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

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the United States. The yarn was sold to housewives for domestic
use or else to professional weavers who made cloth for sale. This
practice was continued for years, not only in New England, but
also in those other parts of the country where spinning machinery
had been introduced.

By 1810, however, commerce and the fisheries had produced
considerable fluid capital in New England which was seeking
profitable employment, especially as the Napoleonic Wars
interfered with American shipping; and since Whitney's gins in
the South were now piling up mountains of raw cotton, and
Slater's machines in New England were making this cotton into
yarn, it was inevitable that the next step should be the power
loom, to convert the yarn into cloth. So Francis Cabot Lowell,
scion of the New England family of that name, an importing
merchant of Boston, conceived the idea of establishing weaving
mills in Massachusetts. On a visit to Great Britain in 1811,
Lowell met at Edinburgh Nathan Appleton, a fellow merchant of
Boston, to whom he disclosed his plans and announced his
intention of going to Manchester to gain all possible information
concerning the new industry. Two years afterwards, according to
Appleton's account, Lowell and his brother-in-law, Patrick T.
Jackson, conferred with Appleton at the Stock Exchange in Boston.
They had decided, they said, to set up a cotton factory at
Waltham and invited Appleton to join them in the adventure, to
which he readily consented. Lowell had not been able to obtain
either drawings or model in Great Britain, but he had
nevertheless designed a loom and had completed a model which
seemed to work.

The partners took in with them Paul Moody of Amesbury, an expert
machinist, and by the autumn of 1814 looms were built and set up
at Waltham. Carding, drawing, and roving machines were also built
and installed in the mill, these machines gaining greatly, at
Moody's expert hands, over their American rivals. This was the
first mill in the United States, and one of the first in the
world, to combine under one roof all the operations necessary to
convert raw fiber into cloth, and it proved a success. Lowell,
says his partner Appleton, "is entitled to the credit for having
introduced the new system in the cotton manufacture." Jackson and
Moody "were men of unsurpassed talent," but Lowell "was the
informing soul, which gave direction and form to the whole

The new enterprise was needed, for the War of 1812 had cut off
imports. The beginnings of the protective principle in the United
States tariff are now to be observed. When the peace came and
Great Britain began to dump goods in the United States, Congress,
in 1816, laid a minimum duty of six and a quarter cents a yard on
imported cottons; the rate was raised in 1824 and again in 1828.
It is said that Lowell was influential in winning the support of
John C. Calhoun for the impost of 1816.

Lowell died in 1817, at the early age of forty-two, but his work
did not die with him. The mills he had founded at Waltham grew
exceedingly prosperous under the management of Jackson; and it
was not long before Jackson and his partners Appleton and Moody
were seeking wider opportunities. By 1820 they were looking for a
suitable site on which to build new mills, and their attention
was directed to the Pawtucket Falls, on the Merrimac River. The
land about this great water power was owned by the Pawtucket
Canal Company, whose canal, built to improve the navigation of
the Merrimac, was not paying satisfactory profits. The partners
proceeded to acquire the stock of this company and with it the
land necessary for their purpose, and in December, 1821, they
executed Articles of Association for the Merrimac Manufacturing
Company, admitting some additional partners, among them Kirk
Boott who was to act as resident agent and manager of the new
enterprise, since Jackson could not leave his duties at Waltham.

The story of the enterprise thus begun forms one of the brightest
pages in the industrial history of America; for these partners
had the wisdom and foresight to make provision at the outset for
the comfort and well-being of their operatives. Their mill hands
were to be chiefly girls drawn from the rural population of New
England, strong and intelligent young women, of whom there were
at that time great numbers seeking employment, since household
manufactures had come to be largely superseded by factory goods.
And one of the first questions which the partners considered was
whether the change from farm to factory life would effect for the
worse the character of these girls. This, says Appleton, "was a
matter of deep interest. The operatives in the manufacturing
cities of Europe were notoriously of the lowest character for
intelligence and morals. The question therefore arose, and was
deeply considered, whether this degradation was the result of the
peculiar occupation or of other and distinct causes. We could not
perceive why this peculiar description of labor should vary in
its effects upon character from all other occupations." And so we
find the partners voting money, not only for factory buildings
and machinery, but for comfortable boardinghouses for the girls,
and planning that these boardinghouses should have "the most
efficient guards," that they should be in "charge of respectable
women, with every provision for religious worship." They voted
nine thousand dollars for a church building and further sums
later for a library and a hospital.

The wheels of the first mill were started in September, 1823.
Next year the partners petitioned the Legislature to have their
part of the township set off to form a new town. One year later
still they erected three new mills; and in another year (1826)
the town of Lowell was incorporated.

The year 1829 found the Lowell mills in straits for lack of
capital, from which, however, they were promptly relieved by two
great merchants of Boston, Amos and Abbott Lawrence, who now
became partners in the business and who afterwards founded the
city named for them farther down on the Merrimac River.

The story of the Lowell cotton factories, for twenty years, more
or less, until the American girls operating the machines came to
be supplanted by French Canadians and Irish, is appropriately
summed up in the title of a book which describes the factory life
in Lowell during those years. The title of this book is "An Idyl
of Work" and it was written by Lucy Larcom, who was herself one
of the operatives and whose mother kept one of the corporation
boarding-houses. And Lucy Larcom was not the only one of the
Lowell "factory girls" who took to writing and lecturing. There
were many others, notably, Harriet Hanson (later Mrs. W. S.
Robinson), Harriot Curtis ("Mina Myrtle"), and Harriet Farley;
and many of the "factory girls" married men who became prominent
in the world. There was no thought among them that there was
anything degrading in factory work. Most of the girls came from
the surrounding farms, to earn money for a trousseau, to send a
brother through college, to raise a mortgage, or to enjoy the
society of their fellow workers, and have a good time in a quiet,
serious way, discussing the sermons and lectures they heard and
the books they read in their leisure hours. They had numerous
"improvement circles" at which contributions of the members in
both prose and verse were read and discussed. And for several
years they printed a magazine, "The Lowell Offering", which was
entirely written and edited by girls in the mills.

Charles Dickens visited Lowell in the winter of 1842 and recorded
his impressions of what he saw there in the fourth chapter of his
"American Notes". He says that he went over several of the
factories, "examined them in every part; and saw them in their
ordinary working aspect, with no preparation of any kind, or
departure from their ordinary every-day proceedings"; that the
girls "were all well dressed: and that phrase necessarily
includes extreme cleanliness. They had serviceable bonnets, good
warm cloaks, and shawls. . . . Moreover, there were places in the
mill in which they could deposit these things without injury; and
there were conveniences for washing. They were healthy in
appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and
deportment of young women; not of degraded brutes of burden."
Dickens continues: "The rooms in which they worked were as well
ordered as themselves. In the windows of some there were green
plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was
as much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort as the nature of the
occupation would possibly admit of." Again: "They reside in
various boarding-houses near at hand. The owners of the mills are
particularly careful to allow no persons to enter upon the
possession of these houses, whose characters have not undergone
the most searching and thorough enquiry." Finally, the author
announces that he will state three facts which he thinks will
startle his English readers: "Firstly, there is a joint-stock
piano in a great many of the boarding-houses. Secondly, nearly
all these young ladies subscribe to circulating libraries.
Thirdly, they have got up among themselves a periodical called
'The Lowell Offering' . . . whereof I brought away from Lowell
four hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginning
to end." And: "Of the merits of the 'Lowell Offering' as a
literary production, I will only observe, putting entirely out of
sight the fact of the articles having been written by these girls
after the arduous labors of the day, that it will compare
advantageously with a great many English Annuals."

The efficiency of the New England mills was extraordinary. James
Montgomery, an English cotton manufacturer, visited the Lowell
mills two years before Dickens and wrote after his inspection of
them that they produced "a greater quantity of yarn and cloth
from each spindle and loom (in a given time) than was produced by
any other factories, without exception in the world." Long before
that time, of course, the basic type of loom had changed from
that originally introduced, and many New England inventors had
been busy devising improved machinery of all kinds.

Such were the beginnings of the great textile mills of New
England. The scene today is vastly changed. Productivity has been
multiplied by invention after invention, by the erection of mill
after mill, and by the employment of thousands of hands in place
of hundreds. Lowell as a textile center has long been surpassed
by other cities. The scene in Lowell itself is vastly changed. If
Charles Dickens could visit Lowell today, he would hardly
recognize in that city of modern factories, of more than a
hundred thousand people, nearly half of them foreigners, the
Utopia of 1842 which he saw and described.

The cotton plantations in the South were flourishing, and
Whitney's gins were cleaning more and more cotton; the sheep of a
thousand hills were giving wool; Arkwright's machines in England,
introduced by Slater into New England, were spinning the cotton
and wool into yarn; Cartwright's looms in England and Lowell's
improvements in New England were weaving the yarn into cloth; but
as yet no practical machine had been invented to sew the cloth
into clothes.

There were in the United States numerous small workshops where a
few tailors or seamstresses, gathered under one roof, laboriously
sewed garments together, but the great bulk of the work, until
the invention of the sewing machine, was done by the wives and
daughters of farmers and sailors in the villages around Boston,
New York, and Philadelphia. In these cities the garments were cut
and sent out to the dwellings of the poor to be sewn. The wages
of the laborers were notoriously inadequate, though probably
better than in England. Thomas Hood's ballad The Song of the
Shirt, published in 1843, depicts the hardships of the English
woman who strove to keep body and soul together by means of the

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread.

Meanwhile, as Hood wrote and as the whole English people learned
by heart his vivid lines, as great ladies wept over them and
street singers sang them in the darkest slums of London, a man,
hungry and ill-clad, in an attic in faraway Cambridge,
Massachusetts, was struggling to put into metal an idea to
lighten the toil of those who lived by the needle. His name was
Elias Howe and he hailed from Eli Whitney's old home, Worcester
County, Massachusetts. There Howe was born in 1819. His father
was an unsuccessful farmer, who also had some small mills, but
seems to have succeeded in nothing he undertook.

Young Howe led the ordinary life of a New England country boy,
going to school in winter and working about the farm until the
age of sixteen, handling tools every day, like any farmer's boy
of the time. Hearing of high wages and interesting work in
Lowell, that growing town on the Merrimac, he went there in 1835
and found employment; but two years later, when the panic of 1837
came on, he left Lowell and went to work in a machine shop in
Cambridge. It is said that, for a time, he occupied a room with
his cousin, Nathaniel P. Banks, who rose from bobbin boy in a
cotton mill to Speaker of the United States House of
Representatives and Major-General in the Civil War.

Next we hear of Howe in Boston, working in the shop of Ari Davis,
an eccentric maker and repairer of fine machinery. Here the young
mechanic heard of the desirability of a sewing machine and began
to puzzle over the problem. Many an inventor before him had
attempted to make sewing machines and some had just fallen short
of success. Thomas Saint, an Englishman, had patented one fifty
years earlier; and about this very time a Frenchman named
Thimmonier was working eighty sewing machines making army
uniforms, when needle workers of Paris, fearing that the bread
was to be taken from them, broke into his workroom and destroyed
the machines. Thimmonier tried again, but his machine never came
into general use. Several patents had been issued on sewing
machines in the United States, but without any practical result.
An inventor named Walter Hunt had discovered the principle of the
lock-stitch and had built a machine but had wearied of his work
and abandoned his invention, just as success was in sight. But
Howe knew nothing of any of these inventors. There is no evidence
that he had ever seen the work of another.

The idea obsessed him to such an extent that he could do no other
work, and yet he must live. By this time he was married and had
children, and his wages were only nine dollars a week. Just then
an old schoolmate, George Fisher, agreed to support his family
and furnish him with five hundred dollars for materials and
tools. The attic in Fisher's house in Cambridge was Howe's
workroom. His first efforts were failures, but all at once the
idea of the lock-stitch came to him. Previously all machines
(except Hunt's, which was unknown, not having even been patented)
had used the chainstitch, wasteful of thread and easily
unraveled. The two threads of the lockstitch cross in the
materials joined together, and the lines of stitches

show the same on both sides. In short, the chainstitch is a
crochet or knitting stitch, while the lockstitch is a weaving
stitch. Howe had been working at night and was on his way home,
gloomy and despondent, when this idea dawned on his mind,
probably rising out of his experience in the cotton mill. The
shuttle would be driven back and forth as in a loom, as he had
seen it thousands of times, and passed through a loop of thread
which the curved needle would throw out on the other side of the
cloth; and the cloth would be fastened to the machine vertically
by pins. A curved arm would ply the needle with the motion of a
pick-axe. A handle attached to the fly-wheel would furnish the

On that design Howe made a machine which, crude as it was, sewed
more rapidly than five of the swiftest needle workers. But
apparently to no purpose. His machine was too expensive, it could
sew only a straight seam, and it might easily get out of order.
The needle workers were opposed, as they have generally been, to
any sort of laborsaving machinery, and there was no manufacturer
willing to buy even one machine at the price Howe asked, three
hundred dollars.

Howe's second model was an improvement on the first. It was more
compact and it ran more smoothly. He had no money even to pay the
fees necessary to get it patented. Again Fisher came to the
rescue and took Howe and his machine to Washington, paying all
the expenses, and the patent was issued in September, 1846. But,
as the machine still failed to find buyers, Fisher gave up hope.
He had invested about two thousand dollars which seemed gone
forever, and he could not, or would not, invest more. Howe
returned temporarily to his father's farm, hoping for better

Meanwhile Howe had sent one of his brothers to London with a
machine to see if a foothold could be found there, and in due
time an encouraging report came to the destitute inventor. A
corsetmaker named Thomas had paid two hundred and fifty pounds
for the English rights and had promised to pay a royalty of three
pounds on each machine sold. Moreover, Thomas invited the
inventor to London to construct a machine especially for making
corsets. Howe went to London and later sent for his family. But
after working eight months on small wages, he was as badly off as
ever, for, though he had produced the desired machine, he
quarrelled with Thomas and their relations came to an end.

An acquaintance, Charles Inglis, advanced Howe a little money
while he worked on another model. This enabled Howe to send his
family home to America, and then, by selling his last model and
pawning his patent rights, he raised enough money to take passage
himself in the steerage in 1848, accompanied by Inglis, who came
to try his fortune in the United States.

Howe landed in New York with a few cents in his pocket and
immediately found work. But his wife was dying from the hardships
she had suffered, due to stark poverty. At her funeral, Howe wore
borrowed clothes, for his only suit was the one he wore in the

Then, soon after his wife had died, Howe's invention came into
its own. It transpired presently that sewing machines were being
made and sold and that these machines were using the principles
covered by Howe's patent. Howe found an ally in George W. Bliss,
a man of means, who had faith in the machine and who bought out
Fisher's interest and proceeded to prosecute infringers.
Meanwhile Howe went on making machines--he produced fourteen in
New York during 1850--and never lost an opportunity to show the
merits of the invention which was being advertised and brought to
notice by the activities of some of the infringers, particularly
by Isaac M. Singer, the best business man of them all. Singer had
joined hands with Walter Hunt and Hunt had tried to patent the
machine which he had abandoned nearly twenty years before.

The suits dragged on until 1854, when the case was decisively
settled in Howe's favor. His patent was declared basic, and all
the makers of sewing machines must pay him a royalty of
twenty-five dollars on every machine. So Howe woke one morning to
find himself enjoying a large income, which in time rose as high
as four thousand dollars a week, and he died in 1867 a rich man.

Though the basic nature of Howe's patent was recognized, his
machine was only a rough beginning. Improvements followed, one
after another, until the sewing machine bore little resemblance
to Howe's original. John Bachelder introduced the horizontal
table upon which to lay the work. Through an opening in the
table, tiny spikes in an endless belt projected and pushed the
work for ward continuously. Allan B. Wilson devised a rotary hook
carrying a bobbin to do the work of the shuttle, and also the
small serrated bar which pops up through the table near the
needle, moves forward a tiny space, carrying the cloth with it,
drops down just below the upper surface of the table, and returns
to its starting point, to repeat over and over again this series
of motions. This simple device brought its owner a fortune. Isaac
M. Singer, destined to be the dominant figure of the industry,
patented in 1851 a machine stronger than any of the others and
with several valuable features, notably the vertical presser foot
held down by a spring; and Singer was the first to adopt the
treadle, leaving both hands of the operator free to manage the
work. His machine was good, but, rather than its surpassing
merits, it was his wonderful business ability that made the name
of Singer a household word.

By 1856 there were several manufacturers in the field,
threatening war on each other. All men were paying tribute to
Howe, for his patent was basic, and all could join in fighting
him, but there were several other devices almost equally
fundamental, and even if Howe's patents had been declared void it
is probable that his competitors would have fought quite as
fiercely among themselves. At the suggestion of George Gifford, a
New York attorney, the leading inventors and manufacturers agreed
to pool their inventions and to establish a fixed license fee for
the use of each. This "combination" was composed of Elias Howe,
Wheeler and Wilson, Grover and Baker, and I. M. Singer, and
dominated the field until after 1877, when the majority of the
basic patents expired. The members manufactured sewing machines
and sold them in America and Europe. Singer introduced the
installment plan of sale, to bring the machine within reach of
the poor, and the sewing machine agent, with a machine or two on
his wagon, drove through every small town and country district,
demonstrating and selling. Meanwhile the price of the machines
steadily fell, until it seemed that Singer's slogan, "A machine
in every home!" was in a fair way to be realized, had not another
development of the sewing machine intervened.

This was the development of the ready-made clothing industry. In
the earlier days of the nation, though nearly all the clothing
was of domestic manufacture, there were tailors and seamstresses
in all the towns and many of the villages, who made clothing to
order. Sailors coming ashore sometimes needed clothes at once,
and apparently a merchant of New Bedford was the first to keep a
stock on hand. About 1831, George Opdyke, later Mayor of New
York, began the manufacture of clothing on Hudson Street, which
he sold largely through a store in New Orleans. Other firms began
to reach out for this Southern trade, and it became important.
Southern planters bought clothes not only for their slaves but
for their families. The development of California furnished
another large market. A shirt factory was established, in 1832,
on Cherry and Market Streets, New York. But not until the coming
of the power-driven sewing machine could there be any factory
production of clothes on a large scale. Since then the clothing
industry has become one of the most important in the country. The
factories have steadily improved their models and materials, and
at the present day only a negligible fraction of the people of
the United States wear clothes made to their order.

The sewing machine today does many things besides sewing a seam.
There are attachments which make buttonholes, darn, embroider,
make ruffles or hems, and dozens of other things. There are
special machines for every trade, some of which deal successfully
with refractory materials.

The Singer machine of 1851 was strong enough to sew leather and
was almost at once adopted by the shoemakers. These craftsmen
flourished chiefly in Massachusetts, and they had traditions
reaching back at least to Philip Kertland, who came to Lynn in
1636 and taught many apprentices. Even in the early days before
machinery, division of labor was the rule in the shops of
Massachusetts. One workman cut the leather, often tanned on the
premises; another sewed the uppers together, while another sewed
on the soles. Wooden pegs were invented in 1811 and came into
common use about 1815 for the cheaper grades of shoes: Soon the
practice of sending out the uppers to be done by women in their
own homes became common. These women were wretchedly paid, and
when the sewing machine came to do the work better than it could
be done by hand, the practice of "putting out" work gradually

That variation of the sewing machine which was to do the more
difficult work of sewing the sole to the upper was the invention
of a mere boy, Lyman R. Blake. The first model, completed in
1858, was imperfect, but Blake was able to interest Gordon McKay,
of Boston, and three years of patient experimentation and large
expenditure followed. The McKay sole-sewing machine, which they
produced, came into use, and for twenty-one years was used almost
universally both in the United States and Great Britain. But
this, like all the other useful inventions, was in time enlarged
and greatly improved, and hundreds of other inventions have been
made in the shoe industry. There are machines to split leather,
to make the thickness absolutely uniform, to sew the uppers, to
insert eyelets, to cut out heel tops, and many more. In fact,
division of labor has been carried farther in the making of shoes
than in most industries, for there are said to be about three
hundred separate operations in making a pair of shoes.

From small beginnings great industries have grown. It is a far
cry from the slow, clumsy machine of Elias Howe, less than
three-quarters of a century ago, to the great factories of today,
filled with special models, run at terrific speed by electric
current, and performing tasks which would seem to require more
than human intelligence and skill.


The Census of 1920 shows that hardly thirty per cent of the
people are today engaged in agriculture, the basic industry of
the United States, as compared with perhaps ninety per cent when
the nation began. Yet American farmers, though constantly
diminishing in proportion to the whole population, have always
been, and still are, able to feed themselves and all their fellow
Americans and a large part of the outside world as well. They
bring forth also not merely foodstuffs, but vast quantities of
raw material for manufacture, such as cotton, wool, and hides.
This immense productivity is due to the use of farm machinery on
a scale seen nowhere else in the world. There is still, and
always will be, a good deal of hard labor on the farm. But
invention has reduced the labor and has made possible the
carrying on of this vast industry by a relatively small number of

The farmers of Washington's day had no better tools than had the
farmers of Julius Caesar's day; in fact, the Roman ploughs were
probably superior to those in general use in America eighteen
centuries later. "The machinery of production," says Henry Adams,
"showed no radical difference from that familiar in ages long
past. The Saxon farmer of the eighth century enjoyed most of the
comforts known to Saxon farmers of the eighteenth."* One type of
plough in the United States was little more than a crooked stick
with an iron point attached, sometimes with rawhide, which simply
scratched the ground. Ploughs of this sort were in use in
Illinois as late as 1812. There were a few ploughs designed to
turn a furrow, often simply heavy chunks of tough wood, rudely
hewn into shape, with a wrought-iron point clumsily attached. The
moldboard was rough and the curves of no two were alike. Country
blacksmiths made ploughs only on order and few had patterns. Such
ploughs could turn a furrow in soft ground if the oxen were
strong enough--but the friction was so great that three men and
four or six oxen were required to turn a furrow where the sod was

* "History of the United States", vol. I, p. 16.

Thomas Jefferson had worked out very elaborately the proper
curves of the moldboard, and several models had been constructed
for him. He was, however, interested in too many things ever to
follow any one to the end, and his work seems to have had little
publicity. The first real inventor of a practicable plough was
Charles Newbold, of Burlington County, New Jersey, to whom a
patent for a cast-iron plough was issued in June, 1797. But the
farmers would have none of it. They said it "poisoned the soil"
and fostered the growth of weeds. One David Peacock received a
patent in 1807, and two others later. Newbold sued Peacock for
infringement and recovered damages. Pieces of Newbold's original
plough are in the museum of the New York Agricultural Society at

Another inventor of ploughs was Jethro Wood, a blacksmith of
Scipio, New York, who received two patents, one in 1814 and the
other in 1819. His plough was of cast iron, but in three parts,
so that a broken part might be renewed without purchasing an
entire plough. This principle of standardization marked a great
advance. The farmers by this time were forgetting their former
prejudices, and many ploughs were sold. Though Wood's original
patent was extended, infringements were frequent, and he is said
to have spent his entire property in prosecuting them.

In clay soils these ploughs did not work well, as the more
tenacious soil stuck to the iron moldboard instead of curling
gracefully away. In 1833, John Lane, a Chicago blacksmith, faced
a wooden moldboard with an old steel saw. It worked like magic,
and other blacksmiths followed suit to such an extent that the
demand for old saws became brisk. Then came John Deere, a native
of Vermont, who settled first in Grand Detour, and then in
Moline, Illinois. Deere made wooden ploughs faced with steel,
like other blacksmiths, but was not satisfied with them and
studied and experimented to find the best curves and angles for a
plough to be used in the soils around him. His ploughs were much
in demand, and his need for steel led him to have larger and
larger quantities produced for him, and the establishment which
still bears his name grew to large proportions.

Another skilled blacksmith, William Parlin, at Canton, Illinois,
began making ploughs about 1842, which he loaded upon a wagon and
peddled through the country. Later his establishment grew large.
Another John Lane, a son of the first, patented in 1868 a
"soft-center" steel plough. The hard but brittle surface was
backed by softer and more tenacious metal, to reduce the
breakage. The same year James Oliver, a Scotch immigrant who had
settled at South Bend, Indiana, received a patent for the
"chilled plough." By an ingenious method the wearing surfaces of
the casting were cooled more quickly than the back. The surfaces
which came in contact with the soil had a hard, glassy surface,
while the body of the plough was of tough iron. From small
beginnings Oliver's establishment grew great, and the Oliver
Chilled Plow Works at South Bend is today one of the largest and
most favorably known privately owned industries in the United

From the single plough it was only a step to two or more ploughs
fastened together, doing more work with approximately the same
man power. The sulky plough, on which the ploughman rode, made
his work easier, and gave him great control. Such ploughs were
certainly in use as early as 1844, perhaps earlier. The next step
forward was to substitute for horses a traction engine. Today one
may see on thousands of farms a tractor pulling six, eight, ten,
or more ploughs, doing the work better than it could be done by
an individual ploughman. On the "Bonanza" farms of the West a
fifty horsepower engine draws sixteen ploughs, followed by
harrows and a grain drill, and performs the three operations of
ploughing, harrowing, and planting at the same time and covers
fifty acres or more in a day.

The basic ideas in drills for small grains were successfully
developed in Great Britain, and many British drills were sold in
the United States before one was manufactured here. American
manufacture of these drills began about 1840. Planters for corn
came somewhat later. Machines to plant wheat successfully were
unsuited to corn, which must be planted less profusely than

The American pioneers had only a sickle or a scythe with which to
cut their grain. The addition to the scythe of wooden fingers,
against which the grain might lie until the end of the swing, was
a natural step, and seems to have been taken quite independently
in several places, perhaps as early as 1803. Grain cradles are
still used in hilly regions and in those parts of the country
where little grain is grown.

The first attempts to build a machine to cut grain were made in
England and Scotland, several of them in the eighteenth century;
and in 1822 Henry Ogle, a schoolmaster in Rennington, made a
mechanical reaper, but the opposition of the laborers of the
vicinity, who feared loss of employment, prevented further
development. In 1826, Patrick Bell, a young Scotch student,
afterward a Presbyterian minister, who had been moved by the
fatigue of the harvesters upon his father's farm in Argyllshire,
made an attempt to lighten their labor. His reaper was pushed by
horses; a reel brought the grain against blades which opened and
closed like scissors, and a traveling canvas apron deposited the
grain at one side. The inventor received a prize from the
Highland and Agricultural Society of Edinburgh, and pictures and
full descriptions of his invention were published. Several models
of this reaper were built in Great Britain, and it is said that
four came to the United States; however this may be, Bell's
machine was never generally adopted.

Soon afterward three men patented reapers in the United States:
William Manning, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1831; Obed Hussey,
Cincinnati, Ohio, 1833; and Cyrus Hall McCormick, Staunton,
Virginia, 1834. Just how much they owed to Patrick Bell cannot be
known, but it is probable that all had heard of his design if
they had not seen his drawings or the machine itself. The first
of these inventors, Manning of New Jersey, drops out of the
story, for it is not known whether he ever made a machine other
than his model. More persistent was Obed Hussey of Cincinnati,
who soon moved to Baltimore to fight out the issue with
McCormick. Hussey was an excellent mechanic. He patented several
improvements to his machine and received high praise for the
efficiency of the work. But he was soon outstripped in the race
because he was weak in the essential qualities which made
McCormick the greatest figure in the world of agricultural
machinery. McCormick was more than a mechanic; he was a man of
vision; and he had the enthusiasm of a crusader and superb genius
for business organization and advertisement. His story has been
told in another volume of this series.*

* "The Age of Big Business", by Burton J. Hendrick.

Though McCormick offered reapers for sale in 1834, he seems to
have sold none in that year, nor any for six years afterwards. He
sold two in 1840, seven in 1842, fifty in 1844. The machine was
not really adapted to the hills of the Valley of Virginia, and
farmers hesitated to buy a contrivance which needed the attention
of a skilled mechanic. McCormick made a trip through the Middle
West. In the rolling prairies, mile after mile of rich soil
without a tree or a stone, he saw his future dominion. Hussey had
moved East. McCormick did the opposite; he moved West, to
Chicago, in 1847.

Chicago was then a town of hardly ten thousand, but McCormick
foresaw its future, built a factory there, and manufactured five
hundred machines for the harvest of 1848. From this time he went
on from triumph to triumph. He formulated an elaborate business
system. His machines were to be sold at a fixed price, payable in
installments if desired, with a guarantee of satisfaction. He set
up a system of agencies to give instruction or to supply spare
parts. Advertising, chiefly by exhibitions and contests at fairs
and other public gatherings, was another item of his programme.
All would have failed, of course, if he had not built good
machines, but he did build good machines, and was not daunted by
the Government's refusal in 1848 to renew his original patent. He
decided to make profits as a manufacturer rather than accept
royalties as an inventor.

McCormick had many competitors, and some of them were in the
field with improved devices ahead of him, but he always held his
own, either by buying up the patent for a real improvement, or
else by requiring his staff to invent something to do the same
work. Numerous new devices to improve the harvester were
patented, but the most important was an automatic attachment to
bind the sheaves with wire. This was patented in 1872, and
McCormick soon made it his own. The harvester seemed complete.
One man drove the team, and the machine cut the grain, bound it
in sheaves, and deposited them upon the ground.

Presently, however, complaints were heard of the wire tie. When
the wheat was threshed, bits of wire got into the straw, and were
swallowed by the cattle; or else the bits of metal got among the
wheat itself and gave out sparks in grinding, setting some mills
on fire. Two inventors, almost simultaneously, produced the
remedy. Marquis L. Gorham, working for McCormick, and John F.
Appleby, whose invention was purchased by William Deering, one of
McCormick's chief competitors, invented binders which used twine.
By 1880 the self-binding harvester was complete. No distinctive
improvement has been made since, except to add strength and
simplification. The machine now needed the services of only two
men, one to drive and the other to shock the bundles, and could
reap twenty acres or more a day, tie the grain into bundles of
uniform size, and dump them in piles of five ready to be shocked.

Grain must be separated from the straw and chaff. The Biblical
threshing floor, on which oxen or horses trampled out the grain,
was still common in Washington's time, though it had been largely
succeeded by the flail. In Great Britain several threshing
machines were devised in the eighteenth century, but none was
particularly successful. They were stationary, and it was
necessary to bring the sheaves to them. The seventh patent issued
by the United States, to Samuel Mulliken of Philadelphia, was for
a threshing machine. The portable horse-power treadmill, invented
in 1830 by Hiram A. and John A. Pitts of Winthrop, Maine, was
presently coupled with a thresher, or "separator," and this
outfit, with its men and horses, moving from farm to farm, soon
became an autumn feature of every neighborhood. The treadmill was
later on succeeded--by the traction engine, and the apparatus now
in common use is an engine which draws the greatly improved
threshing machine from farm to farm, and when the destination is
reached, furnishes the power to drive the thresher. Many of these
engines are adapted to the use of straw as fuel.

Another development was the combination harvester and thresher
used on the larger farms of the West. This machine does not cut
the wheat close to the ground, but the cutter-bar, over
twenty-five feet in length, takes off the heads. The wheat is
separated from the chaff and automatically weighed into sacks,
which are dumped as fast as two expert sewers can work. The
motive power is a traction engine or else twenty to thirty
horses, and seventy-five acres a day can be reaped and threshed.
Often another tractor pulling a dozen wagons follows and the
sacks are picked up and hauled to the granary or elevator.

Haying was once the hardest work on the farm, and in no crop has
machinery been more efficient. The basic idea in the reaper, the
cutter-bar, is the whole of the mower, and the machine developed
with the reaper. Previously Jeremiah Bailey, of Chester County,
Pennsylvania, had patented in 1822 a machine drawn by horses
carrying a revolving wheel with six scythes, which was widely
used. The inventions of Manning, Hussey, and McCormick made the
mower practicable. Hazard Knowles, an employee of the Patent
Office, invented the hinged cutter-bar, which could be lifted
over an obstruction, but never patented the invention. William F.
Ketchum of Buffalo, New York, in 1844, patented the first machine
intended to cut hay only, and dozens of others followed. The
modern mowing machine was practically developed in the patent of
Lewis Miller of Canton, Ohio, in 1858. Several times as many
mowers as harvesters are sold, and for that matter, reapers
without binding attachments are still manufactured.

Hayrakes and tedders seem to have developed almost of themselves.
Diligent research has failed to discover any reliable information
on the invention of the hayrake, though a horserake was patented
as early as 1818. Joab Center of Hudson, New York, patented a
machine for turning and spreading hay in 1834. Mechanical
hayloaders have greatly reduced the amount of human labor. The
hay-press makes storage and transportation easier and cheaper.

There are binders which cut and bind corn. An addition shocks the
corn and deposits it upon the ground. The shredder and husker
removes the ears, husks them, and shreds shucks, stalks, and
fodder. Power shellers separate grain and cobs more than a
hundred times as rapidly as a pair of human hands could do. One
student of agriculture has estimated that it would require the
whole agricultural population of the United States one hundred
days to shell the average corn crop by hand, but this is an

The list of labor-saving machinery in agriculture is by no means
exhausted. There are clover hullers, bean and pea threshers,
ensilage cutters, manure spreaders, and dozens of others. On the
dairy farm the cream separator both increases the quantity and
improves the quality of the butter and saves time. Power also
drives the churns. On many farms cows are milked and sheep are
sheared by machines and eggs are hatched without hens.

There are, of course, thousands of farms in the country where
machinery cannot be used to advantage and where the work is still
done entirely or in part in the old ways.

Historians once were fond of marking off the story of the earth
and of men upon the earth into distinct periods fixed by definite
dates. One who attempts to look beneath the surface cannot accept
this easy method of treatment. Beneath the surface new tendencies
develop long before they demand recognition; an institution may
be decaying long before its weakness is apparent. The American
Revolution began not with the Stamp Act but at least a century
earlier, as soon as the settlers realized that there were three
thousand miles of sea between England and the rude country in
which they found themselves; the Civil War began, if not in early
Virginia, with the "Dutch Man of Warre that sold us twenty
Negars," at least with Eli Whitney and his cotton gin.

Nevertheless, certain dates or short periods seem to be flowering
times. Apparently all at once a flood of invention, a change of
methods, a difference in organization, or a new psychology
manifests itself. And the decade of the Civil War does serve as a
landmark to mark the passing of one period in American life and
the beginning of another; especially in agriculture; and as
agriculture is the basic industry of the country it follows that
with its mutations the whole superstructure is also changed.

The United States which fought the Civil War was vastly different
from the United States which fronted the world at the close of
the Revolution. The scant four million people of 1790 had grown
to thirty-one and a half million. This growth had come chiefly by
natural increase, but also by immigration, conquest, and
annexation. Settlement had reached the Pacific Ocean, though
there were great stretches of almost uninhabited territory
between the settlements on the Pacific and those just beyond the

The cotton gin had turned the whole South toward the cultivation
of cotton, though some States were better fitted for mixed
farming, and their devotion to cotton meant loss in the end as
subsequent events have proved. The South was not manufacturing
any considerable proportion of the cotton it grew, but the
textile industry was flourishing in New England. A whole series
of machines similar to those used in Great Britain, but not
identical, had been invented in America. American mills paid
higher wages than British and in quantity production were far
ahead of .the British mills, in proportion to hands employed,
which meant being ahead of the rest of the world.

Wages in America, measured by the world standard, were high,
though as expressed in money, they seem low now. They were
conditioned by the supply of free land, or land that was
practically free. The wages paid were necessarily high enough to
attract laborers from the soil which they might easily own if
they chose. There was no fixed laboring class. The boy or girl in
a textile mill often worked only a few years to save money, buy a
farm, or to enter some business or profession.

The steamboat now, wherever there was navigable water, and the
railroad, for a large part of the way, offered transportation to
the boundless West. Steamboats traversed all the larger rivers
and the lakes. The railroad was growing rapidly. Its lines had
extended to more than thirty thousand miles. Construction went on
during the war, and the transcontinental railway was in sight.
The locomotive had approached standardization, and the American
railway car was in form similar to that of the present day,
though not so large, so comfortable, or so strong. The Pullman
car, from which has developed the chair car, the dining car, and
the whole list of special cars, was in process of development,
and the automatic air brake of George Westinghouse was soon to

Thus far had the nation progressed in invention and industry
along the lines of peaceful development. But with the Civil War
came a sudden and tremendous advance. No result of the Civil War,
political or social, has more profoundly affected American life
than the application to the farm, as a war necessity, of
machinery on a great scale. So long as labor was plentiful and
cheap, only a comparatively few farmers could be interested in
expensive machinery, but when the war called the young men away
the worried farmers gladly turned to the new machines and found
that they were able not only to feed the Union, but also to
export immense quantities of wheat to Europe, even during the
war. Suddenly the West leaped into great prosperity. And long
centuries of economic and social development were spanned within
a few decades.


Communication is one of man's primal needs. There was indeed a
time when no formula of language existed, when men communicated
with each other by means of gestures, grimaces, guttural sounds,
or rude images of things seen; but it is impossible to conceive
of a time when men had no means of communication at all. And at
last, after long ages, men evolved in sound the names of the
things they knew and the forms of speech; ages later, the
alphabet and the art of writing; ages later still, those
wonderful instruments of extension for the written and spoken
word: the telegraph, the telephone, the modern printing press,
the phonograph, the typewriter, and the camera.

The word "telegraph" is derived from Greek and means "to write
far"; so it is a very exact word, for to write far is precisely
what we do when we send a telegram. The word today, used as a
noun, denotes the system of wires with stations and operators and
messengers, girdling the earth and reaching into every civilized
community, whereby news is carried swiftly by electricity. But
the word was coined long before it was discovered that
intelligence could be communicated by electricity. It denoted at
first a system of semaphores, or tall poles with movable arms,
and other signaling apparatus, set within sight of one another.
There was such a telegraph line between Dover and London at the
time of Waterloo; and this telegraph began relating the news of
the battle, which had come to Dover by ship, to anxious London,
when a fog set in and the Londoners had to wait until a courier
on horseback arrived. And, in the very years when the real
telegraph was coming into being, the United States Government,
without a thought of electricity, was considering the
advisability of setting up such a system of telegraphs in the
United States.

The telegraph is one of America's gifts to the world. The honor
for this invention falls to Samuel Finley Breese Morse, a New
Englander of old Puritan stock. Nor is the glory that belongs to
Morse in any way dimmed by the fact that he made use of the
discoveries of other men who had been trying to unlock the
secrets of electricity ever since Franklin's experiments. If
Morse discovered no new principle, he is nevertheless the man of
all the workers in electricity between his own day and Franklin's
whom the world most delights to honor; and rightly so, for it is
to such as Morse that the world is most indebted. Others knew;
Morse saw and acted. Others had found out the facts, but Morse
was the first to perceive the practical significance of those
facts; the first to take steps to make them of service to his
fellows; the first man of them all with the pluck and persistence
to remain steadfast to his great design, through twelve long
years of toil and privation, until his countrymen accepted his
work and found it well done.

Morse was happy in his birth and early training. He was born in
1791, at Charlestown, Massachusetts. His father was a
Congregational minister and a scholar of high standing, who, by
careful management, was able to send his three sons to Yale
College. Thither went young Samuel (or Finley, as he was called
by his family) at the age of fourteen and came under the
influence of Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry, and of
Jeremiah Day, Professor of Natural Philosophy, afterwards
President of Yale College, whose teaching gave him impulses which
in later years led to the invention of the telegraph. "Mr. Day's
lectures are very interesting," the young student wrote home in
1809; "they are upon electricity; he has given us some very fine
experiments, the whole class taking hold of hands form the
circuit of communication and we all receive the shock apparently
at the same moment." Electricity, however, was only an alluring
study. It afforded no means of livelihood, and Morse had gifts as
an artist; in fact, he earned a part of his college expenses
painting miniatures at five dollars apiece. He decided,
therefore, that art should be his vocation.

A letter written years afterwards by Joseph M. Dulles of
Philadelphia, who was at New Haven preparing for Yale when Morse
was in his senior year, is worth reading here:

"I first became acquainted with him at New Haven, when about to
graduate with the class of 1810, and had such an association as a
boy preparing for college might have with a senior who was just
finishing his course. Having come to New Haven under the care of
Rev. Jedidiah Morse, the venerable father of the three Morses,
all distinguished men, I was commended to the protection of
Finley, as he was then commonly designated, and therefore saw him
frequently during the brief period we were together. The father I
regard as the gravest man I ever knew. He was a fine exemplar of
the gentler type of the Puritan, courteous in manner, but stern
in conduct and in aspect. He was a man of conflict, and a leader
in the theological contests in New England in the early part of
this century. Finley, on the contrary, bore the expression of
gentleness entirely. In person rather above the ordinary height,
well formed, graceful in demeanor, with a complexion, if I
remember right, slightly ruddy, features duly proportioned, and
often lightened with a genial and expressive smile. He was,
altogether, a handsome young man, with manners unusually bland.
It is needless to add that with intelligence, high culture, and
general information, and with a strong bent to the fine arts, Mr.
Morse was in 1810 an attractive young man. During the last year
of his college life he occupied his leisure hours, with a view to
his self-support, in taking the likenesses of his fellow-students
on ivory, and no doubt with success, as he obtained afterward a
very respectable rank as a portrait-painter. Many pieces of his
skill were afterward executed in Charleston, South Carolina."*

* Prime, "The Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, LL.D.", p. 26.

That Morse was destined to be a painter seemed certain, and when,
soon after graduating from Yale, he made the acquaintance of
Washington Allston, an American artist of high standing, any
doubts that may have existed in his mind as to his vocation were
set at rest. Allston was then living in Boston, but was planning
to return to England, where his name was well known, and it was
arranged that young Morse should accompany him as his pupil. So
in 1811 Morse went to England with Allston and returned to
America four years later an accredited portrait painter, having
studied not only under Allston but under the famous master,
Benjamin West, and having met on intimate terms some of the great
Englishmen of the time. He opened a studio in Boston, but as
sitters were few, he made a trip through New England, taking
commissions for portraits, and also visited Charleston, South
Carolina, where some of his paintings may be seen today.

At Concord, New Hampshire, Morse met Miss Lucretia Walker, a
beautiful and cultivated young woman, and they were married in
1818. Morse then settled in New York. His reputation as a painter
increased steadily, though he gained little money, and in 1825 he
was in Washington painting a portrait of the Marquis La Fayette,
for the city of New York, when he heard from his father the
bitter news of his wife's death in New Haven, then a journey of
seven days from Washington. Leaving the portrait of La Fayette
unfinished, the heartbroken artist made his way home.

Two years afterwards Morse was again obsessed with the marvels of
electricity, as he had been in college. The occasion this time
was a series of lectures on that subject given by James Freeman
Dana before the New York Athenaeum in the chapel of Columbia
College. Morse attended these lectures and formed with Dana an
intimate acquaintance. Dana was in the habit of going to Morse's
studio, where the two men would talk earnestly for long hours.
But Morse was still devoted to his art; besides, he had himself
and three children to support, and painting was his only source
of income.

Back to Europe went Morse in 1829 to pursue his profession and
perfect himself in it by three years' further study. Then came
the crisis. Homeward bound on the ship Sully in the autumn of
1832, Morse fell into conversation with some scientific men who
were on board. One of the passengers asked this question: "Is the
velocity of electricity reduced by the length of its conducting
wire?" To which his neighbor replied that electricity passes
instantly over any known length of wire and referred to
Franklin's experiments with several miles of wire, in which no
appreciable time elapsed between a touch at one end and a spark
at the other.

Here was a fact already well known. Morse must have known it
himself. But the tremendous significance of that fact had never
before occurred to him nor, so far as he knew, to any man. A
recording telegraph! Why not? Intelligence delivered at one end
of a wire instantly recorded at the other end, no matter how long
the wire! It might reach across the continent or even round the
earth. The idea set his mind on fire.

Home again in November, 1832, Morse found himself on the horns of
a dilemma. To give up his profession meant that he would have no
income; on the other hand, how could he continue wholeheartedly
painting pictures while consumed with the idea of the telegraph?
The idea would not down; yet he must live; and there were his
three motherless children in New Haven. He would have to go on
painting as well as he could and develop his telegraph in what
time he could spare. His brothers, Richard and Sidney, were both
living in New York and they did what they could for him, giving
him a room in a building they had erected at Nassau and Beekman
Streets. Morse's lot at this time was made all the harder by
hopes raised and dashed to earth again. Congress had voted money
for mural paintings for the rotunda of the Capitol. The artists
were to be selected by a committee of which John Quincy Adams was
chairman. Morse expected a commission for a part of the work, for
his standing at that time was second to that of no American
artist, save Allston, and Allston he knew had declined to paint
any of the pictures and had spoken in his favor. Adams, however,
as chairman of the committee was of the opinion that the pictures
should be done by foreign artists, there being no Americans
available, he thought, of sufficiently high standing to execute
the work with fitting distinction. This opinion, publicly
expressed, infuriated James Fenimore Cooper, Morse's friend, and
Cooper wrote an attack on Adams in the New York Evening Post, but
without signing it. Supposing Morse to be the author of this
article, Adams summarily struck his name from the list of artists
who were to be employed.

How very poor Morse was about this time is indicated by a story
afterwards told by General Strother of Virginia, who was one of
his pupils:

I engaged to become Morse's pupil and subsequently went to New
York and found him in a room in University Place. He had three or
four other pupils and I soon found that our professor had very
little patronage.

I paid my fifty dollars for one-quarter's instruction. Morse was
a faithful teacher and took as much interest in our progress as--
more indeed than--we did ourselves. But he was very poor. I
remember that, when my second quarter's pay was due, my
remittance did not come as expected, and one day the professor
came in and said, courteously: "Well Strother, my boy, how are we
off for money?"

"Why professor," I answered, "I am sorry to say that I have been
disappointed, but I expect a remittance next week."

"Next week," he repeated sadly, "I shall be dead by that time."

"Dead, sir?"

"Yes, dead by starvation."

I was distressed and astonished. I said hurriedly:

"Would ten dollars be of any service?"

"Ten dollars would save my life. That is all it would do."

I paid the money, all that I had, and we dined together. It was a
modest meal, but good, and after he had finished, he said:

"This is my first meal for twenty-four hours. Strother, don't be
an artist. It means beggary. Your life depends upon people who
know nothing of your art and care nothing for you. A house dog
lives better, and the very sensitiveness that stimulates an
artist to work keeps him alive to suffering."*

* Prime, p. 424.

In 1835 Morse received an appointment to the teaching staff of
New York University and moved his workshop to a room in the
University building in Washington Square. "There," says his
biographer*, "he wrought through the year 1836, probably the
darkest and longest year of his life, giving lessons to pupils in
the art of painting while his mind was in the throes of the great
invention." In that year he took into his confidence one of his
colleagues in the University, Leonard D. Gale, who assisted him
greatly, in improving the apparatus, while the inventor himself
formulated the rudiments of the telegraphic alphabet, or Morse
Code, as it is known today. At length all was ready for a test
and the message flashed from transmitter to receiver. The
telegraph was born, though only an infant as yet. "Yes, that room
of the University was the birthplace of the Recording Telegraph,"
said Morse years later. On September 2, 1837, a successful
experiment was made with seventeen hundred feet of copper wire
coiled around the room, in the presence of Alfred Vail, a
student, whose family owned the Speedwell Iron Works, at
Morristown, New Jersey, and who at once took an interest in the
invention and persuaded his father, Judge Stephen Vail, to
advance money for experiments. Morse filed a petition for a
patent in October and admitted his colleague Gale; as well as
Alfred Vail, to partnership. Experiments followed at the Vail
shops, all the partners working day and night in their
enthusiasm. The apparatus was then brought to New York and
gentlemen of the city were invited to the University to see it
work before it left for Washington. The visitors were requested
to write dispatches, and the words were sent round a three-mile
coil of wire and read at the other end of the room by one who had
no prior knowledge of the message.

* Prime, p. 311.

In February, 1838, Morse set out for Washington with his
apparatus, and stopped at Philadelphia on the invitation of the
Franklin Institute to give a demonstration to a committee of that
body. Arrived at Washington, he presented to Congress a petition,
asking for an appropriation to enable him to build an
experimental line. The question of the appropriation was referred
to the Committee on Commerce, who reported favorably, and Morse
then returned to New York to prepare to go abroad, as it was
necessary for his rights that his invention should be patented in
European countries before publication in the United States.

Morse sailed in May, 1838, and returned to New York by the
steamship Great Western in April, 1839. His journey had not been
very successful. He had found London in the excitement of the
ceremonies of the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the British
Attorney-General had refused him a patent on the ground that
American newspapers had published his invention, making it public
property. In France he had done better. But the most interesting
result of the journey was something not related to the telegraph
at all. In Paris he had met Daguerre, the celebrated Frenchman
who had discovered a process of making pictures by sunlight, and
Daguerre had given Morse the secret. This led to the first
pictures taken by sunlight in the United States and to the first
photographs of the human face taken anywhere. Daguerre had never
attempted to photograph living objects and did not think it could
be done, as rigidity of position was required for a long
exposure. Morse, however, and his associate, John W. Draper, were
very soon taking portraits successfully.

Meanwhile the affairs of the telegraph at Washington had not
prospered. Congress had done nothing towards the grant which
Morse had requested, notwithstanding the favorable report of its
committee, and Morse was in desperate straits for money even to
live on. He appealed to the Vails to assist him further, but they
could not, since the panic of 1837 had impaired their resources.
He earned small sums from his daguerreotypes and his teaching.

By December, 1842, Morse was in funds again; sufficiently, at
least, to enable him to go to Washington for another appeal to
Congress. And at last, on February 23, 1843, a bill appropriating
thirty thousand dollars to lay the wires between Washington and
Baltimore passed the House by a majority of six. Trembling with
anxiety, Morse sat in the gallery of the House while the vote was
taken and listened to the irreverent badinage of Congressmen as
they discussed his bill. One member proposed an amendment to set
aside half the amount for experiments in mesmerism, another
suggested that the Millerites should have a part of the money,
and so on; however, they passed the bill. And that night Morse
wrote: "The long agony is over."

But the agony was not over. The bill had yet to pass the Senate.
The last day of the expiring session of Congress arrived, March
3, 1843, and the Senate had not reached the bill. Says Morse's

In the gallery of the Senate Professor Morse had sat all the last
day and evening of the session. At midnight the session would
close. Assured by his friends that there was no possibility of
the bill being reached, he left the Capitol and retired to his
room at the hotel, dispirited, and well-nigh broken-hearted. As
he came down to breakfast the next morning, a young lady entered,
and, coming toward him with a smile, exclaimed:

"I have come to congratulate you!"

"For what, my dear friend?" asked the professor, of the young
lady, who was Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of his friend the
Commissioner of Patents.

"On the passage of your bill."

The professor assured her it was not possible, as he remained in
the Senate-Chamber until nearly midnight, and it was not reached.
She then informed him that her father was present until the
close, and, in the last moments of the session, the bill was
passed without debate or revision. Professor Morse was overcome
by the intelligence, so joyful and unexpected, and gave at the
moment to his young friend, the bearer of these good tidings, the
promise that she should send the first message over the first
line of telegraph that was opened.*

*Prime, p. 465.

Morse and his partners* then proceeded to the construction of the
forty-mile line of wire between Baltimore and Washington. At this
point Ezra Cornell, afterwards a famous builder of telegraphs and
founder of Cornell University, first appears in history as a
young man of thirty-six. Cornell invented a machine to lay pipe
underground to contain the wires and he was employed to carry out
the work of construction. The work was commenced at Baltimore and
was continued until experiment proved that the underground method
would not do, and it was decided to string the wires on poles.
Much time had been lost, but once the system of poles was adopted
the work progressed rapidly, and by May, 1844, the line was
completed. On the twenty-fourth of that month Morse sat before
his instrument in the room of the Supreme Court at Washington.
His friend Miss Ellsworth handed him the message which she had
chosen: "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!" Morse flashed it to Vail forty
miles away in Baltimore, and Vail instantly flashed back the same
momentous words, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!"

* The property in the invention was divided into sixteen shares
(the partnership having been formed in 1838) of which Morse held
9, Francis O. J. Smith 4, Alfred Vail 2, Leonard D. Gale 2. In
patents to be obtained in foreign countries, Morse was to hold 8
shares, Smith 5, Vail 2, Gale 1. Smith had been a member of
Congress and Chairman of the Committee on Commerce. He was
admitted to the partnership in consideration of his assisting
Morse to arouse the interest of European Governments.

Two days later the Democratic National Convention met in
Baltimore to nominate a President and Vice-President. The leaders
of the Convention desired to nominate Senator Silas Wright of New
York, who was then in Washington, as running mate to James K.
Polk, but they must know first whether Wright would consent to
run as Vice-President. So they posted a messenger off to
Washington but were persuaded at the same time to allow the new
telegraph to try what it could do. The telegraph carried the
offer to Wright and carried back to the Convention Wright's
refusal of the honor. The delegates, however, would not believe
the telegraph, until their own messenger, returning the next day,
confirmed its message.

For a time the telegraph attracted little attention. But Cornell
stretched the lines across the country, connecting city with
city, and Morse and Vail improved the details of the mechanism
and perfected the code. Others came after them and added further
improvements. And it is gratifying to know that both Morse and
Vail, as well as Cornell, lived to reap some return for their
labor. Morse lived to see his telegraph span the continent, and
link the New World with the Old, and died in 1872 full of honors.

Prompt communication of the written or spoken message is a demand
even more insistent than prompt transportation of men and goods.
By 1859 both the railroad and the telegraph had reached the old
town of St. Joseph on the Missouri. Two thousand miles beyond, on
the other side of plains and mountains and great rivers, lay
prosperous California. The only transportation to California was
by stage-coach, a sixty days' journey, or else across Panama, or
else round the Horn, a choice of three evils. But to establish
quicker communication, even though transportation might lag, the
men of St. Joseph organized the Pony Express, to cover the great
wild distance by riders on horseback, in ten or twelve days.
Relay stations for the horses and men were set up at appropriate
points all along the way, and a postboy dashed off from St.
Joseph every twenty-four hours, on arrival of the train from the
East. And for a time the Pony Express did its work and did it
well. President Lincoln's First Inaugural was carried to
California by the Pony Express; so was the news of the firing on
Fort Sumter. But by 1869. the Pony Express was quietly superseded
by the telegraph, which in that year had completed its circuits
all the way to San Francisco, seven years ahead of the first
transcontinental railroad. And in four more years Cyrus W. Field
and Peter Cooper had carried to complete success the Atlantic
Cable; and the Morse telegraph was sending intelligence across
the sea, as well as from New York to the Golden Gate.

And today ships at sea and stations on land, separated by the
sea, speak to one another in the language of the Morse Code,
without the use of wires. Wireless, or radio, telegraphy was the
invention of a nineteen-year-old boy, Guglielmo Marconi, an
Italian; but it has been greatly extended and developed at the
hands of four Americans: Fessenden, Alexanderson, Langmuir, and
Lee De Forest. It was De Forest's invention that made possible
transcontinental and transatlantic telephone service, both with
and without wires.

The story of the telegraph's younger brother, and great ally in
communication, the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell, is another
pregnant romance of American invention. But that is a story by
itself, and it begins in a later period and so falls within the
scope of another volume of these Chronicles.*

* "The Age of Big Business", by Burton J. Hendrick, "The
Chronicle of America", vol. XXXIX.

Wise newspapermen stiffened to attention when the telegraph began
ticking. The New York Herald, the Sun, and the Tribune had been
founded only recently and they represented a new type of
journalism, swift, fearless, and energetic. The proprietors of
these newspapers saw that this new instrument was bound to affect
all newspaperdom profoundly. How was the newspaper to cope with
the situation and make use of the news that was coming in and
would be coming in more and more over the wires?

For one thing, the newspapers needed better printing machinery.
The application of steam, or any mechanical power, to printing in
America was only begun. It had been introduced by Robert Hoe in
the very years when Morse was struggling to perfect the
telegraph. Before that time newspapers were printed in the United
States, on presses operated as Franklin's press had been
operated, by hand. The New York Sun, the pioneer of cheap modern
newspapers, was printed by hand in 1833, and four hundred
impressions an hour was the highest speed of one press. There had
been, it is true, some improvements over Franklin's printing
press. The Columbian press of George Clymer of Philadelphia,
invented in 1816, was a step forward. The Washington press,
patented in 1829 by Samuel Rust of New York, was another step
forward. Then had come Robert Hoe's double-cylinder, steamdriven
printing press. But a swifter machine was wanted. And so in 1845
Richard March Hoe, a son of Robert Hoe, invented the revolving or
rotary press, on the principle of which larger and larger
machines have been built--machines so complex and wonderful that
they baffle description; which take in reels of white paper and
turn out great newspapers complete, folded and counted, at the
rate of a hundred thousand copies an hour. American printing
machines are in use today the world over. The London Times is
printed on American machines.

Hundreds of new inventions and improvements on old inventions
followed hard on the growth of the newspaper, until it seemed
that the last word had been spoken. The newspapers had the
wonderful Hoe presses; they had cheap paper; they had excellent
type, cast by machinery; they had a satisfactory process of
multiplying forms of type by stereotyping; and at length came a
new process of making pictures by photo-engraving, supplanting
the old-fashioned process of engraving on wood. Meanwhile,
however, in one important department of the work, the newspapers
had made no advance whatever. The newspapers of New York in the
year 1885, and later, set up their type by the same method that
Benjamin Franklin used to set up the type for The Pennsylvania
Gazette. The compositor stood or sat at his "case," with his
"copy" before him, and picked the type up letter by letter until
he had filled and correctly spaced a line. Then he would set
another line, and so on, all with his hands. After the job was
completed, the type had to be distributed again, letter by
letter. Typesetting was slow and expensive.

This labor of typesetting was at last generally done away with by
the invention of two intricate and ingenious machines. The
linotype, the invention of Ottmar Mergenthaler of Baltimore, came
first; then the monotype of Tolbert Lanston, a native of Ohio.
The linotype is the favorite composing machine for newspapers and
is also widely used in typesetting for books, though the monotype
is preferred by book printers. One or other of these machines has
today replaced, for the most part, the old hand compositors in
every large printing establishment in the United States.

While the machinery of the great newspapers was being developed,
another instrument of communication, more humble but hardly less
important in modern life, was coming into existence. The
typewriter is today in every business office and is another of
America's gifts to the commercial world. One might attempt to
trace the typewriter back to the early seals, or to the name
plates of the Middle Ages, or to the records of the British
Patent Office, for 1714, which mention a machine for embossing.
But it would be difficult to establish the identity of these
contrivances with the modern typewriter.

Two American devices, one of William Burt in 1829, for a
"typographer," and another of Charles Thurber, of Worcester,
Massachusetts, in 1843, may also be passed over. Alfred Ely Beach
made a model for a typewriter as early as 1847, but neglected it
for other things, and his next effort in printing machines was a
device for embossing letters for the blind. His typewriter had
many of the features of the modern typewriter, but lacked a
satisfactory method of inking the types. This was furnished by S.
W. Francis of New York, whose machine, in 1857, bore a ribbon
saturated with ink. None of these machines, however, was a
commercial success. They were regarded merely as the toys of
ingenious men.

The accredited father of the typewriter was a Wisconsin
newspaperman, Christopher Latham Sholes, editor, politician, and
anti-slavery agitator. A strike of his printers led him to
unsuccessful attempts to invent a typesetting machine. He did
succeed, however, in making, in collaboration with another
printer, Samuel W. Soule, a numbering machine, and a friend,
Carlos Glidden, to whom this ingenious contrivance was shown,
suggested a machine to print letters.

The three friends decided to try. None had studied the efforts of
previous experimenters, and they made many errors which might
have been avoided. Gradually, however, the invention took form.
Patents were obtained in June, 1868, and again in July of the
same year, but the machine was neither strong nor trustworthy.
Now appeared James Densmore and bought a share in the machine,
while Soule and Glidden retired. Densmore furnished the funds to
build about thirty models in succession, each a little better
than the preceding. The improved machine was patented in 1871,
and the partners felt that they were ready to begin

Wisely they determined, in 1873, to offer their machine to
Eliphalet Remington and Sons, then manufacturing firearms, sewing
machines, and the like, at Ilion, New York. Here, in
well-equipped machine shops it was tested, strengthened, and
improved. The Remingtons believed they saw a demand for the
machine and offered to buy the patents, paying either a lump sum,
or a royalty. It is said that Sholes preferred the ready cash and
received twelve thousand dollars, while Densmore chose the
royalty and received a million and a half.

The telegraph, the press, and the typewriter are agents of
communication for the written word. The telephone is an agent for
the spoken word. And there is another instrument for recording
sound and reproducing it, which should not be forgotten. It was
in 1877 that Thomas Alva Edison completed the first phonograph.
The air vibrations set up by the human voice were utilized to
make minute indentations on a sheet of tinfoil placed over a
metallic cylinder, and the machine would then reproduce the
sounds which had caused the indentations. The record wore out
after a few reproductions, however, and Edison was too busy to
develop his idea further for a time, though later he returned to

The phonograph today appears under various names, but by whatever
name they are called, the best machines reproduce with wonderful
fidelity the human voice, in speech or song, and the tones of
either a single instrument or a whole orchestra. The most
distinguished musicians are glad to do their best for the
preservation and reproduction of their art, and through these
machines, good music is brought to thousands to whom it could
come in no other way.

The camera bears a large part in the diffusion of intelligence,
and the last half century in the United States has seen a great
development in photography and photoengraving. The earliest
experiments in photography belong almost exclusively to Europe.
Morse, as we have seen, introduced the secret to America and
interested his friend John W. Draper, who had a part in the
perfection of the dry plate and who was one of the first, if not
the first, to take a portrait by photography.

The world's greatest inventor in photography is, however, George
Eastman, of Rochester. It was in 1888 that Eastman introduced a
new camera, which he called by the distinctive name Kodak, and
with it the slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." This
first kodak was loaded with a roll of sensitized paper long
enough for a hundred exposures. Sent to the makers, the roll
could itself be developed and pictures could be printed from it.
Eastman had been an amateur photographer when the fancy was both
expensive and tedious. Inventing a method of making dry plates,
he began to manufacture them in a small way as early as 1880.
After the first kodak, there came others filled with rolls of
sensitized nitro-cellulose film. Priority in the invention of the
cellulose film, instead of glass, which has revolutionized
photography, has been decided by the courts to belong to the
Reverend Hannibal Goodwin, but the honor none the less belongs to
Eastman, who independently worked out his process and gave
photography to the millions. The introduction by the Eastman
Kodak Company of a film cartridge which could be inserted or
removed without retiring to a dark room removed the chief
difficulty in the way of amateurs, and a camera of some sort,
varying in price from a dollar or two to as many hundreds, is
today an indispensable part of a vacation equipment.

In the development of the animated pictures Thomas Alva Edison
has played a large part. Many were the efforts to give the
appearance of movement to pictures before the first real
entertainment was staged by Henry Heyl of Philadelphia. Heyl's
pictures were on glass plates fixed in the circumference of a
wheel, and each was brought and held for a part of a second
before the lens. This method was obviously too slow and too
expensive. Edison with his keen mind approached the difficulty
and after a prolonged series of experiments arrived at the
decision that a continuous tape-like film would be necessary. He
invented the first practical "taking" camera and evoked the
enthusiastic cooperation of George Eastman in the production of
this tape-like film, and the modern motion picture was born. The
projecting machine was substantially like the "taking" camera and
was so used. Other inventors, such as Paul in England and Lumiere
in France, produced other types of projecting machines, which
differed only in mechanical details.

When the motion picture was taken up in earnest in the United
States, the world stared in astonishment at the apparent
recklessness of the early managers. The public responded,
however, and there is hardly a hamlet in the nation where there
is not at least one moving-picture house. The most popular actors
have been drawn from the speaking stage into the "movies," and
many new actors have been developed. In the small town, the
picture theater is often a converted storeroom, but in the
cities, some of the largest and most attractive theaters have
been given over to the pictures, and others even more luxurious
have been specially built. The Eastman Company alone manufactures
about ten thousand miles of film every month.

Besides affording amusement to millions, the moving picture has
been turned to instruction. Important news events are shown on
the screen, and historical events are preserved for posterity by
depositing the films in a vault. What would the historical
student not give for a film faithfully portraying the
inauguration of George Washington! The motion picture has become
an important factor in instruction in history and science in the
schools and this development is still in its infancy.


One day in 1852, at Trenton, New Jersey, there appeared in the
Circuit Court of the United States two men, the legal giants of
their day, to argue the case of Goodyear vs. Day for infringement
of patent. Rufus Choate represented the defendant and Daniel
Webster the plaintiff. Webster, in the course of his plea, one of
the most brilliant and moving ever uttered by him, paused for a
moment, drew from himself the attention of those who were hanging
upon his words, and pointed to his client. He would have them
look at the man whose cause he pleaded: a man of fifty-two, who
looked fifteen years older, sallow, emaciated from disease, due
to long privations, bitter disappointments, and wrongs. This was
Charles Goodyear, inventor of the process which put rubber into
the service of the world. Said Webster:

"And now is Charles Goodyear the discoverer of this invention of
vulcanized rubber? Is he the first man upon whose mind the idea
ever flashed, or to whose intelligence the fact ever was
disclosed, that by carrying heat to a certain height it would
cease to render plastic the India Rubber and begin to harden and
metallize it? Is there a man in the world who found out that fact
before Charles Goodyear? Who is he? Where is he? On what
continent does he live? Who has heard of him? What books treat of
him? What man among all the men on earth has seen him, known him,
or named him? Yet it is certain that this discovery has been
made. It is certain that it exists. It is certain that it is now
a matter of common knowledge all over the civilized world. It is
certain that ten or twelve years ago it was not knowledge. It is
certain that this curious result has grown into knowledge by
somebody's discovery and invention. And who is that somebody? The
question was put to my learned opponent by my learned associate.
If Charles Goodyear did not make this discovery, who did make it?
Who did make it? Why, if our learned opponent had said he should
endeavor to prove that some one other than Mr. Goodyear had made
this discovery, that would have been very fair. I think the
learned gentleman was very wise in not doing so. For I have
thought often, in the course of my practice in law, that it was
not very advisable to raise a spirit that one could not
conveniently lay again. Now who made this discovery? And would it
not be proper? I am sure it would. And would it not be manly? I
am sure it would. Would not my learned friend and his coadjutor
have acted a more noble part, if they had stood up and said that
this invention was not Goodyear's, but it was an invention of
such and such a man, in this or that country? On the contrary
they do not meet Goodyear's claim by setting up a distinct claim
of anybody else. They attempt to prove that he was not the
inventor by little shreds and patches of testimony. Here a little
bit of sulphur, and there a little parcel of lead; here a little
degree of heat, a little hotter than would warm a man's hands,
and in which a man could live for ten minutes or a quarter of an
hour; and yet they never seem to come to the point. I think it is
because their materials did not allow them to come to the manly
assertion that somebody else did make this invention, giving to
that somebody a local habitation and a name. We want to know the
name, and the habitation, and the location of the man upon the
face of this globe, who invented vulcanized rubber, if it be not
he, who now sits before us.

"Well there are birds which fly in the air, seldom lighting, but
often hovering. Now I think this is a question not to be hovered
over, not to be brooded over, and not to be dealt with as an
infinitesimal quantity of small things. It is a case calling for
a manly admission and a manly defense. I ask again, if there is
anybody else than Goodyear who made this invention, who is he? Is
the discovery so plain that it might have come about by accident?
It is likely to work important changes in the arts everywhere. IT
like metal and as elastic as pure original gum elastic. Why, that
is as great and momentous a phenomenon occurring to men in the
progress of their knowledge, as it would be for a man to show
that iron and gold could remain iron and gold and yet become
elastic like India Rubber. It would be just such another result.
Now, this fact cannot be denied; it cannot be secreted; it cannot
be kept out of sight; somebody has made this invention. That is
certain. Who is he? Mr. Hancock has been referred to. But he
expressly acknowledges Goodyear to be the first inventor. I say
that there is not in the world a human being that can stand up
and say that it is his invention, except the man who is sitting
at that table."

The court found for the plaintiff, and this decision established
for all time the claim of the American, Charles Goodyear, to be
the sole inventor of vulcanized rubber.

This trial may be said to be the dramatic climax in the story of
rubber. It celebrated the hour when the science of invention
turned a raw product--which had tantalized by its promise and
wrought ruin by its treachery--into a manufacture adaptable to a
thousand uses, adding to man's ease and health and to the
locomotion, construction, and communication of modern life.

When Columbus revisited Hayti on his second voyage, he observed
some natives playing with a ball. Now, ball games are the oldest
sport known. From the beginning of his history man, like the
kitten and the puppy, has delighted to play with the round thing
that rolls. The men who came with Columbus to conquer the Indies
had brought their Castilian wind-balls to play with in idle
hours. But at once they found that the balls of Hayti were
incomparably superior toys; they bounced better. These high
bouncing balls were made, so they learned, from a milky fluid of
the consistency of honey which the natives procured by tapping
certain trees and then cured over the smoke of palm nuts. A
discovery which improved the delights of ball games was

The old Spanish historian, Herrera, gravely transcribed in his
pages all that the governors of Hayti reported about the bouncing
balls. Some fifty years later another Spanish historian related
that the natives of the Amazon valley made shoes of this gum; and
that Spanish soldiers spread their cloaks with it to keep out the
rain. Many years later still, in 1736, a French astronomer, who
was sent by his government to Peru to measure an arc of the
meridian, brought home samples of the gum and reported that the
natives make lights of it, "which burn without a wick and are
very bright," and "shoes of it which are waterproof, and when
smoked they have the appearance of leather. They also make
pear-shaped bottles on the necks of which they fasten wooden
tubes. Pressure on the bottle sends the liquid squirting out of
the tube, so they resemble syringes." Their name for the fluid,
he added, was "cachuchu"--caoutchouc, we now write it. Evidently
the samples filled no important need at the time, for we hear no
more of the gum until thirty-four years afterward. Then, so an
English writer tells us, a use was found for the gum--and a name.
A stationer accidentally discovered that it would erase pencil
marks, And, as it came from the Indies and rubbed, of course it
was "India rubber."

About the year 1820 American merchantmen, plying between Brazil
and New England, sometimes carried rubber as ballast on the home
voyage and dumped it on the wharves at Boston. One of the
shipmasters exhibited to his friends a pair of native shoes
fancifully gilded. Another, with more foresight, brought home
five hundred pairs, ungilded, and offered them for sale. They
were thick, clumsily shaped, and heavy, but they sold. There was
a demand for more. In a few years half a million pairs were being
imported annually. New England manufacturers bid against one
another along the wharves for the gum which had been used as
ballast and began to make rubber shoes.

European vessels had also carried rubber home; and experiments
were being made with it in France and Britain. A Frenchman
manufactured suspenders by cutting a native bottle into fine
threads and running them through a narrow cloth web. And
Macintosh, a chemist of Glasgow, inserted rubber treated with
naphtha between thin pieces of cloth and evolved the garment that
still bears his name.

At first the new business in rubber yielded profits. The cost of
the raw material was infinitesimal; and there was a demand for
the finished articles. In Roxbury, Massachusetts, a firm
manufacturing patent leather treated raw rubber with turpentine
and lampblack and spread it on cloth, in an effort to produce a
waterproof leather. The process appeared to be a complete
success, and a large capital was employed to make handsome shoes
and clothing out of the new product and in opening shops in the
large cities for their sale. Merchants throughout the country
placed orders for these goods, which, as it happened, were made
and shipped in winter.

But, when summer came, the huge profits of the manufacturers
literally melted away, for the beautiful garments decomposed in
the heat; and loads of them, melting and running together, were
being returned to the factory. And they filled Roxbury with such
noisome odors that they had to be taken out at dead of night and
buried deep in the earth.

And not only did these rubber garments melt in the heat. It
presently transpired that severe frost stiffened them to the
rigidity of granite. Daniel Webster had had some experience in
this matter himself. "A friend in New York," he said, "sent me a
very fine cloak of India Rubber, and a hat of the same material.
I did not succeed very well with them. I took the cloak one day
and set it out in the cold. It stood very well by itself. I
surmounted it with the hat, and many persons passing by supposed
they saw, standing by the porch, the Farmer of Marshfield."

It was in the year 1834, shortly after the Roxbury manufacturers
had come to realize that their process was worthless and that
their great fortune was only a mirage, and just before these
facts became generally known, that Charles Goodyear made his
entrance on the scene. He appeared first as a customer in the
company's store in New York and bought a rubber life-preserver.
When he returned some weeks later with a plan for improving the
tube, the manager confided to him the sad tragedy of rubber,
pointing out that no improvement in the manufactured articles
would meet the difficulty, but that fame and fortune awaited the
inventor of a process that would keep rubber dry and firm and
flexible in all weathers.

Goodyear felt that he had a call from God. "He who directs the
operations of the mind," he wrote at a later date, "can turn it
to the development of the properties of Nature in his own way,
and at the time when they are specially needed. The creature
imagines he is executing some plan of his own, while he is simply
an instrument in the hands of his Maker for executing the divine
purposes of beneficence to the race." It was in the spirit of a
crusader, consecrated to a particular service, that this man took
up the problem of rubber. The words quoted are a fitting preface
for the story of the years that followed, which is a tale of
endurance and persistent activity under sufferings and
disappointments such as are scarcely paralleled even in the pages
of invention, darkened as they often are by poverty and defeat.

Charles Goodyear was born at New Haven, December 29, 1800, the
son of Amasa Goodyear and descendant of Stephen Goodyear who was
associated with Theophilus Eaton, the first governor of the
Puritan colony of New Haven. It was natural that Charles should
turn his mind to invention, as he did even when a boy; for his
father, a pioneer in the manufacture of American hardware, was
the inventor of a steel hayfork which replaced the heavy iron
fork of prior days and lightened and expedited the labor of the
fields. When Charles was seven his father moved to Naugatuck and
manufactured the first pearl buttons made in America; during the
War of 1812 the Goodyear factory supplied metal buttons to the
Government. Charles, a studious, serious boy, was the close
companion of his father. His deeply religious nature manifested
itself early, and he joined the Congregational Church when he was
sixteen. It was at first his intention to enter the ministry,
which seemed to him to offer the most useful career of service,
but, changing his mind, he went to Philadelphia to learn the
hardware business and on coming of age was admitted to
partnership in a firm established there by his father. The firm
prospered for a time, but an injudicious extension of credit led
to its suspension. So it happened that Goodyear in 1834, when he
became interested in rubber, was an insolvent debtor, liable,
under the laws of the time, to imprisonment. Soon afterward,
indeed, he was lodged in the Debtor's Prison in Philadelphia.

It would seem an inauspicious hour to begin a search which might
lead him on in poverty for years and end nowhere. But, having
seen the need for perfect rubber, the thought had come to him,
with the force of a religious conviction, that "an object so
desirable and so important, and so necessary to man's comfort, as
the making of gum-elastic available to his use, was most
certainly placed within his reach." Thereafter he never doubted
that God had called him to this task and that his efforts would
be crowned with success. Concerning his prison experiences, of
which the first was not to be the last, he says that
"notwithstanding the mortification attending such a trial," if
the prisoner has a real aim "for which to live and hope over he
may add firmness to hope, and derive lasting advantage by having
proved to himself that, with a clear conscience and a high
purpose, a man may be as happy within prison walls as in any
other (even the most fortunate) circumstances in life." With this
spirit he met every reverse throughout the ten hard years that

Luckily, as he says, his first experiments required no expensive
equipment. Fingers were the best tools for working the gum. The
prison officials allowed him a bench and a marble slab, a friend
procured him a few dollars' worth of gum, which sold then at five
cents a pound, and his wife contributed her rolling pin. That was
the beginning.

For a time he believed that, by mixing the raw gum with magnesia
and boiling it in lime, he had overcome the stickiness which was
the inherent difficulty. He made some sheets of white rubber
which were exhibited, and also some articles for sale. His hopes
were dashed when he found that weak acid, such as apple juice or
vinegar, destroyed his new product. Then in 1836 he found that
the application of aqua fortis, or nitric acid, produced a
"curing" effect on the rubber and thought that he had discovered
the secret. Finding a partner with capital, he leased an
abandoned rubber factory on Staten Island. But his partner's
fortune was swept away in the panic of 1837, leaving Goodyear
again an insolvent debtor. Later he found another partner and
went to manufacturing in the deserted plant at Roxbury, with an
order from the Government for a large number of mail bags. This
order was given wide publicity and it aroused the interest of
manufacturers throughout the country. But by the time the goods
were ready for delivery the first bags made had rotted from their
handles. Only the surface of the rubber had been "cured."

This failure was the last straw, as far as Goodyear's friends
were concerned. Only his patient and devoted wife stood by him;
she had labored, known want, seen her children go hungry to
school, but she seems never to have reproached her husband nor to
have doubted his ultimate success. The gentleness and tenderness
of his deportment in the home made his family cling to him with
deep affection and bear willingly any sacrifice for his sake;
though his successive failures generally meant a return of the
inventor to the debtor's prison and the casting of his family
upon charity.

The nitric acid process had not solved the problem but it had
been a real step forward. It was in the year 1839, by an
accident, that he discovered the true process of vulcanization
which cured not the surface alone but the whole mass. He was
trying to harden the gum by boiling it with sulphur on his wife's
cookstove when he let fall a lump of it on the red hot iron top.
It vulcanized instantly. This was an accident which only Goodyear
could have interpreted. And it was the last. The strange
substance from the jungles of the tropics had been mastered. It
remained, however, to perfect the process, to ascertain the
accurate formula and the exact degree of heat. The Goodyears were
so poor during these years that they received at any time a
barrel of flour from a neighbor thankfully. There is a tradition
that on one occasion, when Goodyear desired to cross between
Staten Island and New York, he had to give his umbrella to the
ferry master as security for his fare, and that the name of the
ferry master was Cornelius Vanderbilt, "a man who made much money
because he took few chances." The incident may easily have
occurred, though the ferry master could hardly have been
Vanderbilt himself, unless it had been at an earlier date.
Another tradition says that one of Goodyear's neighbors described
him to an inquisitive stranger thus: "You will know him when you
see him; he has on an India rubber cap, stock, coat, vest, and
shoes, and an India rubber purse WITHOUT A CENT IN IT!"

Goodyear's trials were only beginning. He had the secret at last,
but nobody would believe him. He had worn out even the most
sanguine of his friends. "That such indifference to this
discovery, and many incidents attending it, could have existed in
an intelligent and benevolent community," wrote Goodyear later,
"can only be accounted for by existing circumstances in that
community The great losses that had been sustained in the
manufacture of gum-elastic: the length of time the inventor had
spent in what appeared to them to be entirely fruitless efforts
to accomplish anything with it; added to his recent misfortunes
and disappointments, all conspired, with his utter destitution,
to produce a state of things as unfavorable to the promulgation
of the discovery as can well be imagined. He, however, felt in
duty bound to beg in earnest, if need be, sooner than that the
discovery should be lost to the world and to himself. . . . How
he subsisted at this period charity alone can tell, for it is as
well to call things by their right names; and it is little else
than charity when the lender looks upon what he parts with as a
gift. The pawning or selling some relic of better days or some
article of necessity was a frequent expedient. His library had
long since disappeared, but shortly after the discovery of this
process, he collected and sold at auction the schoolbooks of his
children, which brought him the trifling sum of five dollars;
small as the amount was, it enabled him to proceed. At this step
he did not hesitate. The occasion, and the certainty of success,
warranted the measure which, in other circumstances, would have
been sacrilege."

His itinerary during those years is eloquent. Wherever there was
a man, who had either a grain of faith in rubber or a little
charity for a frail and penniless monomaniac, thither Goodyear
made his way. The goal might be an attic room or shed to live in
rent free, or a few dollars for a barrel of flour for the family
and a barrel of rubber for himself, or permission to use a
factory's ovens after hours and to hang his rubber over the steam
valves while work went on. From Woburn in 1839, the year of his
great discovery, he went to Lynn, from Lynn back to the deserted
factory at Roxbury. Again to Woburn, to Boston, to Northampton,
to Springfield, to Naugatuck; in five years as many removes. When
he lacked boat or railway fare, and he generally did, he walked
through winds and rains and drifting snow, begging shelter at
some cottage or farm where a window lamp gleamed kindly.

Goodyear took out his patent in 1844. The process he invented has
been changed little, if at all, from that day to this. He also
invented the perfect India rubber cloth by mixing fiber with the
gum a discovery he considered rightly as secondary in importance
only to vulcanization. When he died in 1860 he had taken out
sixty patents on rubber manufactures. He had seen his invention
applied to several hundred uses, giving employment to sixty
thousand persons, producing annually eight million dollars' worth
of merchandise--numbers which would form but a fraction of the
rubber statistics of today.

Everybody, the whole civilized world round, uses rubber in one
form or another. And rubber makes a belt around the world in its
natural as well as in its manufactured form. The rubber-bearing
zone winds north and south of the equator through both
hemispheres. In South America rubber is the latex of certain
trees, in Africa of trees and vines. The best "wild" rubber still
comes from Para in Brazil. It is gathered and prepared for
shipment there today by the same methods the natives used four
hundred years ago. The natives in their canoes follow the
watercourses into the jungles. They cut V-shaped or spiral
incisions in the trunks of the trees that grow sheer to sixty
feet before spreading their shade. At the base of the incisions
they affix small clay cups, like swallows' nests. Over the route
they return later with large gourds in which they collect the
fluid from the clay cups. The filled gourds they carry to their
village of grass huts and there they build their smoky fires of
oily palm nuts. Dipping paddles into the fluid gum they turn and
harden it, a coating at a time, in the smoke. The rubber
"biscuit" is cut from the paddle with a wet knife when the
desired thickness has been attained.

Goodyear lived for sixteen years after his discovery of the
vulcanization process. During the last six he was unable to walk
without crutches. He was indifferent to money. To make his
discoveries of still greater service to mankind was his whole
aim. It was others who made fortunes out of his inventions.
Goodyear died a poor man.

In his book, a copy of which was printed on gumelastic sheets and
bound in hard rubber carved, he summed up his philosophy in this
statement: "The writer is not disposed to repine and say that he
has planted and others have gathered the fruits. The advantages
of a career in life should not be estimated exclusively by the
standard of dollars and cents, as it is too often done. Man has
just cause for regret when he sows and no one reaps."


There is a tinge of melancholy about the life of such a pioneer
as Oliver Evans, that early American mechanic of great genius,
whose story is briefly outlined in a preceding chapter. Here was
a man of imagination and sensibility, as well as practical power;
conferring great benefits on his countrymen, yet in chronic
poverty; derided by his neighbors, robbed by his beneficiaries;
his property, the fruit of his brain and toil, in the end
malevolently destroyed. The lot of the man who sees far ahead of
his time, and endeavors to lead his fellows in ways for which
they are not prepared, has always been hard.

John Stevens, too, as we have seen, met defeat when he tried to
thrust a steam railroad on a country that was not yet ready for
it. His mechanical conceptions were not marked by genius equal to
that of Evans, but they were still too far advanced to be
popular. The career of Stevens, however, presents a remarkable
contrast to that of Evans in other respects. Evans was born poor
(in Delaware, 1755) and remained poor all his life. Stevens was
born rich (in New York City, 1749) and remained rich all his
life. Of the family of Evans nothing is known either before or
after him. Stevens, on the contrary, belonged to one of the best
known and most powerful families in America. His grandfather,
John Stevens I, came from England in 1699 and made himself a
lawyer and a great landowner. His father, John Stevens II, was a
member from New Jersey of the Continental Congress and presided
at the New Jersey Convention which ratified the Constitution.

John Stevens III was graduated at King's College (Columbia) in
1768. He held public offices during the Revolution. To him,
perhaps more than to any other man, is due the Patent Act of
1790, for the protection of American inventors, for that law was
the result of a petition which he made to Congress and which,
being referred to a committee, was favorably reported. Thus we
may regard John Stevens as the father of the American patent law.

John Stevens owned the old Dutch farm on the Hudson on which the
city of Hoboken now stands. The place had been in possession of
the Bayard family, but William Bayard, who lived there at the
time of the Revolution, was a Loyalist, and his house on Castle
Point was burned down and his estate confiscated. After the
Revolution Stevens acquired the property. He laid it out as a
town in 1804, made it his summer residence, and established there
the machine shops in which he and his sons carried on their
mechanical experiments.

These shops were easily the largest and bestequipped in the Union
when in 1838 John Stevens died at the age of ninety. The four
brothers, John Cox, Robert Livingston, James Alexander, and Edwin
Augustus, worked harmoniously together. "No one ever heard of any
quarrel or dissension in the Stevens family. They were workmen
themselves, and they were superior to their subordinates because
they were better engineers and better men of business than any
other folk who up to that time had undertaken the business of
transportation in the United States."*

* Abram S. Hewitt. Quoted in Iles, "Leading American Inventors",
p. 37.

The youngest of these brothers, Edwin Augustus Stevens, dying in
1868, left a large part of his fortune to found the Stevens
Institute of Technology, afterwards erected at Hoboken not far
from the old family homestead on Castle Point. The mechanical
star of the family, however, was the second brother, Robert
Livingston Stevens, whose many inventions made for the great
improvement of transportation both by land and water. For a
quarter of a century, from 1815 to 1840, he was the foremost
builder of steamboats in America, and under his hand the
steamboat increased amazingly in speed and efficiency. He made
great contributions to the railway. The first locomotives ran
upon wooden stringers plated with strap iron. A loose end--"a
snakehead" it was called--sometimes curled up and pierced through
the floor of a car, causing a wreck. The solid metal T-rail, now
in universal use, was designed by Stevens and was first used on
the Camden and Amboy Railroad, of which he was president and his
brother Edwin treasurer and manager. The swivel truck and the
cow-catcher, the modern method of attaching rails to ties, the
vestibule car, and many improvements in the locomotive were also
first introduced on the Stevens road.

The Stevens brothers exerted their influence also on naval
construction. A double invention of Robert and Edwin, the forced
draft, to augment steam power and save coal, and the air-tight

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