for an advance; but the increasing expenses of
his family compelled him in a measure to do so. His application was
refused in such a manner as greatly to hurt his sensitive feelings;
and the result was that he threw up his situation, and determined to
begin working on his own account.

His first start in business was in the year 1797, in a small workshop
and smithy situated in Wells Street, Oxford Street. It was in an
awful state of dirt and dilapidation when he became its tenant. He
entered the place on a Friday, but by the Saturday evening, with the
help of his excellent wife, he had the shop thoroughly cleaned,
whitewashed, and put in readiness for beginning work on the next
Monday morning. He had then the pleasure of hearing the roar of his
own forge-fire, and the cheering ring of the hammer on his own anvil;
and great was the pride he felt in standing for the first time within
his own smithy and executing orders for customers on his own account.
His first customer was an artist, who gave him an order to execute
the iron work of a large easel, embodying some new arrangements; and
the work was punctually done to his employer's satisfaction. Other
orders followed, and he soon became fully employed. His fame as a
first-rate workman was almost as great as that of his former master;
and many who had been accustomed to do business with him at Pimlico
followed him to Wells Street. Long years after, the thought of these
early days of self-dependence and hard work used to set him in a
glow, and he would dilate to his intimate friends up on his early
struggles and his first successes, which were much more highly prized
by him than those of his maturer years.

With a true love of his craft, Maudslay continued to apply himself,
as he had done whilst working as Bramah's foreman, to the best
methods of ensuring accuracy and finish of work, so as in a measure
to be independent of the carelessness or want of dexterity of the
workman. With this object he aimed at the contrivance of improved
machine-tools, which should be as much self-acting and
self-regulating as possible; and it was while pursuing this study
that he wrought out the important mechanical invention with which his
name is usually identified--that of the Slide Rest. It continued to
be his special delight, when engaged in the execution of any piece of
work in which he took a personal interest, to introduce a system of
identity of parts, and to adapt for the purpose some one or other of
the mechanical contrivances with which his fertile brain was always
teeming. Thus it was from his desire to leave nothing to the chance
of mere individual dexterity of hand that he introduced the slide
rest in the lathe, and rendered it one of the most important of
machine-tools. The first device of this kind was contrived by him for
Bramah, in whose shops it continued in practical use long after he
had begun business for himself. "I have seen the slide rest," says
Mr. James Nasmyth, "the first that Henry Maudslay made, in use at
Messrs. Bramah's workshops, and in it were all those arrangements
which are to be found in the most modern slide rest of our own day,*
In this lathe the slide rest and frame were moveable along the
traversing-bar, according to the length of the work, and could be
placed in any position and secured by a handle and screw underneath.
The Rest, however, afterwards underwent many important modifications;
but the principle of the whole machine was there.
all of which are the legitimate offspring of Maudslay's original
rest. If this tool be yet extant, it ought to be preserved with the
greatest care, for it was the beginning of those mechanical triumphs
which give to the days in which we live so much of their
distinguishing character."

A very few words of explanation will serve to illustrate the
importance of Maudslay's invention. Every person is familiar with the
uses of the common turning-lathe. It is a favourite machine with
amateur mechanics, and its employment is indispensable for the
execution of all kinds of rounded work in wood and metal. Perhaps
there is no contrivance by which the skill of the handicraftsman has
been more effectually aided than by this machine. Its origin is lost
in the shades of antiquity. Its most ancient form was probably the
potter's wheel, from which it advanced, by successive improvements,
to its present highly improved form. It was found that, by whatever
means a substance capable of being cut could be made to revolve with
a circular motion round a fixed right line as a centre, a cutting
tool applied to its surface would remove the inequalities so that any
part of such surface should be equidistant from that centre. Such is
the fundamental idea of the ordinary turning-lathe. The ingenuity and
experience of mechanics working such an instrument enabled them to
add many improvements to it; until the skilful artisan at length
produced not merely circular turning of the most beautiful and
accurate description, but exquisite figure-work, and complicated
geometrical designs, depending upon the cycloidal and eccentric
movements which were from time to time added to the machine.

The artisans of the Middle Ages were very skilful in the use of the

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