Steam Engines







Carroll W. Pursell, Jr.







Library of Congress catalog card number 73‑600455

Copyright   1969 by Smithsonian Institution

All Rights Reserved

Distribution in the United States and Canada by Random House, Inc.

Standard Book Number 87474‑094‑0

Distribution in the United Kingdom and Europe by

David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd., South Devon House,

Newton Abbot, Devon, England.




Chapter 2

(pp 12 - 16)

Early Inventors and Experiments


I know of nothing so perplexing

and vexatious to a man of feeling

as a turbulent Wife and

Steamboat building.



When the British colonists came to settle America in the early seventeenth century, they left a pastoral country which had not yet suffered the throes of the Industrial Revolution. By 1750 that economic upheaval had begun in England but had scarcely touched the American shores. As the colonists became estranged politically in the decades that preceded the Revolutionary War, they sought to bolster their growing nationalism through economic self‑development. This growth took two forms: the fostering of manufactures and the improvement of transportation. Begun before 1776, both achievements were disrupted by the war. After the cessation of hostilities and with the birth of the new Confederation, minds turned again to the creation of an American empire. based on western lands, mercantile legislation, anti a republican form of government.


England was ever the prime example of the successful empire. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, British entrepreneurs were busy digging canals, mining coal, mechanizing the textile industry, erecting steam engines, and generally laying the groundwork for a century of industrial dominance. Similar activities were taking place in America, on a smaller scale. In 1790 Samuel Slater arrived with his knowledge of the new textile machines. Work was begun or renewed on a dozen canals along the Atlantic seaboard. Societies for the encouragement of domestic manufactures sprang up in the cities of the new nation. Mechanics and artisans found themselves in great demand; inventors dunned the various states and the federal government with petitions for patents.


The encouragement of manufactures and the improvement of transportation went hand in hand, and both were essential to the establishment of a balanced, integrated, and self-sufficient economy In America, however, tile problem of transportation seemed most urgent. Water-mill sites were plentiful, though not of equal worth, and small mills for producing such items as flour, lumber, paper, and fulled cloth had been common enough in colonial days. Such activities could be extended almost at will. Adequate transportation presented more difficult problems. The heavy and clumsy Newcomen engine, with its vast brickwork and ponderous beam, seemed to offer no solution to these problems. The Watt engine, developed shortly before the Revolution, was quite another story. The export of steam engines from England was banned in 1785, and even detailed information about them was not widely available. Their effect on English industry had been profound, but they had not yet been applied to transportation which, in England, was being adequately supplied at that time by newly built canals.


In 1764 James Watt, instrument maker at Edinburgh University, received a demonstration model of the Newcomen engine for repair. By the summer of 1765, he had improved the engine by adding a separate condenser. From 1765 to 1774, he was able to devote only about three years to the improvement of the steam engine. Coming then under the patronage of the successful manufacturer Matthew Boulton, he was able to concentrate his work and in March 1776 set up his first two commercially built engines, a 50‑inch water‑pumping engine for the Bloomfield Colliery and a 38-inch engine to provide the air blast for the furnace of the prominent iron maker, John Wilkinson.


For the five years between 1775 and 1780 Watt kept busy designing individual engines to customer specifications. Each engine represented an application of his established principles, but the various engine sizes and uses were worked out in each case. In 1781 Watt began again to make major improvements in the engine and produced, within a comparatively short time, devices for converting the engine’s reciprocating motion into rotary, the double-acting engine, the method of using expansive steam an automatic centrifugal governor, and a compound (two cylinder) engine.


Figure 2 represents a low-pressure Watt engine as it was built about 1800. On the downward stroke (Diagram 11, broken lines), steam from the boiler (B) entered the cylinder (C) above the piston (D), exerting a downward pressure. At the same time the steam below the piston was allowed to exhaust into the separate condenser (A), where a jet of cold water caused the steam to condense, creating a vacuum in both the condenser and the cylinder (below the piston), as well as in the pipe between. The pressure above the piston, combined with the vacuum below, caused the piston to descend. For the upward stroke (Diagram II, solid line), valves reversed the flow of both the live and spent steam.


Diagram I represents the same engine, showing Watt s major contributions. His great improvements in the Newcomen engine included the application of a device for changing the reciprocating motion of the engine into a rotary one. Shown here is a simple crank (G) which was the easiest and best device for the purpose, although to avoid the possibility of infringing patents, Watt for some time used a set of gear wheels, which he called the sun-and-planet, to accomplish this task. A second device was the separate condenser (A), by which he was able to maintain high cylinder temperatures and thus effect a saving of that fuel which had previously been used in reheating the cylinder after each condensation Third, by enclosing the top of the cylinder and applying steam to each side of the piston alternately, he was able to increase the engine speed.



Fig. 2 Watt Engine – about 1800


The application of these improvements in the steam engine—improvements which made it for the first time of potential interest to American entrepreneurs—took place between 1776, when Watt set up his first commercial engines, and 1786, when his double-acting, rotative engine made its public appearance at the Albion Mills in London. During this same period, the American colonies were transforming themselves into a new nation. This was a period of grand dreams but one during which high considerations of state and low problems of survival were dominant. Although such wartime activity as the letting of contracts for the casting of cannon no doubt added to the new nation's industrial experience and capability, the great industrial changes taking place in England were not quickly or thoroughly known to Americans.


Whatever knowledge of the Watt improvements had made its way across the Atlantic during the war years, its currency was not wide and many persons who might be expected to know about the improvements did not. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had long had a wide and deep interest in both technology and philosophy, but during the war he was much too busy to concern himself overly with either. When he replaced Franklin as American minister to France in 1785, he apparently had no knowledge of Watt's recent developments. In reply to a question from his old teacher, the Reverend James Madison, addressed to him in Paris, Jefferson replied:


You. . . speak of a new method of raising water by steam which you suppose will come into general use. I know of no new method of that kind and suppose (as you say that the account you have received of it is very imperfect) that some person has represented to you as new a fire engine erected at Paris and which supplies the greater part of the town with water. But this is nothing more than the fire engine you have seen described in the books of Hydraulics . . . the idea of which was first taken from Papin's digester.2


Six months later, Jefferson traveled to England and was both surprised and excited by the industrial activity he encountered. "I could write you volumes on the improvements which I find made and making in the arts," he wrote enthusiastically. "One deserves particular notice," he added, "because it is simple, great, and likely to have extensive consequences. It is the application of steam for working grist mills. I have visited one lately made here."3 This establishment was the Albion Mills, and in a letter later that year, Jefferson told Thomson that he had had a talk with "the famous Boulton" and was able to confirm that the engine at the mills was superior to the old type both in its rotary motion and in its greater economy.4


As the first city of the empire, London not only consumed a great quantity of flour annually but also exported a large amount. By the 1780s this need for flour was supplied by the products of some five hundred small gristmills, powered by wind or water and operating in the general area of the city. These mills were all small, representing an annual value of' some, 2000 pounds each and working only three sets of stones. In 1782 Samuel Wyatt began to plan a large gristmill, to be valued at ₤3000 per annum and to run a large number of stones. A site was selected at Blackbriar's Bridge on the Thames River in London, and Boulton and Watt were asked to provide an engine for the mill. Because a successful establishment would serve as a model and advertisement for the excellence of their newly developed double-acting, rotative engine, the partners joined the milling company and agreed to provide the necessary engines.


John Rennie, a young Scot engineer just then at the beginning of his brilliant career, was placed in charge of setting up the engine, a 50-horsepower model which was put in motion in 1786 and eventually operated eight pairs of stones. After some initial difficulties the mill performed well, and a second engine of the same size was erected in 1788. Poor management made the enterprise unprofitable, and when the mill burned in 1791 it was operating at a considerable loss. When Jefferson saw the mill in 1786, however, the technical success was assured and the economic failure not yet apparent. This first steam-driven mill, which Jefferson was able to inspect personally, was described for the American reading public in the pages of the Columbian Magazine in July 1788. It was a wonder of the industrial world, and its lesson was not lost upon would-be projectors English and American.


As postwar contact with England increased, more and more Americans became familiar with the potential of steam power. John Noyes returned to Massachusetts with a letter from John Adams. who was then American minister to the Court of St. James. He petitioned his state legislature for a monopoly on the application of' steam power to the manufacture of' iron. He and his partner, Paul Revere, were granted the privilege.5


The seeking of government support for the introduction of new technologies was a natural prelude to enterprise in a century when patronage, in many fields, was so often the key to successful operation. In the spring of 1784 Silas Deane, the former Connecticut merchant and discredited American diplomat, wrote to his brother from England that he had just "made a Tour through all the manufacturing Towns, of this Kingdom, & . . . examined their late, & new inventions, & Machines of various kind." He had, he said, seen Mills. on a New, and different Construction and every way preferable [to the old style], they are both Corn Mills, & Iron Works, rolling & Slitting Mills worked by a Steam Engine which carries them with an amazing degree of Force, and without any greater interruption or cessation than what You choose."6


Deane hoped to introduce the Watt engine into the United States but received divided counsel. A business associate advised him that the Machine you mention must be very useful. but it will not be wanted for any thing of consequence, besides Pumps, for some time to come." Nevertheless, he concluded, "you would find no difficulty in obtaining a Patent here, could you find some new Invention that would be profitable & I have no doubt in your Tours, you must have discov'd many."7  It was a plan which Deane decided to follow. In the spring of 1785 he wrote to his brother from Castle Head in Lancashire, where he was "with the Gentleman who makes the engines." With a boldness typical of the period, he revealed a plan to obtain patents of monopoly from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania focusing the new invented Steam engine in Corn, Tobacco, & Saw Mills for a certain Term 14 or 16 Years, at least. My reasons for this, are that Our Funds being small, We must begin in a stile proportionate to Our Funds, and As soon as We have begun, larger capitalists will come in, & take the Business in effect from Us, or at least throw Us into the shade, whereas on the contrary Patents from all the principal States, will secure it to Us, & on the Strength of them I can take in Partners here [in England], by whose assistance a Capital To any Amount may be raised, & the Business carried on with vigor, & to a large extent.8


In October his brother Barnabas Deane wrote from Hartford, Connecticut, that "I have now Laid in a Petition for a Patent for Twenty One Years to Our Assembly for the Liberty of Fire Engines for Grinding Corn & Sawing Timber."9 Speaking presumably for his brother, Barnabas told the legislature that 'your petitioner, for valuable considerations given to certain ingenious persons in Great Britain, the first and original inventors of the new improved steam engine . . . your petitioner has acquired a perfect knowledge of the construction thereof, with new improvements, and the application thereof to a great variety of important purposes; such as the raising of water, the manufacture of iron, and to the working of corn mills, saw mills, and of mills of every kind." The petition was not granted, but Deane refused to give up the idea of transplanting recent English technology, and the steam engine in particular, to American soil.10


Early in 1789, not long before his death, Deane wrote again on the subject. His correspondent, however, answered that the times were not propitious in America. George Washington had just been inaugurated as the first President of the United States, and the first Congress had been sitting less than a month. The use of steam engines for operating mills “must turn out profitable in a Country that has a fixed & Settled Government," he told Deane, "but I am sorry to say this is not the case at present in any of the States of America, the people at large are dissatisfied, and a change from the present or a total revolution must take place before any plans of Business can be adopted with safety." The success of the new Constitution did not come soon enough for Deane, who died in August.


A different case was that of William Tatham. Born in England in 1752, Tatham came to this country in 1769, then returned to England in 1796. The following year he made inquiries of Boulton and Watt about exporting engines to the United States. We have no record of what use he intended for these engines. Since he was a civil engineer, however, it is possible that he wanted either to pump water for canals or perhaps to apply engines to boats. Like many such plans, his came to nothing. He wrote tracts on canal transportation and in 1801 was made superintendent of the London docks. He returned to the United States in 1805 and died in Virginia in 1819, but there is no evidence that he interested himself again in steam engineering.12


1 Quoted in Westcott, Fitch, page 121.


2 Thomas Jefferson to Rev. James Madison, 2 October 1785, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Julian Boyd (Princeton, 1950-), volume 8, page 574.


3 Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 22 April 1786, ibid., volume 91 page 400.


4 Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 17 December 1786, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by P. L. Ford (New York, 1892-1899), volume 4, pages 337, 340.


5 Bishop, American Manufactures, volume 1, pages 498-499; Oscar and M. F. Handlin, Commonwealth: Massachusetts, 1774-1861 (Cambridge, 1947), page 81.


6 Silas Deane to Simeon Deane. London, 3 April 1784, in Correspondence between Silas Deane and His :Brothers and Their Business and Political Associates, 1771-1795, Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, t volume 23 (Hartford, 1930), page 197.


7 Jacob Sebor to Silas Deane, New London, 10 November 1784, ibid., pages 204-205.


8 Silas Deane to Simeon Deane, Castle Head in Lancashire, endorsed 20 May 1785, ibid., page 211.


9 Barnabas Deane to Silas Deane, Hartford, 15 October 1785, ibid., page 216.


10 "Connecticut. Extracts from Colonial and State Papers, in the Office of the Secretary of State, Hartford," Report of the Commissioner of Patents, for the Year 1850, House Executive Document 32, 31st Congress, 2nd session, page 444; Bishop, American Manufactures, volume 1, page 521.


11 Frederick William Geyer to Silas Deane, Boston, I May 1787, in Deane Papers, Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, volume 23, page 244.


12 Roll, Early Experiment, page 240; "William Tatham," Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, volume 6, page 37.



Chapter  6


The Uses of Steam


Rochester N. Y. is one of the most

famous of the cities built on the Jack

and Bean -stalk principle. There are

many splendid edifices in wood; and

certainly more houses, warehouses,

factories, and steam-‑engines than were

ever collected together in the same

space of time; but I was told by a

fellow-traveler that the stumps of the

forest are still to be found firmly

rooted in the cellars



(pp 72 - 73)


By 1838 the role of the stationary steam engine in the United States was largely stabilized The types of engines best suited for steamboats and locomotives were known and applied Steam was used in every conceivable type of manufacture from printing presses to gunpowder mills. The gradual exhaustion of new waterpower sites in the East, the movement of manufacturing to the West, and the outgrowing of local water resources by individual mills, all had led to the general acceptance of stationary steam engines They were found in every part of the country The question was no longer whether they would work, but whether they were the most satisfactory solution to a particular problem


The effect on American manufactures was profound. Once scattered by the geographical imperatives of waterpower, industry, now relatively free, was inclined to concentrate in towns Mills, once limited in size by the waterpower of their streams, were now as large as the engines that ran them. Of the 3,010 steam engines reported in operation in the United States in 1838, over half were stationary.2 New England accounted for 317 of these engines The Middle Atlantic States had 502 and the South Atlantic 295 There were 115 in the north‑central section of the country and 370 in the south‑central section. By states, the leaders were Pennsylvania with 383, Louisiana with 274, Massachusetts with 165, and Virginia (including the present state of West Virginia) with 124.


Perhaps the most rural site of steam engine use was in the Deep South. Engines had been used there since the turn of the century, and by 1838 Louisiana alone had more engines than any other state except Pennsylvania. Their main use was in the various extractive industries. As was true in the cities, engines in the South aided but did not seem to create industries. They were generally applied to predominant manufactures: salt in the Kanawah country of Virginia, rice in Georgia, sugar in Louisiana, and sawmills and cotton gins scattered over the whole section. More often than in any other part of the nation, these engines were sometimes of English manufacture .













New Hampshire











Rhode Island








New York




New Jersey
















District of Columbia








North Carolina




South Carolina
































Kentucky (and part of Indiana)



Missouri and Illinois








Michigan and Wisconsin (in part)








U.S. Government




Total ascertained




Add, as estimated









1 Quoted in Westcott, Fitch, page 121.


2 Thomas Jefferson to Rev. James Madison, 2 October 1785, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Julian Boyd (Princeton, 1950-), volume 8, page 574.




(pp 83 - 87)


The early use of steam in New England was contemporary with the general rise of manufacturing activity during the War of 1812. One of the first engines in the area was built by Oliver Evans in 1811 for the Middletown Woollen Manufacturing Company of Connecticut This engine was in operation by May 1811 and drove "all the machinery for carding, spinning, reeling, weaving, washing, fulling, dyeing, shearing, dressing, and finishing."46 After a year of operation, the English "chief artist" of the mill wrote Evans that the engine was so far superior to those of previous designs, that "I would not take them as a gift, could I obtain yours at your price." Evans considered this high praise from a man who had "been in England 13 years, engaged in manufactories wrought by steam engines."47 Since Evans' engine did not condense the steam it used, the steam was available for further use after its expansion. In the Middletown mill, it was used to heat the building during cold weather and was also "applied in connection with the brushing machine in finishing their cloth, without adopting the method of oiling and hot pressing as is commonly practiced in England. In this method of finishing," it was explained, "the cloth does not require sponging before it is made up."45


In 1812 another Evans engine was sent to the Providence Woolen Company in Rhode Island Two years later an Evans engine of 24 horsepower was purchased by the Providence Dyeing, Bleaching, and Calendering Company. This engine was reported to have cost seventeen thousand dollars, a large portion of which was spent for transportation overland from Philadelphia.49


One of the most publicized of the early New England cotton mills was that of Samuel Slater, begun in Providence in 1827. An engine was purchased, probably from Rush and Muhlenberg (successors to Oliver Evans), and the products of the mill were proudly labeled "Steam Loom."50 Slater commented in 1832 that "with such a redundance of [waterpower] ..., the more expensive one of steam has been, so far, very little used, and only under peculiar circumstances of location and business. Four cotton mills," he added, "are now driven by steam, and two more. to be operated by that agent, are in progress. Most of the bleacheries and calenders. and some machine shops, foundries, and other works for iron, make use of the same agent."51 Slater was considered the father of cotton manufactures in the state, and his building of a steam mill in 1827 no doubt lent confidence to that method of manufacture.


Steam cotton mills were also built in other parts of Rhode Island. Perhaps the first was erected by Oziel Wilkinson in 1810-11 at Pawtucket. David Wilkinson, the former partner of Elijah Ormsbee, helped build the machinery for this pioneer mill.52 By 1835 there were two steam cotton mills operating in Newport, Rhode Island, with another under construction. At this time it was pointed out that "it is cheaper to use steam power in the midst of a dense population, than to use water power, which often makes it necessary not only to build a factory but a town also.''53


Providence, however, remained the chief center of steam power in the state. Twenty-three engines were at work in the city in 1838 and by 1850 this total had grown to sixty-five.54 In 1856 the statement was made that "the whole number of stationary steam-engines in operation within the limits of the city is 73. There are also 12 to 15 more within 100 rods of the city, which are not included."55 The size as well as the number of engines was becoming larger. Samuel Slater had estimated in 1832 that all of the engines in Rhode Island (including those used for steamboats) did not develop more than 800 horsepower.56 One engine alone in 1856 developed 400 horsepower, and the total normal capacity of the engines in Providence amounted to 4,332 horsepower, or an average of nearly 60 per engine.57


In Massachusetts, Boston and its immediate vicinity had twice as many engines in operation in 1838 as the rest of the state combined. Daniel Treadwell, who began to manufacture his printing presses in that city about 1821, later declared that "there was not at that time . . . a single steam-engine at work in any shop or manufactory in the old peninsula of Boston, and but a single one at the foundry at South Boston."58 Actually, Treadwell may have overlooked a few engines here and there about the city. One of Samuel Morey's rotary engines, for example, was operating a sawmill in the Charlestown Navy Yard as early as 1818.59


By 1838 the number of engines in Boston had jumped to 114, or two-thirds the number for the entire state of Massachusetts. Sixteen, the largest number, were used in sawmills and woodworking shops; fifteen in machine shops; thirteen in ropewalks and cordage factories; eleven in various types of ironworks; six in tanneries; and six in distilleries and breweries. The other engines were scattered through different kinds of shops -- chemical laboratories, laundries, oil mills, an India rubber manufactory, and a bone mill60—demonstrating the diverse manufactures of the city and the wide extent to which steam was accepted as a motive power.


In 1838 the relatively small number of steam engines in New England, outside of the large metropolitan center of Boston, was because of the great abundance of waterpower and the lack of any local source of fuel for steam furnaces. The abundance of waterpower in the countryside is axiomatic to any economic study of New England. While figures do not exist for the earlier period, in 1870 water in New England supplied 99,073 horsepower for cotton mills alone, and by 1905 that figure had increased to 251,884.61 The increase in steam power during these same years was even larger, from 46,967 in 1870 to 702,023 in 1905, but it is significant that -- through the development of marginal power sites, improvements in dam engineering, and the use of more efficient turbines -- total horsepower from water was still increasing into the twentieth century. With such water resources available, the need for steam power was not felt as strongly or as soon here as in other parts of the country.


The shortage of adequate fuel was also a retarding influence on the adoption of steam in New England and elsewhere. Wood was in such short supply that coal seems to have been used in northern engines almost from the beginning. The use of anthracite coal began in earnest in 1825 in the general vicinity of Philadelphia. Three years later, 82,302 tons of coal reached Philadelphia by way of the new coal canals. Of this total, 19,000 tons were forwarded to New York, some of which, no doubt, was sent on to New England.62.  Samuel Slater used Pennsylvania anthracite at his Providence cotton mill as early as 1830. He experimented with both Lehigh and Lackawanna coal, the latter purchased from the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in 1831 at six dollars per ton.63 Shipments of coal to Boston rose rapidly after 1825, and by 1841 that city received 110,432 tons of anthracite in addition to 124,041 bushels of bituminous from Richmond, Virginia, and 12,754 tons of foreign coal.64


The mines near Richmond were extensive and provided the bulk of domestic American coal until the anthracite region of eastern Pennsylvania went into production. A survey in 1818 found at least twenty-five different pits opened, some of which had been worked for thirty years. One local operator, perhaps working on a larger scale than most, had reopened an old mine abandoned some years before when inefficient methods of extraction proved unprofitable. The new owner imported two miners from Scotland and a Boulton and Watt steam engine. Located at the deepest (300 feet) shaft, the engine pumped out water in the manner "of the same operation at the Cornwall mines."65 It was the shutting off of this coal by the British blockade during the War of 1812 that so disrupted normal ironworking activities in Philadelphia and elsewhere.


In 1846 the Fall River (Massachusetts) Iron-Works Company showed more ingenuity than most New England firms in ensuring a fuel supply by purchasing its own coal mine near Cumberland, Maryland. This ironworks operated five steam engines as well as various furnaces and reportedly consumed 17,050 tons of coal yearly. Its new coal mine had rail connection with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the purchase led one observer to comment that "Massachusetts is thus destined to share in the benefit of the Cumberland mines, by making them tributary to her own industry."66


The upstream abundance of waterpower and shortage of fuel combined to assure that most of the steam engines in New England would be located in the coastal cities, where waterpower was scarce and transportation costs of fuel at a minimum. For example, of the forty-one engines operating in Maine in 1838, at least thirty-six were located along the coast, mostly in sawmills and ironworks.67 As the nineteenth century progressed, many of the seacoast towns of New England - formerly commercial ports of some importance  - suffered from mercantile competition with New York City. The location in these towns of both idle capital and an idle "female population" is supposed to have entered into the calculations of those capitalists who built large steam cotton mills there.68


Despite talk of "purifying the public morals" in crowded seaport towns by "furnishing profitable employment to the thousands of the industrious poor," it was always easier to build a mill in a town than a town at a mill.69 As one observer pointed out, "a water-mill is necessarily located in the country afar from the cities, the markets and magazines of labor."70 Even so, the rapidly expanding transportation system of the country was acting to equalize the factor of location. It was estimated that "railroads tend to lessen the difficulties of transit with inland locations, in about the same ratio as the reduction in expense of motive power by the great improvements in the steam engine." There was no necessity, it was alleged, "to array Water and Steam Power as antagonists, both . . . can be used to advantage under the judicious and skillful management of the scientific American manufacturer."71 The controversy over motive power, which attracted so much attention during the 1840s, was confined largely to the location and economy of large textile mills. For the generality of manufactures, however, there was little debate over the relative merits of water and steam. When water was already being used, it continued to be used; where water was unavailable, steam was seized upon as the obvious alternative.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    p. 87

The steam engine was largely an urban phenomenon. For example, in Pennsylvania in 1838, the Pittsburgh area accounted for 133 engines and Philadelphia for 174 307 out of a total for the state of only 383. In the same year, out of a total of 23 engines in Georgia, 19 were in Savannah; of the 165 engines in Massachusetts, 114 were found in and around Boston.72


Philadelphia was typical in its use of steam engines. The 174 engines in that city were manufactured by forty-four different individuals or firms. This number is considerably larger than the number of engine makers active in the area. It was not unusual for a mechanic of universal talents to make his own engines and then to use them for some other kind of manufacture. Samuel Jackson, of Jackson's Turning & Cotton Machine Manufactory, purchased a high-pressure, horizontal engine from Prosper Martin in 1832. In 1838 he built a larger high-pressure, horizontal engine. It was the only engine in town listed as having been made by him.75


Engines in Philadelphia were used not so much to introduce new types of industry as to encourage those for which the city was already famous. More engines were used in machine shops than in any other single type of manufactory. Twenty-seven were used in machine making, and another sixteen were applied to other branches of the iron business. Although their use tended to concentrate in the already predominant industries, engines were applied to a wide variety of other purposes. Well over twenty-five types of mills were using them in the city in 1838,




Engine and machine making


Bleaching, dyeing, and printing cloth




Woolen mills


White lead




Printing presses


Cotton mills


Breweries and distilleries




Brass foundries


Bark mills


Drug mills


Flour mills


Sugar refineries


Sawing stone


Tool making


Carpet weaving



46 Evans, "Account," Archives of Useful Knowledge, volume 2 (1812), page 364.


47Aurora, 25 June 1812.


48 Niles' Weekly Register, Volume 1 (1 February 1812), page 407. The "chief artist," Isaac Sanford, patented a 'Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, edited by Donald Smalley (New York, 1949), page 376.


49 Hutton, "First Engines," Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, volume 15 (1894), page 984; Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 34 (June 1856), page 673.


50 Minutes, Providence Iron Foundry, 21 June 1827, volume 1, Slater collection, Baker Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; H. N. Slater to William Tiffany and Company, 5 March 1830, letter book, volume 14, Steam Cotton Manufacturing Company, Slater collection, Baker Library.


51 McLane Report, volume 1, page 927.


52 Edward S. Wilkinson to Elisha Dyer, 16 December 1861, in Transactions of the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry ... 1861, page 88.


53 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 48 (8 August 1835), page 397.


54 Woodbury Report, pages 88-89; Scientific American, volume 5 (20 July 1850), page 346.


55 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 34 (June 1856), page 673.


56 McLane Report, volume 1, page 927.


57 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 34 (June 1856), page 673.


58 Quoted in Morrill Wyman, "Memoir of Daniel Treadwell," Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, volume 11 (1888), page 344.


59 Deposition of Amos Binney et al., 7 February 1818, in John L. Sullivan, Explanation, by John L. Sullivan, of the Nature of Certain Grants to Him for the Use of Steam, Boats on Connecticut River... (no place, 1818), page 31.


60 Woodbury Report, pages 41-44, page 354.


61 Copeland, Cotton Manufacturing, page 28n.


62 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 35 (31 January 1829), page 366.


63 Zachariah Allen, Science of Mechanics, page 352n; H.N. Slater to Major Durfee, 18 July 1830 and Samuel Slater to Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, 23 April 1831, letter book, volume 14, Steam Cotton Manufacturing Company, Slater collection, Baker Library.


64 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 61 (29 January 1842), page 352. In 1840 a New York City editor claimed that he knew of no stationary engine in that city in which fuel other than coal was used. American Repertory, volume I (March 1840), page 136.


65 John Grammer, Jr., "Account of the Coal Mines in the Vicinity of Richmond, Virginia," American Journal of Science, volume 1 (1818), pages 125-130.


66 Hunt's Merchants Magazine, volume 15 (August 1846), page 213.


67 Woodbury Report, pages 20, 27, 30-31,33.


68 Samuel Webber, Manual of Power for Machines, Shafts, and Belts, With the History of Cotton Manufacture in the United States (Revised edition, New York ' 18 7 9), pages 50-51.


69 John Clowes, "Steam and Water as Motive Powers," National Magazine and Industrial Record, volume I (October 1845), page 448.


70 Scientific American, volume 4 (12 May 1849), page 269.


71 Clowes, "Steam and Water," National Magazine and Industrial Record, volume 1 (1845), pages 448, 444.


72 Woodbury Report, passim. It should be noted that engines were more conveniently counted in cities than in rural areas, a fact which no doubt prejudices these figures somewhat. As noted above, Louisiana was an exception to this rule of urban use.


73 Ibid., page 162.


74 Ibid., page 156.


75 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 40 (16 July 1831), page 344; Job R. Tyson, "Resources and Progress of Philadelphia," De Bow's Review, volume 15 (July 1853), page 48.




Chapter 7

(pp 94-99)

The Industry Established


In arranging the power for the Newark

Machine Works, I procured an engine

of about 35 horsepower. . . of good con-

struction.... With this engine we drive

14 lathes for iron, 3 for wood work,

4 planers for iron, and one . . . for wood;

4 drills and one boring and one tenoning

machine, splinter and bolt cutters, two

circular saws, punching and shearing

machines, two trip hammers, a large

blacking mill, and fan --blower for forges

and foundry....



Just as the number and the use of steam engines expanded enormously during the Jacksonian period, so did the making of engines become widespread and systematized. At the end of the War of 1812, engine-makers were few and were concentrated in the three centers of New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. By the middle of the century, engine shops were found in nearly every sizable town in the country. A general knowledge of steam was even more widely spread. At the turn of the century, the venerable iron manufacturer and mill designer John Fritz reminisced that when be became an apprentice in a Parkesburg, Pennsylvania, blacksmith's shop in 1838, he discovered that his new master had built his own steam engine. Fritz wrote that in those days a mechanic in like circumstances "would have to make his own drawings and patterns, make his own forging, and fit the work all up, without tools, except makeshifts. Today, as many men work on an engine as there are parts to it, and each man has a special machine, specially designed to do his work on."2 The significant point is not that a small‑town blacksmith had to improvise in building an engine in 1838, but that he could even build a workable engine.


The Middle Atlantic States remained the center of American engine building throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Philadelphia had 174 steam engines in 1838, of which at least 133 were built by the forty-four local makers then listed as having engines operating within the city. Rush and Muhlenberg successors to Oliver Evans—had the largest local trade and were, along with Daniel Large, the only holdovers from the earlier period. Twenty men were listed as having made only one engine each, indicating that it was not uncommon for a handy mechanic to make an engine on occasion, without having any particular connection with engine building as a business. Among the engine builders mentioned in the Philadelphia city directory for 1840, only one called himself a "steam engine maker," the rest preferring the title "machinist" or "machinist and iron founder."3


In addition to its fame as a center of engine and machine building, Philadelphia by the 1850s had also made a reputation in the closely allied manufacture of iron ships. Fabricators of steam boilers, having the necessary equipment and experience in working sheets of iron, pioneered in the building of iron ships in this country. One of the largest firms in this business was Reaney, Neafie, & Company, which was formed in 1844 by two mechanics, Thomas Reaney and Jacob G. Neafie. The latter had been an apprentice of Thomas Halloway, a prominent stationary engine builder of the city. John Roach, perhaps the most famous iron shipbuilder of post­war Philadelphia, moved to that city after serving his apprenticeship in New York under James P. Allaire.4 His exodus from New York was not surprising for while New York City continued to be the center of traditional wooden ship construction, the building of iron ships along the Delaware River was earning it a sobriquet as the "American Clyde."





Number of Engines Operating


in Philadelphia in 1838

Rush and Muhlenberg


Levi Morris


Hyde and Flint


M. H. Baldwin


Stacy Costell


Thomas Halloway


James Brooke


Daniel Large


Prosper Martin


James T. Sutton



Starting in the 1830s, Philadelphia engine-makers also gained a considerable reputation for the construction of locomotives. This success can be traced to the wide knowledge of stationary engines already possessed by local mechanics. Oliver Evans' early idea of building workable steam carriages for use on common roads had never completely died. About 1828 a group of promoters built a carriage at the machine shop of Nicholas and James Johnson in Kensington. This low-powered vehicle had a single cylinder, set horizontally, with connecting‑rod attachment to a single crank at the middle of the driving axle. The machine was abandoned after a faulty steering device caused it to careen into a shop window.6


The real stimulation to activity, however, was the announcement in 1831 that trials had been scheduled to select a locomotive for Baltimore and Ohio Railroad service. A number of makers of stationary engines in Philadelphia entered the competition. Stacy Costell, already famous for engines he had built with vibrating cylinders, now built a locomotive with two six-inch cylinders of twelve-inch stroke. It was tried out later on the Columbia Railroad, after which it was broken up and the boilers set to work supplying a stationary engine. Thomas Halloway, another prominent builder of stationary engines, also began a locomotive for the trials, but it was never finished.7


The most famous Philadelphia engine builder was Matthias Baldwin. Starting as an apprentice with the jewelry firm of Woolworth Brothers, he later became a machine-maker specializing in engraved copper rolls for calico printing. Baldwin made an engine for his own use in 1827 and then built engines for sale; this trade "became extensive and profitable." He became interested in the Baltimore and Ohio trials of 1831 and later became one of the world's leading manufacturers of locomotives.


Joseph Harrison, another leading Philadelphia locomotive builder, also had a background in stationary steam engine construction. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to an engine builder named Frederick D. Sanno. When Sanno's business failed, Harrison went to work for James Flint of the firm of Hyde and Flint. Before his indenture had run out, he became foreman of this shop at the age of twenty-two. After working for a time with the locomotive builders and innovators William Norris and Colonel Stephen H. Long, he was hired as foreman by Garret and Eastwick, another Philadelphia engine-building firm. He became a partner in the enterprise, which soon began building locomotives. Between 1844 and 1851 he built railroad equipment in St. Petersburg, Russia. Samuel Wright, who had been an apprentice with Harrison in the shops of Flint and Hyde, joined with the stationary engine-maker James Brooke to make two experimental locomotives.8


Other Philadelphia experimenters built one or more locomotives during this same period, but the construction of railroad engines quickly became a separate branch of the machine-making trade. Most of those stationary engine-makers who took an early fling at locomotive construction came to realize that there was more to it than merely placing an engine on a cart and soon went back to their familiar work. The industry, nevertheless, took firm root in Philadelphia, and Harrison wrote in later life that the city's workers "can be found everywhere, and for nearly forty years Philadelphia skill has been sought for to fill responsible places in all parts of the United States, in the West Indies, in South America and in Europe, and even in British India."9


To a lesser degree, stationary engine-makers in other cities went through the same pattern of trying their hands at building locomotives. In Boston, Holmes Hinkley made the transition smoothly and gained a wide reputation for the excellence of his engines. The pioneer Pittsburgh firm of McClurg, Wade & Company built five locomotives between 1834 and 1837, but then relinquished this line of work. Minus Ward of Baltimore saw in the locomotive a possible use for his patented rotary engine and conducted several trials before giving up the enterprise In New York, William James, a large-scale maker of stationary engines, experimented in 1833 with a steam carriage, "Calculated to run on a common turnpike road, also adapted to railroads."10 They, like most of the Philadelphia makers, soon gave up building this type of engine.


Unlike Philadelphia, New York City did not become a center of locomotive building, but it continued to produce large numbers of marine and stationary engines. Charles Stoudinger's former partner James P. Allaire, who upon Fulton's death purchased his works, continued for many years to be one of the leading engine-makers of the city. His business increased so fast that during the 1820s he purchased some eight thousand acres of timberland at Howell, New Jersey, to ensure a supply of charcoal iron for his enterprise. After an initial success, this proved to be an ill-advised move when, in the 1840s, Pennsylvania iron made with anthracite gained wide preference for use in general machine work."


Allaire's New York works employed approximately six hundred persons in 1831 and by 1847 his plant produced two hundred thousand dollars worth of iron goods. It continued in the manufacture of steam engines and boilers, heavy machinery, and a general machine business, but by 1853 it was principally engaged in building engines for ocean, lake, and river steamers.' 12


Robert McQueen's engine shop was still operating in New York in 1832, but its size was eclipsed by that of Paul A. Sabbaton. By 1810 the latter had been given "general superintendence of the late Mr. John Youle's foundry establishment" in New York City where, as he later remarked, he had witnessed the "continual exertions" of Robert Fulton to "obtain workmen who understood to work from drawings." From his early experience during the heroic period of steam engineering in America, Sabbaton went on to found his own extensive engine‑building firm, and by 1838 his engines were operating in mills from New England to the Gulf States.13


Other prominent New York firms at mid-century included the Archimedes Works, started in 1833, and Hogg and Delamater's Iron Foundry, begun in 1835. The former, which operated at two sites in the city, employed 220 workmen and manufactured annually $235,000 worth of engines, sugar mills, dredging machines (of "improved" design), and "iron vessels of various descriptions."14 Hogg and Delamater's foundry employed 150 workers and produced each year $250,000 worth of engines and other machinery. By 1853 these firms had been joined by the Morgan Iron Works and by Guyon, Boardman, and Company. Guyon had been a leading engineer with the Morgan firm before building his own works, which were housed at the foot of Eighth Street in a building 200 by nearly 100 feet and three stories high. This establishment, exclusively for the manufacture of steam engines,15 contained a brass foundry, machine shop, blacksmith's shop, and storage space. By 1855 a total of 3,130 men were employed in seventeen engine‑building firms in the city, and the largest of them was the Novelty Works.16


During the late 1820s Dr. Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College at Schenectady and an indefatigable inventor, had begun work on an ill-fated steamboat named Novelty because the arrangement of its machinery was a novelty. In this work he enjoyed the aid of Hezekiah Bliss—friend of Fulton, partner of Daniel French, and steamboat builder and captain on his own account.17 The engine for the experimental vessel was built at a foundry on the East River in New York City. The foundry later was named the Novelty Works after Nott's boat and was supervised by Bliss for some years. The works continued to operate until the wearing out of the machinery and the sharply rising land prices in the area led to abandonment of the site in 1870.



The Novelty Iron Works, circa 1840, located at the foot of 12th Street and the East River, New York City. To the left are the boiler shop, smith shop, and machine shop. At the rear is the iron foundry, and at the right are the pattern house, the paint shop, and two unidentified buildings.





1 Scientific American, volume 10 (16 June 1855), page 315.


2 John Fritz, Autobiography of John Fritz (New York, 1912), pages 32-33.


3 A. M'Elroy's Philadelphia Directory, for 1840 (Philadelphia, 1840), passim.


4 "John Roach," Appletons'  Cyclopaedia of American Biography, volume 5, page 268.


5 Woodbury Report, page 156.


6 Joseph Harrison, Jr., The Locomotive Engine, and Philadelphia's Share in Its Early Improvement (Revised edition, Philadelphia, 1872), pages 19-20.


7 Ibid., pages 30-3 1.


8 See sketch of Harrison in Dictionary of American Biography, volume 8, pages 345-346; Harrison, Locomotive Engine, pages 56, 57.


9 Harrison, Locomotive Engine, page 60.


10 John H. White, Cincinnati Locomotive Builders, 1845-1868, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 245 (Washington, 1965), page 8; Minus Ward, Remarks, Propositions and Calculations, Relative to a Rail-Road and Locomotive Engines to be Used upon the Same, from Baltimore to the Ohio River (Baltimore, April 1827), pp. v-vi; Thomas Richard Thomson, Check List of Publications on American Railroads before 1841 (New York, 1942), page 69.


11 Sketch of Allaire in Dictionary of American Biography, volume 1, page 182; Brown, Allaire's Lost Empire, page 33; Morrison, Steam Navigation, page 180.


12 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 40 (27 August1831), page 452; Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 16 (January 1847), page 93; Scientific American, volume 9 (17 December 1853), page 110.


13 McLane Report, volume 2, page 115; Woodbury Report, passim; Affidavit of Paul A. Sabbaton, 19 December 1838, in Heirs of Robert Fulton, 27 January 1846, House Document 145, 29th Congress, I session, page 17.


14 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 16 (January 1847), page 93


15 Scientific American, volume 9 (17 December 1853), page 110; ibid., volume 8 (22 January 1853), page 149.


16 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, volume 37 (September 1857), page 382.


17 Preble, Chronological History, pages 58-59. Bliss' account of this story is given in "Resolution of Mr. Beekman on the Petition of Levinus Vanderheyden, Neziah Bliss and Joseph D. Monnell," Documents of the Senate of the State of New-York, Seventy-Sixth Session. 1853, Document 68, volume 2 (Albany, 1853), pages 3-5.




Chapter 8


Developing Engine Design


We cannot have discoveries every few days,

like those of the steam engine, the steamboat,

the spinning jenny.... The progress

of discovery is a gradual one: the

                                              trimming off a superfluous shaft here, and

a wheel, crank or drum there, produces

important though not very striking results,

and upon such improvements in the

aggregate (and sometimes a very simple

one in the minutia of complex machines,)

depend the whole economics of the machinery‑its

profits and losses.

SCIENTIFIC American (1849)1


Even while they sought to master the techniques and to provide for the needs of engine manufacture, American steam engineers attempted to improve the product of their shops. Although the typical stationary steam engine in this country at mid-century was a considerably better product than its predecessor of fifty years before, it was not radically different from, or better than, an English engine of the same period. Improvement had gone on independently in the Old World and the New, but there was constant communication between the two: engineers and publications crossed the Atlantic in both directions and in increasing numbers. Added to this was the fact that the inherent logic of the steam engine tended to limit the potential number of improvements. The achievement of American engineers lay not so much in surpassing their English counterparts—although in some cases they did—but in succeeding in exploring and mastering an inherited technology which was itself in a process of evolution.


As soon as the Watt improvements were available in America, the old-type Newcomen engine was immediately abandoned. When Oliver Evans patented and introduced his high-pressure Columbian engine in 1804, the battle was joined between his partisans and those of Watt's low-pressure, condensing system. James Watt had considered the use of pressures above that of the atmosphere, but abandoned the plan.


While still an apprentice in the 1770s, Evans had witnessed the expansive power of steam but "formed no idea of the means of its application, until he met with a description of an atmospheric steam engine." He claimed to be "astonished to find that the steam was not applied as the prime mover, but only as the means to form a vacuum --  to apply the weight of the atmosphere. This he conceived to be a great error."2 Drawing upon his rather inaccurate knowledge of the history of the steam engine, Evans declared that "this invention and discovery of Newcomen's, made from the hints given by doctor Hooke . . . was the first step . . . from the simple path of nature! Here they lost sight of the true principle discovered by the Marquis of Worcester."3 With a touch of bitterness, Evans confessed that "to philosophy we are indebted for many of our most useful discoveries; yet," he continued, "this single case should put our philosophy to the blush, and teach us, however learned we may be, to listen with the closest attention, even to what the most illiterate mechanician, who has taken the simple works of nature for his guide, may say."4


Evans stopped short of calling himself a babe and suckling, but the implication was clear: nature's plan and true proportion had been betrayed into the toils of sophisticated, but specious, reasoning. Evans, the simple American mechanic, had rediscovered the true path of advancement. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was anything but a simple mechanic, later claimed to have been asked by Evans why engines in England were not built to use high steam. Latrobe replied by citing the abortive efforts of Hornblower, Symington, and Murphy in this direction. He pointed out that these engines "had been found to have so many inconveniences attached to them" that each had been abandoned.5 Evans, however, sought explanations, not precedents. Inveighing against "the mighty and infallible opinions of Englishmen," he condemned their belief that "no inventions, improvements, or original ideas, at least possessed of merit, can spring from any other quarter of the world, than the 'fast anchored isle'."6 Evans' feeling that science had presided over the birth of the low-pressure engine but not that of his own has been perpetuated by later writers.


When Evans introduced his Columbian engine in 1804, it faced immediate and bitter opposition. Latrobe led the opposition and never became reconciled to either Evans or his engine. He based his position on the facts that the high‑pressure engine was too sensitive to the pressure of steam in the boiler, thus moving "unequally & precariously," and the danger of working with "the enormous force of the Steam on the boiler." In contrast, he maintained, the Watt engine worked with "no inconvenience or inequality" and was "as safe as a clock."7 Ironically, Latrobe finally recommended the use of high-pressure steam, but in engines not made on the Evans plan.


Evans always complained that he was forced to watch his improvements exploited, even while their validity was being denied. Latrobe was only the most obvious offender in this respect. Daniel French, the early builder of western steamboats, expressed surprise in 1814 that Evans should pretend to any improvement in his use of high steam. "For my part," he wrote, "I never save now heard of any Engine but what used Steam more or less above the pressure of the atmosphere."8 In fact, French had already built at least one steamboat, equipped with a "Seesaw" oscillating engine, "worked with high Steam without a Condenser. with a double Circular boiler."9


Part of this opposition to Evans and his claims was based upon a real reluctance to employ high-pressure steam because of the great danger involved when raising steam in the crudely made boilers of that time. Some of the resistance, however, was brought on by Evans' claim to have patented the very use of high pressure, regardless of whether in an engine of his design or not. When Thomas Copeland began to build engines in Pittsburgh, "upon the principles of the celebrated WATT & BOLTON," in 1813, he maintained "that he cannot be prevented from using steam of any elastic force. It cannot be pretended," he concluded, "that this is a new discovery."10 Evans, however, thought differently. He made a clear distinction between his patented steam engines and what he considered his patented principles, but continued to warn against the unauthorized use of either.


Evans' steam-engine patent, issued first in 1804, was extended by an act of Congress in 1815 and did not expire until 1825. By the latter date, however, high-pressure steam was widely used in steamboats on the western rivers and was almost universal among stationary engines all over the country. Appearing before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, on Steam Navigation, the American Consul at Liverpool testified that in the United States, "all condensing engines are called low‑pressure." Even these, he claimed, were sometimes worked at a pressure of twenty pounds to the square inch.11  "An American low pressure engine (so called)," it was said, "is very commonly of low pressure only by courtesy." In 1834 an observer in Cincinnati, Ohio, counting sixty engines operating in that town, noted that they were "all high pressure," and spoke for a whole section when he added: "low pressure engines are not in good repute in the west." By 1838 only a small number of low‑pressure engines were listed as being at work in American mills.12


The second major development in American steam engines during the first half of the nineteenth century was acceptance of the principle that, for greater efficiency, steam should be used expansively. Once again, Watt had already anticipated this development, having used it as early as 1782, but it is not clear whether the first engines of his design in America adopted this practice. Oliver Evans recommended that his Columbian engines be driven by expansive steam, and in his handbook for engineers he included a table "showing the proper time to shut off the steam" on each stroke.13 Latrobe, always ready to belittle Evans' work, commented that "Evans shuts it off, to save his Engines from destruction, (as do all the high steam Engine makers in England) and uses the expansive power alone & separately."14


It was Latrobe's opinion that Francis B. Ogden, nephew of the famous Governor Aaron Ogden of New Jersey, was the true inventor of the expansive use of steam.15 In 1811 Ogden, with his uncle and Daniel Dod, had built a steamboat to operate between New Jersey and New York. This same year he drew plans for an engine of two cylinders working at right angles and using steam expansively; it was patented in 1813. According to the specifications for this patent, Ogden planned to use "two or more cylinders in such a manner as to form one engine, with the view to cutting off the steam, of whatever pressure, at 1/4, 1/3, or 1/2 the stroke of the piston, and using it expansively for the residue."16


Whether Ogden's engines were directly responsible for the acceptance of expansive steam in this country is perhaps a moot point. Latrobe built an engine in 1815, on Ogden's plan, for a woolen mill in Steubenville, Ohio. He called this engine "the most powerful Machine I have ever seen," and suggested to Ogden that it be worked "with high steam without an air pump."17 The following year, Ogden placed one of his engines in a steamboat operating on the James River in Virginia, and in 1816 he made a journey to England where he met the venerable Watt. When asked to comment on the novelty of Ogden's engine, Watt answered that although the arrangement of the cylinders was new, "the expansive power of steam has been long used in Cornwall, where much larger engines are erected than are at first required: of course, they are not put to their full work; 1/4 or 1/3 of the power being sufficient, the cylinders are only thus far filled with steam, and the residue of the stroke is made by expansion."18


It has been reported that Ogden's patent was freely infringed on the western rivers, and that Murray and Company, of Leeds, England, after making an engine under Ogden's direction, used the patterns to produce others for the American market.19 It may be assumed, therefore, that Ogden's principles were fairly widely known by the 1820s. Even so, it seems likely that, since the high-pressure engine became the common type for stationary purposes, it was more through Evans than Ogden that the use of expansive steam became widespread. At any rate, it was said in 1854 that "almost every engine is now so worked."20


A third area of improvement in American steam engines was the positioning of the cylinders. At the beginning of the century all engines used vertical cylinders with beams. By mid-century the cylinder was usually placed horizontally. John Fitch was the first American inventor to attempt to build an engine with a horizontal cylinder, planning to place one in his steamboat of 1786. When he informed Josiah Hornblower of this intention, the latter warned against it. Fitch had conceived that plan "for the following reasons, to prevent its being too top heavy, and that the jars that the Vessel would receive from the seas would not be so likely to effect the Works."21 Hornblower responded with the warning that "the horizontal position of the cylinder may be proper for the reasons you mention, and also for the more convenient application of the power, yet I fear it will be apt to make a leaky Piston."22 Whether convinced by these arguments or others, Fitch had abandoned the use of a horizontal cylinder by the time he built his second boat in 1788.


The horizontal placement of a steam cylinder permitted a direct linkage between the piston rod and an eccentric arm connected to the flywheel. This seemed the best method of avoiding the use of the bulky and expensive beam that was common to the Watt and the Newcomen engines. Within the limited space of an industrial establishment, such an arrangement was clearly to be desired, but for many years it was retarded by a fear that the weight of the piston would cause excessive wear along the bottom length of the cylinder. The horizontal cylinder was little used in England before 1825 and perhaps became more common in the United States at about the same time. By 1838 the distribution of engines in Philadelphia County showed 2 rotary engines, 13 oscillating engines, 57 with upright cylinders, and 107 using horizontal cylinders.23




A typical horizontal steam engine, 1848. From Scientific American, Volume 4 (4 November 1848), page 54.




By 1852 it was said that "the favorite construction for land engines throughout the United States is that in which the cylinder is placed horizontally on flat beds."24 It cannot be demonstrated that any one engine builder or inventor was responsible for this universal acceptance. Fitch's attempt to use such an arrangement was in no sense a precedent for later acceptance, but did show early recognition of its desirability. It is likely that with improved piston-packing and generally improved durability and accuracy of construction, builders felt more free to experiment with horizontal engines.


The oscillating engine gained considerable currency in America toward the middle of the nineteenth century. It too had originated in England, where William Murdock had made a model of such an engine while in the employ of Boulton and Watt. It was revived in 1827 by Henry Maudslay, but was used little for stationary engines in Great Britain. The first American use of this type of engine was made by Daniel French on his steamboats. Commenting on one of French's boats in 1812, Latrobe noted that "the horizontal Cylinder has been very often used, tho' not made to vibrate." He went on to praise French as "a man of very uncommon talents, both as to the conception & execution of anything to which mechanical power can be applied," but insisted that "the immediate application of the Piston to the Crank of the wheel which is rendered practicable by the vibratory motion of the cylinder is not more simple than the application of Shacklebars . . . from the cross of the Piston to the Crank."25


French continued to build engines in the West, and by 1830 Stacy Costell was building "vibratory" engines in Philadelphia. N. Rowland, also of Philadelphia, patented such an engine in 1833 and built at least one in that city. The Novelty Works of New York was building oscillating engines by 1833. In 1848 the statement was made that this type "is coming into general use in England, and a few have been erected here. It is then an object of some interest to our mechanics."26 The pace of their acceptance accelerated during the 1850s, and by 1855 it could be said that "oscillating engines are very simple and compact, and are fast extending in use. We believe they have not yet been applied to locomotives," it was noted, "but they have to all other purposes."27



Oscillating steam engine of Ebenezer A. Lester, 1827. Restored patent drawing in records of the patent office, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


The chief advantage, as well as the major disadvantage, of the oscillating engine was that the motion of the cylinder regulated the flow of steam to the piston. It was explained in 1852 that the "oscillating cylinder is much employed for small land engines, as it affords a cheap substitute for the slide valve, if formed in the usual manner, by which one of the gudgeons or trunnions is made to regulate the entrance and exit of the steam, while the other gudgeon or trunnion can be employed to work the feed‑pump."28 The principal difficulty was that in order to prevent the escape of steam, the trunnions were fitted very tight, thus increasing friction which cut the power of the engine and caused undue wear on the trunnions themselves. Here too, a general improvement in strength and accuracy of construction helped to alleviate this problem.


The history of compound cylinder engines in this country is similar to that of other innovations. The engines were conceived in England, then either brought to America, or conceived independently in this country at an early date. After a period of uncertain success, they reached a fairly high level of development and use. Engines of two cylinders were made in England by Jonathan Hornblower in 1781 and Arthur Woolf in 1804. Their earliest use in the United States was in 1813, when Francis B. Ogden patented his compound engine. Using steam expansively, this engine was to work two pistons simultaneously at right angles to each other. It was explained that "one is at its maximum when the other is at its minimum, so that there is no necessity for a balance wheel as a reservoir of power: for when one piston ceases momentarily to act, the other instantaneously continues the motion in the same direction." It was pointed out that "there is nothing new in two cylinders, or in working by expansive steam, but the getting rid of the balance wheel by the simultaneous action of each piston in the manner above described . . . is new."29


Actually, Ogden's twin‑cylinder engine was not of the classic compound type, developed by Woolf, since both cylinders were to use steam of the same pressure. In the true compound engine, the steam was introduced into the first cylinder under high pressure and then allowed to expand into the second cylinder under a lower pressure. This type seems not to have been used to any extent in America until the 1840s. Despite scattered reports of experiments with compound engines, it was estimated in 1856 that "this class of engine has received but partial trial in our country."30


The use of high-pressure steam expansively and the new positioning of cylinders were major innovations, but they do not account for the greatest part of the improvement of the steam engines in America. They were accompanied by an almost constant tinkering with the details of engine design: piston packing valve action, governing, and linkage were the problems receiving particular attention 31 Not all of this activity, of course, was productive of any real benefit to steam technology. Contemporary and recent literature are replete with references to the fact that the period following Watt's active work was one of attempting to absorb and convert his inventive genius into useful innovation.


A remark was made in 1819 that "on the expiration of Mr. Watt's patent, many ingenious mechanics attempted to improve the structure of the machine, and the records of the [British] patent office contain more upon this subject, than any other." As a result, "scarcely two following engines were made alike for many years, until, by the results of a vast deal of invention and experience, those methods . . . became settled into established forms; but none of them are superior to the original of Mr. Watt's."32  Robert H. Thurston, a leading engineer, looking back over most of the nineteenth century, spoke of the period after 1850 as the "Period of Refinement" and said that "the inventor has been superseded by the engineer."33 In other words, by mid-century the inventors had explored all the various alternatives inherent in the Watt engine after that, improvement tended to be the province of the engineer with scientific training.


Because of the different needs of American engineers and the time lag in the exchange of technological information between this country and Great Britain, the major variations on Watt's basic engine design were not all adopted and perfected in the United States until about 1830. For example, it was not until 1827 that the basic and useful table "On the relative proportions of the various parts of the Boulton and Watt's, or low pressure, Steam Engine" was published in this country. This table, which showed "the very important results of the experience of Boulton and Watt, in proportioning the most essential parts of their steam engines," was said to have existed in manuscript form in all English engine shops. A copy was "procured, by an American engineer," who had recently visited England.34


After 1830, suggested improvements tended to be either repetitious, bizarre, or dealt with minor details of arrangement and construction. The best evidence of this leveling off of real improvement is the clear and dramatic rise in the number of attempts to perfect the rotary steam engine. This piece of mechanism, which absorbed so much inventive talent during the second quarter of the nineteenth century in America, had, like most other developments in steam engineering, been investigated by Watt in the eighteenth century. In this country, Oliver Evans had toyed with a rotary engine during the 1780s, but abandoned it for his high‑pressure Columbian engine.


One early American rotary engine was built in Baltimore in 1819 by George Stiles, a former mayor of that city, and his son John S. Stiles. Three years before, Hezekiah Niles, ever ready to praise and encourage American ingenuity, announced with pride that a Mr. Curtis of Massachusetts had achieved "a desideratum in steam engine, a complete rotary motion without a fly wheel or balance, an object of long and arduous research in Europe, of the greatest advantage to the mechanical world." The engine was reportedly "composed only of a cylinder containing a shaft‑wheel with valves" and was touted as "vastly superior to those of Watt and Bolton, Evans, or any subsequent constructor" Curtis had one of his engines operating the sawmill of A. and N. Brown of Manhattan Island and had "after encountering a long series of difficulties . . . established a manufactory in Baltimore."35



Rotary steam engine of George and John S, Stiles, 1819. From Niles Weekly Register, Vol 17 (October 16, 1819), p 114.


The Stiles, father and son, were associated with Curtis in his Baltimore venture. A stationary engine used by the Stiles had been set at boring cannon during the War of 1812, then was used for ordinary shop work, and was finally used to operate a gristmill. After five years it was said to be "still working with equal power, without having received any material repairs." The four virtues claimed for it were its lightness, compactness, cheapness, and simplicity of motion. The last point was clinched, in Niles' mind, by the fact that the one then "working at Mr. Stiles' factory and mill is under the care of a black man, whose chief qualities, as needful to its management, are sobriety, and attention." Stiles, besides carrying on other types of work, made these rotary engines for general sale. Not untypically, in 1817 they even placed one of their engines aboard the boat Surprise, a steamboat which was said to be quite fast.36


Early in the nineteenth century there were sporadic reports of American mechanics, such as Stiles, having finally perfected a rotary engine, but it is significant that of the 123 patents issued in this country for rotary engines before 1860, only 20 were dated through 1830, while the remaining 103 were issued between 1831 and 1859. Plainly, interest increased rather than waned.37


The idea of the rotary engine was at least as old as the steam wheel of Hero of Alexandria, and apparently every inventor from the time of Watt had been struck with the notion that an engine which produced a rotary motion initially would be far superior to one in which the reciprocating motion had to be converted to circular. As late as 1829 such arbiters of American mechanical progress as Zachariah Allen were denouncing "the great loss of power resulting from the reciprocating movement of the piston of the common steam engines" and calling for an engine which would "apply the steam directly to turn a wheel, as water is applied to turn a water wheel, in order to produce at once a continued circular motion without the intervention of the beam, crank, and fly wheel."38 But apparently a current of informed opinion was already flowing the other way. Remarking that "it may seem hardy to question a dogma, which has remained so long unquestioned," an inventor in 1822 endeavored to "show, contrary to the received theory, that there is no loss of power in the reciprocating movement of the common steam‑engine."39


From the beginning of their publication, the Franklin Journal and the Scientific American launched vigorous campaigns against rotary engines. The editor of the former claimed to "have support of many practical engineers" for his opinion that "projectors are generally mistaken, respecting the loss of power, which they think, takes place in the crank."40 The editor of the Scientific American hedged a bit by conceding that a successful rotary engine was theoretically possible, but pointed out that already, "the Mechanical ingenuity that has been expended in the invention and improvement of rotary engines, perhaps exceeds that of all other machines."41 Between September 1848 and June 1849 he published a history of attempts to build such an engine (all abortive), with the avowed object "to throw light upon the subject, in order to stop many men of real original mechanical genius from wasting their time."42 The editor claimed to have "seen no less than 60 representatives of different rotary engines" and blamed this continued activity on a "want of correct understanding of the principles of the steam engine."43 The editor of still another technical journal professed to see "a perfect mania" for rotary engines in 1847.44


The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia had earlier been concerned with this same problem, remarking that "the great number of proposed improvements in the steam engine, equally manifest the possession of ingenuity, and the deficiency of knowledge and experience, in their projectors." To help remedy this tactfully described situation, the Institute appointed a committee on inventions to review and advise on improvements, offering its services gratis and promising to maintain "the utmost secrecy."45 The persistence of interest in the rotary engine, however, cannot be explained solely on the basis of ignorance. The fact was that the common steam engine, as inherited from Watt and modified by Evans and others, appeared to inventors to have reached the practical limits of its perfection, and further major improvement was sought through a new departure.


Despite all counsel, efforts to develop the rotary engine continued. One persistent inventor was James A. Stewart of Cross Plains, Tennessee, who patented his rotary engine in 1841 and the following year had the firm of R. M. Roe and Company of New York City build a prototype. This engine was used for a short time in their shops, and Stewart was encouraged enough that he continued to try to perfect its details. About 1848 he made an engine of adequate power to operate a sawmill a few miles north of Nashville. The success of this engine led him to travel to St. Louis where the Eagle Foundry of Clark, Renfrew and Company manufactured these engines for general sale. The design of his engine was simple. Two cog wheels of long axis were enclosed in a tight-fitting iron jacket. Steam was introduced perpendicularly to the axes of the two wheels—the only moving parts—and along the line where they meshed. Except for Babbitt metal lining of the pillow blocks which carried the wheels,46 the engine was built of iron throughout.


Despite persistent claims over a period of five years by Stewart and by his supporters that his engine had at last been perfected, it never was. Finally in 1853 he decided, as he said, "to abandon any further attempts to introduce my plan of rotary engine." He was prepared to admit that "an attempt to excel, materially, the reciprocating engine, in point of economy, by substituting a rotary, is chimerical." He persisted, nevertheless, in his belief that his principles were sound even though they failed in practice. The major faults of his engine were "its liability to derangement by expansion and contraction of metal, and the yielding or displacement of adjusting screws employed in maintaining the steam wheels in their proper position." Discouraged, Stewart moved to Texas and entered the business of flour milling.47


The efforts to build a better rotary engine, like most attempts to improve the steam engine, were guided by the supposed imperatives inherent within the engine itself. At least one major improvement in America, however, was imposed by philosophical and economic, rather than mechanical, desiderata. It was noted in 1857 that "within the last few years the attention of ingenious men in [Philadelphia] ..., as well as in other places, has been directed largely to simplifying the Steam Engine, removing all essentially unnecessary parts, cheap­ening its price, and diminishing its size."48 A part of this was merely the endless and undramatic battle to keep a piece of mechanism, once perfected, from being corrupted by innovation. The major incentive behind this activity, however, was the search for a smaller engine—perhaps even portable.

Rotary steam engine of James A. Stewart, 1850. For Scientific American, Vol. 6, (Nov. 9, 1850), p. 157.


Thomas Jefferson had called for such engines as early as 1815. A small steam engine, he wrote, "applicable to our daily concerns, is infinitely more valuable than the greatest which can be used only for great objects." The former President was caught in the seeming contradiction between his enthusiasm for "improvement," and his revulsion at the idea of great industrial centers, based on steam-powered factories, springing up in America as they already had in England. His vision of small portable engines resolved the conflict, and he contemplated with satisfaction the idea that a small engine might be developed that would "raise from an adjacent well the water necessary for daily use; to wash the linen, knead the bread, beat the homony, churn the butter, turn the spit, and do all other household offices which require only a regular mechanical motion."49 Thus the instrument of industrial vice in Europe would become the handmaiden of domestic virtue in America.


Jefferson was not alone in his hope that the steam engine might be domesticated, made democratic, and applied to the benefit of the common man. Hezekiah Niles quoted Oliver Evans to the effect that "the time would come when the powers of steam should be so well ascertained and so simply applied, that the very old women would do the common business of housewifery with it."50 It was Evans' opinion, again according to Niles, that "the time would come, when, every person able to build a house costing 10,000 dollars, would provide himself with a steam engine, as a part of its furniture, to wash the clothes, scrub the floors, etc. etc."51


Writing in celebration of the national centennial in 1876, Abram Hewitt, a worthy representative of post-Civil War American civilization, announced that "If I were asked what elements had most to do with the swift progress of our country, I should answer, freedom and the steam engine. But deeper even than any organized declarations of outward forms of freedom lies the influence of the steam engine, which has been from the day of its birth, in spite of laws and dynasties, and all accidents of history, the great emancipator of man."52 Beneath the thoroughly Victorian optimism and bravado of placing the steam engine above the Declaration of Independence and, presumably, above even the martyred Abraham Lincoln, that other "great emancipator of man," lay the intuitive realization, only recently rediscovered, that the unique contribution of American civilization to world progress lay in its standard of living for the common man.


It is not to be expected that the engine-maker, laboring to pare a few pounds or a troublesome lever from his steam engine, thought in terms of the message of America. But the very fact that this urge toward smaller and simpler engines was eminently practical was indicative of the thoroughness with which the concept of the mass market had already permeated the thinking of American industry. The Scientific American in 1853 stated that the want of a small portable engine is seriously felt by the public.


The farmer wants them to thresh his grain and cut his straw, to saw his wood, and as soon as they are properly constructed to draw his plow. The mechanic wants them for the various operations of his workshop, the manufacturer in a small way wants those that require but little room, and can be easily moved about as he may change his residence, and we may hope to see the day when they will be made so cheap that it will become almost a necessity of the household. The world is growing wiser and lazier every day.53


The advent of the internal combustion engine and the electric transmission of power removed some of the urgency from this quest, but during the first half of the nineteenth century, the attempt to provide a truly portable steam engine was a constant and important activity.


From the vantage point of his annual report for the year 1843, the Commissioner of Patents H. L. Ellsworth observed that "the great progress made in the steam-engine since Watt's time is more due to the increased knowledge of its properties, and better understanding of the general rules that should govern mechanical structures, and the improvement of all the mechanic arts, particularly in the working of iron, than to the improvements in the engine itself; although these are, by no means, insignificant."54 This progress must be credited largely to the men who manufactured steam engines, aided by what one writer in Silliman's American Journal of Science referred to as "the patronage and encouragement of the public, and the auxiliary efforts of the Engineer and the Philosopher."55


The patronage and encouragement of the public is sufficiently documented by the wide and enthusiastic acceptance of steam power which characterized these years. Similarly, the multiplication and gradual professionalization of steam engineers need not be labored. Thomas Cooper, noting the activities of Robert Fulton, Oliver Evans, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and others, wrote in 1814 that "so much exertion, and by such men, affords ground to hope that at no distant time, improvements may take place, that will put our Engineers of America, upon a par at least with those of England." The "three great requisites of a civil engineer," he declared, "are first a profound knowledge of mathematics, and an habitual facility of applying mathematical principles and calculations to mechanics and machinery. Secondly, a full knowledge of the modern science of chemistry. Thirdly, an habitual facility in drawing and designing with neatness and accuracy. To these should be added, actual observation and study of the principal machines in use and their application."56 This ambitious prospectus remained desirable, rather than actual, for many years, despite suggestions that the federal government set up an academy to train steam engineers. The first engineers in this country were either self‑tutored or trained in England, and frequently they were also manufacturers. Latrobe was one of the first and most successful among those who attempted to earn a living by the merit of his engineering and entrepreneurial talents alone.


Oliver Evans was a prime example of the inventor-manufacturer-engineer, who contributed so much to the early progress of steam engines in this country. Quoting the old saw that "truth lies in a well," Evans described the "most intense study" that preceded his new mechanisms. "After having a faint glimpse of the principle," he said, "it was with many toilsome and tedious steps that I attained a clear and distinct view. I received great assistance from the result of experiments made by others, which are to be found in scientific works."57 He consulted the tables of John Dalton and speculated on the possibility of discovering a caloric-proof substance out of which boilers might be made.58 So valuable did Evans find the available scientific works, that he suggested in order "to aid the progress of im­provement in the arts and sciences," the federal government might, "at the expense of the community, employ ingenious persons, in every art and science, to make with care every experiment that might possibly lead to the extension of our knowledge of principles."59 He specifically singled out investigations of solar radiation, presumably to raise steam in boilers, as an area in which the ''expense of such investigations cannot, in many instances, be borne by those who have the mental powers to design." In such cases he thought "aid from government becomes necessary.” 60


Evans' views on the support of basic scientific research by the federal government were advanced, though shared by such important public figures as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. In actual practice, engineers and manufacturers were forced to make use of what bits of scientific fact and encouragement they could find. They can be said to have been denied this resource only if the term science is limited in this case to a fully mature understanding of thermodynamics.61 Even within this narrow definition, many early American scientists notably Joseph Henry, Thomas Cooper, and James Renwick—concerned themselves with the theory and economy of steam. George Corliss, for example, was said to have had direct assistance in the invention of his Corliss engine from a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Brown University.62


It is probably a mistake, however, to so limit the definition of scientific aid to steam engineering. Manufacturers and projectors made constant recourse to whatever mathematical abilities they might have possessed. Furthermore, they sought the approval and endorsement of notable scientists for their improvements in engines. Such approbation was eagerly sought and widely advertised when received. Finally, they shared a common expectation that science would prove useful to the arts. There was near universal agreement with Alonzo Potter when he wrote that "on the one hand, science has furnished principles for the arts to apply: on the other, the arts have proposed problems for science to resolve; and this mutual aid and dependence have been the means of carrying both forward, at a rate continually accelerated."62 It was admittedly a statement of faith—but, no doubt, it was a faith that sustained.


At the end of the American Revolution, the Watt steam engine presented American mechanics with a major and complex problem in technological assimilation. Faced with the staggering task of first learning to make and then to apply these engines, interested Americans made use of whatever English guidance was available through books and emigrant mechanics. Despite the handicap of having to work without a firm theoretical basis, these improvers applied to their task all the mathematics, experimental data, and knowledge of thermodynamics they could muster. In general, the first half of the nineteenth century was a period marked by consolidation and improvement rather than by dramatic breakthroughs in the technology of steam.


Experiments had been tried with several types of engines. Those best suited to steamboats, locomotives, and the various stationary purposes had become more or less standardized by mid-century. Improved design, more sturdy construction, and improved economy had also contributed to making steam power a widely accepted motive force. Simultaneously, a growing demand for engines had stimulated these same improvements so that steam technology had moved forward on a broad and connected front. Salients of more rapid development occurred, as in the case of the use of high‑pressure steam, and in a few instances indifference or hostility brought lags in other areas. But on the whole, the advance was rapid and complete. Starting in the urban centers of the Middle Atlantic States, the new technology spread into the West, the South, and finally to New England. By mid-century the revolution was complete.



1 Scientific American, volume 4 (5 May 1849), page 261.


2 Evans, "Account," Archives of Useful Knowledge, volume 2 (1812), page 366; Evans, Abortion, pages 95-96.


3 Evans, Abortion, p. 90n.


4 Ibid., page 3.


5  B. H. Latrobe to Charles T. Ingersoll, 17 January 1814, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


6 [Evans] Elisha, Patent Right Oppression Exposed, pages 63-64.


7 B. H. Latrobe to Andrew Hazelhurst, 19 October 1810, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


8 Daniel French to William Thornton, 12 February 1814, William Thornton papers, volume 4, LC.


9 B. H. Latrobe to Robert Fulton, I March 1814, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


10 Pittsburgh Gazette, 9 April 1813.


11 "'Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, on Steam Navigation to India; with the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix, and Index. 1834," Edinburgh Review, volume 60 (January 1835), page 475n. This confirmed the statement of Frederick Graff, made in 1817, that Boulton and Watt engines were commonly worked from 10 to 20 psi. Frederick Graff to Robert Vaux, 9 July 1817, in Communications. . . on the Explosions of Steam Boilers, page 8.


12 American Railroad Journal, volume 3 (27 December 1834), pages 806-807; Woodbury Report, passim.


13 Evans, Abortion, pages 2830.


14 B. H. Latrobe to Thomas Cooper, 2 April 1814, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


15  Ibid.


16 "Who First," American Repertory, volume 4 (1841), page 172.


17 B. H. Latrobe to N. l. Roosevelt, I August 1815, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS; B. H. Latrobe to F. B. Ogden, 23 January 1815, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


18 Quoted in "Who First," American Repertory, volume 4 (1841), page 172.


19 Ibid., page 173.


20 Scientific American, volume 10 (4 November 1854), page 61.


21 John Fitch to Josiah Hornblower and Christopher Colles, 17 May 1786, Fitch papers, volume 1, LC.


22 Josiah Hornblower to John Fitch, 24 May 1786, Fitch papers, volume 1, LC.


23 Woodbury Report, page 156


24 Scientific American, volume 8 (18 December 1852), page 107. Seth Boyden is credited with developing "the castiron prome or bed." Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, volume 1, page 341.


25 B. H. Latrobe to William Cooper, 14 October 1812, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS.


26 Scientific American, volume 3 (13 May 1848), page 265.


27 Ibid., volume 10 (24 March 1855), page 218.


28 Ibid., volume 8 (18 December 1852), page 107.


29 [ Cooper ], "Account," Emporium of Arts and Sciences, volume 2 (1814), pages 473-474. J. Dowers, Jr., of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, disputed some of the points of Ogden's patent. See B. H. Latrobe to Thomas Cooper, 2 April 1814, B. H. Latrobe MS. Coll., MHS. A Mr. Rodman of South Carolina, also planned a low-pressure, twin-cylinder engine in 1814. [Cooper], "Account," Emporium of Arts and Sciences, volume 2 (1814), page 373.


30 Scientific American, volume 3 (13 May 1848), page 268; ibid., volume 11 (5 January 1856), page 129.


31 The most famous and successful American innovation in the field during the middle years of the century was the valve gear of George Corliss. His impact was made in the period following that covered here, but something of his background will be found in Robert S. Holding,"George H. Corliss of Providence, Inventor," Rhode Island History, volume 5 (January 1946), pages 1-17.


32 Cyclopaedia; or, Universal Dictionary, volume 34. For recent attempts to explain this in terms of ''plateaus of technology," see Mumford, Art and Technics, page 84, and Milton Kerker, "Science and the Steam Engine," Technology and Culture, volume 2 (Fall, 1960), pages 385,387.


33 Thurston, Growth of the SteamEngine, pages 304, 305. I would suggest that this period began about two decades earlier.


34 Franklin Journal, volume 3 (May 1827), pages 336-339.


3 5 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 10 (I June 1816), page 219. Also on Curtis' engine see memo in hand of Nathan Read, 24 May 1816, and Bailey L. Pinsset [?] to William P. Page, 23 December 1816, Nathan Read papers, volumes 4 and 1, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.


36 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 17 (16 October 1819), pages 9798.


37 Index of Patents, volume 3, pages 1219-1223. It should be noted that because of the quixotic nomenclature of the Index, one can never be sure of having counted all patents of any given type.


38 Allen, Science of Mechanics, page 329.


39 Minus Ward, "Ward's Alternating Steam-Engine," American Journal of Science, volume 4, no. I (1822), page 91. See also A. B. Quinby, "On Crank Motion," ibid., volume 7, no. 2 (1824), pages 316-323, and A. B. Quinby, "On Crank Motion, in reply to the remarks of the author of a Review in the North American," ibid., volume 9, no. 2 (1825), pages 317-324.


40 Franklin Journal, volume 2 (December 1826), page 282.


41  Scientific American, volume 2 (12 June 1847), page 301.


42 Ibid., volume 4 (30 June 1849), page 325.


43 Ibid., volume 3 (19 August 1848), page 380.


44 Eureka, volume 2 (November 1847), page 44.


45 Franklin Journal, volume 2 (September 1826), page 187.


46 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 63 (19 November 1842), page 184; Scientific American, volume 3 (26 August 1848), page 390; ibid., volume 5 (27 July 1850), page 356; ibid., volume 6 (26 October 1850), page 43; ibid., volume 6 (16 November 1850), page 68; ibid., volume 8 (2 October 1852), page 21.


47 Scientific American, volume 8 (2 April 1853), page 227.


48 Freedley, Philadelphia and its Manufactures, page 316.


49 Thomas Jefferson to George Fleming, 29 December 1815, in Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington), volume 6, page 505. Also see Edwin T. Martin, Thomas Jefferson: Scientist (New York, 1961), pages 7273.


50 Undated addenda to Niles' Weekly Register, volume 3 (September 1812 - March 1813), page I. It may be said that the vision of Jefferson and Evans has been fulfilled, in the sense that as late as 1945, two-thirds of the electricity in the United States was produced by steam power. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics, page 156. Cf. Mumford, Art and Technics, page 78.


51 Niles' Weekly Register, volume 50 (16 April 1836), page 113.


52 Abram S. Hewitt, "A Century of Mining and Metallurgy in the United States," Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, volume 5 (1876-1877), page 174.


53 Scientific American, volume 9 (3 December 1853), page 89.


54 Report of the Commissioner of Patents, For the year 1843, House Document 177, 28th Congress, Ist session, page 273.


55 Quinby, "On Crank Motion," American Journal of Science, volume 9 (1825), pages 322-323.


56 [Cooper], "Account," Emporium of Arts and Sciences, volume 2 (1814), pages 374, 385.


57 Evans, Abortion, p. 139.


58 [ Evans ], Oliver Evans to His Counsel, page 41; Evans, Abortion, page 134.


59 Evans, Abortion, page 139.


60 Ibid., page 43.


61 I have found, for example, no American references to the work of Sadi Carnot before the Civil War. The argument for scientific aid to the development of the steam engine during the 17th and 18th centuries is ably made in Milton Kerker, "Science and the Steam Engine," Technology and Culture, volume 2 (Fall, 1960), pages 381390.


62 Robert S. Holding, "George H. Corliss of Providence, Inventor," Rhode Island History, volume 5 (January 1946), page 7.


63 Alonzo Potter, The Principles of Science A pplied to the Domestic and Mechanic Arts, and to Manufactures and Agriculture . . . (Boston, 1841), pages 266267.




Unpublished Manuscripts


Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Cambridge, Massachusetts


Samuel Slater collection


Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts


Nathan Read papers


The Filson Club, Louisville, Kentucky


Various collections


Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Oliver Evans papers


Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Isaac Briggs papers


John Fitch papers


William Thornton papers


Maryland Historical Society, Balti­more, Maryland


National Archives, Washington, D.C.


Boulton correspondence, record group 104, records of the Bureau of the Mint


Census of manufactures, schedules of the, record group 29, records of the Bureau of the Census


Patent drawings, restored, record group 241, records of the Patent Office


State, miscellaneous letters of the Department of, record group 59, records of the Department of State


New York Historical Society, New York, New York, Robert Fulton papers New York Public Library, New York, New York


Robert Fulton papers, Montague collection


Pennsylvania, Historical Society of, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Various collections


Washington, University of, Seattle, Washington


Manning Ferguson Force, papers collected by Peter Force re John Fitch, manuscript collection




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