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The Age of Invention, A Chronicle of Mechanical Conquest by Holland Thompson

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This volume is not intended to be a complete record of inventive
genius and mechanical progress in the United States. A bare
catalogue of notable American inventions in the nineteenth
century alone could not be compressed into these pages. Nor is it
any part of the purpose of this book to trespass on the ground of
the many mechanical works and encyclopedias which give technical
descriptions and explain in detail the principle of every
invention. All this book seeks to do is to outline the
personalities of some of the outstanding American inventors and
indicate the significance of their achievements.

Acknowledgments are due the Editor of the Series and to members
of the staff of the Yale University Press particularly, Miss
Constance Lindsay Skinner, Mr. Arthur Edwin Krows, and Miss
Frances Hart--without whose intelligent assistance the book could
not have been completed in time to take its place in the Series.

H. T.

May 10, 1921.















On Milk Street, in Boston, opposite the Old South Church, lived
Josiah Franklin, a maker of soap and candles. He had come to
Boston with his wife about the year 1682 from the parish of
Ecton, Northamptonshire, England, where his family had lived on a
small freehold for about three hundred years. His English wife
had died, leaving him seven children, and he had married a
colonial girl, Abiah Folger, whose father, Peter Folger, was a
man of some note in early Massachusetts.

Josiah Franklin was fifty-one and his wife Abiah thirty-nine,
when the first illustrious American inventor was born in their
house on Milk Street, January 17, 1706. He was their eighth child
and Josiah's tenth son and was baptized Benjamin. What little we
know of Benjamin's childhood is contained in his "Autobiography",
which the world has accepted as one of its best books and which
was the first American book to be so accepted. In the crowded
household, where thirteen children grew to manhood and womanhood,
there were no luxuries. Benjamin's period of formal schooling was
less than two years, though he could never remember the time when
he could not read, and at the age of ten he was put to work in
his father's shop.

Benjamin was restless and unhappy in the shop. He appeared to
have no aptitude at all for the business of soap making. His
parents debated whether they might not educate him for the
ministry, and his father took him into various shops in Boston,
where he might see artisans at work, in the hope that he would be
attracted to some trade. But Benjamin saw nothing there that he
wished to engage in. He was inclined to follow the sea, as one of
his older brothers had done.

His fondness for books finally determined his career. His older
brother James was a printer, and in those days a printer was a
literary man as well as a mechanic. The editor of a newspaper was
always a printer and often composed his articles as he set them
in type; so "composing" came to mean typesetting, and one who
sets type is a compositor. Now James needed an apprentice. It
happened then that young Benjamin, at the age of thirteen, was
bound over by law to serve his brother.

James Franklin printed the "New England Courant", the fourth
newspaper to be established in the colonies. Benjamin soon began
to write articles for this newspaper. Then when his brother was
put in jail, because he had printed matter considered libelous,
and forbidden to continue as the publisher, the newspaper
appeared in Benjamin's name.

The young apprentice felt that his brother was unduly severe and,
after serving for about two years, made up his mind to run away.
Secretly he took passage on a sloop and in three days reached New
York, there to find that the one printer in the town, William
Bradford, could give him no work. Benjamin then set out for
Philadelphia. By boat to Perth Amboy, on foot to Burlington, and
then by boat to Philadelphia was the course of his journey, which
consumed five days. On a Sunday morning in October, 1723, the
tired, hungry boy landed upon the Market Street wharf, and at
once set out to find food and explore America's metropolis.

Benjamin found employment with Samuel Keimer, an eccentric
printer just beginning business, and lodgings at the house of
Read, whose daughter Deborah was later to become his wife. The
intelligent young printer soon attracted the notice of Sir
William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania, who promised to set him
up in business. First, however, he must go to London to buy a
printing outfit. On the Governor's promise to send a letter of
credit for his needs in London, Franklin set sail; but the
Governor broke his word, and Franklin was obliged to remain in
London nearly two years working at his trade. It was in London
that he printed the first of his many pamphlets, an attack on
revealed religion, called "A Dissertation on Liberty and
Necessity, Pleasure and Pain." Though he met some interesting
persons, from each of whom he extracted, according to his custom,
every particle of information possible, no future opened for him
in London, and he accepted an offer to return to Philadelphia
with employment as a clerk. But early in 1727 his employer died,
and Benjamin went back to his trade, as printers always do. He
found work again in Keimer's printing office. Here his mechanical
ingenuity and general ability presently began to appear; he
invented a method of casting type, made ink, and became, in fact,
the real manager of the business.

The ability to make friends was one of Franklin's traits, and the
number of his acquaintances grew rapidly, both in Pennsylvania
and New Jersey. "I grew convinced," he naively says, "that TRUTH,
SINCERITY, and INTEGRITY in dealings between man and man were of
the utmost importance to the felicity of life." Not long after
his return from England he founded in Philadelphia the Junto, a
society which at its regular meetings argued various questions
and criticized the writings of the members. Through this society
he enlarged his reputation as well as his education.

The father of an apprentice at Keimer's furnished the money to
buy a printing outfit for his son and Franklin, but the son soon
sold his share, and Benjamin Franklin, Printer, was fairly
established in business at the age of twenty-four. The writing of
an anonymous pamphlet on "The Nature and Necessity of a Paper
Currency" called attention to the need of a further issue of
paper money in Pennsylvania, and the author of the tract was
rewarded with the contract to print the money, "a very profitable
job, and a great help to me." Small favors were thankfully
received. And, "I took care not only to be in REALITY industrious
and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I drest
plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion." And, "to
show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought home
the paper I purchased at the stores thru the streets on a

"The Universal Instructor in All Arts and Sciences and
Pennsylvania Gazette": this was the high-sounding name of a
newspaper which Franklin's old employer, Keimer, had started in
Philadelphia. But bankruptcy shortly overtook Keimer, and
Franklin took the newspaper with its ninety subscribers. The
"Universal Instructor" feature of the paper consisted of a page
or two weekly of "Chambers's Encyclopedia". Franklin eliminated
this feature and dropped the first part of the long name. "The
Pennsylvania Gazette" in Franklin's hands soon became profitable.
And it lives today in the fullness of abounding life, though
under another name. "Founded A.D. 1728 by Benj. Franklin" is the
proud legend of "The Saturday Evening Post", which carries on, in
our own times, the Franklin tradition.

The "Gazette" printed bits of local news, extracts from the
London "Spectator", jokes, verses, humorous attacks on Bradford's
"Mercury", a rival paper, moral essays by the editor, elaborate
hoaxes, and pungent political or social criticism. Often the
editor wrote and printed letters to himself, either to emphasize
some truth or to give him the opportunity to ridicule some folly
in a reply to "Alice Addertongue," "Anthony Afterwit," or other
mythical but none the less typical person.

If the countryman did not read a newspaper, or buy books, he was,
at any rate, sure to own an almanac. So in 1732 Franklin brought
out "Poor Richard's Almanac". Three editions were sold within a
few months. Year after year the sayings of Richard Saunders, the
alleged publisher, and Bridget, his wife, creations of Franklin's
fancy, were printed in the almanac. Years later the most striking
of these sayings were collected and published. This work has been
translated into as many as twenty languages and is still in
circulation today.

Franklin kept a shop in connection with his printing office,
where he sold a strange variety of goods: legal blanks, ink,
pens, paper, books, maps, pictures, chocolate, coffee, cheese,
codfish, soap, linseed oil, broadcloth, Godfrey's cordial, tea,
spectacles, rattlesnake root, lottery tickets, and stoves--to
mention only a few of the many articles he advertised. Deborah
Read, who became his wife in 1730, looked after his house, tended
shop, folded and stitched pamphlets, bought rags, and helped him
to live economically. "We kept no idle servants, " says Franklin,
"our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest.
For instance, my breakfast was a long time bread and milk (no
tea), and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen porringer with a
pewter spoon."

With all this frugality, Franklin was not a miser; he abhorred
the waste of money, not the proper use. His wealth increased
rapidly. "I experienced too," he says, "the truth of the
MORE EASY TO GET THE SECOND, money itself being of a prolific
nature." He gave much unpaid public service and subscribed
generously to public purposes; yet he was able, at the early age
of forty-two, to turn over his printing office to one of his
journeymen, and to retire from active business, intending to
devote himself thereafter to such public employment as should
come his way, to philosophical or scientific studies, and to

From boyhood Franklin had been interested in natural phenomena.
His "Journal of a Voyage from London to Philadelphia", written at
sea as he returned from his first stay in London, shows unusual
powers of exact observation for a youth of twenty. Many of the
questions he propounded to the Junto had a scientific bearing. He
made an original and important invention in 1749, the
"Pennsylvania fireplace," which, under the name of the Franklin
stove, is in common use to this day, and which brought to the
ill-made houses of the time increased comfort and a great saving
of fuel. But it brought Franklin no pecuniary reward, for he
never deigned to patent any of his inventions.

His active, inquiring mind played upon hundreds of questions in a
dozen different branches of science. He studied smoky chimneys;
he invented bifocal spectacles; he studied the effect of oil upon
ruffled water; he identified the "dry bellyache" as lead
poisoning; he preached ventilation in the days when windows were
closed tight at night, and upon the sick at all times; he
investigated fertilizers in agriculture. Many of his suggestions
have since borne fruit, and his observations show that he foresaw
some of the great developments of the nineteenth century.

His fame in science rests chiefly upon his discoveries in
electricity. On a visit to Boston in 1746 he saw some electrical
experiments and at once became deeply interested. Peter Collinson
of London, a Fellow of the Royal Society, who had made several
gifts to the Philadelphia Library, sent over some of the crude
electrical apparatus of the day, which Franklin used, as well as
some contrivances he had purchased in Boston. He says in a letter
to Collinson: "For my own part, I never was before engaged in any
study that so engrossed my attention and my time as this has
lately done."

Franklin's letters to Collinson tell of his first experiments and
speculations as to the nature of electricity. Experiments made by
a little group of friends showed the effect of pointed bodies in
drawing off electricity. He decided that electricity was not the
result of friction, but that the mysterious force was diffused
through most substances, and that nature is always alert to
restore its equilibrium. He developed the theory of positive and
negative electricity, or plus and minus electrification. The same
letter tells of some of the tricks which the little group of
experimenters were accustomed to play upon their wondering
neighbors. They set alcohol on fire, relighted candles just blown
out, produced mimic flashes of lightning, gave shocks on touching
or kissing, and caused an artificial spider to move mysteriously.

Franklin carried on experiments with the Leyden jar, made an
electrical battery, killed a fowl and roasted it upon a spit
turned by electricity, sent a current through water and found it
still able to ignite alcohol, ignited gunpowder, and charged
glasses of wine so that the drinkers received shocks. More
important, perhaps, he began to develop the theory of the
identity of lightning and electricity, and the possibility of
protecting buildings by iron rods. By means of an iron rod he
brought down electricity into his house, where he studied its
effect upon bells and concluded that clouds were generally
negatively electrified. In June, 1752, he performed the famous
experiment with the kite, drawing down electricity from the
clouds and charging a Leyden jar from the key at the end of the

Franklin's letters to Collinson were read before the Royal
Society but were unnoticed. Collinson gathered them together, and
they were published in a pamphlet which attracted wide attention.
Translated into French, they created great excitement, and
Franklin's conclusions were generally accepted by the scientific
men of Europe. The Royal Society, tardily awakened, elected
Franklin a member and in 1753 awarded him the Copley medal with a
complimentary address.*

* It may be useful to mention some of the scientific facts and
mechanical principles which were known to Europeans at this time.
More than one learned essay has been written to prove the
mechanical indebtedness of the modern world to the ancient,
particularly to the works of those mechanically minded Greeks:
Archimedes, Aristotle, Ctesibius, and Hero of Alexandria. The
Greeks employed the lever, the tackle, and the crane, the
force-pump, and the suction-pump. They had discovered that steam
could be mechanically applied, though they never made any
practical use of steam. In common with other ancients they knew
the principle of the mariner's compass. The Egyptians had the
water-wheel and the rudimentary blast-furnace. The pendulum clock
appears to have been an invention of the Middle Ages. The art of
printing from movable type, beginning with Gutenberg about 1450,
helped to further the Renaissance. The improved mariner's compass
enabled Columbus to find the New world; gunpowder made possible
its conquest. The compound microscope and the first practical
telescope came from the spectacle makers of Middelburg, Holland,
the former about 1590 and the latter about 1608. Harvey, an
English physician, had discovered the circulation of the blood in
1628, and Newton, an English mathematician, the law of
gravitation in 1685.

If Franklin's desire to continue his scientific researches had
been gratified, it is possible that he might have discovered some
of the secrets for which the world waited until Edison and his
contemporaries revealed them more than a century later.
Franklin's scientific reputation has grown with the years, and
some of his views seem in perfect accord with the latest
developments in electricity. But he was not to be permitted to
continue his experiments. He had shown his ability to manage men
and was to be called to a wider field.

Franklin's influence among his fellow citizens in Philadelphia
was very great. Always ostensibly keeping himself in the
background and working through others, never contradicting, but
carrying his point by shrewd questions which showed the folly of
the contrary position, he continued to set on foot and carry out
movements for the public good. He established the first
circulating library in Philadelphia, and one of the first in the
country, and an academy which grew into the University of
Pennsylvania. He was instrumental in the foundation of a
hospital. "I am often ask'd by those to whom I propose
subscribing," said one of the doctors who had made fruitless
attempts to raise money for the hospital, "Have you consulted
Franklin upon this business?" Other public matters in which the
busy printer was engaged were the paving and cleaning of the
streets, better street lighting, the organization of a police
force and of a fire company. A pamphlet which he published,
"Plain Truth", showing the helplessness of the colony against the
French and Indians, led to the organization of a volunteer
militia, and funds were raised for arms by a lottery. Franklin
himself was elected colonel of the Philadelphia regiment, "but
considering myself unfit, I declined the station and recommended
Mr. Lawrence, a fine person and man of influence, who was
accordingly appointed." In spite of his militarism, Franklin
retained the position which he held as Clerk of the Assembly,
though the majority of the members were Quakers opposed to war on

The American Philosophical Society owes its origin to Franklin.
It was formally organized on his motion in 1743, but the society
has accepted the organization of the Junto in 1727 as the actual
date of its birth. From the beginning the society has had among
its members many leading men of scientific attainments or tastes,
not only of Philadelphia, but of the world. In 1769 the original
society was consolidated with another of similar aims, and
Franklin, who was the first secretary of the society, was elected
president and served until his death. The first important
undertaking was the successful observation of the transit of
Venus in 1769, and many important scientific discoveries have
since been made by its members and first given to the world at
its meetings.

Franklin's appointment as one of the two Deputy Postmasters
General of the colonies in 1753 enlarged his experience and his
reputation. He visited nearly all the post offices in the
colonies and introduced many improvements into the service. In
none of his positions did his transcendent business ability show
to better advantage. He established new postal routes and
shortened others. There were no good roads in the colonies, but
his post riders made what then seemed wonderful speed. The bags
were opened to newspapers, the carrying of which had previously
been a private and unlawful perquisite of the riders. Previously
there had been one mail a week in summer between New York and
Philadelphia and one a month in winter. The service was increased
to three a week in summer and one in winter.

The main post road ran from northern New England to Savannah,
closely hugging the seacoast for the greater part of the way.
Some of the milestones set by Franklin to enable the postmasters
to compute the postage, which was fixed according to distance,
are still standing. Crossroads connected some of the larger
communities away from the seacoast with the main road, but when
Franklin died, after serving also as Postmaster General of the
United States, there were only seventy-five post offices in the
entire country.

Franklin took a hand in the final struggle between France and
England in America. On the eve of the conflict, in 1754,
commissioners from the several colonies were ordered to convene
at Albany for a conference with the Six Nations of the Iroquois,
and Franklin was one of the deputies from Pennsylvania. On his
way to Albany he "projected and drew a plan for the union of all
the colonies under one government so far as might be necessary
for defense and other important general purposes." This
statesmanlike "Albany Plan of Union," however, came to nothing.
"Its fate was singular," says Franklin; "the assemblies did not
adopt it, as they all thought there was too much PREROGATIVE in
it and in England it was judg'd to have too much of the

How to raise funds for defense was always a grave problem in the
colonies, for the assemblies controlled the purse-strings and
released them with a grudging hand. In face of the French menace,
this was Governor Shirley's problem in Massachusetts, Governor
Dinwiddie's in Virginia, and Franklin's in the Quaker and
proprietary province of Pennsylvania. Franklin opposed Shirley's
suggestion of a general tax to be levied on the colonies by
Parliament, on the ground of no taxation without representation,
but used all his arts to bring the Quaker Assembly to vote money
for defense, and succeeded. When General Braddock arrived in
Virginia Franklin was sent by the Assembly to confer with him in
the hope of allaying any prejudice against Quakers that the
general might have conceived. If that blustering and dull-witted
soldier had any such prejudice, it melted away when the envoy of
the Quakers promised to procure wagons for the army. The story of
Braddock's disaster does not belong here, but Franklin formed a
shrewd estimate of the man which proved accurate. His account of
Braddock's opinion of the colonial militia is given in a
sentence: "He smil'd at my ignorance, and reply'd, 'These savages
may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia,
but upon the King's regular and disciplin'd troops, sir, it is
impossible they should make any impression.'" After Braddock's
defeat the Pennsylvania Assembly voted more money for defense,
and the unmilitary Franklin was placed in command of the frontier
with full power. He built forts, as he had planned, and
incidentally learned much of the beliefs of a group of settlers
in the back country, the "Unitas Fratrum," better known as the

The death struggle between English and French in America served
only to intensify a lesser conflict that was being waged between
the Assembly and the proprietors of Pennsylvania; and the
Assembly determined to send Franklin to London to seek judgment
against the proprietors and to request the King to take away from
them the government of Pennsylvania. Franklin, accompanied by his
son William, reached London in July, 1757, and from this time on
his life was to be closely linked with Europe. He returned to
America six years later and made a trip of sixteen hundred miles
inspecting postal affairs, but in 1764 he was again sent to
England to renew the petition for a royal government for
Pennsylvania, which had not yet been granted. Presently that
petition was made obsolete by the Stamp Act, and Franklin became
the representative of the American colonies against King and

Franklin did his best to avert the Revolution. He made many
friends in England, wrote pamphlets and articles, told comical
stories and fables where they might do some good, and constantly
strove to enlighten the ruling class of England upon conditions
and sentiment in the colonies. His examination before the House
of Commons in February, 1766, marks perhaps the zenith of his
intellectual powers. His wide knowledge, his wonderful poise, his
ready wit, his marvelous gift for clear and epigrammatic
statement, were never exhibited to better advantage and no doubt
hastened the repeal of the Stamp Act. Franklin remained in
England nine years longer, but his efforts to reconcile the
conflicting claims of Parliament and the colonies were of no
avail, and early in 1775 he sailed for home.

Franklin's stay in America lasted only eighteen months, yet
during that time he sat in the Continental Congress and as a
member of the most important committees; submitted a plan for a
union of the colonies; served as Postmaster General and as
chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety; visited
Washington at Cambridge; went to Montreal to do what he could for
the cause of independence in Canada; presided over the convention
which framed a constitution for Pennsylvania; was a member of the
committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence and
of the committee sent on the futile mission to New York to
discuss terms of peace with Lord Howe.

In September, 1776, Franklin was appointed envoy to France and
sailed soon afterwards. The envoys appointed to act with him
proved a handicap rather than a help, and the great burden of a
difficult and momentous mission was thus laid upon an old man of
seventy. But no other American could have taken his place. His
reputation in France was already made, through his books and
inventions and discoveries. To the corrupt and licentious court
he was the personification of the age of simplicity, which it was
the fashion to admire; to the learned, he was a sage; to the
common man he was the apotheosis of all the virtues; to the
rabble he was little less than a god. Great ladies sought his
smiles; nobles treasured a kindly word; the shopkeeper hung his
portrait on the wall; and the people drew aside in the streets
that he might pass without annoyance. Through all this adulation
Franklin passed serenely, if not unconsciously.

The French ministers were not at first willing to make a treaty
of alliance, but under Franklin's influence they lent money to
the struggling colonies. Congress sought to finance the war by
the issue of paper currency and by borrowing rather than by
taxation, and sent bill after bill to Franklin, who somehow
managed to meet them by putting his pride in his pocket, and
applying again and again to the French Government. He fitted out
privateers and negotiated with the British concerning prisoners.
At length he won from France recognition of the United States and
then the Treaty of Alliance.

Not until two years after the Peace of 1783 would Congress permit
the veteran to come home. And when he did return in 1785 his
people would not allow him to rest. At once he was elected
President of the Council of Pennsylvania and twice reelected in
spite of his protests. He was sent to the Convention of 1787
which framed the Constitution of the United States. There he
spoke seldom but always to the point, and the Constitution is the
better for his suggestions. With pride he axed his signature to
that great instrument, as he had previously signed the Albany
Plan of Union, the Declaration of Independence, and the Treaty of

Benjamin Franklin's work was done. He was now an old man of
eighty-two summers and his feeble body was racked by a painful
malady. Yet he kept his face towards the morning. About a hundred
of his letters, written after this time, have been preserved.
These letters show no retrospection, no looking backward. They
never mention "the good old times." As long as he lived, Franklin
looked forward. His interest in the mechanical arts and in
scientific progress seems never to have abated. He writes in
October, 1787, to a friend in France, describing his experience
with lightning conductors and referring to the work of David
Rittenhouse, the celebrated astronomer of Philadelphia. On the
31st of May in the following year he is writing to the Reverend
John Lathrop of Boston:

"I have long been impressed with the same sentiments you so well
express, of the growing felicity of mankind, from the improvement
in philosophy, morals, politics, and even the conveniences of
common living, and the invention of new and useful utensils and
instruments; so that I have sometimes wished it had been my
destiny to be born two or three centuries hence. For invention
and improvement are prolific, and beget more of their kind. The
present progress is rapid. Many of great importance, now
unthought of, will, before that period, be produced."

Thus the old philosopher felt the thrill of dawn and knew that
the day of great mechanical inventions was at hand. He had read
the meaning of the puffing of the young steam engine of James
Watt and he had heard of a marvelous series of British inventions
for spinning and weaving. He saw that his own countrymen were
astir, trying to substitute the power of steam for the strength
of muscles and the fitful wind. John Fitch on the Delaware and
James Rumsey on the Potomac were already moving vessels by steam.
John Stevens of New York and Hoboken had set up a machine shop
that was to mean much to mechanical progress in America. Oliver
Evans, a mechanical genius of Delaware, was dreaming of the
application of high-pressure steam to both road and water
carriages. Such manifestations, though still very faint, were to
Franklin the signs of a new era.

And so, with vision undimmed, America's most famous citizen lived
on until near the end of the first year of George Washington's
administration. On April 17, 1790, his unconquerable spirit took
its flight.

In that year, 1790, was taken the First Census of the United
States. The new nation had a population of about four million
people. It then included practically the present territory east
of the Mississippi, except the Floridas, which belonged to Spain.
But only a small part of this territory was occupied. Much of New
York and Pennsylvania was savage wilderness. Only the seacoast of
Maine was inhabited, and the eighty-two thousand inhabitants of
Georgia hugged the Savannah River. Hardy pioneers had climbed the
Alleghanies into Kentucky and Tennessee, but the Northwest
Territory--comprising Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and
Wisconsin--was not enumerated at all, so scanty were its people,
perhaps not more than four thousand.

Though the First Census did not classify the population by
occupation it is certain that nine-tenths of the breadwinners
worked more or less upon the soil. The remaining tenth were
engaged in trade, transportation, manufacturing, fishing and
included also the professional men, doctors, lawyers, clergymen,
teachers, and the like. In other words, nine out of ten of the
population were engaged primarily in the production of food, an
occupation which today engages less than three out of ten. This
comparison, however, requires some qualification. The farmer and
the farmer's wife and children performed many tasks which are now
done in factories. The successful farmer on the frontier had to
be a jack of many trades. Often he tanned leather and made shoes
for his family and harness for his horses. He was carpenter,
blacksmith, cobbler, and often boat-builder and fisherman as
well. His wife made soap and candles, spun yarn and dyed it, wove
cloth and made the clothes the family wore, to mention only a few
of the tasks of the women of the eighteenth century.

The organization of industry, however, was beginning. Here and
there were small paper mills, glass factories-though many houses
in the back country were without glass windows--potteries, and
iron foundries and forges. Capitalists, in some places, had
brought together a few handloom weavers to make cloth for sale,
and the famous shoemakers of Massachusetts commonly worked in

The mineral resources of the United States were practically
unknown. The country seems to have produced iron enough for its
simple needs, some coal, copper, lead, gold, silver, and sulphur.
But we may say that mining was hardly practiced at all.

The fisheries and the shipyards were great sources of wealth,
especially for New England. The cod fishers numbered several
hundred vessels and the whalers about forty. Thousands of
citizens living along the seashore and the rivers fished more or
less to add to the local food supply. The deep-sea fishermen
exported a part of their catch, dried and salted. Yankee vessels
sailed to all ports of the world and carried the greater part of
the foreign commerce of the United States. Flour, tobacco, rice,
wheat, corn, dried fish, potash, indigo, and staves were the
principal exports. Great Britain was the best customer, with the
French West Indies next, and then the British West Indies. The
principal imports came from the same countries. Imports and
exports practically balanced each other, at about twenty million
dollars annually, or about five dollars a head. The great
merchants owned ships and many of them, such as John Hancock of
Boston, and Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, had grown very rich.

Inland transportation depended on horses and oxen or boats. There
were few good roads, sometimes none at all save bridle paths and
trails. The settlers along the river valleys used boats almost
entirely. Stage-coaches made the journey from New York to Boston
in four days in summer and in six in winter. Two days were
required to go between New York and Philadelphia. Forty to fifty
miles a day was the speed of the best coaches, provided always
that they did not tumble into the ditch. In many parts of the
country one must needs travel on horseback or on foot.

Even the wealthiest Americans of those days had few or none of
the articles which we regard today as necessities of life. The
houses were provided with open--which, however cheerful, did not
keep them warm--or else with Franklin's stoves. To strike a fire
one must have the flint and tinderbox, for matches were unknown
until about 1830. Candles made the darkness visible. There was
neither plumbing nor running water. Food was cooked in the ashes
or over an open fire.

The farmer's tools were no less crude than his wife's. His plough
had been little improved since the days of Rameses. He sowed his
wheat by hand, cut it with a sickle, flailed it out upon the
floor, and laboriously winnowed away the chaff.

In that same year, 1790, came a great boon and encouragement to
inventors, the first Federal Patent Act, passed by Congress on
the 10th of April. Every State had its own separate patent laws
or regulations, as an inheritance from colonial days, but the
Fathers of the Constitution had wisely provided that this
function of government should be exercised by the nation.* The
Patent Act, however, was for a time unpopular, and some States
granted monopolies, particularly of transportation, until they
were forbidden to do so by judicial decision.

* The Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8) empowers
Congress: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by
securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive
Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The first Patent Act provided that an examining board, consisting
of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the
Attorney-General, or any two of them, might grant a patent for
fourteen years, if they deemed the invention useful and
important. The patent itself was to be engrossed and signed by
the President, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney-General.
And the cost was to be three dollars and seventy cents, plus the
cost of copying the specifications at ten cents a sheet.

The first inventor to avail himself of the advantages of the new
Patent Act was Samuel Hopkins of Vermont, who received a patent
on the 31st of July for an improved method of "Making Pot and
Pearl Ashes." The world knows nothing of this Samuel Hopkins, but
the potash industry, which was evidently on his mind, was quite
important in his day. Potash, that is, crude potassium carbonate,
useful in making soap and in the manufacture of glass, was made
by leaching wood ashes and boiling down the lye. To produce a ton
of potash, the trees on an acre of ground would be cut down and
burned, the ashes leached, and the lye evaporated in great iron
kettles. A ton of potash was worth about twenty-five dollars.
Nothing could show more plainly the relative value of money and
human labor in those early times.

Two more patents were issued during the year 1790. The second
went to Joseph S. Sampson of Boston for a method of making
candles, and the third to Oliver Evans, of whom we shall learn
more presently, for an improvement in manufacturing flour and
meal. The fourth patent was granted in 1791 to Francis Baily of
Philadelphia for making punches for types. Next Aaron Putnam of
Medford, Massachusetts, thought that he could improve methods of
distilling, and John Stone of Concord, Massachusetts, offered a
new method of driving piles for bridges. And a versatile
inventor, Samuel Mulliken of Philadelphia, received four patents
in one day for threshing grain, cutting and polishing marble,
raising a nap on cloth, and breaking hemp.

Then came improvements in making nails, in making bedsteads, in
the manufacture of boats, and for propelling boats by cattle. On
August 26, 1791, James Rumsey, John Stevens, and John Fitch (all
three will appear again in this narrative) took out patents on
means of propelling boats. On the same day Nathan Read received
one on a process for distilling alcohol.

More than fifty patents were granted under the Patent Act of
1790, and mechanical devices were coming in so thick and fast
that the department heads apparently found it inconvenient to
hear applications. So the Act of 1790 was repealed. The second
Patent Act (1793) provided that a patent should be granted as a
matter of routine to any one who swore to the originality of his
device and paid the sum of thirty dollars as a fee. No one except
a citizen, however, could receive a patent. This act, with some
amendments, remained in force until 1836, when the present Patent
Office was organized with a rigorous and intricate system for
examination of all claims in order to prevent interference.
Protection of the property rights of inventors has been from the
beginning of the nation a definite American policy, and to this
policy may be ascribed innumerable inventions which have
contributed to the greatness of American industry and multiplied
the world's comforts and conveniences.

Under the second Patent Act came the most important invention yet
offered, an invention which was to affect generations then
unborn. This was a machine for cleaning cotton and it was offered
by a young Yankee schoolmaster, temporarily sojourning in the


The cotton industry is one of the most ancient. One or more of
the many species of the cotton plant is indigenous to four
continents, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and the manufacture
of the fiber into yarn and cloth seems to have developed
independently in each of them. We find mention of cotton in India
fifteen hundred years before Christ. The East Indians, with only
the crudest machinery, spun yarn and wove cloth as diaphanous as
the best appliances of the present day have been able to produce.

Alexander the Great introduced the "vegetable wool" into Europe.
The fable of the "vegetable lamb of Tartary" persisted almost
down to modern times. The Moors cultivated cotton in Spain on an
extensive scale, but after their expulsion the industry
languished. The East India Company imported cotton fabrics into
England early in the seventeenth century, and these fabrics made
their way in spite of the bitter opposition of the woolen
interests, which were at times strong enough to have the use of
cotton cloth prohibited by law. But when the Manchester spinners
took up the manufacture of cotton, the fight was won. The
Manchester spinners, however, used linen for their warp threads,
for without machinery they could not spin threads sufficiently
strong from the short-fibered Indian cotton.

In the New World the Spanish explorers found cotton and cotton
fabrics in use everywhere. Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, Magellan,
and others speak of the various uses to which the fiber was put,
and admired the striped awnings and the colored mantles made by
the natives. It seems probable that cotton was in use in the New
World quite as early as in India.

The first English settlers in America found little or no cotton
among the natives. But they soon began to import the fiber from
the West Indies, whence came also the plant itself into the
congenial soil and climate of the Southern colonies. During the
colonial period, however, cotton never became the leading crop,
hardly an important crop. Cotton could be grown profitably only
where there was an abundant supply of exceedingly cheap labor,
and labor in America, white or black, was never and could never
be as cheap as in India. American slaves could be much more
profitably employed in the cultivation of rice and indigo.

Three varieties of the cotton plant were grown in the South. Two
kinds of the black-seed or long-staple variety thrived in the
sea-islands and along the coast from Delaware to Georgia, but
only the hardier and more prolific green-seed or short-staple
cotton could. be raised inland. The labor of cultivating and
harvesting cotton of any kind was very great. The fiber, growing
in bolls resembling a walnut in size and shape, had to be taken
by hand from every boll, as it has to be today, for no
satisfactory cotton harvester has yet been invented. But in the
case of the green-seed or upland cotton, the only kind which
could ever be cultivated extensively in the South, there was
another and more serious obstacle in the way, namely, the
difficulty of separating the fiber from the seeds. No machine yet
devised could perform this tedious and unprofitable task. For the
black-seed or sea-island cotton, the churka, or roller gin, used
in India from time immemorial, drawing the fiber slowly between a
pair of rollers to push out the seeds, did the work imperfectly,
but this churka was entirely useless for the green-seed variety,
the fiber of which clung closely to the seed and would yield only
to human hands. The quickest and most skillful pair of hands
could separate only a pound or two of lint from its three pounds
of seeds in an ordinary working day. Usually the task was taken
up at the end of the day, when the other work was done. The
slaves sat round an overseer who shook the dozing and nudged the
slow. It was also the regular task for a rainy day. It is not
surprising, then, that cotton was scarce, that flax and wool in
that day were the usual textiles, that in 1783 wool furnished
about seventy-seven per cent, flax about eighteen per cent, and
cotton only about five per cent of the clothing of the people of
Europe and the United States.

That series of inventions designed for the manufacture of cloth,
and destined to transform Great Britain, the whole world, in
fact, was already completed in Franklin's time. Beginning with
the flying shuttle of John Kay in 1738, followed by the spinning
jenny of James Hargreaves in 1764, the water-frame of Richard
Arkwright in 1769, and the mule of Samuel Crompton ten years
later, machines were provided which could spin any quantity of
fiber likely to be offered. And when, in 1787, Edmund Cartwright,
clergyman and poet, invented the self-acting loom to which power
might be applied, the series was complete. These inventions,
supplementing the steam engine of James Watt, made the Industrial
Revolution. They destroyed the system of cottage manufactures in
England and gave birth to the great textile establishments of

The mechanism for the production of cloth on a great scale was
provided, if only the raw material could be found.

The romance of cotton begins on a New England farm. It was on a
farm in the town (township) of Westboro, in Worcester County,
Massachusetts, in the year 1765, that Eli Whitney, inventor of
the cotton gin, was born. Eli's father was a man of substance and
standing in the community, a mechanic as well as a farmer, who
occupied his leisure in making articles for his neighbors. We are
told that young Eli displayed a passion for tools almost as soon
as he could walk, that he made a violin at the age of twelve and
about the same time took his father's watch to pieces
surreptitiously and succeeded in putting it together again so
successfully as to escape detection. He was able to make a table
knife to match the others of a broken set. As a boy of fifteen or
sixteen, during the War of Independence, he was supplying the
neighborhood with hand-made nails and various other articles.
Though he had not been a particularly apt pupil in the schools,
he conceived the ambition of attending college; and so, after
teaching several winters in rural schools, he went to Yale. He
appears to have paid his own way through college by the exercise
of his mechanical talents. He is said to have mended for the
college some imported apparatus which otherwise would have had to
go to the old country for repairs. "There was a good mechanic
spoiled when you came to college," he was told by a carpenter in
the town. There was no "Sheff" at Yale in those days to give
young men like Whitney scientific instruction; so, defying the
bent of his abilities, Eli went on with his academic studies,
graduated in 1792, at the age of twenty-seven, and decided to be
a teacher or perhaps a lawyer.

Like so many young New Englanders of the time, Whitney sought
employment in the South. Having received the promise of a
position in South Carolina, he embarked at New York, soon after
his graduation, on a sailing vessel bound for Savannah. On board
he met the widow of General Nathanael Greene of Revolutionary
fame, and this lady invited him to visit her plantation at
Mulberry Grove, near Savannah. What happened then is best told by
Eli Whitney himself, in a letter to his father, written at New
Haven, after his return from the South some months later, though
the spelling master will probably send Whitney to the foot of the

"New Haven, Sept. 11th, 1793.

". . . I went from N. York with the family of the late Major
General Greene to Georgia. I went immediately with the family to
their Plantation about twelve miles from Savannah with an
expectation of spending four or five days and then proceed into
Carolina to take the school as I have mentioned in former
letters. During this time I heard much said of the extreme
difficulty of ginning Cotton, that is, seperating it from its
seeds. There were a number of very respectable Gentlemen at Mrs.
Greene's who all agreed that if a machine could be invented which
would clean the cotton with expedition, it would be a great thing
both to the Country and to the inventor. I involuntarily happened
to be thinking on the subject and struck out a plan of a Machine
in my mind, which I communicated to Miller (who is agent to the
Executors of Genl. Greene and resides in the family, a man of
respectibility and property), he was pleased with the Plan and
said if I would pursue it and try an experiment to see if it
would answer, he would be at the whole expense, I should loose
nothing but my time, and if I succeeded we would share the
profits. Previous to this I found I was like to be disappointed
in my school, that is, instead of a hundred, I found I could get
only fifty Guineas a year. I however held the refusal of the
school untill I tried some experiments. In about ten Days I made
a little model, for which I was offered, if I would give up all
right and title to it, a Hundred Guineas. I concluded to
relinquish my school and turn my attention to perfecting the
Machine. I made one before I came away which required the labor
of one man to turn it and with which one man will clean ten times
as much cotton as he can in any other way before known and also
cleanse it much better than in the usual mode. This machine may
be turned by water or with a horse, with the greatest ease, and
one man and a horse will do more than fifty men with the old
machines. It makes the labor fifty times less, without throwing
any class of People out of business.

"I returned to the Northward for the purpose of having a machine
made on a large scale and obtaining a Patent for the invintion. I
went to Philadelphia* soon after I arrived, made myself
acquainted with the steps necessary to obtain a Patent, took
several of the steps and the Secretary of State Mr. Jefferson
agreed to send the Pattent to me as soon it could be made out--so
that I apprehended no difficulty in obtaining the Patent--Since I
have been here I have employed several workmen in making machines
and as soon as my business is such that I can leave it a few
days, I shall come to Westboro'**. I think it is probable I shall
go to Philadelphia again before I come to Westboro', and when I
do come I shall be able to stay but few days. I am certain I can
obtain a patent in England. As soon as I have got a Patent in
America I shall go with the machine which I am now making, to
Georgia, where I shall stay a few weeks to see it at work. From
thence I expect to go to England, where I shall probably continue
two or three years. How advantageous this business will
eventually prove to me, I cannot say. It is generally said by
those who know anything about it, that I shall make a Fortune by
it. I have no expectation that I shall make an independent
fortune by it, but think I had better pursue it than any other
business into which I can enter. Something which cannot be
foreseen may frustrate my expectations and defeat my Plan; but I
am now so sure of success that ten thousand dollars, if I saw the
money counted out to me, would not tempt me to give up my right
and relinquish the object. I wish you, sir, not to show this
letter nor communicate anything of its contents to any body
except My Brothers and Sister, ENJOINING it on them to keep the

* Then the national capital.

** Hammond, "Correspondence of Eli Whitney," American Historical
Review, vol. III, p. 99. The other citations in this chapter are
from the same source, unless otherwise stated.

The invention, however, could not be kept "a profound secret,"
for knowledge of it was already out in the cotton country.
Whitney's hostess, Mrs. Greene, had shown the wonderful machine
to some friends, who soon spread the glad tidings, and planters,
near and far, had come to Mulberry Grove to see it. The machine
was of very simple construction; any blacksmith or wheelwright,
knowing the principle of the design, could make one. Even before
Whitney could obtain his patent, cotton gins based on his were
being manufactured and used.

Whitney received his patent in March, 1794, and entered on his
new work with enthusiasm. His partner, Phineas Miller, was a
cultivated New England gentleman, a graduate of Yale College,
who, like Whitney, had sought his fortune as a teacher in the
South. He had been a tutor in the Greene household and on General
Greene's death had taken over the management of his estates. He
afterwards married Mrs. Greene. The partners decided to
manufacture the machines in New Haven, Whitney to give his time
to the production, Miller to furnish the capital and attend to
the firm's interests in the South.

At the outset the partners blundered seriously in their plan for
commercializing the invention. They planned to buy seed cotton
and clean it themselves; also to clean cotton for the planters on
the familiar toll system, as in grinding grain, taking a toll of
one pound of cotton out of every three. "Whitney's plan in
Georgia," says a recent writer, "as shown by his letters and
other evidence, was to own all the gins and gin all the cotton
made in the country. It is but human nature that this sort of
monopoly should be odious to any community."* Miller appears to
have calculated that the planters could afford to pay for the use
of the new invention about one-half of all the profits they
derived from its use. An equal division, between the owners of
the invention on the one hand and the cotton growers on the
other, of all the super-added wealth arising from the invention,
seemed to him fair. Apparently the full meaning of such an
arrangement did not enter his mind. Perhaps Miller and Whitney
did not see at first that the new invention would cause a
veritable industrial revolution, or that the system they planned,
if it could be made effective, would make them absolute masters
of the cotton country, with the most stupendous monopoly in the
world. Nor do they appear to have realized that, considering the
simple construction of their machine and the loose operation of
the patent law at that time, the planters of the South would
never submit to so great a tribute as they proposed to exact.
Their attempt in the first instance to set up an unfair monopoly
brought them presently into a sea of troubles, which they never
passed out of, even when they afterwards changed their tack and
offered to sell the machines with a license, or a license alone,
at a reasonable price.

* Tompkins, "Cotton and Cotton Oil", p. 86.

Misfortune pursued the partners from the beginning. Whitney
writes to his father from New Haven in May, 1794, that his
machines in Georgia are working well, but that he apprehends
great difficulty in manufacturing them as fast as they are
needed. In March of the following year he writes again, saying
that his factory in New Haven has been destroyed by fire: "When I
returned home from N. York I found my property all in ashes! My
shop, all my tools, material and work equal to twenty finished
cotton machines all gone. The manner in which it took fire is
altogether unaccountable." Besides, the partners found themselves
in distress for lack of capital. Then word came from England that
the Manchester spinners had found the ginned cotton to contain
knots, and this was sufficient to start the rumor throughout the
South that Whitney's gin injured the cotton fiber and that cotton
cleaned by them was worthless. It was two years before this ghost
was laid. Meanwhile Whitney's patent was being infringed on every
hand. "They continue to clean great quantities of cotton with
Lyon's Gin and sell it advantageously while the Patent ginned
cotton is run down as good for nothing," writes Miller to Whitney
in September, 1797. Miller and Whitney brought suits against the
infringers but they could obtain no redress in the courts.

Whitney's attitude of mind during these troubles is shown in his
letters. He says the statement that his machines injure the
cotton is false, that the source of the trouble is bad cotton,
which he ventures to think is improved fifty per cent by the use
of his gin, and that it is absurd to say that the cotton could be
injured in any way in the process of cleaning. "I think," he
says, writing to Miller, "you will be able to convince the CANDID
that this is quite a mistaken notion and them that WILL NOT
BELIEVE may be damn'd." Again, writing later to his friend Josiah
Stebbins in New England: "I have a set of the most Depraved
villains to combat and I might almost as well go to HELL in
search of HAPPINESS as apply to a Georgia Court for Justice." And
again: "You know I always believed in the 'DEPRAVITY OF HUMAN
NATURE.' I thought I was long ago sufficiently 'grounded and
stablished' in this Doctrine. But God Almighty is continually
pouring down cataracts of testimony upon me to convince me of
this fact. 'Lord I believe, help thou,' not 'mine unbelief,' but
me to overcome the rascality of mankind." His partner Miller, on
the other hand, is inclined to be more philosophical and suggests
to Whitney that "we take the affairs of this world patiently and
that the little dust which we may stir up about cotton may after
all not make much difference with our successors one hundred,
much less one thousand years hence." Miller, however, finally
concluded that, "the prospect of making anything by ginning in
this State [Georgia] is at an end. Surreptitious gins are being
erected in every part of the country; and the jurymen at Augusta
have come to an understanding among themselves, that they will
never give a verdict in our favor, let the merits of the case be
as they may."*

* Cited in Roe, "English and American Tool Builders", p. 153.

Miller and Whitney were somewhat more fortunate in other States
than in Georgia though they nowhere received from the cotton gin
enough to compensate them for their time and trouble nor more
than a pitiable fraction of the great value of their invention.
South Carolina, in 1801, voted them fifty thousand dollars for
their patent rights, twenty thousand dollars to be paid down and
the remainder in three annual payments of ten thousand dollars
each. "We get but a song for it," wrote Whitney, "in comparison
with the worth of the thing, but it is securing something." Why
the partners were willing to take so small a sum was later
explained by Miller. They valued the rights for South Carolina at
two hundred thousand dollars, but, since the patent law was being
infringed with impunity, they were willing to take half that
amount; "and had flattered themselves," wrote Miller, "that a
sense of dignity and justice on the part of that honorable body
[the Legislature] would not have countenanced an offer of a less
sum than one hundred thousand dollars. Finding themselves,
however, to be mistaken in this opinion, and entertaining a
belief that the failure of such negotiation, after it commenced,
would have a tendency to diminish the prospect, already doubtful,
of enforcing the Patent Law, it was concluded to be best under
existing circumstances to accept the very inadequate sum of fifty
thousand dollars offered by the Legislature and thereby
relinquish and entirely abandon three-fourths of the actual value
of the property."

But even the fifty thousand dollars was not collected without
difficulty. South Carolina suspended the contract, after paying
twenty thousand dollars, and sued Miller and Whitney for recovery
of the sum paid, on the ground that the partners had not complied
with the conditions. Whitney succeeded, in 1805, in getting the
Legislature to reinstate the contract and pay him the remainder
of the money. Miller, discouraged and broken by the long
struggle, had died in the meantime.

The following passage from a letter written by Whitney in
February, 1805, to Josiah Stebbins, gives Whitney's views as to
the treatment he had received at the hands of the authorities. He
is writing from the residence of a friend near Orangeburg, South

"The principal object of my present excursion to this Country was
to get this business set right; which I have so far effected as
to induce the Legislature of this State to recind all their
former SUSPENDING LAWS and RESOLUTIONS, to agree once more to pay
the sum of 30,000 Dollars which was due and make the necessary
appropriations for that purpose. I have as yet however obtained
but a small part of this payment. The residue is promised me in
July next. Thus you see my RECOMPENSE OF REWARD is as the land of
Canaan was to the Jews, resting a long while in promise. If the
Nations with whom I have to contend are not as numerous as those
opposed to the Israelites, they are certainly much greater
HEATHENS, having their hearts hardened and their understanding
blinded, to make, propagate and believe all manner of lies.
Verily, Stebbins, I have had much vexation of spirit in this
business. I shall spend forty thousand dollars to obtain thirty,
and it will all end in vanity at last. A contract had been made
with the State of Tennessee which now hangs SUSPENDED. Two
attempts have been made to induce the State of No. Carolina to
RECIND their CONTRACT, neither of which have succeeded. Thus you
see Brother Steb. Sovreign and Independent States warped by
INTEREST will be ROGUES and misled by Demagogues will be FOOLS.
They have spent much time, MONEY and CREDIT, to avoid giving me a
small compensation, for that which to them is worth millions."

Meanwhile North Carolina had agreed to buy the rights for the
State on terms that yielded Whitney about thirty thousand
dollars, and it is estimated that he received about ten thousand
dollars from Tennessee, making his receipts in all about ninety
thousand dollars, before deducting costs of litigation and other
losses. The cotton gin was not profitable to its inventor. And
yet no invention in history ever so suddenly transformed an
industry and created enormous wealth. Eight years before
Whitney's invention, eight bales of cotton, landed at Liverpool,
were seized on the ground that so large a quantity of cotton
could not have been produced in the United States. The year
before that invention the United States exported less than one
hundred and forty thousand pounds of cotton; the year after it,
nearly half a million pounds; the next year over a million and a
half; a year later still, over six million; by 1800, nearly
eighteen million pounds a year. And by 1845 the United States was
producing producing seven-eighths of the world's cotton. Today
the United States produces six to eight billion pounds of cotton
annually, and ninety-nine per cent of this is the upland or
green-seed cotton, which is cleaned on the Whitney type of gin
and was first made commercially available by Whitney's

* Roe, "English and American Tool Builders", pp. 150-51.

More than half of this enormous crop is still exported in spite
of the great demand at home. Cotton became and has continued to
be the greatest single export of the United States. In ordinary
years its value is greater than the combined value of the three
next largest exports. It is on cotton that the United States has
depended for the payment of its trade balance to Europe.

Other momentous results followed on the invention of the cotton
gin. In 1793 slavery seemed a dying institution, North and South.
Conditions of soil and climate made slavery unprofitable in the
North. On many of the indigo, rice, and tobacco plantations in
the South there were more slaves than could be profitably
employed, and many planters were thinking of emancipating their
slaves, when along came this simple but wonderful machine and
with it the vision of great riches in cotton; for while slaves
could not earn their keep separating the cotton from its seeds by
hand, they could earn enormous profits in the fields, once the
difficulty of extracting the seeds was solved. Slaves were no
longer a liability but an asset. The price of "field hands" rose,
and continued to rise. If the worn-out lands of the seaboard no
longer afforded opportunity for profitable employment, the rich
new lands of the Southwest called for laborers, and yet more
laborers. Taking slaves with them, younger sons pushed out into
the wilderness, became possessed of great tracts of fertile land,
and built up larger plantations than those upon which they had
been born. Cotton became King of the South.

The supposed economic necessity of slave labor led great men to
defend slavery, and politics in the South became largely the
defense of slavery against the aggression, real or fancied, of
the free North. The rift between the sections became a chasm.
Then came the War of Secession.

Though Miller was dead, Whitney carried on the fight for his
rights in Georgia. His difficulties were increased by a patent
which the Government at Philadelphia issued in May, 1796, to
Hogden Holmes, a mechanic of Augusta, for an improvement in the
cotton gin. The Holmes machines were soon in common use, and it
was against the users of these that many of the suits for
infringement were brought. Suit after suit ran its course in the
Georgia courts, without a single decision in the inventor's
favor. At length, however, in December, 1806, the validity of
Whitney's patent was finally determined by decision of the United
States Circuit Court in Georgia. Whitney asked for a perpetual
injunction against the Holmes machine, and the court, finding
that his invention was basic, granted him all that he asked.

By this time, however, the life of the patent had nearly run its
course. Whitney applied to Congress for a renewal, but, in spite
of all his arguments and a favorable committee report, the
opposition from the cotton States proved too strong, and his
application was denied. Whitney now had other interests. He was a
great manufacturer of firearms, at New Haven, and as such we
shall meet him again in a later chapter.


For the beginnings of the enslavement of steam, that mighty giant
whose work has changed the world we live in, we must return to
the times of Benjamin Franklin. James Watt, the accredited father
of the modern steam engine, was a contemporary of Franklin, and
his engine was twenty-one years old when Franklin died. The
discovery that steam could be harnessed and made to work is not,
of course, credited to James Watt. The precise origin of that
discovery is unknown. The ancient Greeks had steam engines of a
sort, and steam engines of another sort were pumping water out of
mines in England when James Watt was born. James Watt, however,
invented and applied the first effective means by which steam
came to serve mankind. And so the modern steam engine begins with

The story is old, of how this Scottish boy, James Watt, sat on
the hearth in his mother's cottage, intently watching the steam
rising from the mouth of the tea kettle, and of the great role
which this boy afterwards assumed in the mechanical world. It was
in 1763, when he was twenty-eight and had the appointment of
mathematical-instrument maker to the University of Glasgow, that
a model of Newcomen's steam pumping engine was brought into his
shop for repairs. One can perhaps imagine the feelings with which
James Watt, interested from his youth in mechanical and
scientific instruments, particularly those which dealt with
steam, regarded this Newcomen engine. Now his interest was
vastly. quickened. He set up the model and operated it, noticed
how the alternate heating and cooling of its cylinder wasted
power, and concluded, after some weeks of experiment, that, in
order to make the engine practicable, the cylinder must be kept
hot, "always as hot as the steam which entered it." Yet in order
to condense the steam there must be a cooling of the vessel. The
problem was to reconcile these two conditions.

At length the pregnant idea occurred to him--the idea of the
separate condenser. It came to him on a Sunday afternoon in 1765,
as he walked across Glasgow Green. If the steam were condensed in
a vessel separate from the cylinder, it would be quite possible
to keep the condensing vessel cool and the cylinder hot at the
same time. Next morning Watt began to put his scheme to the test
and found it practicable. He developed other ideas and applied
them. So at last was born a steam engine that would work and
multiply man's energies a thousandfold.

After one or two disastrous business experiences, such as fall to
the lot of many great inventors, perhaps to test their
perseverance, Watt associated himself with Matthew Boulton, a man
of capital and of enterprise, owner of the Soho Engineering
Works, near Birmingham. The firm of Boulton and Watt became
famous, and James Watt lived till August 19, 1819--lived to see
his steam engine the greatest single factor in the new industrial
era that had dawned for English-speaking folk.

Boulton and Watt, however, though they were the pioneers, were by
no means alone in the development of the steam engine. Soon there
were rivals in the field with new types of engines. One of these
was Richard Trevithick in England; another was Oliver Evans of
Philadelphia. Both Trevithick and Evans invented the
high-pressure engine. Evans appears to have applied the high
pressure principle before Trevithick, and it has been said that
Trevithick borrowed it from Evans, but Evans himself never said
so, and it is more likely that each of these inventors worked it
out independently. Watt introduced his steam to the cylinder at
only slightly more than atmospheric pressure and clung
tenaciously to the low-pressure theory all his life. Boulton and
Watt, indeed, aroused by Trevithick's experiments in
high-pressure engines, sought to have Parliament pass an act
forbidding high pressure on the ground that the lives of the
public were endangered. Watt lived long enough, however, to see
the high-pressure steam engine come into general favor, not only
in America but even in his own conservative country.

Less sudden, less dramatic, than that of the cotton gin, was the
entrance of the steam engine on the American industrial stage,
but not less momentous. The actions and reactions of steam in
America provide the theme for an Iliad which some American Homer
may one day write. They include the epic of the coal in the
Pennsylvania hills, the epic of the ore, the epic of the
railroad, the epic of the great city; and, in general, the
subjugation of a continental wilderness to the service of a vast

The vital need of better transportation was uppermost in the
thoughts of many Americans. It was seen that there could be no
national unity in a country so far flung without means of easy
intercourse between one group of Americans and another. The
highroads of the new country were, for the most part, difficult
even for the man on horseback, and worse for those who must
travel by coach or post-chaise. Inland from the coast and away
from the great rivers there were no roads of any sort; nothing
but trails. Highways were essential, not only for the permanent
unity of the United States, but to make available the wonderful
riches of the inland country, across the Appalachian barrier and
around the Great Lakes, into which American pioneers had already
made their way.

Those immemorial pathways, the great rivers, were the main
avenues of traffic with the interior. So, of course, when men
thought of improving transportation, they had in mind chiefly
transportation by water; and that is why the earliest efforts of
American inventors were applied to the means of improving traffic
and travel by water and not by land.

The first men to spend their time in trying to apply steam power
to the propulsion of a boat were contemporaries of Benjamin
Franklin. Those who worked without Watt's engine could hardly
succeed. One of the earliest of these was William Henry of
Pennsylvania. Henry, in 1763, had the idea of applying power to
paddle wheels, and constructed a boat, but his boat sank, and no
result followed, unless it may be that John Fitch and Robert
Fulton, both of whom were visitors at Henry's house, received
some suggestions from him. James Rumsey of Maryland began
experiments as early as 1774 and by 1786 had a boat that made
four miles an hour against the current of the Potomac.

The most interesting of these early and unsuccessful inventors is
John Fitch, who, was a Connecticut clockmaker living in
Philadelphia. He was eccentric and irregular in his habits and
quite ignorant of the steam engine. But he conceived the idea of
a steamboat and set to work to make one. The record of Fitch's
life is something of a tragedy. At the best he was an unhappy man
and was always close to poverty. As a young man he had left his
family because of unhappy domestic relations with his wife. One
may find in the record of his undertakings which he left in the
Philadelphia Library, to be opened thirty years after its
receipt, these words: "I know of nothing so perplexing and
vexatious to a man of feelings as a turbulent Wife and Steamboat
building." But in spite of all his difficulties Fitch produced a
steamboat, which plied regularly on the Delaware for several
years and carried passengers. "We reigned Lord High Admirals of
the Delaware; and no other boat in the River could hold its way
with us," he wrote. "Thus has been effected by little Johnny
Fitch and Harry Voight [one of his associates] one of the
greatest and most useful arts that has ever been introduced into
the world; and although the world and my country does not thank
me for it, yet it gives me heartfelt satisfaction." The "Lord
High Admirals of the Delaware," however, did not reign long. The
steamboat needed improvement to make it pay; its backers lost
patience and faith, and the inventor gave up the fight and
retired into the fastnesses of the Kentucky wilderness, where he

The next inventor to struggle with the problem of the steamboat,
with any approach to success, was John Stevens of Hoboken. His
life was cast in a vastly different environment from that of John
Fitch. He was a rich man, a man of family and of influence. His
father's house--afterwards his own---at 7 Broadway, facing
Bowling Green--was one of the mansions of early New York, and his
own summer residence on Castle Point, Hoboken, just across the
Hudson, was one of the landmarks of the great river. For many
years John Stevens crossed that river; most often in an open boat
propelled by sail or by men at the oars. Being naturally of a
mechanical turn, he sought to make the crossing easier. To his
library were coming the prints that told of James Watt and the
steam engine in England, and John Fitch's boat had interested

Robert Fulton's Clermont, of which we shall speak presently, was
undoubtedly the pioneer of practicable steamboats. But the
Phoenix, built by John Stevens, followed close on the Clermont.
And its engines were built in America, while those of the
Clermont had been imported from England. Moreover, in June, 1808,
the Phoenix stood to sea, and made the first ocean voyage in the
history of steam navigation. Because of a monopoly of the Hudson,
which the New York Legislature had granted to Livingston and
Fulton, Stevens was compelled to send his ship to the Delaware.
Hence the trip out into the waters of the Atlantic, a journey
that was not undertaken without trepidation. But, despite the
fact that a great storm arose, the Phoenix made the trip in
safety; and continued for many years thereafter to ply the
Delaware between Philadelphia and Trenton.

Robert Fulton, like many and many another great inventor, from
Leonardo da Vinci down to the present time, was also an artist.
He was born November 14, 1765, at Little Britain, Lancaster
County, Pennsylvania, of that stock which is so often miscalled
"Scotch-Irish." He was only a child when his father died, leaving
behind him a son who seems to have been much more interested in
his own ideas than in his schoolbooks. Even in his childhood
Robert showed his mechanical ability. There was a firm of noted
gunsmiths in Lancaster, in whose shops he made himself at home
and became expert in the use of tools. At the age of fourteen he
applied his ingenuity to a heavy fishing boat and equipped it
with paddle-wheels, which were turned by a crank, thus greatly
lightening the labor of moving it.

At the age of seventeen young Fulton moved to Philadelphia and
set up as a portrait painter. Some of the miniatures which he
painted at this time are said to be very good. He worked hard,
made many good friends, including Benjamin Franklin, and
succeeded financially. He determined to go to Europe to study--if
possible under his fellow Pennsylvanian, Benjamin West, then
rising into fame in London. The West and the Fulton families had
been intimate, and Fulton hoped that West would take him as a
pupil. First buying a farm for his mother with a part of his
savings, he sailed for England in 1786, with forty guineas in his
pocket. West received him not only as a pupil but as a guest in
his house and introduced him to many of his friends. Again Fulton
succeeded, and in 1791 two of his portraits were exhibited at the
Royal Academy, and the Royal Society of British Artists hung four
paintings by him.

Then came the commission which changed the course of Fulton's
life. His work had attracted the notice of Viscount Courtenay,
later Earl of Devon, and he was invited to Devonshire to paint
that nobleman's portrait. Here he met Francis, third Duke of
Bridgewater, the father of the English canal system, and his
hardly less famous engineer, James Brindley, and also Earl
Stanhope, a restless, inquiring spirit. Fulton the mechanic
presently began to dominate Fulton the artist. He studied canals,
invented a means of sawing marble in the quarries, improved the
wheel for spinning flax, invented a machine for making rope, and
a method of raising canal boats by inclined planes instead of
locks. What money he made from these inventions we do not know,
but somewhat later (1796) he speaks hopefully of an improvement
in tanning. This same year he published a pamphlet entitled "A
Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation", copies of which
were sent to Napoleon and President Washington.

Fulton went to France in 1797. To earn money he painted several
portraits and a panorama of the Burning of Moscow. This panorama,
covering the walls of a circular hall built especially for it,
became very popular, and Fulton painted another. In Paris he
formed a warm friendship with that singular American, Joel
Barlow, soldier, poet, speculator, and diplomatist, and his wife,
and for seven years lived in their house.

The long and complicated story of Fulton's sudden interest in
torpedoes and submarine boats, his dealings with the Directory
and Napoleon and with the British Admiralty does not belong here.
His experiments and his negotiations with the two Governments
occupied the greater part of his time for the years between 1797
and 1806. His expressed purpose was to make an engine of war so
terrible that war would automatically be abolished. The world,
however, was not ready for diving boats and torpedoes, nor yet
for the end of war, and his efforts had no tangible results.*

* The submarine was the invention of David Bushnell, a
Connecticut Yankee, whose "American Turtle" blew up at least one
British vessel in the War of Independence and created much
consternation among the King's ships in American waters.

During all the years after 1793, at least, and perhaps earlier,
the idea of the steamboat had seldom been out of his mind, but
lack of funds and the greater urgency, as he thought, of the
submarine prevented him from working seriously upon it. In 1801,
however, Robert R. Livingston came to France as American
Minister. Livingston had already made some unsuccessful
experiments with the steamboat in the United States, and, in
1798, had received the monopoly of steam navigation on the waters
of New York for twenty years, provided that he produced a vessel
within twelve months able to steam four miles an hour. This grant
had, of course, been forfeited, but might be renewed, Livingston

Fulton and Livingston met, probably at Barlow's house, and, in
1802, drew up an agreement to construct a steamboat to ply
between New York and Albany. Livingston agreed to advance five
hundred dollars for experimentation in Europe. In this same year
Fulton built a model and tested different means of propulsion,
giving "the preference to a wheel on each side of the model."*
The boat was built on the Seine, but proved too frail for the
borrowed engine. A second boat was tried in August, 1803, and
moved, though at a disappointingly slow rate of speed.

* Fulton to Barlow, quoted in Sutcliffe, "Robert Fulton and the
Clermont", p. 124.

Just at this time Fulton wrote ordering an engine from Boulton
and Watt to be transported to America. The order was at first
refused, as it was then the shortsighted policy of the British
Government to maintain a monopoly of mechanical contrivances.
Permission to export was given the next year, however, and the
engine was shipped in 1805. It lay for some time in the New York
Customs House. Meanwhile Fulton had studied the Watt engine on
Symington's steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas, on the Forth and
Clyde Canal, and Livingston had been granted a renewal of his
monopoly of the waters of New York.

Fulton arrived at New York in 1806 and began the construction of
the Clermont, so named after Livingston's estate on the Hudson.
The building was done on the East River. The boat excited the
jeers of passersby, who called it "Fulton's Folly." On Monday,
August 17, 1807, the memorable first voyage was begun. Carrying a
party of invited guests, the Clermont steamed off at one o'clock.
Past the towns and villages along the Hudson, the boat moved
steadily, black smoke rolling from her stack. Pine wood was the
fuel. During the night, the sparks pouring from her funnel, the
clanking of her machinery, and the splashing of the paddles
frightened the animals in the woods and the occupants of the
scattered houses along the banks. At one o'clock Tuesday the boat
arrived at Clermont, 110 miles from New York. After spending the
night at Clermont, the voyage was resumed on Wednesday. Albany,
forty miles away, was reached in eight hours, making a record of
150 miles in thirty-two hours. Returning to New York, the
distance was covered in thirty hours. The steamboat was a

The boat was then laid up for two weeks while the cabins were
boarded in, a roof built over the engine, and coverings placed
over the paddle-wheels to catch the spray--all under Fulton's
eye. Then the Clermont began regular trips to Albany, carrying
sometimes a hundred passengers, making the round trip every four
days, and continued until floating ice marked the end of
navigation for the winter.

Why had Fulton succeeded where others had failed? There was
nothing new in his boat. Every essential feature of the Clermont
had been anticipated by one or other of the numerous
experimenters before him. The answer seems to be that he was a
better engineer than any of them. He had calculated proportions,
and his hull and his engine were in relation. Then too, he had
one of Watt's engines, undoubtedly the best at the time, and the
unwavering support of Robert Livingston.

Fulton's restless mind was never still, but he did not turn
capriciously from one idea to another. Though never satisfied,
his new ideas were tested scientifically and the results
carefully written down. Some of his notebooks read almost like
geometrical demonstrations; and his drawings and plans were
beautifully executed. Before his death in 1815 he had constructed
or planned sixteen or seventeen boats, including boats for the
Hudson, Potomac, and Mississippi rivers, for the Neva in Russia,
and a steam vessel of war for the United States. He was a member
of the commission on the Erie Canal, though he did not live to
see that enterprise begun.

The mighty influence of the steamboat in the development of
inland America is told elsewhere in this Series.* The steamboat
has long since grown to greatness, but it is well to remember
that the true ancestor of the magnificent leviathan of our own
day is the Clermont of Robert Fulton.

* Archer B. Hulbert, "The Paths of Inland Commerce".

The world today is on the eve of another great development in
transportation, quite as revolutionary as any that have preceded.
How soon will it take place? How long before Kipling's vision in
"The Night Mail" becomes a full reality? How long before the air
craft comes to play a great role in the world's transportation?
We cannot tell. But, after looking at the nearest parallel in the
facts of history, each of us may make his own guess. The airship
appears now to be much farther advanced than the steamboat was
for many years after Robert Fulton died. Already we have seen men
ride the wind above the sea from the New World to the Old.
Already United States mails are regularly carried through the air
from the Atlantic to the Golden Gate. It was twelve years after
the birth of Fulton's Clermont, and four years after the
inventor's death, before any vessel tried to cross the Atlantic
under steam. This was in 1819, when the sailing packet Savannah,
equipped with a ninety horsepower horizontal engine and paddle-
wheels, crossed from Savannah to Liverpool in twenty-five days,
during eighteen of which she used steam power. The following
year, however, the engine was taken out of the craft. And it was
not until 1833 that a real steamship crossed the Atlantic. This
time it was the Royal William, which made a successful passage
from Quebec to London. Four years more passed before the Great
Western was launched at Bristol, the first steamship to be
especially designed for transatlantic service, and the era of
great steam liners began.

If steam could be made to drive a boat on the water, why not a
wagon on the land?

History, seeking origins, often has difficulty when it attempts
to discover the precise origin of an idea. "It frequently
happens," said Oliver Evans, "that two persons, reasoning right
on a mechanical subject, think alike and invent the same thing
without any communication with each other."* It is certain,
however, that one of the first, if not the first, protagonist of
the locomotive in America was the same Oliver Evans, a truly
great inventor for whom the world was not quite ready. The world
has forgotten him. But he was the first engine builder in
America, and one of the best of his day. He gave to his
countrymen the high-pressure steam engine and new machinery for
manufacturing flour that was not superseded for a hundred years.

* Coleman Sellers, "Oliver Evans and His Inventions," "Journal of
the Franklin Institute", July, 1886: vol. CXXII, p. 16.

"Evans was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a wheelwright.
He was a thoughtful, studious boy, who devoured eagerly the few
books to which he had access, even by the light of a fire of
shavings, when denied a candle by his parsimonious master. He
says that in 1779, when only seventeen years old, he began to
contrive some method of propelling land carriages by other means
than animal power; and that he thought of a variety of devices,
such as using the force of the wind and treadles worked by men;
but as they were evidently inadequate, was about to give up the
problem as unsolvable for want of a suitable source of power,
when he heard that some neighboring blacksmith's boys had stopped
up the touch-hole of a gun barrel, put in some water, rammed down
a tight wad, and, putting the breech into the smith's fire, the
gun had discharged itself with a report like that of gunpowder.
This immediately suggested to his fertile mind a new source of
power, and he labored long to apply it, but without success,
until there fell into his hands a book describing the old
atmospheric steam engine of Newcomen, and he was at once struck
with the fact that steam was only used to produce a vacuum while
to him it seemed clear that the elastic power of the steam if
applied directly to moving the piston, would be far more
efficient. He soon satisfied himself that he could make steam
wagons, but could convince no one else of this possibility."*

* Coleman Sellers, "Oliver Evans and His Inventions," "Journal of
the Franklin Institute", July, 1886: vol. CXXII, p. 3.

Evans was then living in Delaware, where he was born, and where
he later worked out his inventions in flour-milling machinery and
invented and put into service the high-pressure steam engine. He
appears to have moved to Philadelphia about 1790, the year of
Franklin's death and of the Federal Patent Act; and, as we have
seen, the third patent issued by the Government at Philadelphia
was granted to him. About this time he became absorbed in the
hard work of writing a book, the "Millwright and Miller's Guide",
which he published in 1795, but at a heavy sacrifice to himself
in time and money. A few years later he had an established engine
works in Philadelphia and was making steam engines of his own
type that performed their work satisfactorily.

The Oruktor Amphibolos, or Amphibious Digger, which came out of
his shop in 1804, was a steamdriven machine made to the order of
the Philadelphia Board of Health for dredging and cleaning the
docks of the city. It was designed, as its name suggests, for
service either in water or on shore. It propelled itself across
the city to the river front, puffing and throwing off clouds of
steam and making quite a sensation on the streets.

Evans had never forgotten his dream of the "steam wagon." His
Oruktor had no sooner begun puffing than he offered to make for
the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company steamdriven
carriages to take the place of their six-horse Conestoga wagons,
promising to treble their profits. But the directors of the road
were conservative men and his arguments fell on deaf ears.

In the same year Evans petitioned Congress for an extension of
the patent on his flour-milling machinery, which was about to
expire. He had derived little profit from this important
invention, as the new machinery made its way very slowly, but
every year more and more millers were using it and Evans received
royalties from them. He felt sure that Congress would renew his
patent, and, with great expectations for the future, he announced
a new book in preparation by himself to be called "The Young
Engineer's Guide". It was to give the most thorough treatment to
the subject of the steam engine, with a profusion of drawings to
illustrate the text. But Evans reckoned without the millers who
were opposing his petition. Though they were profiting by his
invention, they were unwilling to pay him anything, and they
succeeded in having his bill in Congress defeated. It was a hard
blow for the struggling author and inventor. His income cut off,
he was obliged to reduce the scale of his book "and to omit many
of the illustrations he had promised." He wrote the sad story
into the name of the book. It came out under the title of "The
Abortion of the Young Engineer's Guide".

Four years later, when Congress restored and extended his patent,
Evans felt that better days were ahead, but, as said already, he
was too far ahead of his time to be understood and appreciated.
Incredulity, prejudice, and opposition were his portion as long
as he lived. Nevertheless, he went on building good engines and
had the satisfaction of seeing them in extensive use. His life
came to an end as the result of what to him was the greatest
possible tragedy. He was visiting New York City in 1819, when
news came to him of the destruction by an incendiary of his
beloved shops in Philadelphia. The shock was greater than he
could bear. A stroke of apoplexy followed, from which he died.

The following prophecy, written by Oliver Evans and published in
1812, seventeen years before the practical use of the locomotive
began, tells us something of the vision of this early American

"The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by
steam engines from one city to another almost as fast as birds
fly--fifteen to twenty miles an hour. Passing through the air
with such velocity--changing the scenes in such rapid
succession--will be the most exhilarating, delightful exercise. A
carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, and the
passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine in Philadelphia, and
sup at New York the same day.

"To accomplish this, two sets of railways will be laid so nearly
level as not in any place to deviate more than two degrees from a
horizontal line, made of wood or iron, on smooth paths of broken
stone or gravel, with a rail to guide the carriages so that they
may pass each other in different directions and travel by night
as well as by day; and the passengers will sleep in these stages
as comfortably as they do now in steam stage-boats."*

*Cited by Coleman Sellers, Ibid., p. 13.

Another early advocate of steam carriages and railways was John
Stevens, the rich inventor of Hoboken, who figures in the story
of the steamboat. In February, 1812, Stevens addressed to the
commissioners appointed by the State of New York to explore a
route for the Erie Canal an elaborate memoir calculated to prove
that railways would be much more in the public interest than the
proposed canal. He wrote at the same time to Robert R. Livingston
(who, as well as Robert Fulton, his partner in the steamboat, was
one of the commissioners) requesting his influence in favor of
railways. Livingston, having committed himself to the steamboat
and holding a monopoly of navigation on the waters of New York
State, could hardly be expected to give a willing ear to a rival
scheme, and no one then seems to have dreamed that both canal and
railway would ultimately be needed. Livingston, however, was an
enlightened statesman, one of the ablest men of his day. He had
played a prominent part in the affairs of the Revolution and in
the ratification of the Constitution; had known Franklin and
Washington and had negotiated with Napoleon the Louisiana
Purchase. His reply to Stevens is a good statement of the
objections to the railway, as seen at the time, and of the public
attitude towards it.

Robert R. Livingston to John Stevens

"Albany, 11th March, 1812.

"I did not, till yesterday, receive yours of the 5th of February;
where it has loitered on the road I am at a loss to say. I had
before read your very ingenious propositions as to the rail-way
communication. I fear, however, on mature reflection, that they
will be liable to serious objections, and ultimately more
expensive than a canal. They must be double, so as to prevent the
danger of two such heavy bodies meeting. The walls on which they
are placed must at least be four feet below the surface, and
three above, and must be clamped with iron, and even then, would
hardly sustain so heavy a weight as you propose moving at the
rate of four miles an hour on wheels. As to wood, it would not
last a week; they must be covered with iron, and that too very
thick and strong. The means of stopping these heavy carriages
without a great shock, and of preventing them from running upon
each other (for there would be many on the road at once) would be
very difficult. In case of accidental stops, or the necessary
stops to take wood and water &c many accidents would happen. The
carriage of condensed water would be very troublesome. Upon the
whole, I fear the expense would be much greater than that of
canals, without being so convenient."*

* John Stevens, "Documents Tending to Prove the Superior
Advantages of Rail-Ways and Steam-Carriages over Canal
Navigation" (1819). Reprinted in "The Magazine of History with
Notes and Queries", Extra Number 54 (1917).

Stevens, of course, could not convince the commissioners. "The
Communication from John Stevens, Esq.," was referred to a
committee, who reported in March: "That they have considered the
said communication with the attention due to a gentleman whose
scientific researches and knowledge of mechanical powers entitle
his opinions to great respect, and are sorry not to concur in

Stevens, however, kept up the fight. He published all the
correspondence, hoping to get aid from Congress for his design,
and spread his propaganda far and wide. But the War of 1812 soon
absorbed the attention of the country. Then came the Erie Canal,
completed in 1825, and the extension into the Northwest of the
great Cumberland Road. From St. Louis steamboats churned their
way up the Missouri, connecting with the Santa Fe Trail to the
Southwest and the Oregon Trail to the far Northwest. Horses,
mules, and oxen carried the overland travelers, and none yet
dreamed of being carried on the land by steam.

Back East, however, and across the sea in England, there were a
few dreamers. Railways of wooden rails, sometimes covered with
iron, on which wagons were drawn by horses, were common in Great
Britain; some were in use very early in America. And on these
railways, or tramways, men were now experimenting with steam,
trying to harness it to do the work of horses. In England,
Trevithick, Blenkinsop, Ericsson, Stephenson, and others; in
America, John Stevens, now an old man but persistent in his plans
as ever and with able sons to help him, had erected a circular
railway at Hoboken as early as 1826, on which he ran a locomotive
at the rate of twelve miles an hour. Then in 1828 Horatio Allen,
of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, went over to England
and brought back with him the Stourbridge Lion. This locomotive,
though it was not a success in practice, appears to have been the
first to turn a wheel on a regular railway within the United
States. It was a seven days' wonder in New York when it arrived
in May, 1829. Then Allen shipped it to Honesdale, Pennsylvania,
where the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company had a tramway to
bring down coal from the mountains to the terminal of the canal.
On the crude wooden rails of this tramway Allen placed the
Stourbridge Lion and ran it successfully at the rate of ten miles
an hour. But in actual service the Stourbridge Lion failed and
was soon dismantled.

Pass now to Rainhill, England, and witness the birth of the
modern locomotive, after all these years of labor. In the same
year of 1829, on the morning of the 6th of October, a great crowd
had assembled to see an extraordinary race--a race, in fact,
without any parallel or precedent whatsoever. There were four
entries but one dropped out, leaving three: The Novelty, John
Braithwaite and John Ericsson; The Sanspareil, Timothy Hackworth;
The Rocket, George and Robert Stephenson. These were not horses;
they were locomotives. The directors of the London and Manchester
Railway had offered a prize of five hundred pounds for the best
locomotive, and here they were to try the issue.

The contest resulted in the triumph of Stephenson's Rocket. The
others fell early out of the race. The Rocket alone met all the
requirements and won the prize. So it happened that George
Stephenson came into fame and has ever since lived in popular
memory as the father of the locomotive. There was nothing new in
his Rocket, except his own workmanship. Like Robert Fulton, he
appears to have succeeded where others failed because he was a
sounder engineer, or a better combiner of sound principles into a
working, whole, than any of his rivals.

Across the Atlantic came the news of Stephenson's remarkable
success. And by this time railroads were beginning in various
parts of the United States: the Mohawk and Hudson, from Albany to
Schenectady; the Baltimore and Ohio; the Charleston and Hamburg
in South Carolina; the Camden and Amboy, across New Jersey.
Horses, mules, and even sails, furnished the power for these
early railroads. It can be imagined with what interest the owners
of these roads heard that at last a practicable locomotive was
running in England.

This news stimulated the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio to
try the locomotive. They had not far to go for an experiment, for
Peter Cooper, proprietor of the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore,
had already designed a small locomotive, the Tom Thumb. This was
placed on trial in August, 1830, and is supposed to have been the
first American-built locomotive to do work on rails, though
nearly coincident with it was the Best Friend of Charleston,
built by the West Point Foundry, New York, for the Charleston and
Hamburg Railroad. It is often difficult, as we have seen, to say
which of two or several things was first. It appears as though
the little Tom Thumb was the first engine built in America, which
actually pulled weight on a regular railway, while the much
larger Best Friend was the first to haul cars in regular daily

The West Point Foundry followed its first success with the West
Point, which also went into service on the Charleston and Hamburg
Railroad, and then built for the newly finished Mohawk and Hudson
(the first link in the New York Central Lines) the historic De
Witt Clinton. This primitive locomotive and the cars it drew may
be seen today in the Grand Central Station in New York.

Meanwhile, the Stevens brothers, sons of John Stevens, were
engaged in the construction of the Camden and Amboy Railroad. The
first locomotive to operate on this road was built in England by
George Stephenson. This was the John Bull, which arrived in the
summer of 1831 and at once went to work. The John Bull was a
complete success and had a distinguished career. Sixty-two years
old, in 1893, it went to Chicago, to the Columbian Exposition,
under its own steam. The John Bull occupies a place today in the
National Museum at Washington.

With the locomotive definitely accepted, men began to turn their
minds towards its improvement and development, and locomotive
building soon became a leading industry in America. At first the
British types and patterns were followed, but it was not long
before American designers began to depart from the British models
and to evolve a distinctively American type. In the development
of this type great names have been written into the industrial
history of America, among which the name of Matthias Baldwin of
Philadelphia probably ranks first. But there have been hundreds
of great workers in this field. From Stephenson's Rocket and the
little Tom Thumb of Peter Cooper, to the powerful "Mallets" of
today, is a long distance--not spanned in ninety years save by
the genius and restless toil of countless brains and hands.

If the locomotive could not remain as it was left by Stephenson
and Cooper, neither could the stationary steam engine remain as
it was left by James Watt and Oliver Evans. Demands increasing
and again increasing, year after year, forced the steam engine to
grow in order to meet its responsibilities. There were men living
in Philadelphia in 1876, who had known Oliver Evans personally;
at least one old man at the Centennial Exhibition had himself
seen the Oruktor Amphibolos and recalled the consternation it had
caused on the streets of the city in 1804. It seemed a far cry
back to the Oruktor from the great and beautiful engine, designed
by George Henry Corliss, which was then moving all the vast
machinery of the Centennial Exhibition. But since then
achievements in steam have dwarfed even the great work of
Corliss. And to do a kind of herculean task that was hardly
dreamed of in 1876 another type of engine has made its entrance:
the steam turbine, which sends its awful energy, transformed into
electric current, to light a million lamps or to turn ten
thousand wheels on distant streets and highways.


The major steps in the manufacture of clothes are four: first to
harvest and clean the fiber or wool; second, to card it and spin
it into threads; third, to weave the threads into cloth; and,
finally to fashion and sew the cloth into clothes. We have
already seen the influence of Eli Whitney's cotton gin on the
first process, and the series of inventions for spinning and
weaving, which so profoundly changed the textile industry in
Great Britain, has been mentioned. It will be the business of
this chapter to tell how spinning and weaving machinery was
introduced into the United States and how a Yankee inventor laid
the keystone of the arch of clothing machinery by his invention
of the sewing machine.

Great Britain was determined to keep to herself the industrial
secrets she had gained. According to the economic beliefs of the
eighteenth century, which gave place but slowly to the doctrines
of Adam Smith, monopoly rather than cheap production was the road
to success. The laws therefore forbade the export of English
machinery or drawings and specifications by which machines might
be constructed in other countries. Some men saw a vast prosperity
for Great Britain, if only the mystery might be preserved.

Meanwhile the stories of what these machines could do excited
envy in other countries, where men desired to share in the
industrial gains. And, even before Eli Whitney's cotton gin came
to provide an abundant supply of raw material, some Americans
were struggling to improve the old hand loom, found in every
house, and to make some sort of a spinning machine to replace the
spinning wheel by which one thread at a time was laboriously

East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, was the scene of one of the
earliest of these experiments. There in 1786 two Scotchmen, who
claimed to understand Arkwright's mechanism, were employed to
make spinning machines, and about the same time another attempt
was made at Beverly. In both instances the experiments were
encouraged by the State and assisted with grants of money. The
machines, operated by horse power, were crude, and the product
was irregular and unsatisfactory. Then three men at Providence,
Rhode Island, using drawings of the Beverly machinery, made
machines having thirty-two spindles which worked indifferently.
The attempt to run them by water power failed, and they were sold
to Moses Brown of Pawtucket, who with his partner, William Almy,
had mustered an army of hand-loom weavers in 1790, large enough
to produce nearly eight thousand yards of cloth in that year.
Brown's need of spinning machinery, to provide his weavers with
yarn, was very great; but these machines he had bought would not
run, and in 1790 there was not a single successful power-spinner
in the United States.

Meanwhile Benjamin Franklin had come home, and the Pennsylvania
Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and Useful Arts was
offering prizes for inventions to improve the textile industry.
And in Milford, England, was a young man named Samuel Slater,
who, on hearing that inventive genius was munificently rewarded
in America, decided to migrate to that country. Slater at the age
of fourteen had been apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of
Arkwright. He had served both in the counting-house and the mill
and had had every opportunity to learn the whole business.

Soon after attaining his majority, he landed in New York,
November, 1789, and found employment. From New York he wrote to
Moses Brown of Pawtucket, offering his services, and that old
Quaker, though not giving him much encouragement, invited him to
Pawtucket to see whether he could run the spindles which Brown
had bought from the men of Providence. "If thou canst do what
thou sayest," wrote Brown, "I invite thee to come to Rhode

Arriving in Pawtucket in January, 1790, Slater pronounced the
machines worthless, but convinced Almy and Brown that he knew his
business, and they took him into partnership. He had no drawings
or models of the English machinery, except such as were in his
head, but he proceeded to build machines, doing much of the work
himself. On December 20, 1790, he had ready carding, drawing, and
roving machines and seventy-two spindles in two frames. The
water-wheel of an old fulling mill furnished the power--and the
machinery ran.

Here then was the birth of the spinning industry in the United
States. The "Old Factory," as it was to be called for nearly a
hundred years, was built at Pawtucket in 1793. Five years later
Slater and others built a second mill, and in 1806, after Slater
had brought out his brother to share his prosperity, he built
another. Workmen came to work for him solely to learn his
machines, and then left him to set up for themselves. The
knowledge he had brought soon became widespread. Mills were built
not only in New England but in other States. In 1809 there were
sixty-two spinning mills in operation in the country, with
thirty-one thousand spindles; twenty-five more mills were
building or projected, and the industry was firmly established in

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