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Title: Inventors
Author: Hubert, Philip Gengembre
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Inventors" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



  General A.W. GREELY, U.S.A.




[Illustration: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.]






  Press of J.J. Little & Co.
  Astor Place, New York


This book, dealing with our great inventors, their origins, hopes, aims,
principles, disappointments, trials, and triumphs, their daily life and
personal character, presents just enough concerning their inventions to
make the story intelligible. The history is often a painful one. When
poor Goodyear, the inventor of vulcanized rubber, was one day asked what
he wanted to make of his boys, he is said to have replied: "Make them
anything but inventors; mankind has nothing but cuffs and kicks for
those who try to do it a service."

Meanwhile, the value of the work done by great inventors is widely
acknowledged. In a remarkable sketch of the history of civilization,
Professor Huxley remarked, in 1887, that the wonderful increase of
industrial production by the application of machinery, the improvement
of old technical processes and the invention of new ones, constitutes
the most salient feature of the world's progress during the last fifty
years. If this was true a few years ago, its truth is still more
apparent to-day. It is safe to say that within fifty years power, light,
and heat will cost half, perhaps one-tenth, of what they do now; and
this virtually means that in 1943 mankind will be able to buy decent
food, shelter, and clothing for half or one-tenth of the labor now
required. Steam is said to have reduced the working hours of man in the
civilized world from fourteen to ten a day. Electricity will mark the
next giant step in advance.

With the many and superb tools now at our service, of which our fathers
knew comparatively nothing--steam, electricity, the telegraph,
telephone, phonograph, and the camera--we and our descendants ought to
accomplish even greater wonders than these. As invention thus rises in
the scale of importance to humanity, the history of the pioneers and, to
the shame of mankind be it said, the martyrs of the art, becomes of
intense interest. In the annals of hero-worship the inventor of the
perfecting press ought to stand before the great general, and Elias Howe
should rank before Napoleon. Whitney, Howe, Morse, and Goodyear, to
mention but a few of our Americans, contributed thousands of millions of
dollars to the nation's wealth and received comparatively nothing in
return. Their history suggests as pertinent the inquiry whether our
patent laws do not need a radical change. The burden and cost of proving
that an invention deserves no protection ought to fall upon whoever
infringes a patent granted by the Government. At present it is all the
other way.

  P.G.H., JR.

  NEW YORK, September, 1893.



     I. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN,                                       9

    II. ROBERT FULTON,                                          45

   III. ELI WHITNEY,                                            69

    IV. ELIAS HOWE,                                             99

     V. SAMUEL F.B. MORSE,                                     111

    VI. CHARLES GOODYEAR,                                      155

   VII. JOHN ERICSSON,                                         178

  VIII. CYRUS HALL MCCORMICK,                                  207

    IX. THOMAS A. EDISON,                                      223

     X. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL,                                 264

    XI. AMERICAN INVENTORS, PAST AND PRESENT,                  270

James M. Townsend, E.L. Drake, Alvan Clark, John Fitch, Oliver Evans,
Amos Whittemore, Thomas Blanchard, Richard M. Hoe, Thomas W. Harvey,
C.L. Sholes, B.B. Hotchkiss, Charles F. Brush, Rudolph Eickemeyer,
George Westinghouse, Jr.



  BENJAMIN FRANKLIN,                  (_Frontispiece._)        PAGE


  CHARLES GOODYEAR,                                             155

  JOHN ERICSSON,                                                178

  CYRUS HALL MCCORMICK,                                         207

  THOMAS A. EDISON,                                             223

  EDISON IN HIS LABORATORY,                                     247




  THE FRANKLIN STOVE,                                            10

  FRANKLIN'S BIRTHPLACE, BOSTON,                                 14

  FRANKLIN ENTERING PHILADELPHIA,                                17

  THE FRANKLIN PENNY,                                            27

  FRANKLIN'S GRAVE,                                              43

  ROBERT FULTON,                                                 46

  BIRTHPLACE OF ROBERT FULTON,                                   48

  FULTON BLOWING UP A DANISH BRIG,                               53

  JOHN FITCH'S STEAMBOAT AT PHILADELPHIA,                        56


  THE "DEMOLOGOS," OR "FULTON THE FIRST,"                        65

  THE CLERMONT,                                                  68

  ELI WHITNEY,                                                   70

  WHITNEY WATCHING THE COTTON-GIN,                               75

  THE COTTON-GIN,                                                78

  ELIAS HOWE,                                                   100

  BIRTHPLACE OF S.F.B. MORSE, BUILT 1775,                       111

  S.F.B. MORSE,                                                 113



  THE MODERN MORSE TELEGRAPH,                                   127

  MORSE MAKING HIS OWN INSTRUMENT,                              129




  MORSE IN HIS STUDY,                                           139





  COUNCIL MEDAL OF THE EXHIBITION, 1851,                        173





  MRS. JOHN ERICSSON, NÉE AMELIA BYAM,                          187

  YORK, 1890,



  THE ORIGINAL MONITOR,                                         199



  DEVELOPMENT OF THE MONITOR IDEA,                              204





  THE FIRST REAPER,                                             217

  EDISON'S PAPER CARBON LAMP,                                   224

  EDISON LISTENING TO HIS PHONOGRAPH,                           227





  THE HOME OF THOMAS A. EDISON,                                 257

  EDISON'S LABORATORY,                                          258

  LIBRARY AT EDISON'S LABORATORY,                               262

  ALVAN CLARK,                                                  276

  C.L. SHOLES,                                                  286

  B.B. HOTCHKISS,                                               288

  CHARLES F. BRUSH,                                             290

  RUDOLPH EICKEMEYER,                                           294

  GEORGE WESTINGHOUSE, JR.,                                     296




Benjamin Franklin's activity and resource in the field of invention
really partook of the intellectual breadth of the man of whom Turgot

    "Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis."

    "He snatched the thunderbolt from heaven,
    And the sceptre from the hands of tyrants."

And of which bit of verse Franklin once dryly remarked, that as to the
thunder, he left it where he found it, and that more than a million of
his countrymen co-operated with him in snatching the sceptre. Those
persons who knew Franklin, the inventor, only as the genius to whom we
owe the lightning-rod, will be amazed at the range of his activity. For
half a century his mind seems to have been on the alert concerning the
why and wherefore of every phenomenon for which the explanation was not
apparent. Nothing in nature failed to interest him. Had he lived in an
era of patents he might have rivalled Edison in the number of his
patentable devices, and had he chosen to make money from such devices,
his gains would certainly have been fabulous. As a matter of fact,
Franklin never applied for a patent, though frequently urged to do so,
and he made no money by his inventions. One of the most popular of
these, the Franklin stove, which device, after a half-century of disuse,
is now again popular, he made a present to his early friend, Robert
Grace, an iron founder, who made a business of it. The Governor of
Pennsylvania offered to give Franklin a monopoly of the sale of these
stoves for a number of years. "But I declined it," writes the inventor,
"from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions,
viz.: That as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others,
we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of
ours; and this we should do freely and generously. An ironmonger in
London, however, assuming a good deal of my pamphlet (describing the
principle and working of the stove), and working it up into his own, and
making some small change in the machine, which rather hurt its
operation, got a patent for it there, and made, as I was told, a little
fortune by it."

[Illustration: The Franklin Stove.]

The complete list of inventions, devices, and improvements of which
Franklin was the originator, or a leading spirit and contributor, is so
long a one that a dozen pages would not suffice for it. I give here a
brief summary, as compiled by Parton in his excellent "Life of
Franklin." "It is incredible," Franklin once wrote, "the quantity of
good that may be done in a country by a single man who will _make a
business_ of it and not suffer himself to be diverted from that purpose
by different avocations, studies, or amusements." As a commentary upon
this sentiment, here is a catalogue of the achievements of Benjamin
Franklin that may fairly come under the title of inventions:

He established and inspired the Junto, the most useful and pleasant
American club of which we have knowledge.

He founded the Philadelphia Library, parent of a thousand libraries, and
which marked the beginning of an intellectual movement of endless good
to the whole country.

He first turned to great account the engine of advertising, an
indispensable element in modern business.

He published "Poor Richard," a record of homely wisdom in such shape
that hundreds of thousands of readers were made better and stronger by

He created the post-office system of America, and was the first champion
of a reformed spelling.

He invented the Franklin stove, which economized fuel, and suggested
valuable improvements in ventilation and the building of chimneys.

He robbed thunder of its terrors and lightning of some of its power to

He founded the American Philosophical Society, the first organization in
America of the friends of science.

He suggested the use of mineral manures, introduced the basket willow,
promoted the early culture of silk, and pointed out the advisability of
white clothing in hot weather.

He measured the temperature of the Gulf Stream, and discovered that
northeast storms may begin in the southwest.

He pointed out the advantage of building ships in water-tight
compartments, taking the hint from the Chinese, and first urged the use
of oil as a means of quieting dangerous seas.

Besides these great achievements, accomplished largely as recreation
from his life work as economist and statesman, Benjamin Franklin helped
the whole race of inventors by a remark that has been of incalculable
value and comfort to theorists and dreamers the world over. When someone
spoke rather contemptuously in Franklin's presence of Montgolfier's
balloon experiments, and asked of what use they were, the great American
replied in words now historic: "Of what use is a new-born babe?"

"This self-taught American," said Lord Jeffrey, in the _Edinburgh
Review_ of July, 1806, "is the most rational, perhaps, of all
philosophers. He never loses sight of common sense in any of his
speculations. No individual, perhaps, ever possessed a greater
understanding, or was so seldom obstructed in the use of it by
indolence, enthusiasm, or authority. Dr. Franklin received no regular
education; and he spent the greater part of his life in a society where
there was no relish and no encouragement for literature. On an ordinary
mind, these circumstances would have produced their usual effects, of
repressing all sorts of intellectual ambition or activity, and
perpetuating a generation of incurious mechanics; but to an
understanding like Franklin's, we cannot help considering them as
peculiarly propitious, and imagine that we can trace back to them
distinctly almost all the peculiarities of his intellectual character."

The main outlines of Franklin's life and career are so familiar to
everyone, that I may as well pass at once to the story of his work as an
inventor. We all know, or ought to know, that Benjamin, the fifteenth
child of Josiah Franklin, the Boston soap-boiler, was born in that town
on the 17th of January, 1706, and established himself as a printer in
Philadelphia in 1728. That he prospered and founded the _Gazette_ a few
years later, and became Postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737; that after
valuable services to the Colonies as their agent in England, he was
appointed United States Minister at the Court of France upon the
Declaration of Independence; and that in 1782 he had the supreme
satisfaction of signing at Paris the treaty of peace with England by
which the independence of the Colonies was assured. That he died full of
honors at Philadelphia in April, 1790, and that Congress, as a testimony
of the gratitude of the Thirteen States and of their sorrow for his
loss, appointed a general mourning throughout the States for a period
of two months.

[Illustration: Franklin's Birthplace, Boston.]

The great invention or discovery which entitles Benjamin Franklin to
rank at the head of American inventors was, of course, the
identification of lightning with electricity, and his suggestion of
metallic conductors so arranged as to render the discharge from the
clouds a harmless one. In order to appreciate the originality and value
of this discovery, it is necessary to review briefly what the world knew
of the subject at that day.

For a hundred years before Franklin's time, electricity had been studied
in Europe without much distinct progress resulting. A thousand
experiments had been performed and described. Gunpowder had been
exploded by the spark from a lady's finger, and children had been
insulated by hanging them from the ceiling by silk cords. A tolerable
machine had been devised for exciting electricity, though most
experimenters still used a glass tube. Several volumes of electrical
observations and experiments had appeared, and yet what had been done
was little more than a repetition on a larger scale, and with better
means, of the original experiment of rubbing a piece of amber on the
sleeve of the philosopher's coat. Experimenters in 1745 could produce a
more powerful spark and play a greater variety of tricks with it than
Dr. Gilbert, the English experimenter of 1600, but that was about all
the advantage they had over him.

So-called experts had attempted, with more or less satisfaction to
themselves, to answer the question addressed by the mad Lear to poor
Tom: "Let me talk with this philosopher. What is the cause of thunder?"
Pliny thought he had explained it when he called it an earthquake in the
air. Dr. Lister announced that lightning was caused by the sudden
ignition of immense quantities of fine floating sulphur. Jonathan
Edwards, in his diary of 1722, records the popular impression of the day
upon this subject: "Lightning," he says, "seem to be an almost
infinitely fine combustible matter, that floats in the air, that takes
fire by sudden and mighty fermentation, that is some way promoted by the
cool and moisture, and perhaps attraction of the clouds. By this sudden
agitation, this fine floating matter is driven forth with a mighty
force one way or other, whichever way it is directed, by the
circumstances and temperature of the circumjacent air; for cold and
heat, density and rarity, moisture and dryness, have almost an
infinitely strong influence upon the fine particles of matter. This
fluid matter thus projected, still fermenting to the same degree,
divides the air as it goes, and every moment receives a new impulse by
the continued fermentation; and as its motion received its direction, at
first, from the different temperature of the air on different sides, so
its direction is changed, according to the temperature of the air it
meets with, which renders the path of the lightning so crooked."

Even this explanation was a daring bit of speculation in Jonathan
Edwards, for thunder and lightning were then commonly regarded as the
physical expression of God's wrath against the insects He had created.

[Illustration: Franklin Entering Philadelphia.]

Mr. Peter Collinson, the London agent of the library that Franklin had
founded in Philadelphia in 1732, was accustomed to send over with the
annual parcel of books any work or curious object that chanced to be in
vogue in London at the time. In 1746 he sent one of the new electrical
tubes with a paper of directions for using it. The tubes then commonly
used were two feet and a half long, and as thick as a man could
conveniently grasp. They were rubbed with a piece of cloth or buckskin,
and held in contact with the object to be charged. Franklin had already
seen one of these tubes in Boston, and had been astonished by its
properties. No sooner, therefore, was it unpacked at the Library, than
he repeated the experiments he had seen in Boston, as well as those
described by Collinson. The subject completely fascinated him. He gave
himself up to it. Procuring other tubes, he distributed them among his
friends and set them all rubbing. "I never," he writes in 1747, "was
before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and
my time as this has done; for what with making experiments when I can be
alone, and repeating to my friends and acquaintances, who, from the
novelty of the thing, come continually in crowds to see them; I have
during some months past had little leisure for anything else."

Franklin claimed no credit for what he achieved in electricity. During
the winter of 1746-7 he and his friends experimented frequently, and
observed electrical attraction and repulsion with care. That electricity
was not created, but only collected by friction, was one of their first
conjectures, the correctness of which they soon demonstrated by a number
of experiments. Before having heard of the Leyden jar coated with
tin-foil, these Philadelphia experimenters substituted granulated lead
for the water employed by Professor Maschenbroeck. They fired spirits
and lighted candles with the electric spark. They performed rare tricks
with a spider made of burnt cork. Philip Syng mounted one of the tubes
upon a crank and employed a cannon-ball as a prime conductor, thus
obtaining the same result without much tedious rubbing of the tube.

The summer of 1747 was devoted to preparing the province for defence.
But during the following winter the Philadelphians resumed their
experiments. The wondrous Leyden jar was the object of Franklin's
constant observation. His method of work is well shown in his own
account of an experiment during this winter. The jar used was
Maschenbroeck's original device of a bottle of water with a wire running
through the cork.

"Purposing," writes Franklin, "to analyse the electrified bottle, in
order to find wherein its strength lay, we placed it on glass, and drew
out the cork and wire, which for that purpose had been loosely put in.
Then, taking the bottle in one hand, and bringing a finger of the other
near its mouth, a strong spark came from the water, and the shock was as
violent as if the wire had remained in it, which showed that the force
did not lie in the wire. Then, to find if it resided in the water, being
crowded into and condensed in it, as confined by the glass, which had
been our former opinion, we electrified the bottle again, and placing it
on glass, drew out the wire and cork as before; then, taking up the
bottle, we decanted all its water into an empty bottle, which likewise
stood on glass; and taking up that other bottle, we expected, if the
force resided in the water, to find a shock from it. But there was
none. We judged then that it must either be lost in decanting or remain
in the first bottle. The latter we found to be true; for that bottle on
trial gave the shock, though filled up as it stood with fresh
unelectrified water from a tea-pot. To find, then, whether glass had
this property merely as glass, or whether the form contributed anything
to it, we took a pane of sash glass, and laying it on the hand, placed a
plate of lead on its upper surface; then electrified that plate, and
bringing a finger to it, there was a spark and shock. We then took two
plates of lead of equal dimensions, but less than the glass by two
inches every way, and electrified the glass between them, by
electrifying the uppermost lead; then separated the glass from the lead,
in doing which, what little fire might be in the lead was taken out, and
the glass being touched in the electrified parts with a finger, afforded
only very small pricking sparks, but a great number of them might be
taken from different places. Then dexterously placing it again between
the leaden plates, and completing a circle between the two surfaces, a
violent shock ensued; which demonstrated the power to reside in glass as
glass, and that the non-electrics in contact served only, like the
armature of a loadstone, to unite the force of the several parts, and
bring them at once to any point desired; it being the property of a
non-electric, that the whole body instantly receives or gives what
electrical fire is given to, or taken from, any one of its parts.

"Upon this we made what we called an electrical battery, consisting of
eleven panes of large sash glass, armed with thin leaden plates, pasted
on each side, placed vertically, and supported at two inches' distance
on silk cords, with thick hooks of leaden wire, one from each side,
standing upright, distant from each other, and convenient communications
of wire and chain, from the giving side of one pane to the receiving
side of the other; that so the whole might be charged together with the
same labor as one single pane."

In 1748 Franklin, being then forty-two years old, and in the enjoyment
of an ample income from his business as printer and publisher, sold out
to his foreman, David Hall, and was free to devote himself wholly to his
beloved experiments. He had built himself a home in a retired spot on
the outskirts of Philadelphia, and with an income which in our days
would be equivalent to $15,000 or $20,000 a year, he was considered a
fairly rich man. Having thus settled his business affairs in a manner
which proved that he knew perfectly well what money was worth, he took
up his electrical studies again and extended them from the machine to
the part played in nature by electricity. The patience with which he
observed the electrical phenomena of the heavens, the acuteness
displayed by him in drawing plausible inferences from his observations,
and the rapidity with which he arrived at all that we now know of
thunder and lightning, still excite the astonishment of all who read
the narratives he has left us of his proceedings. During the whole
winter of 1748-49 and the summer following, he was feeling his way to
his final conclusions on the subject. Early in 1749 he drew up a series
of fifty-six observations, entitled "Observations and Suppositions
towards forming a new Hypothesis for explaining the several Phenomena of
Thundergusts." Nearly all that he afterward demonstrated on this subject
is anticipated in this truly remarkable paper, which was soon followed
by the most famous of all his electrical writings, that entitled
"Opinions and Conjectures concerning the Properties and Effects of the
Electrical Matter, and the Means of preserving Buildings, Ships, etc.,
from Lightning; arising from Experiments and Observations made at
Philadelphia, 1749."

Franklin sets forth in this masterly paper the similarity of electricity
and lightning, and the property of points to draw off electricity. It is
this treatise which contains the two suggestions that gave to the name
of Franklin its first celebrity. Both suggestions are contained in one
brief passage, which follows the description of a splendid experiment,
in which a miniature lightning-rod had conducted harmlessly away the
electricity of an artificial thunder-storm.

"If these things are so," continues the philosopher, after stating the
results of his experiment, "may not the knowledge of this power of
points be of use to mankind in preserving houses, churches, ships, etc.,
from the stroke of lightning, by directing us to fix on the highest
part of those edifices upright rods of iron, made sharp as a needle and
gilt to prevent rusting, and from the foot of those rods, a wire down
the outside of the building into the ground, or down round one of the
shrouds of a ship, and down her side till it reaches the water? Would
not these pointed rods probably draw the electrical fire silently out of
a cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from
that most sudden and terrible mischief?"

The second of these immortal suggestions was one that immediately
arrested the attention of European electricians when the paper was
published. It was in these words:

"To determine the question, whether the clouds that contain lightning
are electrified or not, I would propose an experiment to be tried where
it may be done conveniently. On the top of some high tower or steeple,
place a kind of sentry-box, big enough to contain a man and an electric
stand. From the middle of the stand let an iron rod rise and pass,
bending out of the door, and then upright twenty or thirty feet, pointed
very sharp at the end. If the electrical stand be kept clean and dry, a
man standing on it, when such clouds are passing low, might be
electrified and afford sparks, the rod drawing fire to him from a cloud.
If any danger to the man should be apprehended (though I think there
would be none), let him stand on the floor of his box, and now and then
bring near to the rod the loop of a wire that has one end fastened to
the leads, he holding it by a wax handle; so the sparks, if the rod is
electrified, will strike from the rod to the wire and not affect him."

A friend once asked Franklin how he came to hit upon such an idea. His
reply was to quote an extract from the minutes he kept of the
experiments he made. This extract, dated November 7, 1749, was as
follows: "Electrical fluid agrees with lightning in these particulars:
1. Giving light. 2. Color of the light. 3. Crooked direction. 4. Swift
motion. 5. Being conducted by metals. 6. Crack or noise in exploding. 7.
Subsisting in water or ice. 8. Rending bodies it passes through. 9.
Destroying animals. 10. Melting metals. 11. Firing inflammable
substances. 12. Sulphurous smell. The electric fluid is attracted by
points. We do not know whether this property is in lightning. But since
they agree in all the particulars wherein we can already compare them,
is it not probable they agree likewise in this? Let the experiment be

In this discovery, therefore, there was nothing of chance; it was a
legitimate deduction from patiently accumulated facts.

It was not until the spring of 1752 that Franklin thought of making his
suggested experiment with a kite. The country around Philadelphia
presents no high hills, and he was not aware till later that the roof of
any dwelling-house would have answered as well as the peak of Teneriffe.
There were no steeples in Philadelphia at that day. The vestry of Christ
Church talked about erecting a steeple, but it was not begun until
1753. On the 15th of June, 1752, Franklin decided to fly that immortal
kite. Wishing to avoid the ridicule of a failure, he took no one with
him except his son, who, by the way, was not the small boy shown in
countless pictures of the incident, but a stalwart young man of
twenty-two. The kite had been made of a large silk handkerchief, and
fitted out with a piece of sharpened iron wire. Part of the string was
of hemp, and the part to be held in the hand was of silk. At the end of
the hempen string was tied a key, and in a convenient shed was a Leyden
jar in which to collect some of the electricity from the clouds. When
the first thunder-laden clouds reached the kite, there were no signs of
electricity from Franklin's key, but just as he had begun to doubt the
success of the experiment, he saw the fibres of the hempen string begin
to rise. Approaching his hand to the key, he got an electric spark, and
was then able to charge the Leyden jar and get a stronger shock. Then
the happy philosopher drew in his wet kite and went home to write his
modest account of one of the most notable experiments made by man.

Franklin's fame as the first to suggest the identity of lightning and
electricity would have been safe, however, even without the famous
kite-flying achievement. A month before that June thunderstorm his
suggestions had been put into practice in Europe with complete success.
Mr. Peter Collinson, to whom Franklin addressed from time to time long
letters about his experiments and conjectures, had caused them to be
read at the meetings of the Royal Society, of which he (Collinson) was a
member. That learned body, however, did not deem them worthy of
publication among its transactions, and a letter of Franklin's
containing the substance of his conjectures respecting lightning was
laughed at. The only news that reached Philadelphia concerning these
letters was that Watson and other English experimenters did not agree
with Franklin. It was only in May, 1751, that a pamphlet was finally
published in London, entitled "New Experiments and Observations in
Electricity, made at Philadelphia, in America." A copy having been
presented to the Royal Society, Watson was requested to make an abstract
of its contents, which he did, giving generous praise to the author.

Before the year came to a close Franklin was famous. There was something
in the drawing down, for mere experiment, of the dread electricity of
heaven that appealed not less powerfully to the imagination of the
ignorant than to the understanding of the learned. And the marvel was
the greater that the bold idea should have come from so remote a place
as Philadelphia. By a unanimous vote the Royal Society elected Franklin
a member, and the next year bestowed upon him the Copley medal. Yale
College and then Harvard bestowed upon him the honorary degree of Master
of Arts.

[Illustration: The Franklin Penny.]

As might have been expected, there was no lack of opposition to the new
doctrine of lightning-rods. Every new movement of radical character is
denounced more or less fiercely. The last years of Newton's life were
perplexed by the charge that his theory of gravitation tended to
"materialize" religion. Insuring houses against fire was opposed as an
interference with the prerogatives of deity. The establishment of the
Royal Society was opposed upon the ground that the study of natural
philosophy, grounded, as it was, upon experimental evidence, tended to
weaken the force of evidence not so founded; and this objection was
deemed of sufficient weight to call for serious answer. Franklin's
daring proposal to neutralize the "artillery of heaven," of course could
not escape, and the impiety of lightning-rods was widely discussed,
often with acrimony. Mr. Kinnersley, one of Franklin's friends, who
lectured for several years upon electricity, when advertising the
outline of his subject always announced his intention to show that the
erection of lightning-rods was "not chargeable with presumption nor
inconsistent with any of the principles either of natural or revealed
religion." Quincy relates in his "History of Harvard College," that in
November, 1755, a shock of earthquake having been felt in New England, a
Boston clergyman preached a sermon on the subject, in which he contended
that the lightning-rods, by accumulating the electricity in the earth,
had caused the earthquake. Professor Winthrop, of Harvard, thought it
worth while to defend Franklin. "In 1770," Mr. Quincy adds, "another
Boston clergyman opposed the use of the rods on the ground that, as the
lightning was one of the means of punishing the sins of mankind, and of
warning them from the commission of sin, it was impious to prevent its
full execution." And to this attack also Professor Winthrop replied.
Apparently Franklin himself thought it wise to conciliate the opposition
of some so-called religious people of the day, for an account of the
lightning-rod which appears in _Poor Richard's Almanac_ for 1753,
written probably by Franklin, begins as follows: "It has pleased God in
his Goodness to Mankind, at length to discover to them the means of
securing their Habitations and other Buildings from Mischief by Thunder
and Lightning."

Franklin bore his honors with the most remarkable modesty. It was in
June that he flew his first kite, but not until October that he sent to
Mr. Collinson an account of the experiment, and even then he described
the manner of making and flying the kite and omitted all reference to
his own success with it. The identity of lightning with electricity
having been established by M. Dalibard, he deemed it unnecessary to
forward the account of an experiment which, however brilliant, he
thought superfluous. Accordingly, we have no narrative by Franklin of
the flying of the kite. We owe our knowledge of what occurred on that
memorable afternoon to persons who heard Franklin tell the story.
Franklin prefaces his description of his kite with these words: "As
frequent mention is made in public papers from Europe of the success of
the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by
means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, it may be
agreeable to the curious to be informed that the same experiment has
succeeded in Philadelphia, though made in a different and more easy
manner, which is as follows." And then we have the description of the
kite, the letter ending without reference to what he himself had done
with it.

Yet he was far from hiding the pleasure his fame brought him. "The
_Tatler_," he wrote, in 1753, to a friend, "tells us of a girl who was
observed to grow suddenly proud, and none could guess the reason, till
it came to be known that she had got on a pair of new silk garters. Lest
you should be puzzled to guess the cause, when you observe anything of
the kind in me, I think I will not hide my new garters under my
petticoats, but take the freedom to show them to you in a paragraph of
our friend Collinson's last letter, viz.--But I ought to mortify, and
not indulge, this vanity; I will not transcribe the paragraph--yet I
cannot forbear." Then he quotes the paragraph, which mentions the honors
done him by the King of France and the Royal Society.

For twenty years Franklin continued to work at electricity, devoting
most of his leisure to his beloved study. The great practical value of
the lightning-rod, at one time in the early part of this century
somewhat exaggerated, as a perfect protection against harm by lightning,
just as electricity was at one time heralded as a panacea for all bodily
ailments, has of late years been questioned, but the consensus of
scientific opinion still attributes much merit to the device, and the
extent of Franklin's services to science in the matter cannot be called
into doubt. Others have claimed his discoveries. The Abbé Nolet, of
France, has been credited as being the first to note the similarity
between electricity and lightning; and M. Romas, of Nerac, France, is
said to have used a kite with a copper wire wound around the string, to
attract electricity from clouds, some time before Franklin made his
experiment. But posterity has ignored these claimants, and Franklin had
the happiness of escaping bitter contentions with rivals. In fact, there
could hardly have been a quarrel with a man who claimed nothing, who
mentioned with honor everybody's achievements but his own, and who
recorded his most brilliant observations in the plural, as though he
were but one of a band of investigating Philadelphians.

Passing now, to Franklin's connection with the use of oil to still
dangerous waves, I had occasion recently to note that Lieutenant W.H.
Beehler, of the United States Navy, in writing upon the matter, quotes
Franklin's explanation of why oil works so beneficently as the accepted
theory. Franklin was greatly interested, when at sea, in studying the
matter. Any phenomenon that puzzled him was fit subject for
investigation. Let us see how he went about the inquiry. "In 1757," he
wrote, "being at sea in a fleet of ninety-six sail bound against
Louisburg, I observed the wakes of two of the ships to be remarkably
smooth, while all the others were ruffled by the wind which blew fresh.
Being puzzled with the differing appearance, I at last pointed it out to
our captain and asked him the meaning of it. 'The cooks,' says he,
'have, I suppose, been just emptying their greasy water through the
scuppers, which has greased the sides of those ships a little;' and this
answer he gave me with an air of some little contempt, as to a person
ignorant of what everybody else knew. In my own mind I at first slighted
his solution, though I was not able to think of another; but
recollecting what I had formerly read in Pliny, I resolved to make some
experiment of the effect of oil on water, when I should have
opportunity. Afterwards, being again at sea in 1762, I first observed
the wonderful quietness of oil on agitated water, in the swinging glass
lamp I made to hang up in the cabin, as described in my printed papers.
This I was continually looking at and considering, as an appearance to
me inexplicable. An old sea captain, then a passenger with me, thought
little of it, supposing it an effect of the same kind with that of oil
put on water to smooth it, which he said was a practice of the
Bermudians when they would strike fish, which they could not see if the
surface of the water was ruffled by the wind. The same gentleman told me
he had heard it was a practice with the fishermen of Lisbon, when about
to return into the river (if they saw before them too great a surf upon
the bar, which they apprehended might fill their boats in passing) to
empty a bottle or two of oil into the sea, which would suppress the
breakers, and allow them to pass safely. A confirmation of this I have
not since had an opportunity of obtaining; but discoursing of it with
another person, who had often been in the Mediterranean, I was informed
that the divers there, who, when under water in their business, need
light, which the curling of the surface interrupts by the refractions of
so many little waves, let a small quantity of oil now and then out of
their mouths, which rising to the surface smooths it, and permits the
light to come down to them. All these informations I at times resolved
in my mind, and wondered to find no mention of them in our books of
experimental philosophy.

"At length being at Clapham where there is, on the common, a large pond,
which I observed one day to be very rough with the wind, I fetched out a
cruet of oil and dropped a little of it on the water. I saw it spread
itself with surprising swiftness upon the surface; but the effect of
smoothing the waves was not produced; for I had applied it first on the
leeward side of the pond, where the waves were largest, and the wind
drove my oil back upon the shore. I then went to the windward side,
where they began to form; and there the oil, though not more than a
teaspoonful, produced an instant calm over a space several yards square,
which spread amazingly, and extended itself gradually, till it reached
the lee side, making all that quarter of the pond, perhaps half an acre,
as smooth as a looking glass.

"A gentleman from Rhode Island told me it had been remarked that the
harbor of Newport was ever smooth while any whaling vessels were in it;
which, probably arose from hence, that the blubber, which they sometimes
bring loose in the hold, or the leakage of their barrels, might, afford
some oil to mix with that water, which, from time to time, they pump out
to keep their vessel free, and that some oil might spread over the
surface of the water in the harbor and prevent the forming of any

Thus Franklin collected his facts, taking them far and near, and from
anybody and everybody. By dint of observation and reflection he finally
solved the problem, arriving at the conclusion that "the wind blowing
over water thus covered with a film of oil, cannot easily catch upon it,
so as to raise the first wrinkles, but slides over it, and leaves it
smooth as it finds it."

Another remarkable instance of Franklin's passion for investigation is
afforded in the following interesting letter to Sir John Pringle: "When
we were travelling together in Holland, you remarked that the canal boat
in one of the stages went slower than usual, and inquired of the boatman
what might be the reason; who answered that it had been a dry season,
and the water in the canal was low. On being asked if it was so low that
the boat touched the muddy bottom, he said no, not so low as that, but
so low as to make it harder for the horse to draw the boat. We neither
of us at first could conceive that, if there was water enough for the
boat to swim clear of the bottom, its being deeper would make any
difference. But as the man affirmed it seriously as a thing well known
among them, and as the punctuality required in their stages was likely
to make such difference, if any there were, more readily observed by
them than by other watermen who did not pass so regularly and constantly
backwards and forwards in the same track, I began to apprehend there
might be something in it, and attempted to account for it from this
consideration, that the boat in proceeding along the canal must, in
every boat's length of her course, move out of her way a body of water
equal in bulk to the room her bottom took up in the water; that the
water so moved must pass on each side of her, and under her bottom, to
get behind her; that if the passage under her bottom was straitened by
the shallows, more of the water must pass by her sides, and with a
swifter motion, which would retard her, as moving the contrary way; or
that, the water becoming lower behind the boat than before, she was
pressed back by the weight of its difference in height, and her motion
retarded by having that weight constantly to overcome. But, as it is
often lost time to attempt accounting for uncertain facts, I determined
to make an experiment of this, when I should have convenient time and

"After our return to England, as often as I happened to be on the
Thames, I enquired of our watermen whether they were sensible of any
difference in rowing over shallow or deep water. I found them all
agreeing in the fact that there was a very great difference, but they
differed widely in expressing the quantity of the difference; some
supposing it was equal to a mile in six, others to a mile in three. As I
did not recollect to have met with any mention of this matter in our
philosophical books, and conceiving that, if the difference should be
really great, it might be an object of consideration in the many
projects now on foot for digging new navigable canals in this island, I
lately put my design of making the experiment in execution, in the
following manner.

"I provided a trough of planed boards fourteen feet long, six inches
wide, and six inches deep in the clear, filled with water within half an
inch of the edge, to represent a canal, I had a loose board of nearly
the same length and breadth, that being put into the water, might be
sunk to any depth, and fixed by little wedges where I would choose to
have it stay, in order to make different depths of water, leaving the
surface at the same height with regard to the sides of the trough. I had
a little boat in form of a lighter or boat of burden, six inches long,
two inches and a quarter wide, and one inch and a quarter deep. When
swimming it drew one inch of water. To give motion to the boat, I fixed
one end of a long silk thread to its bow, just even with the water's
edge, the other end passed over a well-made brass pulley, of about an
inch in diameter, turning freely upon a small axis; and a shilling was
the weight. Then placing the boat at one end of the trough, the weight
would draw it through the water to the other. Not having a watch that
shows seconds, in order to measure the time taken up by the boat in
passing from end to end of the trough, I counted as fast as I could
count to ten repeatedly, keeping an account of the number of tens on my
fingers. And, as much as possible to correct any little inequalities in
my counting, I repeated the experiment a number of times at each depth
of water, that I might take the medium."

The experiment proved the truth of the boatmen's assertions. Franklin
found that five horses would be required to draw a boat in a canal
affording little more than enough water to float it, which four horses
could draw in a canal of the proper depth.

No circumstance, remarks Mr. Parton, was too trifling to engage him upon
a series of experiments. At dinner, one day, a bottle of Madeira was
opened which had been bottled in Virginia many months before. Into the
first glass poured from it fell three drowned flies. "Having heard it
remarked that drowned flies were capable of being revived by the rays of
the sun, I proposed making the experiment upon these; they were
therefore exposed to the sun upon a sieve which had been employed to
strain them out of the wine. In less than three hours two of them began
by degrees to recover life. They commenced by some convulsive motions of
the thighs, and at length they raised themselves upon their legs, wiped
their eyes with their forefeet, beat and brushed their wings with their
hind feet, and soon after began to fly, finding themselves in Old
England without knowing how they came thither. The third continued
lifeless till sunset, when, losing all hopes of him, he was thrown
away." And upon this he remarks: "I wish it were possible, from this
instance, to invent a method of embalming drowned persons in such a
manner that they may be recalled to life at any period, however distant;
for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America
a hundred years hence, I should prefer to any ordinary death being
immersed in a cask of Madeira wine, with a few friends, till that time,
to be then recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country."

Among the studies in natural philosophy of which but little is known to
the general public may be mentioned Franklin's experiments with heat at
a time when a thermometer was a scientific curiosity. The manner in
which he proved that black cloth was not so good a covering for the body
in hot weather as white, shows the simplicity of his methods and his
faculty for making small means subserve great ends: "I took a number of
little square pieces of broadcloth from a tailor's pattern-card, of
various colors. There were black, deep blue, lighter blue, green,
purple, red, yellow, white, and other colors or shades of colors. I laid
them all out upon the snow in a bright sunshiny morning. In a few hours
the black, being warmed most by the sun, was so low as to be below the
stroke of the sun's rays; the dark blue almost as low, the lighter blue
not quite so much as the dark, the other colors less as they were
lighter, and the quite white remained on the surface of the snow, not
having entered it at all. What signifies philosophy that does not apply
to some use? May we not learn from hence that black clothes are not so
fit to wear in a hot, sunny climate or season as white ones?" That all
summer hats, particularly for soldiers, should be white, and that garden
walls intended for fruit should be black, were suggestions put forth as
a result of this experiment.

Dr. Small assigns to Franklin the credit of having discovered that
repeated respiration imparts to air a poisonous quality similar to that
which extinguishes candles and destroys life in mines and wells. "The
doctor," he records, "breathed gently through a tube into a deep glass
mug, so as to impregnate all the air in the mug with this quality. He
then put a lighted _bougie_ (candle) into the mug, and upon touching the
air therein the flame was instantly extinguished; by frequently
repeating this operation, the _bougie_ gradually preserved its light
longer in the mug, so as in a short time to retain it to the bottom of
it, the air having totally lost the bad quality it had contracted from
the breath blown into it." Upon being consulted with regard to the
better ventilation of the House of Commons, he advised that openings
should be made near the ceiling, communicating with flues running
parallel with the chimneys and close enough to them to be kept warm by
their heat. These flues, he recommended, should begin in the cellar,
where the air was cool, and the flues being warmed by the hot air of the
chimneys, would cause an upward current of air strong enough to expel
the vitiated air in the upper part of the house. Franklin's letters at
this time are full of the importance of ventilation. Unquestionably, he
was among the first who called attention to the folly of excluding fresh
air from hospitals and sick-rooms, particularly those of fever patients.
As Mr. Parton expresses it, he cleared the pure air of heaven from
calumnious imputation and threw open the windows of mankind.

Some inventions of Franklin's have not met with the approval of
posterity. For instance, he seems to have had no more success with a
reformed spelling of his own devising than laborers in the same field
who came after him. He used to say that they alone spelt well who spelt
ill, since the so-called bad speller used the letters according to their
real value. The illiterate girl who wrote of her _bo_ was more correct,
he thought, than the young lady who would blush to omit a superfluous
vowel. What was the use of the final letter in muff, and why take the
trouble to write _tough_ when _tuf_ would do as well? Had he lived to
see Dr. Webster's Dictionary, the lexicographer would have found in him
an ardent champion. His reformed alphabet and spelling is an interesting
curiosity, but hardly more. Some letters of our alphabet he omitted,
only to add new ones. He also changed their order, making _o_ the first
letter and _m_ the last. In this connection it may be well to say that
Franklin was perhaps the first and foremost American champion of the
movement, now so powerful, looking to the displacement of Latin and
Greek as the foundations of education. At the very close of his life, in
1789, he issued his famous protest against the study of dead languages.
He is reported to have said one evening, when talking about this matter:
"When the custom of wearing broad cuffs with buttons first began, there
was a reason for it; the cuffs might be brought down over the hands and
thus guard them from wet and cold. But gloves came into use, and the
broad cuffs were unnecessary; yet the custom was still retained. So
likewise with cocked hats. The wide brim, when let down, afforded a
protection from the rain and the sun. Umbrellas were introduced, yet
fashion prevailed to keep cocked hats in vogue, although they were
rather cumbersome than useful. Thus with the Latin language. When nearly
all the books of Europe were written in that language, the study of it
was essential in every system of education; but it is now scarcely
needed, except as an accomplishment, since it has everywhere given
place, as a vehicle of thought and knowledge, to some one of the modern

With all his love of the practical, Franklin was not deficient in a
rather delicate wit. I have already had occasion to quote at the
beginning of this paper his disclaimer of the honors conferred upon him
by Turgot's famous Latin line. Instances of this dry humor may be found
all through Sparks's exhaustive biography. I remember one in particular.
The merchants of Philadelphia, being at one time desirous to establish
an assembly for dancing, they drew up some rules, among which was one
"that no mechanic or mechanic's wife or daughter should be admitted on
any terms." This rule being submitted to Franklin, he remarked that "it
excluded God Almighty, for he was the greatest mechanic in the

Benjamin Franklin's services to the cause of invention by no means ended
with his own inventions. One of his greatest services was the part he
took in the foundation of the American Philosophical Society, whose
object was to bring into correspondence with a central association in
Philadelphia all scientists, philosophers, and inventors on this
continent and in Europe. Franklin's share in the foundation of this
society, which has proved of such vast use, seems to have been largely
overlooked by his biographers. Mr. Parton, having mentioned that
Franklin founded the society in accordance with his proposal of 1743,
adds: "The society was formed and continued in existence for some years.
Nevertheless, its success was neither great nor permanent, for at that
day the circle of men capable of taking much interest in science was too
limited for the proper support of such an organization." The recent
historian of the society, Dr. Robert M. Patterson, agrees, however, with
Sparks in tracing the origin of the Philosophical Society, which grew
into prominence about 1767, back to Franklin's proposal of 1743. After
describing the Junto, or Leather Apron Society, formed among Franklin's
acquaintance, a sort of debating club of eleven young men, Sparks says:
"Forty years after its establishment it became the basis of the American
Philosophical Society, of which Franklin was the first president, and
the published transactions of which have contributed to the advancement
of science and the diffusion of valuable knowledge in the United
States." In his first proposal Franklin gave a list of the subjects that
were to engage the attention of these New World philosophers. It
included investigations in botany; in medicine; in mineralogy and
mining; in chemistry; in mechanics; in arts, trades, and manufactures;
in geography and topography; in agriculture; and, lest something should
have been forgotten, he adds that the association should "give its
attention to all philosophical experiments that let light into the
nature of things, tend to increase the power of man over matter and
multiply the conveniences or pleasures of life." The duties of the
secretary of the society were laid down and were arduous, including much
foreign correspondence, in addition to the correcting, abstracting, and
methodizing of such papers as required it. This office Franklin took
upon himself.

[Illustration: Franklin's Grave.]

While he lived the proceedings of the society scarcely ever failed of a
useful end. Unlike so many original and inventive geniuses, his eminent
common sense was as marked as his originality. In the language of his
most recent biographer, John Bach McMaster, "whatever he has said on
domestic economy or thrift is sound and striking. No other writer has
left so many just and original observations on success in life. No other
writer has pointed out so clearly the way to obtain the greatest amount
of comfort out of life. What Solomon did for the spiritual man, that did
Franklin for the earthly man. The book of Proverbs is a collection of
receipts for laying up treasure in heaven. 'Poor Richard' is a
collection of receipts for laying up treasure on earth."



[Illustration: Robert Fulton.]

Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat, or at least the first man
to apply the power of the steam-engine to the propulsion of boats in a
practical and effective manner, was born in Little Britain, Lancaster
County, Pa., 1765, of respectable but poor parents. His father was a
native of Kilkenny, Ireland, and his mother came of a fairly well-to-do
Irish family, settled in Pennsylvania. He was the third of five
children. As a child he received the rudiments of a common education.
His vocation showed itself in his earliest years. All his hours of
recreation were passed in shops and in drawing. At the time he was
seventeen he had become so much of an artist as to make money by
portrait and landscape painting in Philadelphia, where he remained until
he was twenty-one. After this he went to Washington County and there
purchased a little farm on which he settled his mother, his father
having died when he was three years old. He returned to Philadelphia,
but on his way visited the Warm Springs of Pennsylvania, where he met
with some gentlemen who were so much pleased with his painting that they
advised him to go to England, where they told him he would meet with
West who had then attained great celebrity. Fulton took this advice, and
his reception by West, always kindly toward Americans, was such as he
had been led to expect. The distinguished painter was so well pleased
with him that he took him into his house, where he continued to live for
several years. For some time Fulton made painting his chief employment,
spending two years in Devonshire, near Exeter, where he made many
influential acquaintances, among others the Duke of Bridgewater, famous
for his canals, and Lord Stanhope, a nobleman noted for his love of
science and his attachment to the mechanic arts. With Lord Stanhope,
Fulton held a correspondence for a long time upon subjects in which they
were interested.

In 1793, Fulton was engaged in a project to improve inland navigation.
Even at that early day it appeared that he had conceived the idea of
propelling vessels by steam, and he speaks in his letters of its
practicability. In 1794 he obtained from the British Government a patent
for improvements in canal locks, and his pursuits at this time appear to
have been in this direction. In his preface to a description of his
Nautilus, or "plunging" boat, a species of submarine boat, he says that
he had resided eighteen months in Birmingham where he acquired much of
his knowledge of mechanics. In later years, when in Paris, Fulton sent a
large collection of his manuscripts to this country. Unfortunately, the
vessel in which they were sent was wrecked, and, while the case was
recovered, only a few fragments of the manuscripts could be used. It is
owing to this misfortune that we have so few records of Fulton's work at
this time.

[Illustration: Birthplace of Robert Fulton.[1]]

[Footnote 1: This illustration and the four following are from Knox's
"Life of Fulton," reproduced by permission of the publishers, G.P.
Putnam's Sons.]

We know, however, that in 1794 he submitted to the British Society for
the Promotion of Arts and Commerce an improvement of his invention for
sawing marble, for which he received the thanks of the society and an
honorary medal. He invented also, it is thought, about this time, a
machine for spinning flax and another for making ropes, for both of
which he obtained patents from the British Government. A mechanical
contrivance for scooping out earth to form channels for canals or
aqueducts, which is said to have been much used in England, was also
his invention. The subject of canals appears to have chiefly engaged his
attention during these years of the end of the century. He called
himself a civil engineer, and under this title published his work on
canals, and, in 1795, many essays on the same subject in one of the
London journals. He recommended small canals and boats of little burden
in a treatise on "Improvement of Canal Navigation," and inclined planes
instead of locks, as a means of transporting canal boats from one level
to another. His plans were strongly recommended by the British Board of
Agriculture. Throughout his course as civil engineer his talent for
drawing was of great advantage to him, and the plates annexed to his
works are admirable examples of such work. He seems to have neglected
his painting till a short time before his death, when he took up the
brush again to paint some portraits of his family. During his residence
in England he sent copies of his works to distinguished men in this
country, setting forth the advantages to be derived from communication
by canals.

Having obtained a patent for mill improvements from the British
Government, he went to France with the intention of introducing his
invention there; but, not meeting with much encouragement, he devoted
his time to other matters. Political economy had also some attraction
for him, and he wrote a book to show that internal improvements would
have a good effect on the happiness of a nation. He not only wished to
see a free and speedy communication between the different parts of a
large country, but universal free trade between all countries. He
thought that it would take ages to establish the freedom of the seas by
the common consent of nations, and believed in destroying ships of war,
so as to put it out of the power of any nation to control ocean trade.
In 1797 he became acquainted with Joel Barlow, the well-known American,
then residing in Paris, in whose family he lived for seven years, during
which time he learned French and something of German, and studied
mathematics and chemistry. In the same year he made an experiment with
Mr. Barlow on the Seine with a machine he had constructed to give
packages of gunpowder a progressive motion under water and then to
explode at a given point. These experiments appear to have been the
first in the line of his submarine boats, and are unquestionably the
germ of all subsequent inventions in the direction of torpedo warfare.

Want of money to carry out his designs induced him to apply to the
French Directory, who at first gave him reason to expect their aid, but
finally rejected his plan. Fulton, however, was not to be discouraged,
but went on with his inventions, and having made a handsome model of his
machine for destroying ships, a commission was appointed to examine his
plans, but they also rejected them. He offered his idea to the British
Government, still again without success, although a committee was
appointed to examine his models. The French Government being changed,
and Bonaparte having come to the head of it, Fulton presented an address
to him. A commission was appointed, and some assistance given which
enabled him to put some of his plans into practice. In the spring of
1801 he went to Brest to make experiments with the plunging boat that he
had constructed in the winter. This, as he says, had many imperfections,
to be expected in a first machine, and had been injured by rust, as
parts which should have been of copper or brass were made of iron.

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, he engaged in a course of
experiments which required no less courage than perseverance. From a
report of his proceedings to the committee appointed by the French
Government we learn that in July, 1801, he embarked with three
companions on board of this boat, in the harbor of Brest, and descended
to the depth of twenty-five feet, remaining below the surface an hour,
in utter darkness, as the candles were found to consume too much of the
vital air. He placed two men at the engine, which was intended to give
her motion, and one at the helm, while he, with a barometer before him,
kept her balanced between the upper and lower waters. He could turn her
round while under the water, and found that in seven minutes he had gone
about a third of a mile. During that summer Fulton descended under water
with a store of air compressed into a copper globe, whereby he was
enabled to remain under water four hours and twenty minutes. The success
of these experiments determined him to try the effect of his invention
on the English war-ships, then daily near the harbor of Brest--France
and England being then at war. He made his own bombs. For experimental
purposes a small vessel was anchored in the harbor, and with a bomb
containing about twenty pounds of powder, he approached within about two
hundred yards, struck the vessel, and blew her into atoms. A column of
water and fragments were sent nearly one hundred feet into the air. This
experiment was made in the presence of the prefect of the department and
a multitude of spectators. During the summer of 1801 Fulton tried to use
his bombs against some of the English vessels, but was not successful in
getting within range. The French Government refused to give him further

The English had some information concerning the attempts that their
enemies were making, and the anxiety expressed induced the British
Minister to communicate with Fulton and try to secure to England his
services. In this he was successful, and Fulton went to London, where he
arrived in 1804, and met Pitt and Lord Melville. When Mr. Pitt first saw
a drawing of a torpedo with a sketch of the mode of applying it, and
understood what would be the effect of the explosion, he said that if it
were introduced into practice it could not fail to annihilate all

[Illustration: Fulton Blowing Up a Danish Brig.]

But from the subsequent conduct of the British ministry it is supposed
that they never really intended to give Fulton a fair opportunity to
try the effect of his submarine engines. Their object may have been to
prevent these devices getting into the hands of an enemy. Several
experiments were made, and some of them were failures, but on October
15, 1805, he blew up a strong-built Danish brig of two hundred tons
burden, which had been provided for the experiment and which was
anchored near the residence of Pitt. The torpedo used on this occasion
contained one hundred and seventy pounds of powder. In fifteen minutes
from the time of starting the machinery the explosion took place. It
lifted the brig almost entire and broke her completely in two; in one
minute nothing was to be seen of her but floating fragments.
Notwithstanding the complete success of this experiment, the British
ministry seems to have had nothing to do with Fulton. The inventor was
rather discouraged at this lack of appreciation and, after some further
experiments, he sailed for New York in December, 1806.

In this country Fulton devoted himself at once to his project of
submarine warfare and steam navigation. So far from being discouraged by
his failure to impress Europe with the importance of his torpedoes, his
confidence was unshaken, because he saw that his failures were to be
attributed to trivial errors that could easily be corrected. He induced
our Government to give him the means of making further experiments, and
invited the magistracy of New York and a number of citizens to
Governor's Island where were the torpedoes and the machinery with which
his experiments were to be made. In July, 1807, he blew up, in the
harbor of New York, a large brig prepared for that purpose. He also
devised at this time a number of stationary torpedoes, really casks of
powder, with triggers that might be caught by the keel of any passing
vessel. In March, 1810, $5,000 were granted by Congress for further
experiments in submarine explosions. The sloop of war, Argus, was
prepared for defence against the torpedoes after Fulton had explained
his mode of attack. This defence was so complete that Fulton found it
impracticable to do anything with his torpedoes. Some experiments were
made, however, with a gun-harpoon and cable cutter, and after several
attempts a fourteen-inch cable was cut off several feet below the
surface of the water.

Fulton was, during all these experiments, much pressed for money, and
apparently was making no headway toward the use of his submarine engines
in a profitable way. It was in despair of getting our Government to make
an investment in this direction that he finally turned to the problem of
navigation by steam. He had the valuable co-operation in his new work of
Chancellor Livingston, of New Jersey, who, while devoting much of his
own time and means to the advancement of science, was fond of fostering
the discoveries of others. He had very clear conceptions of what would
be the great advantages of steamboats on the navigable rivers of the
United States. He had already, when in Paris, applied himself at great
expense to constructing vessels and machinery for that kind of
navigation. As early as 1798 he believed that he had accomplished his
object, and represented to the Legislature of New York that he was
possessed of a mode of applying the steam-engine to a boat on new and
advantageous principles; but that he was deterred from carrying it into
effect by the uncertainty of expensive experiments, unless he could be
assured of an exclusive advantage should it be successful. The
Legislature in March, 1798, passed an act vesting him with the exclusive
right and privilege of navigating all kinds of boats which might be
propelled by the force of fire or steam on all the waters within the
territory of New York for the term of twenty years, upon condition that
he should within a twelve-month build such a boat, whose progress
should not be less than four miles an hour.

[Illustration: John Fitch's Steamboat at Philadelphia.]

Livingston, as soon as the act had passed, built a boat of about thirty
tons burden, to be propelled by steam. Soon after he entered into a
contract with Fulton, by which it was agreed that a patent should be
taken out in the United States in Fulton's name. Thus began the
preparations for the first practical steamboat. All the experiments were
paid for by Chancellor Livingston, but the work was Fulton's. In 1802,
in Paris, he began a course of calculations upon the resistance of
water, upon the most advantageous form of the body to be moved, and upon
the different means of propelling vessels which had been previously
attempted. After a variety of calculations he rejected the proposed plan
of using paddles or oars, such as those already used by Fitch; likewise
that of ducks' feet, which open as they are pushed out and shut as they
are drawn in; also that of forcing water out of the stern of the vessel.
He retained two methods as worthy of experiment, namely, endless chains
with paddle-boards upon them, and the paddle-wheel. The latter was found
to be the most promising, and was finally adopted after a number of
trials with models on a little river which runs through the village of
Plombières, to which he had retired in the spring of 1802, to pursue his
experiments without interruption.

[Illustration: Fulton's First Experiment with Paddle-wheels.]

It was now determined to build an experimental boat, which was completed
in the spring of 1803; but when Fulton was on the point of making an
experiment with her, an accident happened to the boat, the woodwork not
having been framed strongly enough to bear the weight of the machinery
and the agitation of the river. The accident did the machinery very
little injury; but they were obliged to build the boat almost entirely
anew. She was completed in July; her length was sixty-six feet and she
was eight feet wide. Early in August, Fulton addressed a letter to the
French National Institute, inviting the members to witness a trial of
his boat, which was made before the members, and in the presence of a
great multitude of Parisians. The experiment was entirely satisfactory
to Fulton, though the boat did not move altogether with as much speed as
he expected. But he imputed her moving so slowly to the extremely
defective machinery, and to imperfections which were to be expected in
the first experiment with so complicated a machine; the defects were
such as might be easily remedied.

Such entire confidence did he acquire from this experiment that
immediately afterward he wrote to Messrs. Boulton & Watt, of Birmingham,
England, ordering certain parts of a steam-engine to be made for him,
and sent to America. He did not disclose to them for what purpose the
engine was intended, but his directions were such as would produce the
parts of an engine that might be put together within a compass suited
for a boat. Mr. Livingston had written to his friends in this country,
and through their assistance an act was passed by the Legislature of the
State of New York, on April 5, 1803, by which the rights and exclusive
privileges of navigating all the waters of that State, by vessels
propelled by fire or steam, granted to Livingston by the Act of 1798, as
already mentioned, were extended to Livingston and Fulton, for the term
of twenty years from the date of the new act. By this law the time of
producing proof of the practicability of propelling by steam a boat of
twenty tons capacity, at the rate of four miles an hour, with and
against the ordinary current of the Hudson, was extended two years, and
by a subsequent law, the time was extended to 1807.

Very soon after Fulton's arrival in New York he began building his first
American boat. While she was constructing, he found that her cost would
greatly exceed his calculations. He endeavored to lessen the pressure on
his own finances by offering one-third of the rights for a proportionate
contribution to the expense. It was generally known that he made this
offer, but no one was then willing to afford aid to his enterprise.

In the spring of 1807, Fulton's first American boat was launched from
the shipyard of Charles Brown, on the East River. The engine from
England was put on board, and in August she was completed, and was moved
by her machinery from her birthplace to the Jersey shore. Livingston and
Fulton had invited many of their friends to witness the first trial,
among them Dr. Mitchell and Dr. M'Neven, to whom we are indebted for
some account of what passed on this occasion. Nothing could exceed the
surprise and admiration of all who witnessed the experiment. The minds
of the most incredulous were changed in a few minutes. Before the boat
had gone a quarter of a mile, the greatest unbeliever must have been
converted. The man who, while he looked on the expensive machine,
thanked his stars that he had more wisdom than to waste his money on
such idle schemes, changed his mind as the boat moved from the wharf and
gained speed, and his complacent expression gradually stiffened into one
of wonder.

This boat, which was called the Clermont, soon after made a trip to
Albany. Fulton gives the following account of this voyage in a letter to
his friend, Mr. Barlow:

[Illustration: Departure of the Clermont on her First Voyage.]

"My steamboat voyage to Albany and back, has turned out rather more
favorable than I had calculated. The distance from New York to Albany is
one hundred and fifty miles; I ran it up in thirty-two hours, and down
in thirty. I had a light breeze against me the whole way, both going and
coming, and the voyage has been performed wholly by the power of the
steam-engine. I overtook many sloops and schooners beating to windward,
and parted with them as if they had been at anchor. The power of
propelling boats by steam is now fully proved. The morning I left New
York there were not, perhaps, thirty persons in the city who believed
that the boat would even move one mile an hour, or be of the least
utility; and while we were putting off from the wharf, which was
crowded with spectators, I heard a number of sarcastic remarks. This is
the way in which ignorant men compliment what they call philosophers and
projectors. Having employed much time, money, and zeal, in accomplishing
this work, it gives me, as it will you, great pleasure to see it fully
answer my expectations. It will give a cheap and quick conveyance to the
merchandise on the Mississippi, Missouri, and other great rivers, which
are now laying open their treasures to the enterprise of our countrymen;
and although the prospect of personal emolument has been some inducement
to me, yet I feel infinitely more pleasure in reflecting on the immense
advantage that my country will derive from the invention."

Soon after this successful voyage, the Hudson boat was advertised and
established as a regular passage-boat between New York and Albany. She,
however, in the course of the season, met with several accidents, from
the hostility of those engaged in the ordinary navigation of the river,
and from defects in her machinery, the greatest of which was having her
water-wheel shafts of cast-iron, which was insufficient to sustain the
great power applied to them. The wheels also were hung without any
support for the outward end of the shaft, which is now supplied by what
are called the wheel-guards.

At the session of 1808 a law was passed to prolong the time of the
exclusive right to thirty years; it also declared combinations to
destroy the boat, or wilful attempts to injure her, public offences,
punishable by fine and imprisonment. Notwithstanding her misfortunes,
the boat continued to run as a packet, always loaded with passengers,
for the remainder of the summer. In the course of the ensuing winter she
was enlarged, and in the spring of 1808 she again began running as a
packet-boat, and continued it through the season. Several other boats
were soon built for the Hudson River, and also for steamboat companies
formed in different parts of the United States. On February 11, 1809,
Fulton took out a patent for his inventions in navigation by steam, and
on February 9, 1811, he obtained a second patent for some improvements
in his boats and machinery.

About the year 1812 two steam ferry-boats were built under the direction
of Fulton for crossing the Hudson River, and one of the same description
for the East River. These boats were what are called twin-boats, each of
them being two complete hulls united by a deck or bridge. They were
sharp at both ends, and moved equally well with either end foremost, so
that they crossed and recrossed without losing any time by turning
about. He contrived, with great ingenuity, floating docks for the
reception of these boats, and a means by which they were brought to them
without a shock. These boats, were the first of a fleet which has since
carried hundreds of millions of passengers to and from New York.

From the time the first boat was put in motion till the death of Fulton,
the art of navigating by steam advanced rapidly to that perfection of
which he believed it capable; the boats performed each successive trip
with increased speed, and every year improvements were made. The last
boat built by Fulton was invariably the best, the most convenient, and
the swiftest.

At the beginning of 1814 a number of the citizens of New York, alarmed
at the exposed situation of their harbor, had assembled with a view to
consider whether some measures might not be taken to aid the Government
in its protection. This assembly had some knowledge of Fulton's plans
for submarine attack, and knew that he contemplated other means of
defence. It deputed a number of gentlemen to act for it, and these were
called the Coast and Harbor Committee. Fulton exhibited to this
committee the model and plans for a vessel of war, to be propelled by
steam, capable of carrying a strong battery, with furnaces for red-hot
shot, and which, he represented, would move at the rate of four miles an
hour. The confidence of the committee in this design was confirmed by
the opinions of many of our most distinguished naval commanders, which
he had obtained in writing, and exhibited to the committee. They pointed
out many advantages which a steam vessel of war would possess over those
with sails only.

The National Legislature passed a law in March, 1814, authorizing the
President of the United States to cause to be built, equipped, and
employed one or more floating batteries for the defence of the waters
of the United States. A sub-committee of five gentlemen was appointed to
superintend the building of the proposed vessel, and Fulton, whose
spirit animated the whole enterprise, was appointed the engineer. In
June, 1814, the keel of this novel and mighty engine was laid, and in
October she was launched from the New York yard of Adam and Noah Brown.
The scene exhibited on this occasion was magnificent. It happened on one
of our bright autumnal days. Multitudes of spectators crowded the
surrounding shores. The river and bay were filled with vessels of war,
dressed in all their colors in compliment to the occasion. By May, 1815,
her engine was put on board, and she was so far completed as to afford
an opportunity of trying her machinery. On the 4th of July, in the same
year, the steam-frigate made a passage to the ocean and back, a distance
of fifty-three miles, in eight hours and twenty minutes, by the mere
force of steam. In September she made another passage to the sea, and
having at this time the weight of her whole armament on board, she went
at the rate of five and a half miles an hour, upon an average, with and
against the tide. The superintending committee gave in their report a
full description of the Fulton the First, the honored name this vessel

The last work in which the active and ingenious mind of Fulton was
engaged was a project for the modification of his submarine boat. He
presented a model of this vessel to the Government, by which it was
approved; and under Federal authority he began building one; but before
the hull was entirely finished his country had to lament his death, and
the mechanics he employed were incapable of proceeding without him.

[Illustration: The "Demologos," or "Fulton the First."

The first steam vessel-of-war in the world.]

During the whole time that Fulton had thus been devoting his talents to
the service of his country, he had been harassed by lawsuits and
controversies with those who were violating his patent rights, or
intruding upon his exclusive grants. The State of New Jersey had passed
a law which operated against Fulton, without being of much advantage to
those interested in its passage, inasmuch as the laws of New York
prevented any but Fulton's boats to approach the city of New York. Its
only operation was to stop a boat owned in New York, which had been for
several years running to New Brunswick, under a license from Messrs.
Livingston and Fulton. A bold attempt was therefore made to induce the
Legislature of the State of New York to repeal the laws which they had
passed for the protection of their exclusive grant to Livingston and
Fulton. The committee reported that such repeal might be passed
consistently with good faith, honor, and justice! This report being made
to the House, it was prevailed upon to be less precipitate than the
committee had been. It gave time, which the committee would not do, for
Fulton to be sent for from New York. The Assembly and Senate in joint
session examined witnesses, and heard him and the petitioner by counsel.
The result was that the Legislature refused to repeal the prior law, or
to pass any act on the subject. The Legislature of the State of New
Jersey also repealed their law, which left Fulton in the full enjoyment
of his rights. This enjoyment was of very short duration; for on
returning from Trenton, after this last trial, he was exposed on the
Hudson, which was very full of ice, for several hours. He had not a
constitution to encounter such exposure, and upon his return found
himself much indisposed. He had at that time great anxiety about the
steam-frigate, and, after confining himself to the house for a few days,
went to give his superintendence to the workmen employed about her.
Forgetting his ill-health in the interest he took in what was doing on
the frigate, he remained too long exposed on a bad day to the weather.
He soon felt the effects of this imprudence. His indisposition returned
upon him with such violence as to confine him to his bed. His illness
increased, and on February 24, 1815, it ended his life.

It was not known that Fulton's illness was dangerous till a very short
time before his death. Means were immediately taken to testify,
publicly, the universal regret at his loss, and respect for his memory.
The corporation of the city of New York, the different literary
institutions and other societies, assembled and passed resolutions
expressing their estimation of his worth, and regret at his loss. They
also resolved to attend his funeral, and that the members should wear
badges of mourning for a certain time. As soon as the Legislature, which
was then in session at Albany, heard of the death of Fulton, they
expressed their participation in the general sentiment by resolving that
the members of both Houses should wear mourning for some weeks.

In 1806 Fulton married Harriet Livingston, a daughter of Walter
Livingston, a relative of his associate, Chancellor Livingston. He left
four children; one son, Robert Barlow Fulton, and three daughters.
Fulton was in person considerably above medium height; his face showed
great intelligence. Natural refinement and long intercourse with the
most polished society of Europe and America had given him grace and
elegance of manner.

[Illustration: The Clermont.]



In 1784 an American vessel arrived at Liverpool having on board, as part
of her cargo, eight bags of cotton, which were seized by the
Custom-House under the conviction that they could not be the growth of
America. The whole amount of cotton arriving at Liverpool from America
during the two following years was less than one hundred and twenty
bags. When Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton-gin, applied for his
first patent in 1793, the total export of cotton from the United States
was less than ten thousand bales. Fifty years later, the growth of this
industry, owing almost wholly to Whitney's gin, had increased to
millions of bales, and by 1860, the export amounted to four million

[Illustration: Eli Whitney.]

According to the estimate of Judge Johnson, given in the most famous
decision affecting the cotton-gin, the debts of the South were paid off
by its aid, its capital was increased, and its lands trebled in value.
This famous device, the gift of a young Northerner to the South, was
rewarded by thirty years of ingratitude, relieved only by a few gleams
of sunshine in the way of justice, serving to make the injustice all the
more conspicuous. Whitney added hundreds of millions to the wealth of
the United States. His personal reward was countless lawsuits and
endless vexation of body and spirit. No more conspicuous example can be
cited of steady patience and sweet-tempered perseverance.

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough, Worcester County, Mass., December
8, 1765. His parents belonged to that respectable class of society who,
by honest farming and kindred industries, managed to provide well for
the rising family--the class from whom have arisen most of those who in
New England have attained to eminence and usefulness. The indications of
his mechanical genius were noted at an early age. Of his passion for
mechanics, his sister gives the following account:

"Our father had a workshop and sometimes made wheels of different kinds,
and chairs. He had a variety of tools and a lathe for turning
chair-posts. This gave my brother an opportunity of learning the use of
tools when very young. He lost no time, but as soon as he could handle
tools he was always making something in the shop, and seemed to prefer
that to work on the farm. After the death of our mother, when our father
had been absent from home two or three days, on his return he inquired
of the housekeeper what the boys had been doing. She told him what the
elders had done. 'But what has Eli been doing?' said he. She replied he
has been making a fiddle. 'Ah!' added he, despondently, 'I fear Eli will
have to take his portion in fiddles.'"

He was at this time about twelve years old. The sister adds that his
fiddle was finished throughout like a common violin and made pretty good
music. It was examined by many persons, and all pronounced it to be a
model piece of work for such a boy. From this time he was always
employed to repair violins, and did many nice jobs that were executed to
the entire satisfaction and even to the astonishment of his customers.
His father's watch being the greatest piece of mechanism that had yet
presented itself to his observation, he was extremely desirous of
examining its interior construction, but was not permitted to do so. One
Sunday morning, observing that his father was going to church and would
leave at home the wonderful little machine, he feigned illness as an
apology for not going. As soon as the family were out of sight, he flew
to the room where the watch hung and took it down. He was so delighted
with its motion that he took it to pieces before he thought of the
consequences of his rash deed; for his father was a stern parent, and
punishment would have been the reward of his idle curiosity, had the
mischief been detected. He, however, put the works so neatly together
that his father never discovered his audacity until he himself told him
many years afterward.

When Eli was thirteen years old his father married a second time. His
stepmother, among her articles of furniture, had a handsome set of
table-knives that she valued very highly.

One day Eli said: "I could make as good ones if I had tools, and I
could make the tools if I had common tools to begin with;" his mother
laughed at him. But it so happened soon afterward that one of the knives
was broken, and he made one exactly like it in every respect, except the
stamp of the blade. When he was fifteen or sixteen years of age, he
suggested to his father an enterprise which clearly showed his capacity
for important work. The time being the Revolutionary War, nails were in
great demand and at high prices. They were made chiefly by hand. Whitney
proposed to his father to get him a few tools and allow him to set up
the manufacture of nails. His father consented, and the work was begun.
By extraordinary diligence he found time to make tools for his own use
and to put in knife-blades, repair farm machinery, and perform other
little jobs beyond the skill of the country workman. At this occupation
the enterprising boy worked, alone with great success and with large
profit to his father for two winters, going on with the ordinary work of
the farm during the summer. He devised a plan for enlarging the
business, and managed to obtain help from a fellow-laborer whom he
picked up when on a short journey of forty miles, in the course of which
he tells us that he called at every workshop on the way and gleaned all
the information as to tools and methods that he could.

At the close of the war the business of making nails was no longer
profitable; but the fashion prevailing among the ladies of fastening on
their bonnets with long pins having appeared, he contrived to make
these pins with such skill that he nearly monopolized the business,
though he devoted to it only such leisure as he could redeem from the
occupations of the farm. He also made excellent walking-canes. At the
age of nineteen Whitney conceived the idea of getting a liberal
education; and partly by the results of his mechanical industries, and
partly by teaching the village school, he was enabled so far to surmount
the difficulties in his way as to prepare himself for the Freshman Class
in Yale College, which he entered in 1789. At college his mechanical
propensity frequently showed itself. He successfully undertook, on one
occasion, the repairing of some of the philosophical apparatus. Soon
after taking his degree, in the autumn of 1792, he engaged with a
Georgia family as private teacher, and through his engagement he made
the acquaintance of a certain General Greene, of Savannah, who took a
deep interest in him, and with whom he began the study of law. While
living with the Greenes he noticed an embroidery-frame used by Mrs.
Greene, and about which she complained, observing that it tore the
delicate threads of her work. Young Whitney, eager to oblige his
hostess, went to work and speedily produced a frame on an entirely new
plan. The family were much delighted with it, and considered it a
wonderful piece of ingenuity.

[Illustration: Whitney Watching the Cotton-Gin.]

Not long afterward the Greenes were visited by a party of gentlemen,
chiefly officers who had served under the general in the Revolutionary
War. The conversation turned on the state of agriculture. It was
remarked that unfortunately there was no means of cleaning the staple of
the green cotton-seed, which might otherwise be profitably raised on
land unsuitable for rice. But until someone devised a machine which
would clean the cotton, it was vain to think of raising it for market.
Separating one pound of the clean staple from the seed was a day's work
for a woman. The time usually devoted to the picking of cotton was the
evening, after the labor of the field was over. Then the slaves--men,
women, and children--were collected in circles, with one in the middle
whose duty it was to rouse the dosing and quicken the indolent. While
the company were engaged in this conversation, Mrs. Greene said:
"Gentlemen, apply to my young friend here, Mr. Whitney; he can make
anything." And she showed them the frame and several other articles he
had made. He modestly disclaimed all pretensions to mechanical genius,
and replied that he had never seen cotton-seed.

Nevertheless, he immediately began upon the task of inventing and
constructing the machine on which his fame depends. A Mr. Phineas
Miller, a neighbor, to whom he communicated his design, warmly
encouraged him, and gave him a room in his house wherein to carry on his
operations. Here he began work with the disadvantage of being obliged to
manufacture his own tools and draw his own wire--an article not to be
found in Savannah. Mr. Miller and Mrs. Greene were the only persons who
knew anything of his occupation. Near the close of the winter, 1793, the
machine was so far completed as to leave no doubt of its success. The
person who contributed most to the success of the undertaking, after the
inventor, was his friend, Miller, a native of Connecticut and, a
graduate of Yale. Like Whitney, he had come to Georgia as a private
teacher, and after the death of General Greene he married the widow. He
was a lawyer by profession, with a turn for mechanics. He had some money
and proposed to Whitney to become his partner, he to be at the whole
expense of manufacturing the invention until it should be patented. If
the machine should succeed, they agreed that the profits and advantages
should be divided between them. A legal paper covering this agreement
and establishing the firm of Miller & Whitney, bears the date of May 27,

An invention so important to the agricultural interests of the country
could not long remain a secret. The knowledge of it swept through the
State, and so great was the excitement on the subject that crowds of
persons came from all parts to see the machine; it was not deemed safe
to gratify curiosity until the patent-right should be secured. But so
determined were some of these people that neither law nor justice could
restrain them; they broke into the building by night and carried off the
machine. In this way the public became possessed of the invention, and
before Whitney could complete his model and secure his patent, a number
of machines, patterned after his, were in successful operation.

The principle of the Whitney cotton-gin and all other gins following its
features is so well known as to make it scarcely worth while to describe
it here. The different parts are two cylinders of different diameters,
mounted in a strong wooden frame, one cylinder bearing a number of
circular saws fitted into grooves cut into the cylinder. The other
hollow cylinder is mounted with brushes, the tips of whose bristles
touch the saw-teeth. The cotton is put into a hopper, where it is met by
the sharp teeth of the saws, torn from the seed, and carried to a point
where the brushes sweep it off into a convenient receptacle. The seeds
are too large to pass between the bars through which the saws protrude.
This is the principle of the first machine, but many improvements have
been made since Whitney's day. Nevertheless, by means of the cotton-gin,
even in its earliest shape, one man, with the aid of two-horse power,
could clean five thousand pounds of cotton in a day.

[Illustration: The Cotton-Gin.

(From the original model.)]

As soon as the partnership of Miller & Whitney was formed, the latter
went to Connecticut to perfect the machine, obtain the patent, and
manufacture for Georgia as many machines as he thought would supply the
demand. At once there began between Whitney in Connecticut and Miller in
Georgia a correspondence relative to the cotton-gin, which gives a
complete history of the extraordinary efforts made by the two partners
and the disappointments that fell to their lot. The very first letter,
written three days after Whitney left, announces that encroachments upon
their rights had already begun. "It will be necessary," says Miller, "to
have a considerable number of gins in readiness to send out as soon as
the patent is obtained in order to satisfy the absolute demands and make
people's heads easy on the subject; for I am informed of two other
claimants for the honor of the invention of the cotton-gin in addition
to those we knew before." At the close of the year 1793 Whitney was to
return to Georgia with his gins, where his partner had made arrangements
for beginning business. The importunity of Miller's letters, written
during this period, urging him to come on, show how eager the Georgia
planters were to enter the new field of enterprise that the genius of
Whitney had opened to them. Nor did they at first contemplate stealing
the invention. But the minds of even the more honorable among the
planters were afterward deluded by various artifices set on foot by
designing rivals of Whitney with a view to robbing him of his rights.
One of the greatest difficulties experienced by the partners was the
extreme scarcity of money, which embarrassed them so much as to make it
impossible to construct machines fast enough.

In April Whitney returned to Georgia. Large crops of cotton had been
planted, the profits of which were to depend almost wholly on the
success of the gin. A formidable competitor, the roller-gin, had also
appeared, which destroyed the seed by means of rollers, crushing them
between revolving cylinders instead of disengaging them by means of
teeth. The fragments of seeds which remained in the cotton made it much
inferior to Whitney's gin, and it was slower in operation. A still more
dangerous rival appeared in 1795, under the name of the saw-gin. It was
really Whitney's invention, except that the teeth were cut in circular
rings of iron instead of being made of wire, as in the earlier forms of
the Whitney gin. The use of such teeth had occurred to Whitney, as he
established by legal proof. They would have been of no use except in
connection with other parts of his machine, and it was a palpable
attempt to invade his patent right. It was chiefly in reference to this
device that the endless lawsuits that wore the life out of the partners
were afterward held.

In March, 1795, after two years of struggle, during which no progress
seems to have been made, although the value of the gin was proved,
Whitney went to New York, where he was detained three weeks by fever.
Upon reaching New Haven he discovered that his shop, with all his
machines and papers, had been consumed by fire. Thus he was suddenly
reduced to bankruptcy and was in debt $4,000 without any means of
payment. He was not, however, one to sink under such trials; Miller
showed the same buoyant spirit, and the following extract of a letter
of his to Whitney may be a useful lesson to young men in trouble:

    "I think we ought to meet such events with equanimity. We have been
    pursuing a valuable object by honorable means, and I trust that all
    our measures have been such as reason and virtue must justify. It
    has pleased Providence to postpone the attainment of this object. In
    the midst of the reflections which your story has suggested, and
    with feelings keenly awake to the heavy, the extensive injury we
    have sustained, I feel a secret joy and satisfaction that you
    possess a mind in this respect similar to my own--that you are not
    disheartened, that you do not relinquish the pursuit, and that you
    will persevere, and endeavor, at all events, to attain the main
    object. This is exactly consonant to my own determinations. I will
    devote all my time, all my thoughts, all my exertions, and all the
    money I can earn or borrow to encompass and complete the business we
    have undertaken; and if fortune should, by any future disaster, deny
    us the boon we ask, we will at least deserve it. It shall never be
    said that we have lost an object which a little perseverance could
    have attained. I think, indeed, it will be very extraordinary if two
    young men in the prime of life, with some share of ingenuity, and
    with a little knowledge of the world, a great deal of industry, and
    a considerable command of property, should not be able to sustain
    such a stroke of misfortune as this, heavy as it is."

Miller winds up by suggesting to Whitney that perhaps he can get help in
New Haven by offering twelve per cent. a year for money with which to
build a new shop, and the inventor seems to have had some success in
reorganizing his affairs, even under such desperate conditions. Word
came at the same time from England that manufacturers had condemned the
cotton cleaned by their machines on the ground that the staple was
greatly injured. This threatened a deathblow to their hopes. At the
time, 1796, they already had thirty gins at different places in Georgia,
some worked by horses and oxen and some by water. Some of these were
still standing a few years ago. The following extract of a letter by
Whitney will show the state of his mind and affairs:

    "The extreme embarrassments which have been for a long time
    accumulating upon me are now become so great that it will be
    impossible for me to struggle against them many days longer. It has
    required my utmost exertions to exist without making the least
    progress in our business. I have labored hard against the strong
    current of disappointment which has been threatening to carry us
    down the cataract, but I have labored with a shattered oar and
    struggled in vain, unless some speedy relief is obtained.... Life is
    but short at best, and six or seven years out of the midst of it is
    to him who makes it an immense sacrifice. My most unremitted
    attention has been devoted to our business. I have sacrificed to it
    other objects from which, before this time, I might certainly have
    gained $20,000 or $30,000. My whole prospects have been embarked in
    it, with the expectation that I should before this time have
    realized something from it."

The cotton of Whitney's gin was, however, sought by merchants in
preference to other kinds, and respectable manufacturers testified in
his favor. Had it not been for the extensive and shameful violations of
their patent-right, the partners might yet have succeeded; but these
encroachments had become so extensive as almost to destroy its value.
The issue of the first important trial that they were able to obtain on
the merits of the gin is announced in the following letter from Miller
to Whitney, dated May 11, 1797:

    "The event of the first patent suit, after all our exertions made in
    such a variety of ways, has gone against us. The preposterous custom
    of trying civil causes of this intricacy and magnitude by a common
    jury, together with the imperfection of the patent law, frustrated
    all our views, and disappointed expectations which had become very
    sanguine. The tide of popular opinion was running in our favor, the
    judge was well disposed toward us, and many decided friends were
    with us, who adhered firmly to our cause and interests. The judge
    gave a charge to the jury pointedly in our favor; after which the
    defendant himself told an acquaintance of his that he would give
    two thousand dollars to be free from the verdict, and yet the jury
    gave it against us, after a consultation of about an hour. And
    having made the verdict general, no appeal would lie.

    "On Monday morning, when the verdict was rendered, we applied for a
    new trial, but the judge refused it to us on the ground that the
    jury might have made up their opinion on the defect of the law,
    which makes an aggression consist of making, devising, and using or
    selling; whereas we could only charge the defendant with using.

    "Thus, after four years of assiduous labor, fatigue, and difficulty,
    are we again set afloat by a new and most unexpected obstacle. Our
    hopes of success are now removed to a period still more distant than
    before, while our expenses are realized beyond all controversy."

Great efforts were made to obtain trial in a second suit in Savannah the
following May, and a number of witnesses were collected from various
parts of the country, all to no purpose, for the judge failed to appear,
and in the meantime, owing to the failure of the first suit,
encroachments on the patent-right had multiplied prodigiously.

In April, 1799, nearly a year later, and two years after their first
legal rebuff, Miller writes as follows:

    "The prospect of making anything by ginning in this State is at an
    end. Surreptitious gins are erected in every part of the country,
    and the jurymen at Augusta have come to an understanding among
    themselves that they will never give a cause in our favor, let the
    merits of the case be as they may."

The company would now have gladly relinquished the plan of making their
own machines, and confined their operations to the sale of
patent-rights; but few would buy the right to a machine which could be
used with impunity without purchase, and those few usually gave notes
instead of cash, which they afterward, to a great extent, avoided
paying, either by obtaining a verdict from the juries declaring them
void, or by contriving to postpone the collection till they were barred
by the Statute of Limitations, a period of only four years. The agent of
Miller & Whitney, who was despatched on a collecting tour through the
State of Georgia, informed his employers that such obstacles were thrown
in his way by one or the other of these causes that he was unable to
collect money enough to pay his expenses. It was suggested that an
application to the Legislature of South Carolina to purchase the
patent-right for that State would be successful. Whitney accordingly
repaired to Columbia, and the business was brought before the
Legislature in December, 1801. An extract from a letter by Whitney at
this time shows the nature of the contract thus made:

    "I have been at this place a little more than two weeks attending
    the Legislature. A few hours previous to their adjournment they
    voted to purchase for the State of South Carolina my patent-right
    to the machine for cleaning cotton at $50,000, of which sum $20,000
    is to be paid in hand, and the remainder in three annual payments of
    $10,000 each." He adds: "We get but a song for it in comparison with
    the worth of the thing, but it is securing something. It will enable
    Miller & Whitney to pay their debts and divide something between

In December, 1802, Whitney negotiated the sale of his patent-right with
the State of North Carolina. The Legislature laid a tax of 2_s._ 6_d._
upon every saw (some of the gins had forty saws) employed in ginning
cotton, to be continued for five years; and after deducting the expenses
of collection the returns were faithfully passed over to the patentee.
This compensation was regarded by Whitney as more liberal than that
received from any other source. About the same time Mr. Goodrich, the
agent of the company, entered into a similar negotiation with Tennessee,
which State had by this time begun to realize the importance of the
invention. The Legislature passed a law laying a tax of 37-1/2 cents per
annum on every saw used, for the period of four years. Thus far the
prospects were growing favorable to the patentees, when the Legislature
of South Carolina unexpectedly annulled the contract which they had
made, suspended further payment of the balance, and sued for the
refunding of what had been already paid. When Whitney first heard of the
transactions of the South Carolina Legislature, he was at Raleigh,
where he had just completed a negotiation with the Legislature of North
Carolina. In a letter written to Miller at this time, he remarks:

    "I am, for my own part, more vexed than alarmed by their
    extraordinary proceedings. I think it behooves us to be very
    cautious and very circumspect in our measures, and even in our
    remarks with regard to it. Be cautious what you say or publish till
    we meet our enemies in a court of justice, where, if they have any
    sensibility left, we will make them very much ashamed of their
    childish conduct."

But that Whitney felt keenly the severities afterward practised against
him is evident from the tenor of the remonstrance which he presented to
the Legislature:

    "The subscriber avers that he has manifested no other than a
    disposition to fulfil all the stipulations entered into with the
    State of South Carolina with punctuality and good faith; and he begs
    leave to observe further, that to have industriously, laboriously,
    and exclusively devoted many years of the prime of his life to the
    invention and the improvement of a machine from which the citizens
    of South Carolina have already realized immense profits, which is
    worth to them millions, and from which their prosperity must
    continue to derive the most important profits, and in return to be
    treated as a felon, a swindler, and a villain, has stung him to the
    very soul. And when he considers that this cruel persecution is
    inflicted by the very persons who are enjoying these great benefits,
    and expressly for the purpose of preventing his ever deriving the
    least advantage from his own labors, the acuteness of his feelings
    is altogether inexpressible."

Doubts, it seems, had arisen in the public mind as to the validity of
the patent. Great exertions had been made in Georgia, where, it will be
remembered, hostilities were first declared against him, to show that
his title to the invention was unsound, and that "somebody" in
Switzerland had conceived it before him; and that the improved form of
the machine with saws, instead of wire teeth, did not come within the
patent, having been introduced by one Hodgin Holmes. The popular voice,
stimulated by the most sordid methods, was now raised against Whitney
throughout all the cotton States. Tennessee followed the example of
South Carolina, annulling the contract made with him. And the attempt
was made in North Carolina. But a committee of the Legislature, to whom
it was referred, reported in Whitney's favor, declaring "that the
contract ought to be fulfilled with punctuality and good faith," which
resolution was adopted by both Houses. There were also high-minded men
in South Carolina who were indignant at the dishonorable measures
adopted by their Legislature of 1803; their sentiments impressed the
community so favorably with regard to Whitney that, at the session of
1804, the Legislature not only rescinded what the previous one had done,
but signified their respect for Whitney by marked commendations.

Miller died on December 7, 1803. In the earlier stages of the enterprise
he had indulged high hopes of a great fortune; perpetual disappointments
appear to have attended him through life. Whitney was now left alone to
contend single-handed against the difficulties which had, for a series
of years, almost broken down the spirits of the partners. The light,
moreover, which seemed to be breaking, proved but the twilight of
prosperity. The favorable issue of Whitney's affairs in South Carolina,
and the generous receipts he obtained from his contract with North
Carolina, relieved him, however, from the embarrassments under which he
had so long groaned, and made him, in some degree, independent. Still,
no small portion of the funds thus collected in North and South Carolina
was expended in carrying on trials and endless lawsuits in Georgia.

Finally, in the United States Court, held in Georgia, December, 1807,
Whitney's patent obtained a most important decision in its favor against
a trespasser named Fort. It was on this trial that Judge Johnson gave a
most celebrated decision in the following words:

    "To support the originality of the invention, the complainants have
    produced a variety of depositions of witnesses, examined under
    commission, whose examinations expressly prove the origin,
    progress, and completion of the machine of Whitney, one of the
    copartners. Persons who were made privy to his first discovery
    testify to the several experiments which he made in their presence
    before he ventured to expose his invention to the scrutiny of the
    public eye. But it is not necessary to resort to such testimony to
    maintain this point. The jealousy of the artist to maintain that
    reputation which his ingenuity has justly acquired, has urged him to
    unnecessary pains on this subject. There are circumstances in the
    knowledge of all mankind which prove the originality of this
    invention more satisfactorily to the mind than the direct testimony
    of a host of witnesses. The cotton-plant furnished clothing to
    mankind before the age of Herodotus. The green seed is a species
    much more productive than the black, and by nature adapted to a much
    greater variety of climate, but by reason of the strong adherence of
    the fibre to the seed, without the aid of some more powerful machine
    for separating it than any formerly known among us, the cultivation
    of it would never have been made an object. The machine of which Mr.
    Whitney claims the invention so facilitates the preparation of this
    species for use that the cultivation of it has suddenly become an
    object of infinitely greater national importance than that of the
    other species ever can be. Is it, then, to be imagined that if this
    machine had been before discovered, the use of it would ever have
    been lost, or could have been confined to any tract or country left
    unexplored by commercial enterprise? But it is unnecessary to remark
    further upon this subject. A number of years have elapsed since Mr.
    Whitney took out his patent, and no one has produced or pretended to
    prove the existence of a machine of similar construction or use.

    "With regard to the utility of this discovery the court would deem
    it a waste of time to dwell long upon this topic. Is there a man who
    hears us who has not experienced its utility? The whole interior of
    the Southern States was languishing and its inhabitants emigrating
    for want of some object to engage their attention and employ their
    industry, when the invention of this machine at once opened views to
    them which set the whole country in active motion. From childhood to
    age it has presented to us a lucrative employment. Our debts have
    been paid off, our capitals have increased, and our lands trebled
    themselves in value. We cannot express the weight of the obligation
    which the country owes to this invention. The extent of it cannot
    now be seen. Some faint presentiment may be formed from the
    reflection that cotton is rapidly supplanting wool, flax, silk, and
    even furs in manufactures, and may one day profitably supply the use
    of specie in our East India trade. Our sister States also
    participate in the benefits of this invention, for besides affording
    the raw material for their manufacturers, the bulkiness and quantity
    of the article affords a valuable employment for their shipping."

The influence of this decision, however, availed Whitney very little,
for the term of his patent had nearly expired. During Miller's life more
than sixty suits had been instituted in Georgia, and but a single
decision on the merits of the claim was obtained. In prosecution of his
troublesome business, Whitney had made six different journeys to
Georgia, several of which were accomplished by land at a time when the
difficulties of such journeys were exceedingly great. A gentleman who
was well acquainted with Whitney's affairs in the South, and sometimes
acted as his legal adviser, says that in all his experience in the
thorny profession of the law he never saw a case of such perseverance
under prosecution. He adds: "Nor do I believe that I ever knew any other
man who would have met them with equal coolness and firmness, or who
would finally have obtained even the partial success which he did. He
always called on me in New York on his way South when going to attend
his endless trials and to meet the mischievous contrivances of men, who
seemed inexhaustible in their resources of evil. Even now, after thirty
years, my head aches to recollect his narratives of new trials, fresh
disappointments, and accumulated wrongs."

In 1798 Whitney had become deeply impressed with the uncertainty of all
his hopes founded upon the cotton-gin, and began to think seriously of
devoting himself to some business in which his superior ingenuity,
seconded by uncommon industry, would conduct him by a slow but sure
road to a competent fortune. It may be considered indicative of solid
judgment and a well-balanced mind that he did not, as is so frequently
the case with men of inventive genius, become so poisoned with the hopes
of vast wealth as to be disqualified for making a reasonable provision
for life by the sober earnings of private industry. The enterprise which
he selected in accordance with these views was the manufacture of arms
for the United States. Through Oliver Wolcott, then Secretary of the
Treasury, he obtained a contract for the manufacture of 10,000 stand of
arms, 4,000 of which were to be delivered before the last of September
of the ensuing year, 1799. Whitney purchased for his works a site called
East Rock, near New Haven, now known as Whitneyville, and justly admired
for the romantic beauty of its scenery. A water-fall offered the
necessary power for the machinery.

Here he began operations with great zeal. His machinery was yet to be
built, his material collected, and even his workmen to be taught, and
that in a business with which he was imperfectly acquainted.

A severe winter retarded his operations and rendered him incompetent to
fulfil the contract. Only 500 instead of 4,000 stands were delivered the
first year, and eight years instead of two were found necessary for
completing the whole. During the eight years Whitney was occupied in
performing this work, he applied himself to business with the most
exemplary diligence, rising every morning as soon as it was day, and at
night setting everything in order in all parts of the establishment. His
genius impressed itself on every part of the factory, extending even to
the most common tools, most of which received some peculiar modification
which improved them in accuracy or efficiency. His machines for making
the several parts of the musket were made to operate with the greatest
possible degree of uniformity and precision. The object at which he
aimed, and which he fully accomplished, was to make the same parts of
different guns, as the locks, for instance, as much like each other as
the successive impressions of a copper-plate engraving, and it has
generally been considered that Whitney greatly improved the way of
manufacturing arms and laid his country under permanent obligations by
augmenting our facilities for national defence. In 1812 he made a
contract to manufacture for the United States 15,000 stand of arms, and
in the meantime a similar contract with the State of New York. Several
other persons made contracts with the Government at about the same time
and attempted the manufacture of muskets. The result of their efforts
was a complete failure, and in some instances they expended a
considerable fortune in addition to the amount received for their work.
In 1822 Calhoun, then Secretary of War, admitted in a conversation with
Whitney that the Government was saving $25,000 a year at the public
armories alone by his improvements, and it should be remembered that
the utility of Whitney's labors during this part of his life was not
limited to this particular business.

In 1812 Whitney made application to Congress for the renewal of his
patent for the cotton-gin. In his memorial he presented the history of
the struggles he had been forced to make in defence of his rights,
observing that he had been unable to obtain any decision on the merits
of his claim until thirteen years of his patent had expired. He states
also that his invention had been a source of opulence to thousands of
the citizens of the United States; that as a labor-saving machine it
would enable one man to perform the work of a thousand men, and that it
furnished to the whole family of mankind, at a very cheap rate, the most
essential material for their clothing. Although so great advantages had
already been experienced, and the prospect of future benefits was so
promising, still, many of those whose interest had been most promoted
and the value of whose property had been most enhanced by this
invention, had obstinately persisted in refusing to make any
compensation to the inventor. From the State in which he had first made,
and where, he had first introduced his machine, and which had derived
the most signal benefits--Georgia--he had received nothing; and from no
State had he received the amount of half a cent per pound on the cotton
cleaned with his machines in one year. Estimating the value of the labor
of one man at twenty cents a day, the whole amount which had been
received by him for his invention was not equal to the value of the
labor saved in one hour by his machines then in use in the United
States. He continues:

    "It is objected that if the patentee succeeds in procuring the
    renewal of his patent he will be too rich. There is no probability
    that the patentee, if the term of his patent were extended for
    twenty years, would ever obtain for his invention one-half as much
    as many an individual will gain by the use of it. Up to the present
    time the whole amount of what he had acquired from this source,
    after deducting his expenses, does not exceed one-half the sum which
    a single individual has gained by the use of the machine in one
    year. It is true that considerable sums have been obtained from some
    of the States where the machine is used, but no small portion of
    these sums has been expended in prosecuting his claim in a State
    where nothing has been obtained, and where his machine has been used
    to the greatest advantage."

Notwithstanding these cogent arguments, the application was rejected by
the courts. Some liberal-minded and enlightened men from the cotton
districts favored the petition, but a majority of the members from that
part of the Union were warmly opposed to granting it. In a letter to
Robert Fulton, Whitney says:

    "The difficulties with which I have to contend have originated,
    principally, in the want of a disposition in mankind to do justice.
    My invention was new and distinct from every other; it stood alone.
    It was not interwoven with anything before known; and it can seldom
    happen that an invention or improvement is so strongly marked and
    can be so clearly and specifically identified; and I have always
    believed that I should have no difficulty in causing my right to be
    respected, if it had been less valuable, and been used only by a
    small portion of the community. But the use of this machine being
    immensely profitable to almost every planter in the cotton
    districts, all were interested in trespassing upon the patent-right,
    and each kept the other in countenance. Demagogues made themselves
    popular by misrepresentations and unfounded clamors, both against
    the right and against the law made for its protection. Hence there
    arose associations and combinations to oppose both. At one time, but
    few men in Georgia dared to come into court and testify to the most
    simple facts within their knowledge, relative to the use of the
    machine. In one instance I had great difficulty in proving that the
    machine had been used in Georgia, although at the same moment there
    were three separate sets of this machinery in motion within fifty
    yards of the building in which the court sat, and all so near that
    the rattling of the wheels was distinctly heard on the steps of the

Such perseverance, patience, and uncommon skill were not, however, to go
wholly unrewarded. Whitney's factory of arms in New Haven made money for
him, and the Southern States were not all guilty of ingratitude.
Moreover, in his private life he was extremely fortunate. In January,
1817, he married Henrietta Edwards, the youngest daughter of Judge
Pierpont Edwards, of Connecticut. A son and three daughters contributed
to the sunshine of the close of a somewhat stormy and eventful life. His
last years were his happiest. He found prosperity and honor in New
Haven, where he died on January 8, 1825, after a tedious illness.

In person Whitney was of more than usual height, with much dignity of
manner and an open, pleasant face. Among his particular friends no man
was more esteemed. Some of the earliest of his intimate associates were
among the latest. His sense of honor was high, and his feeling of
resentment and indignation under injustice correspondingly strong. He
could, however, be cool when his opponents were hot, and his strong
sense of the injuries he had suffered did not impair the natural
serenity of his temper. The value of his famous invention has so
steadily grown that its money importance to this country can scarcely be
estimated in figures. His tomb in New Haven is after a model of that of
Scipio, at Rome, and bears the following inscription:






  BORN DEC. 8, 1765. DIED JAN. 8, 1825.



[Illustration: Elias Howe.]

In looking over the history of great inventions it is remarkable how
uniformly those discoveries that helped mankind most have been derided,
abused, and opposed by the very classes which in the end they were
destined to bless. Nearly every great invention has had literally to be
forced into popular acceptance. The bowmen of the Middle Ages resisted
the introduction of the musket; the sedan-chair carriers would not allow
hackney carriages to be used; the stagecoach lines attempted by all
possible devices to block the advance of the railway. When, in 1707, Dr.
Papin showed his first rude conception of a steamboat, it was seized by
the boatmen, who feared that it would deprive them of a living. Kay was
mobbed in Lancashire when he tried to introduce his fly-shuttle;
Hargreaves had his spinning-frame destroyed by a Blackburn mob; Crampton
had to hide his spinning-mule in a lumber-room for fear of a similar
fate; Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning-frame, was denounced as
the enemy of the working-classes and his mill destroyed; Jacquard
narrowly escaped being thrown into the river Rhone by a crowd of furious
weavers when his new loom was first put into operation; Cartwright had
to abandon his power-loom for years because of the bitter animosity of
the weavers toward it. Riots were organized in Nottingham against the
use of the stocking-loom.

It is not therefore surprising that the greatest labor-saving machine of
domestic life, the sewing-machine, should have been received with
anything but thanks. Howe was abused, ridiculed, and denounced as the
enemy of man, and especially of poor sewing-women, the very class whose
toil he has done so much to lighten. Curses instead of blessings were
showered upon him during the first years that followed the successful
working of his wonderful machine. Fortunately for the inventor, the age
of persecution had almost passed, and Howe lived to receive the rewards
he so fully deserved.

Elias Howe, Jr., was born in Spencer, Mass., in 1819. His father was a
farmer and miller, and the eight children of the family, as was common
with all poor people of the time, were early taught to do light work of
one kind or another. When Elias was six years old he was set with his
brothers and sisters at sticking wire teeth through the leather straps
used for cotton-cards. When older he helped his father in the mill, and
in summer picked up a little book knowledge at the district school. As a
boy he was frail in constitution, and he was slightly lame. When eleven
years old he attempted farm labor for a neighbor, but, was not strong
enough for it and returned to his father's mill, where he remained
until he was sixteen. It was here that he first began to like machinery.
A friend who had visited Lowell gave him such an account of that
bustling city and its big mills that young Howe, becoming dissatisfied,
obtained his father's consent to leave, and found employment in one of
the Lowell cotton-mills. The financial crash of 1837 stopped the looms,
and Howe obtained a place in a Cambridge machine-shop in which his
cousin, Nathaniel P. Banks, afterward Governor of Massachusetts, also
worked. Howe's first job happened to be upon a new hemp-carding machine
of Treadwell.

At the age of twenty-one Howe married and moved to Boston, finding
employment in the machine-shop of Ari Davis. He is described as being a
capital workman, more full of resources than of plodding industry,
however, and rather apt to spend more time in suggesting a better way of
doing a job than in following instructions. With such a disposition, and
inasmuch as his suggestions were not considered of value, he had rather
a hard time of it. Three children were born to the young couple. As
Howe's earnings were slight and his health none of the best, his wife
tried to add to the family income, and at evening, when Howe lay
exhausted upon the bed after his day's work, the young mother patiently
sewed. Her toil was to some purpose. With his natural bent for
mechanics, Howe could not be a silent witness of this incessant and
poorly paid labor without becoming interested in affording aid.
Moreover, he was constantly employed upon new spinning and weaving
machines for doing work that for thousands of years had been done
painfully and slowly by hand. The possibility of sewing by machinery had
often been spoken of before that day, but the problem seemed to present
insuperable difficulties.

Elias Howe had, as we know, peculiar fitness for such work. He had seen
much of inventors and inventions, and knew something of the dangers and
disappointments in store for him. In the intervals between important
jobs at the shop he nursed the idea of a sewing-machine, keeping his own
counsel. In his first rude attempt it appeared to him, that
machine-sewing could only be accomplished with very coarse thread or
string; fine thread would not stand the strain. For his first machine he
made a needle pointed at both ends, with an eye in the middle; it was
arranged to work up and down, carrying the thread through at each
thrust. It was only after more than a year's work upon this device that
he decided it would not do. This first attempt was a sort of imitation
of sewing by hand, the machine following more or less the movements of
the hand. Finally, after repeated failures, it became plain to him that
something radically different was needed, and that there must be another
stitch, and perhaps another needle or half a dozen needles, in such a
machine. He then conceived the idea of using two threads, and making the
stitch by means of a shuttle and a curved needle with the eye near the
point. This was the real solution of the problem. In October, 1844, he
made a rough model of his first sewing-machine, all of wood and wire,
and found that it would actually sew.

In one of the earliest accounts of the invention it is thus described:
"He used a needle and a shuttle of novel construction, and combined them
with holding surfaces, feed mechanism, and other devices as they had
never before been brought together in one machine.... One of the
principal features of Mr. Howe's invention is the combination of a
grooved needle having an eye near its point, and vibrating in the
direction of its length, with a side-pointed shuttle for effecting a
locked stitch, and forming, with the threads, one on each side of the
cloth, a firm and lasting seam not easily ripped."

Meanwhile Howe had given up work as a machinist and had moved to his
father's house in Cambridge, where the elder Howe had a shop for the
cutting of palm-leaf used in the manufacture of hats. Here Elias and his
little family lived, and in the garret the inventor put up a lathe upon
which he made the parts of his sewing-machine. To provide for his family
he did such odd jobs as he could find; but it was hard work to get
bread, to say nothing of butter, and to make matters worse his father
lost his shop by fire. Elias knew that his sewing-machine would work,
but he had no money wherewith to buy the materials for a machine of
steel and iron, and without such a machine he could not hope to interest
capital in it. He needed at least $500 with which to prove the value of
his great invention.

Fortune threw in his way a coal and wood dealer of Cambridge, named
Fisher, who had some money. Fisher liked the invention and agreed to
board Howe and his family, to give Howe a workshop in his house, and to
advance the $500 necessary for the construction of a first machine. In
return he was to become a half owner in the patent should Howe succeed
in obtaining one. In December, 1844, Howe accordingly moved into
Fisher's house, and here the new marvel was brought into the world. All
that winter Howe worked over his device in Fisher's garret, making many
changes as unforeseen difficulties arose. He worked all day, and
sometimes nearly all night, succeeding by April, 1845, in sewing a seam
four yards long with his machine. By the middle of May the machine was
completed, and in July Howe sewed with it the seams of two woollen
suits, one for himself and the other for Fisher; the sewing was so well
done that it promised to outlast the cloth. For many years this machine
was exhibited in a shop in New York. It showed how completely, at really
the first attempt, Howe had mastered the enormous difficulties in his
way. Its chief features are those upon which were founded all the
sewing-machines that followed.

Late in 1845 Howe obtained his first patent and began to take means to
introduce his sewing-machine to the public. He first offered it to the
tailors of Boston, who admitted its usefulness, but assured him that it
would never be adopted, as it would ruin their trade. Other efforts
were equally unsuccessful; the more perfectly the machine did its work,
the more obstinate and determined seemed to be the resistance to it.
Everyone admitted and praised the ingenuity of the invention, but no one
would invest a dollar in it. Fisher became disheartened and withdrew
from the partnership, and Howe and his family moved back into his
father's house.

For a time the poor inventor abandoned his machine and obtained a place
as engineer on a railway, driving a locomotive, until his health
entirely broke down. Forced to turn again to his beloved sewing-machine
for want of anything better to do, Howe decided to send his brother
Amasa to England with a machine. Amasa reached London in October, 1846,
and met a certain William Thomas, to whom he explained the invention.
Thomas was much impressed with its possibilities and offered $1,250 for
the machine and also to engage Elias Howe at $15 a week if he would
enter his business of umbrella and corset maker. This was at least a
livelihood to the latter, and he sailed for England, where for the next
eight months he worked for Thomas, whom he found an uncommonly hard
master. He was indeed so harshly treated that, although his wife and
three children had arrived in London, he threw up his situation. For a
time his condition was a piteous one. He was in a strange country,
without friends or money. For days at a time the little family were
without more than crusts to live upon.

Believing that he could struggle along better alone, Howe sent his
family home with the first few dollars that he could obtain from the
other side and remained in London. There were certain things which
caused him to hope for better times ahead. But such hopes were delusive,
it seems, and after some months of hardship he followed his family to
this country, pawning his model and his patent papers in order to obtain
the necessary money for the passage. As he landed in New York with less
than a dollar in his pocket, he received news that his wife was dying of
consumption in Cambridge. He had no money for travelling by rail, and he
was too feeble to attempt the journey on foot. It took him some days to
obtain the money for his fare to Boston, but he arrived in time to be
present at the death-bed of his wife. Before he could recover from this
blow he had news that the ship by which he had sent home the few
household goods still remaining to him had gone to the bottom.

This was poor Howe's darkest hour. Others had seen the value of the
sewing-machine, and during his absence in England several imitations of
it had been made and sold to great advantage by unscrupulous mechanics,
who had paid no attention to the rights of the inventor. Such machines
were already spoken of as wonders by the newspapers, and were beginning
to be used in several industries. Howe's patent was so strong that it
was not difficult to find money to defend it, once the practical value
of the invention had been well established, and in August, 1850, he
began several suits to make his rights clear. At the same time he moved
to New York, where he began in a small way to manufacture machines in
partnership with a business man named Bliss, who undertook to sell them.

It was not until Howe's rights to the invention had been fully
established, which was done by the decision of Judge Sprague, in 1854,
that the real value of the sewing-machine as a money-making venture
began to be apparent and even then its great importance was so little
realized, even by Bliss, who was in the business and died in 1855, that
Howe was enabled to buy the interest of his heirs for a small sum. It
was during these efforts to introduce the sewing-machine that occurred
what were known as the sewing-machine riots--disturbances of no special
importance, however--fomented by labor leaders in the New York shops in
which cheap clothing was manufactured. Howe's sewing-machine was
denounced as a menace to the thousands of men and women who worked in
these shops, and in several establishments the first Howe machines
introduced were so injured by mischievous persons as to retard the
success of the experiment for nearly a year. Failing to stop their
introduction by such means a public demonstration against them was
organized and for a time threatened such serious trouble that some of
the large shops gave up the use of the machine; but in small
establishments employing but a few workmen they continued to be used and
were soon found to be so indispensable that all opposition faded away.

The patent suits forced upon Howe by a number of infringers were costly
drains upon the inventor, but in the end all other manufacturers were
compelled to pay tribute to him, and in six years his royalties grew
from $300 to more than $200,000 a year. In 1863 his royalties were
estimated at $4,000 a day. At the Paris Exposition of 1867 he was
awarded a gold medal and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor.

Howe's health, never strong, was so thoroughly broken by the years of
struggle and hardship he met with while trying to introduce his machine
that he never completely recovered. If honors and money were any comfort
to him, his last years must have been happy ones, for his invention made
him famous, and he had been enough of a workingman to recognize the
blessing he had conferred upon millions of women released from the
slavery of the needle; he had answered Hood's "Song of the Shirt." He
died on October 3, 1867, at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Those who knew Howe personally speak of him as rather a handsome man,
with a head somewhat like Franklin's and a reserved, quiet manner. His
bitter struggle against poverty and disease left its impress upon him
even to the last. One trait frequently mentioned was his readiness to
find good points in the thousand and one variations and sometimes
improvements upon his invention. During the years 1858-67, when he died,
there were recorded nearly three hundred patents affecting the
sewing-machine, taken out by other inventors. Howe was always ready to
help along such improvements by advice and often by money. He fought
sturdily for his rights, but once those conceded he was a generous



[Illustration: Birthplace of S.F.B. Morse, Built 1775.]

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was the eldest son of the Rev. Jedediah
Morse, an eminent New England divine. The Rev. Samuel Finley, D.D.,
second president of the College of New Jersey, Princeton, was his
maternal great-grandfather, after whom he was named. Breese was the
maiden name of his mother. The famous inventor of the telegraph was born
at the foot of Breed's Hill, Charlestown, Mass., April 27, 1791. Dr.
Belknap, of Boston, writing to Postmaster-General Hazard, New York,

"Congratulate the Monmouth judge (Mr. Breese, the grandfather) on the
birth of a grandson. Next Sunday he is to be loaded with names, not
quite so many as the Spanish ambassador who signed the treaty of peace
of 1783, but only four. As to the child, I saw him asleep, so can say
nothing of his eye, or his genius peeping through it. He may have the
sagacity of a Jewish rabbi, or the profundity of a Calvin, or the
sublimity of a Homer for aught I know, but time will bring forth all

Jedediah Morse studied theology under the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards.
Before he began preaching, and while teaching school in New Haven, he
began his "American Geography," which was afterward indentified with his
name. He began his ministry at Norwich, whence he was called back to be
tutor in Yale. His health was inadequate to the work and he went to
Georgia, returning to Charlestown, Mass., as pastor of the First
Congregational Church, on the day that Washington was inaugurated as
President in New York, April 30, 1789. Dr. Eliot, speaking of Jedediah
Morse, said: "What an astonishing impetus that man has!" President
Dwight said: "He is as full of resources as an egg is of meat." Daniel
Webster spoke of him as "always thinking, always writing, always
talking, always acting."

[Illustration: S.F.B. Morse.]

Morse's mother, Elizabeth Anne Breese, came of good Scotch-Irish stock.
She was married to Jedediah Morse in 1789, and was noted as a calm,
judicious, and thinking woman, with a will of her own. When the child,
Samuel F.B. Morse, was four years old he was sent to school to an old
lady within a few hundred yards of the parsonage. She was an invalid,
unable to leave her chair, and governed her unruly flock with a long
rattan which reached across the small room in which it was gathered. One
of her punishments was pinning the culprit to her own dress, and Morse
remarks that his first attempts at drawing were discouraged in this
fashion. Perhaps the fact that he selected the old lady's face as a
model had something to do with it. At the age of seven he was sent to
school at Andover, where he was fitted for entering Phillips Academy,
and prepared here for Yale, joining the class of 1807. When he was
thirteen years old, at Andover, he wrote a sketch of Demosthenes and
sent it to his father, by whom it was preserved as a mark of the
learning and taste of the child. Dr. Timothy Dwight was then president
of Yale and a warm friend of the elder Morse. Finley Morse, as he was
then known, received therefore the deep personal interest of Dr. Dwight.
Jeremiah Day was professor of natural philosophy in Yale College, and
under his instruction Morse began the study of electricity, receiving
perhaps those impressions that were destined to produce so great an
influence upon him and, through him, upon this century. Professor Day
was then young and ardent in the pursuit of science, kindling readily
the enthusiasm of his students. He afterward became president of the
college. There was at the same time in the faculty Benjamin Silliman,
who was professor of chemistry, and near whom Morse resided for several
years. Years afterward the testimony of Professors Day and Silliman was
given in court, when it was important, in the defence of his claim to
priority in the invention of the telegraph. Through them Morse was able
to show that he was early interested in the study of chemistry and
electricity. During this litigation Morse did not know that there were
scores of letters, written by him as a young student to his father,
among the papers of Dr Jedediah Morse, that would have shown
conclusively his interest and aptitude in these studies. The papers
were brought to light when the life of Morse by Prime came to be

The first part of Morse's life was devoted to art. At a very early age
he showed his taste in this direction, and at the age of fifteen painted
a fairly good picture in water colors of a room in his father's house,
with his parents, himself, and two brothers around a table. This picture
used to hang in his home in New York by the side of his last painting.
From that time his desire to become an artist haunted him through his
collegiate life. In February, 1811, he painted a picture, now in the
office of the mayor of Charlestown, Mass., depicting the landing of the
Pilgrims at Plymouth, which, with a landscape painted at about the same
time, decided his father, by the advice of Stuart, to permit him to
visit Europe with Washington Allston. He bore letters to West and to
Copley, from both of whom he received the kindest attention and

As a test for his fitness for a place as student in the Royal Academy,
Morse made a drawing from a small cast of the Farnese Hercules. He took
this to West, who examined the drawing carefully and handed it back,
saying: "Very well, sir, very well; go on and finish it." "It is
finished," said the expectant student. "Oh, no," said the president.
"Look here, and here, and here," pointing out many unfinished places
which had escaped the eye of the young artist. Morse quickly observed
the defects, spent a week in further perfecting his drawing, and then
took it to West, confident that it was above criticism. The venerable
president of the Academy bestowed more praise than before and, with a
pleasant smile, handed it back to Morse, saying: "Very well, indeed,
sir. Go on and finish it." "Is it not finished?" inquired the almost
discouraged student. "See," said West, "you have not marked that muscle,
nor the articulation of the finger-joints." Three days more were spent
upon the drawing, when it was taken back to the implacable critic. "Very
clever, indeed," said West; "very clever. Now go on and finish it." "I
cannot finish it," Morse replied, when the old man, patting him on the
shoulder, said: "Well, I have tried you long enough. Now, sir, you have
learned more by this drawing than you would have accomplished in double
the time by a dozen half-finished beginnings. It is not many drawings,
but the character of one which makes a thorough draughtsman. Finish one
picture, sir, and you are a painter."

Morse heeded this advice. He went to work with Allston, and encouraged
by the veteran, Copley, he began upon a large picture for exhibition in
the Royal Academy, choosing as his subject "The Dying Hercules." He
modelled his figure in clay, as the best of the old painters did. It was
his first attempt in the sculptor's art. The cast was made in plaster
and taken to West, who was delighted with it. This model contended for
the prize of a gold medal offered by the Society of Arts for the best
original cast of a single figure, and won it. In the large room of the
London Adelphi, in the presence of the British nobility, foreign
ambassadors, and distinguished strangers, the Duke of Norfolk publicly
presented the medal to Morse on May 13, 1813. At the same time the
painting from this model, then on exhibition at the Royal Academy,
received great praise from the critics, who placed "The Dying Hercules"
among the first twelve pictures in a collection of almost two thousand.

This was an extraordinary success for so young a man, and Morse
determined to try for the highest prize offered by the Royal Academy for
the best historical composition, the decision to be made in 1815. For
that purpose he produced his "Judgment of Jupiter" in July of that year.
West assured him that it would take the prize, but Morse was unable to
comply with the rules of the Academy, which required the victor to
receive the medal in person. His father had summoned him home. West
urged the Academy to make an exception in his case, but it could not be
done, and the young painter had to be contented with his assurances that
he would certainly have won the prize (a gold medal and $250) had he

West was always kind to Americans, and Morse was a favorite with him.
One day, when the venerable painter was at work upon his great picture,
"Christ Rejected," after carefully examining Morse's hands and noting
their beauty, he said: "Let me tie you with this cord and take that
place while I paint in the hands of the Saviour." This was done, and
when he released the young artist, he said to him: "You may now say, if
you please, that you had a hand in this picture." A number of noted
English artists--Turner, Northcote, Sir James Lawrence, Flaxman--and
literary men--Coleridge, Wordsworth, Rogers, and Crabbe among them--were
attracted by young Morse's proficiency and pleasant manners, and when in
August, 1815, he packed his picture, "The Judgment of Jupiter," and
sailed for home, he bore with him the good wishes of some of England's
most distinguished men.

When Morse reached Boston, although but twenty-four years old, he found
that fame had preceded him. His prestige was such that he set up his
easel with high hopes and fair prospects for the future, both destined
soon to be dispelled. The taste of America had not risen to the
appreciation of historical pictures. His original compositions and his
excellent copies of the masterpieces of the Old World excited the
admiration of cultured people, but no orders were given for them. He
left Boston almost penniless after having waited for months for
patronage, and determined to try to earn his bread by painting the
portraits of people in the rural districts of New England, where his
father's name was a household word. During the autumn of 1816 and the
winter of 1816-1817 he visited several towns in New Hampshire and
Vermont, painting portraits in Walpole, Hanover, Windsor, Portsmouth,
and Concord. He received the modest sum of $15 for each portrait. From
Concord, N.H., he writes to his parents: "I am still here (August 16th)
and am passing my time very agreeably. I have painted five portraits at
$15 each, and have two more engaged and many talked of. I think I shall
get along well. I believe I could make an independent fortune in a few
years if I devoted myself exclusively to portraits, so great is the
desire for good portraits in the different country towns." He doubtless
was candid when he wrote that he was "passing his time in Concord very
agreeably," for it was here that he met Lucretia P. Walker, who was
accounted the most beautiful and accomplished young lady of the town,
whom Morse subsequently married. She was a young woman of great personal
loveliness and rare good sense. The young artist was attracted by her
beauty, her sweetness of temper, and high intellectual qualities. All
the letters that she wrote to him before and after their marriage he
carefully preserved, and these are witnesses to her intelligence,
education, tenderness of feeling, and admirable fitness to be the wife
of such a man. Gradually Morse's portraits became so much in demand that
he was enabled to increase his price to $60, and as he painted four a
week upon the average, and received a good deal of money during a tour
in the South, he was enabled to return to New England in 1818 with
$3,000, and to marry Miss Walker on October 6th of that year.

The first years of Morse's married life were passed in Charleston, S.C.,
after which he returned to New England, and having laid by some little
capital, he took up again what he deemed to be his real vocation--the
painting of great historical pictures. His first venture in this
direction was an exhibition picture of the House of Representatives at
Washington. As a business venture it was disastrous, and resulted in the
loss of eighteen months of precious time. It was finally sold to an
Englishman. Then began Morse's life in New York. Through the influence
of Isaac Lawrence he obtained a commission from the city authorities of
New York to paint a full-length portrait of Lafayette, who was then in
this country. He had just completed his study from life in Washington in
February, 1825, when he received the news of the death of his wife. A
little more than a year afterward both his father and mother died.
Thenceforward his children and art absorbed his affections.

He was an artist, heart and soul, and his professional brethren soon had
good reason to be grateful to him. The American Academy of Fine Arts,
then under the presidency of Colonel John Trumbull, was in a languishing
state and of little use to artists. The most advanced of its members
felt the need of relief, and a few of them met at Morse's rooms to
discuss their troubles. At that meeting Morse proposed the formation of
a new society of artists, and at a meeting held at the New York
Historical Society's rooms the "New York Drawing Association" was
organized, with Morse as its president. Trumbull endeavored to compel
the new society to profess allegiance to the academy, but Morse
protested, and thanks to his advice, on January 18, 1826, a new art
association was organized under the name of the "National Academy of
Design." Morse was its first president, and for sixteen years he was
annually elected to that office. The friends of the old academy were
wrathful and assailed the new association. A war of words, in which
Morse acted as the champion of the new society, was waged until victory
was conceded to the reformers. Thus Morse inaugurated a new era in the
history of the fine arts in this country. He wrote, talked, lectured
incessantly for the advancement of art and the Academy of Design.

[Illustration: Under Side of a Modern Switchboard, showing 2,000 Wires.]

In 1829 Morse made a second visit to Europe, where he was warmly
welcomed and honored by the Royal Academy. During three years or more
he lived in continental cities, studying the Louvre in Paris and making
of the famous gallery an exhibition picture which contained about fifty
miniatures of the works in that collection. In November, 1832, he was
back again in New York, with high hopes as to his future. Allston,
writing to Dunlap in 1834, said: "I rejoice to hear your report of
Morse's advance in his art. I know what is in him perhaps better than
anyone else. If he will only bring out all that is there he will show
parts that many now do not dream of."

For several years the thoughts of the artist Morse had been busy with a
matter wholly outside of his chosen domain. Some lectures on
electro-magnetism by his intimate friend, Judge Freeman Dana, given at
the Athenæum while Morse was also lecturing there on the fine arts, had
greatly interested him in the subject, and he learned much in
conversation with Dana. While on his second visit to Europe Morse made
himself acquainted with the labors of scientific men in their endeavors
to communicate intelligence between far-distant places by means of
electro-magnetism, and he saw an electro-magnet signalling instrument in
operation. He knew that so early as 1649 a Jesuit priest had prophesied
an electric telegraph, and that for half a century or more students had
partially succeeded in attempts of this kind. But no practical telegraph
had yet been invented. In 1774 Le Sage made an electro-signalling
instrument with twenty-four wires, one for each letter of the alphabet.
In 1825 Sturgeon invented an electro-magnet. In 1830 Professor Henry
increased the magnetic force that Morse afterward used.

On board the ship Sully, in which Morse sailed from Havre to New York,
in the autumn of 1832, the recent discovery in France of the means of
obtaining an electric spark from a magnet was a favorite topic of
conversation among the passengers, and it was during the voyage that
Morse conceived the idea of an electro-magnetic and chemical recording
telegraph. Before he reached New York he had made drawings and
specifications of his conception, which he exhibited to his fellow
passengers. Few great inventions that have made their authors immortal
were so completely grasped at inception as this. Morse was accustomed to
keep small note-books in which to make records of his work, and scores
of these books are still in existence. As he sat upon the deck of the
Sully, one night after dinner, he drew from his pocket one of these
books and began to make marks, to represent letters and figures to be
produced by electricity at a distance. The mechanism by which the
results were to be reached was wrought out by slow and laborious
thought, but the vision as a whole was clear. The current of electricity
passed instantaneously to any distance along a wire, but the current
being interrupted, a spark appeared. This spark represented one sign;
its absence another; the time of its absence still another. Here are
three signs to be combined into the representation of figures or
letters. They can be made to form an alphabet. Words may thus be
indicated. A telegraph, an instrument to record at a distance, will
result. Continents shall be crossed. This great and wide sea shall be no
barrier. "If it will go ten miles without stopping," he said, "I can
make it go around the globe."

He worked incessantly all that next day and could not sleep at night in
his berth. In a few days he submitted some rough drafts of his invention
to William C. Rives, of Virginia, who was returning from Paris, where he
had been minister of the United States. Mr. Rives suggested various
difficulties, over which Morse spent several sleepless nights,
announcing in the morning at breakfast-table the new devices by which he
proposed to accomplish the task before him. He exhibited a drawing of
the instrument which he said would do the work, and so completely had he
mastered all the details that five years afterward, when a model of this
instrument was constructed, it was instantly recognized as the one he
had devised and drawn in his sketch-book and exhibited to his fellow
passengers on the ship. In view of subsequent claims made by a fellow
passenger to the honor of having suggested the telegraph, these details
are interesting and important.

[Illustration: The First Telegraphic Instrument, as Exhibited in 1837 by

Circumstances delayed the construction of a recording telegraph by
Morse, but the subject slumbered in his mind. During his absence abroad
he had been elected professor of the literature of the arts of design,
in the University of the City of New York, and this work occupied his
attention for some time. Three years afterward, in November, 1835, he
completed a rude telegraph instrument--the first recording apparatus;
but it embodied the mechanical principle now in use the world over. His
whole plan was not completed until July, 1837, when by means of two
instruments he was able to communicate from as well as to a distant
point. In September hundreds of people saw the new instrument in
operation at the university, most of whom looked upon it as a scientific
toy constructed by an unfortunate dreamer. The following year the
invention was sufficiently perfected to enable Morse to direct the
attention of Congress to it and ask its aid in the construction of an
experimental line between Washington and Baltimore.

Late in the long session of 1838 he appeared before that body with his
instrument. Before leaving New York with it he had invited a few friends
to see it work. Now began in the life of Morse a period of years during
which his whole time was devoted to convincing the world, first, that
his electric telegraph would really communicate messages, and, secondly,
that if it worked at all, it was of great practical value. Strange to
say that this required any argument at all. But that in those days it
did may be inferred from the fact that Morse could then find no help far
or near. His invention was regarded as interesting, but of no importance
either scientifically or commercially. In Washington, where he first
went, he found so little encouragement that he went to Europe with the
hope of drawing the attention of foreign governments to the advantages,
and of securing patents for the invention; he had filed a caveat at the
Patent Office in this country. His mission was a failure. England
refused him a patent, and France gave him only a useless paper which
assured for him no special privileges. He returned home disappointed but
not discouraged, and waited four years longer before he again attempted
to interest Congress in his invention.

[Illustration: The Modern Morse Telegraph.]

This extraordinary struggle lasted twelve years, during which, with his
mind absorbed in one idea and yet almost wholly dependent for bread upon
his profession as an artist, it was impossible to pursue art with the
enthusiasm and industry essential to success. His situation was forlorn
in the extreme. The father of three little children, now motherless, his
pecuniary means exhausted by his residence in Europe, and unable to
pursue art without sacrificing his invention, he was at his wits' ends.
He had visions of usefulness by the invention of a telegraph that should
bring the continents of the earth into intercourse. He was poor and knew
that wealth as well as fame was within his reach. He had long received
assistance from his father and brothers when his profession did not
supply the needed means of support for himself and family; but it seemed
like robbery to take the money of others for experiments, the success of
which he could not expect them to believe in until he could give
practical evidence that the instrument would do the work proposed. It
was the old story of genius contending with poverty. His brothers
comforted, encouraged, and cheered him. In the house of his brother
Richard he found a home and the tender care that he required. Sidney,
the other brother, also helped him. On the corner of Nassau and Beekman
Streets, now the site of the handsome Morse Building, his brothers
erected a building where were the offices of the newspaper of which they
were the editors and proprietors. In the fifth story of this building a
room was assigned to him which was for several years his studio,
bedroom, parlor, kitchen, and workshop. On one side of the room stood a
little cot on which he slept in the brief hours which he allowed himself
for repose. On the other side stood his lathe with which the inventor
turned the brass apparatus necessary in the construction of his
instruments. He had, with his own hands, first whittled the model; then
he made the moulds for the castings. Here were brought to him, day by
day, crackers and the simplest food, by which, with tea prepared by
himself, he sustained life while he toiled incessantly to give being to
the idea that possessed him.

[Illustration: Morse Making his own Instrument.

(From Prime's Life of Morse.)]

Before leaving for Europe he had suffered a great disappointment as an
artist. The government had offered to American artists, to be selected
by a committee of Congress, commissions to paint pictures for the panels
in the rotunda of the Capitol. Morse was anxious to be employed upon one
or more of them. He was the president of the National Academy of Design,
and there was an eminent fitness in calling him to this national work.
Allston urged the appointment of Morse. John Quincy Adams, then a
member of the House and on the committee to whom this subject was
referred, submitted a resolution in the House that foreign artists be
allowed to compete for these commissions, and in support alleged that
there were no American artists competent to execute the paintings. This
gave great and just offence to the artists and the public. A severe
reply to Adams appeared in the New York _Evening Post_. It was written
by James Fenimore Cooper, but it was attributed to Morse, whose pen was
well known to be skillful, and in consequence his name was rejected by
the committee. He never recovered fully from the effects of that blow.
Forty years afterward he could not speak of it without emotion. He had
consecrated years of his life to the preparation for just such work.

It was well for him and for his country and the world that the artist in
Morse was disappointed. From painter he became inventor, and from that
time until the world acknowledged the greatness and importance of his
invention he turned not back. His appointment as professor in the City
University entitled him to certain rooms in the University Building
looking out upon Washington Square, and here the first working models of
the telegraph were brought into existence.

"There," he says, "I immediately commenced, with very limited means, to
experiment upon my invention. My first instrument was made up of an old
picture or canvas frame fastened to a table; the wheels of an old
wooden clock, moved by a weight to carry the paper forward; three wooden
drums, upon one of which the paper was wound and passed over the other
two; a wooden pendulum suspended to the top piece of the picture or
stretching frame and vibrating across the paper as it passes over the
centre wooden drum; a pencil at the lower end of the pendulum, in
contact with the paper; an electro-magnet fastened to a shelf across the
picture or stretching frame, opposite to an armature made fast to the
pendulum; a type rule and type for breaking the circuit, resting on an
endless band, composed of carpet-binding, which passed over two wooden
rollers moved by a wooden crank.

[Illustration: Train Telegraph--the message transmitted by induction
from the moving train to the single wire.]

[Illustration: Interior of a Car on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, showing
the Method of Operating the Train Telegraph.]

"Up to the autumn of 1837 my telegraphic apparatus existed in so rude a
form that I felt a reluctance to have it seen. My means were very
limited--so limited as to preclude the possibility of constructing an
apparatus of such mechanical finish as to warrant my success in
venturing upon its public exhibition. I had no wish to expose to
ridicule the representative of so many hours of laborious thought. Prior
to the summer of 1837, at which time Mr. Alfred Vail's attention became
attracted to my telegraph, I depended upon my pencil for subsistence.
Indeed, so straitened were my circumstances that, in order to save time
to carry out my invention and to economize my scanty means, I had for
many months lodged and eaten in my studio, procuring my food in small
quantities from some grocery and preparing it myself. To conceal from my
friends the stinted manner in which I lived, I was in the habit of
bringing my food to my room in the evenings, and this was my mode of
life for many years."

Before the telegraph was actually tried and practised the cumbersome
piano-key board devised by Morse in his first experiments was done away
with and the simple device of a single key, with which we are all
familiar, was adopted. Meantime Morse was practically abandoning art.
His friends among the profession had subscribed $3,000 in order to
enable him to paint the picture he had in mind when he applied for the
government work at Washington, "The Signing of the First Compact on
Board the Mayflower," and he undertook the commission in 1838, only to
give it up in 1841 and to return to the subscribers the amount paid with

[Illustration: Diagram showing the Method of Telegraphing from a Moving
Train by Induction.]

While Morse had been in Paris, in 1839, he had heard of Daguerre, who
had discovered the method of fixing the image of the camera, which feat
was then creating a great sensation among scientific men. Professor
Morse was anxious to see the results of this discovery before leaving
Paris, and the American consul, Robert Walsh, arranged an interview
between the two inventors. Daguerre promised to send to Morse a copy of
the descriptive publication which he intended to make so soon as a
pension he expected from the French Government for the disclosure of his
discovery should be secured. He kept his promise, and Morse was probably
the first recipient of the pamphlet in this country. From the drawings
it contained he constructed the first photographic apparatus made in the
United States, and from a back window in the University Building he
obtained a good representation of the tower of the Church of the Messiah
on Broadway. This possesses an historical interest as being the first
photograph in America. It was on a plate the size of a playing-card.
With Professor J.W. Draper, in a studio built on the roof of the
University, he succeeded in taking likenesses of the living human face.
His subjects were compelled to sit fifteen minutes in the bright
sunlight, with their eyes closed, of course. Professor Draper shortened
the process and was the first to take portraits with the eyes open.

At the session of Congress of 1842-1843 Morse again appeared with his
telegraph, and on February 21, 1843, John P. Kennedy, of Maryland, moved
that a bill appropriating $30,000, to be expended, under the direction
of the Secretary of the Treasury, in a series of experiments for testing
the merits of the telegraph, should be considered. The proposal met with
ridicule. Johnson, of Tennessee, moved, as an amendment, that one-half
should be given to a lecturer on mesmerism, then in Washington, to try
mesmeric experiments under the direction of the Secretary of the
Treasury; and Mr. Houston said that Millerism ought to be included in
the benefits of the appropriation. After the indulgence of much cheap
wit, Mr. Mason, of Ohio, protested against such frivolity as injurious
to the character of the House and asked the chair to rule the amendments
out of order. The chair (John White, of Kentucky) ruled the amendments
in order because "it would require a scientific analysis to determine
how far the magnetism of the mesmerism was analogous to that to be
employed in telegraphy." This wit was applauded by peals of laughter,
but the amendment was voted down and the bill passed the House on
February 23d by the close vote of 89 to 83. In the Senate the bill met
with neither sneers nor opposition, but its progress was discouragingly
slow. At twilight on the last evening of the session (March 3, 1842)
there were one hundred and nineteen bills before it. It seemed
impossible for it to be reached in regular course before the hour of
adjournment should arrive, and Morse, who had anxiously watched the
dreary course of business all day from the gallery of the Senate
chamber, went with a sad heart to his hotel and prepared to leave for
New York at an early hour the next morning. His cup of disappointment
seemed to be about full. With the exception of Alfred Vail, a young
student in the University, through whose influence some money had been
subscribed in return for a one-fourth interest in the invention, and of
Professor L.D. Gale, who had shown much interest in the work and was
also a partner in the enterprise, Morse knew of no one who seemed to
believe enough in him and his telegraph to advance another dollar.

As he came down to breakfast the next morning a young lady entered and
came forward with a smile, exclaiming, "I have come to congratulate
you." "Upon what?" inquired the professor. "Upon the passage of your
bill," she replied. "Impossible! Its fate was sealed last evening. You
must be mistaken." "Not at all," answered the young lady, the daughter
of Morse's friend, the Commissioner of Patents, H.L. Ellsworth; "father
sent me to tell you that your bill was passed. He remained until the
session closed, and yours was the last bill but one acted upon, and it
was passed just five minutes before the adjournment. And I am so glad to
be able to be the first one to tell you. Mother says you must come home
with me to breakfast."

Morse, overcome by the intelligence, promised that his young friend, the
bearer of these good tidings, should send the first message over the
first line of telegraph that was opened.

He writes to Alfred Vail that day: "The amount of business before the
Senate rendered it more and more doubtful, as the session drew to a
close, whether the House bill on the telegraph would be reached, and on
the last day, March 3, 1843, I was advised by one of my Senatorial
friends to make up my mind for failure, as he deemed it next to
impossible that it could be reached before the adjournment. The bill,
however, was reached a few minutes before midnight and passed. This was
the turning point in the history of the telegraph. My personal funds
were reduced to the fraction of a dollar, and, had the passage of the
bill failed from any cause, there would have been little prospect of
another attempt on my part to introduce to the world my new invention."

The appropriation by Congress having been made, Morse went to work with
energy and delight to construct the first line of his electric
telegraph. It was important that it should be laid where it would
attract the attention of the government, and this consideration decided
the question in favor of a line between Washington and Baltimore. He had
as assistants Professor Gale and Professor J.C. Fisher. Mr. Vail was to
devote his attention to making the instruments and the purchase of
materials. Morse himself was general superintendent under the
appointment of the government and gave attention to the minutest
details. All disbursements passed through his hands. In point of
accuracy, the preservation of vouchers, and presentation of accounts,
General Washington himself was not more precise, lucid, and correct.
Ezra Cornell, afterward one of the most successful constructors of
telegraph lines, was employed to take charge of the work under Morse.
Much time and expense were lost in consequence of following a plan for
laying the wires in a leaden tube, and it was only when it was decided
to string them on posts that work began to proceed rapidly.

In expectation of the meeting of the National Whig Convention, May 1,
1844, to nominate candidates for President and Vice-President, energy
was redoubled, and by that time the wires were in working order
twenty-two miles from Washington toward Baltimore. The day before the
convention met, Professor Morse wrote to Vail that certain signals
should mean the nomination of a particular candidate. The experiment was
approaching its crisis. The convention assembled and Henry Clay was
nominated by acclamation to the Presidency. The news was conveyed on the
railroad to the point reached by the telegraph and thence instantly
transmitted over the wires to Washington. An hour afterward passengers
arriving at the capital, and supposing that they had brought the first
intelligence, were surprised to find that the announcement had been made
already and that they were the bearers of old news. The convention
shortly afterward nominated Frelinghuysen as Vice-President, and the
intelligence was sent to Washington in the same manner. Public
astonishment was great and many persons doubted that the feat could have
been performed. Before May had elapsed the line reached Baltimore.

[Illustration: Morse in his Study.

(From an old print.)]

On the 24th of May, 1844, Morse was prepared to put to final test the
great experiment on which his mind had been laboring for twelve anxious
years. Vail, his assistant, was at the Baltimore terminus. Morse had
invited his friends to assemble in the chamber of the United States
Supreme Court, where he had his instrument, from which the wires
extended to Baltimore. He had promised his young friend, Miss Ellsworth,
that she should send the first message over the wires. Her mother
suggested the familiar words of scripture (Numbers, xxiii. 23), "What
hath God wrought!" The words were chosen without consultation with the
inventor, but were singularly the expression of his own sentiment and
his own experience in bringing his work to successful accomplishment.
Perfectly religious in his convictions, and trained from earliest
childhood to believe in the special superintendence of Providence in the
minutest affairs of man, he had acted throughout the whole of his
struggles under the firm persuasion that God was working in him to do
His own pleasure in this thing.

The first public messages sent were a notice to Silas Wright in
Washington of his nomination to the office of Vice-President of the
United States by the Democratic convention, then in session (May, 1844)
in Baltimore, and his response declining it. Hendrick B. Wright, in a
letter written to Mr. B.J. Lossing, says: "As the presiding officer of
the body I read the despatch, but so incredulous were the members as to
the authority of the evidence before them that the convention adjourned
over to the following day to await the report of the committee sent over
to Washington to get _reliable_ information on the subject." Mr. Vail
kept a diary in those early days of the telegraph, full of interesting
reminiscences. It was often necessary, in order to convince incredulous
visitors to the office that the questions and replies sent over the wire
were not manufactured or agreed upon beforehand, to allow them to send
their own remarks. When the committee just mentioned by Mr. Wright
returned from Baltimore and confirmed the correctness of the report
given by telegraph, the new invention received a splendid advertisement.
The convention having reassembled in the morning, and the refusal of
Wright to accept the nomination having been communicated, a conference
was held between him and his friends through the medium of Morse's
wires. In Washington Mr. Wright and Mr. Morse were closeted with the
instrument; at Baltimore the committee of conference surrounded Vail
with his instrument. Spectators and auditors were excluded. The
committee communicated to Mr. Wright their reasons for urging his
acceptance. In a moment he received their communication in writing and
as quickly returned his answer. Again and again these confidential
messages passed, and the result was finally announced to the convention
that Mr. Wright was inflexible. Mr. Dallas then received the nomination
and accepted it. The ticket thus nominated was successful at the
election of that year. The original slips of paper on which some of the
early messages were written are still preserved, among others this
request: "As a rumor is prevalent here this morning that Mr. Eugene
Boyle was shot at Baltimore last evening, Professor Morse will confer a
great favor upon the family by making inquiry by means of his
electro-magnetic telegraph if such is the fact."

The telegraph was shown at first without charge. During the session of
1844-1845 Congress made an appropriation of $8,000 to keep it in
operation during the year, placing it under the supervision of the
Postmaster-General, who, at the close of the session, ordered a tariff
of charges of one cent for every four characters made through the
telegraph. Mr. Vail was appointed operator for the Washington station
and Mr. H.J. Rogers for Baltimore. This new order of things began April
1, 1845, the object being to test the profitableness of the enterprise.
The first day's income was one cent; on the fifth day twelve and a half
cents were received; on the seventh the receipts ran up to sixty cents;
on the eighth to one dollar and thirty-two cents; on the ninth to one
dollar and four cents. It is worthy of remark, as Mr. Vail notes, that
the business done after the tariff was fixed was greater than when the
service was gratuitous.

The telegraph was now a reality. Its completion was hailed with
enthusiasm, and the newspapers lauded the inventor to the skies.
Resolutions of thanks and applause were adopted by popular assemblies.
It was a favorite idea with Professor Morse, from the inception of his
enterprise, that the telegraph should belong to the government, and he
sent a communication to Congress making a formal offer. The overture was
not accepted, but the extension of the line from Baltimore to
Philadelphia and then to New York was only a work of time. The aid of
Congress was sought in vain. The appropriation of $8,000 was made, but
further than that the government declined to go. The sum named as the
price at which the Morse Company would sell the telegraph to the
government was $100,000. The subject was discussed in the report of Cave
Johnson, Postmaster-General under President Polk. He was a member of
Congress when the bill came up before the House appropriating $30,000
for the experimental line, and was one of those who ridiculed the whole
subject as unworthy of the notice of sensible men. As Postmaster-General
he said in his report, after the experiment had succeeded to the
satisfaction of mankind, that "the operation of a telegraph between
Washington and Baltimore had not satisfied him that under any rate of
postage that could be adopted its revenues could be made equal to its
expenditures." Such an opinion, with the evidence then in the possession
of the department, appears to be curious official blindness. But it was
fortunate for the inventor that the telegraph was left to the private
enterprise. Twenty-five years after the government had declined to take
the telegraph at the price of $100,000, a project was started to
establish lines of telegraph to be used by the government as part of the
mail postal system. And in 1873 the Postmaster-General, Mr. Cresswell,
said in his report that the entire first cost of all the lines in the
country, including patents, was less than $10,000,000; but the property
of the existing telegraph company was already well worth $50,000,000.

Morse's position was far easier than it had been for many years. His old
friends, the artists of New York, rallied in force and laid before
Congress a petition that the professor be employed to execute the
painting to fill the panel at the Capitol assigned to Inman, who had
been removed by death. But it came to nothing. Morse was never again to
take the brush in hand. The first money that he received from his
invention was the sum of $47, being his share of the amount paid for the
right to use his patent on a short line from the Washington Post-office
to the National Observatory. The use he made of the money was
characteristic of the man. He sent it to the Rev. Dr. Sprole, then a
pastor in Washington, requesting him to apply it for the benefit of his

Early in June, 1846, the line from Baltimore to Philadelphia was in
operation, and that from Philadelphia to New York. Abroad the system was
working its way steadily into favor. In France an appropriation of
nearly half a million francs was made to introduce the Morse system. But
meantime violations of Morse's rights were beginning to crop up on every
side, both at home and abroad. In a letter to Daniel Lord, his lawyer,
Morse says:

"The plot thickens all around me; I think a dénouement not far off. I
remember your consoling me under these attacks with bidding me think
that I had invented something worth contending for. Alas! my dear sir,
what encouragement is there to an inventor if, after years of toil and
anxiety, he has only purchased for himself the pleasure of being a
target for every vile fellow to shoot at, and in proportion as his
invention is of public utility, so much the greater effort is to be made
to defame that the robbery may excite the less sympathy? I know,
however, that beyond all this there is a clear sky; but the clouds may
not break away till I am no longer personally interested, whether it be
foul or fair. I wish not to complain, but I have feelings, and cannot
play the Stoic if I would."

[Illustration: The Siphon Recorder for Receiving Cable Messages--Office
of the Commercial Cable Company, 1 Broad Street, New York.]

Perhaps the most painful chapter of Morse's life is the history of the
lawsuits in which he was involved in defence of his rights. His
reputation as well as his property were assailed. Exceedingly sensitive
to these attacks, the suits that followed the success of the telegraph
cost him inexpressible distress. It is some satisfaction to be able to
record that after years of bitter controversy the final decision was
favorable to the inventor. Honors began to pour in upon him from even
the uttermost parts of the earth. The Sultan of Turkey was the first
monarch to acknowledge Morse as a public benefactor. This was in 1848.
The kings of Prussia and Wurtemburg and the Emperor of Austria each
gave him a gold medal, that of the first named being set in a massive
gold snuff-box. In 1856 the Emperor of the French made him a chevalier
of the Legion of Honor. Orders from Denmark, Spain, Italy, Portugal soon
followed. In 1858 a special congress was called by the Emperor of the
French to devise a suitable testimonial of the nation to Professor
Morse. Representatives from ten sovereignties convened at Paris and by a
unanimous vote gave, in the aggregate, $80,000 as an honorary gratuity
to Professor Morse. The states participating in this testimonial were
France, Austria, Russia, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Piedmont, the Holy
See, Tuscany, and Turkey.

Professor Morse was one of the first to suggest and the first to carry
out the use of a marine cable. During the summer of 1842 he had been
making elaborate preparations for an experiment destined to give
wonderful development to his invention. This was no less than a
submarine wire, to demonstrate the fact that the current of electricity
could be conducted as well under water as through the air. Of this he
had entertained no doubt. "If I can make it work ten miles, I can make
it go around the globe," was a favorite expression of his in the infancy
of his enterprise. But he wished to prove it. He insulated his wire as
well as he could with hempen strands well covered with pitch, tar, and
india-rubber. In the course of the autumn he was prepared to put the
question to the test of actual experiment. The wire was only the twelfth
of an inch in diameter. About two miles of this, wound on a reel, was
placed in a small row-boat, and with one man at the oars and Professor
Morse at the stern, the work of paying out the cable was begun. It was a
beautiful moonlight night, and those who had prolonged their evening
rambles on the Battery must have wondered, as they watched the
proceedings in the boat, what kind of fishing the two men could be
engaged in that required so long a line. In somewhat less than two
hours, on that eventful evening of October 18, 1842, the first cable was
laid. Professor Morse returned to his lodgings and waited with some
anxiety the time when he should be able to test the experiment fully and
fairly. The next morning the New York _Herald_ contained the following
editorial announcement:


    "This important invention is to be exhibited in operation at Castle
    Garden between the hours of twelve and one o'clock to-day. One
    telegraph will be erected on Governor's Island and one at the
    Castle, and messages will be interchanged and orders transmitted
    during the day. Many have been incredulous as to the powers of this
    wonderful triumph of science and art. All such may now have an
    opportunity of fairly testing it. It is destined to work a complete
    revolution in the mode of transmitting intelligence throughout the
    civilized world."

At daybreak the professor was on the Battery, and had just demonstrated
his success by the transmission of three or four characters between the
termini of the line, when the communication was suddenly interrupted,
and it was found impossible to send any messages through the conductor.
The cause of this was evident when he observed no less than seven
vessels lying along the line of the submerged cable, one of which, in
getting under way, had raised it on her anchor. The sailors, unable to
divine its meaning, hauled in about two hundred feet of it on deck, and
finding no end, cut off that portion and carried it away with them.
Thus ended the first attempt at submarine telegraphing. The crowd that
had assembled on the Battery dispersed with jeers, most of them
believing they had been made the victims of a hoax.

In a letter to John C. Spencer, then Secretary of the Treasury, in
August, 1843, concerning electro-magnetism and its powers, he wrote:

"The practical inference from this law is that a telegraphic
communication on the electro-magnetic plan may with certainty be
established across the Atlantic Ocean. Startling as this may now seem, I
am confident the time will come when this project will be realized."

In 1871 a statue of Professor Morse was erected in Central Park, New
York, at the expense of the telegraph operators of the country. It was
unveiled on June 10th with imposing ceremonies. There were delegates
from every State in the Union, and from the British provinces. In the
evening a public reception was given to the venerable inventor at the
Academy of Music, at which William Orton, president of the Western Union
Telegraph Company, presided, assisted by scores of the leading public
men of the country as vice-presidents. The last scene was an impressive
one. It was announced that the telegraphic instrument before the
audience was then in connection with every other one of the ten thousand
instruments in America. Then Miss Cornell, a young telegraphic operator,
sent this message from the key: "Greeting and thanks to the telegraph
fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the highest, on earth
peace, good-will to men." The venerable inventor, the personification of
simplicity, dignity, and kindliness, was then conducted to the
instrument, and touching the key, sent out: "S.F.B. MORSE." A storm of
enthusiasm swept through the house as the audience rose, the ladies
waving their handkerchiefs and the men cheering.

Professor Morse last appeared in public on February 22, 1872, when he
unveiled the statue of Franklin, erected in Printing-house Square in New
York. He died, after a short illness, on April 2, 1872, and was buried
in Greenwood Cemetery. On the day of the funeral, April 5th, every
telegraph office in the country was draped in mourning.

Professor Morse was twice married. His first wife died in 1825. In 1848
he married Sarah Elizabeth Griswold, of Poughkeepsie, who still lives.
By the first marriage there were three children, one of whom, a son,
survives. By the second marriage there were four children, three of whom
are alive--a daughter and two sons. Miss Leila Morse, the daughter, was
married in 1885 to Herr Franz Rummel, the eminent pianist. The last
years of his life were eminently peaceful and happy. In the summer he
lived at a place called Locust Grove, on the banks of the Hudson, near
Poughkeepsie, and in the winter in a house at No. 5 West Twenty-second
Street, a few doors west of Fifth Avenue. In recent years a marble
tablet has been affixed to the front of the house, suitably inscribed.

[Illustration: No. 5 West Twenty-second Street, New York, where Morse
Lived for Many Years and Died.]

Morse's life in the country was very simple and quiet. His hour of
rising was half-past six o'clock in the morning, and he was in his
library alone until breakfast, at eight. He loved to hear the birds in
their native songs, and he could distinguish the notes of each species,
and would speak of the quality of their respective music. He spent most
of the day in reading and writing, rarely taking exercise, except
walking in his garden to visit his graperies, in which he took special
pride, or to the stable to see if his horses were well cared for. He did
not ride out regularly with his family, preferring the repose of his own
grounds and the labors of his study. But when he walked or rode in the
country, he was constantly disposed to speak of the beauty and glory
around him, as revealing to his mind the beneficence, wisdom, and power
of the infinite Creator, who had made all these things for the use and
enjoyment of men.

One of his daughters writes of him in these simple and tender words: "He
loved flowers. He would take one in his hand and talk for hours about
its beauty, its wonderful construction, and the wisdom and love of God
in making so many varied forms of life and color to please our eyes. In
his later years he became deeply interested in the microscope and
purchased one of great excellence and power. For whole hours, all the
afternoon or evening, he would sit over it, examining flowers or the
animalculæ in different fluids. Then he would gather his children about
him and give us a sort of extempore lecture on the wonders of creation
invisible to the naked eye, but so clearly brought to view by the
magnifying power of the microscope. He was very fond of animals, cats,
and birds in particular. He tamed a little flying-squirrel, and it
became so fond of him that it would sit on his shoulder while he was at
his studies and would eat out of his hand and sleep in his pocket. To
this little animal he became so much attached that we took it with us to
Europe, where it came to an untimely end, in Paris, by running into an
open fire."

His biographer, Prime, says of him:

"In person Professor Morse was tall, slender, graceful, and attractive.
Six feet in stature, he stood erect and firm, even in old age. His blue
eyes were expressive of genius and affection. His nature was a rare
combination of solid intellect and delicate sensibility. Thoughtful,
sober, and quiet, he readily entered into the enjoyments of domestic and
social life, indulging in sallies of humor, and readily appreciating and
greatly enjoying the wit of others. Dignified in his intercourse with
men, courteous and affable with the gentler sex, he was a good husband,
a judicious father, a generous and faithful friend. He had the
misfortune to incur the hostility of men who would deprive him of the
merit and the reward of his labors. But his was the common fate of great
inventors. He lived until his rights were vindicated by every tribunal
to which they could be referred, and acknowledged by all civilized
nations. And he died leaving to his children a spotless and illustrious
name, and to his country the honor of having given birth to the only
electro-magnetic recording telegraph whose line has gone out through all
the earth and its words to the end of the world."

[Illustration: Charles Goodyear.]



India-rubber had been known for more than a hundred years when Charles
Goodyear undertook to make of it thousands of articles useful in common
life. So long ago as 1735 a party of French astronomers discovered in
Peru a curious tree that yielded the natives a peculiar gum or sap which
they collected in clay vessels. This sap became hard when exposed to the
sun, and was used by the natives, who made different articles of
every-day use from it by dipping a clay mould again and again into the
liquid. When the article was completed the clay mould was broken to
pieces and shaken out. In this manner they made a kind of rough shoe and
an equally rough bottle. In some parts of South America the natives
presented their guests with these bottles, which served as syringes for
squirting water. Articles thus made were liable to become stiff and
unmanageable in cold weather and soft and sticky in warm. Upon getting
back to France the travellers directed the attention of scientists to
this remarkable gum, which was afterward found in various parts of South
America, and the chief supplies of which still come from Brazil. About
the beginning of the present century this substance, known variously as
cachuchu, caoutchouc, gum-elastic, and india-rubber, was first
commercially introduced into Europe. It was regarded merely as a
curiosity, chiefly useful for erasing pencil-marks. Ships from South
America took it over as ballast. About the year 1820 it began to be used
in France in the manufacture of suspenders and garters, india-rubber
threads being mixed with the material used in weaving those articles.
Some years later Mackintosh, an English manufacturer, used it in his
famous water-proof coats, which were made by spreading a layer of the
gum between two pieces of cloth.

About the same time a pair of india-rubber shoes were exhibited in
Boston, where they were regarded as a curiosity; they were covered with
gilt-foil to hide their natural ugliness. In 1823 a Boston merchant,
engaged in the South American trade, imported five hundred pairs of
these shoes, made by the natives of Para, and found no difficulty in
selling them. In fact, this became a large business, although these
shoes were terribly rough and clumsy and were not to be depended upon;
in cold weather they became so hard that they could be used only after
being thawed by the fire, and in summer they could be preserved only by
keeping them on ice. If during the thawing process they were placed too
near the fire, they would melt into a shapeless mass; and yet they cost
from three to five dollars a pair.

In 1830 E.M. Chaffee, of Boston, the foreman of a patent leather
factory in that city, attempted to replace patent leather by a compound
of india-rubber. He dissolved a pound of the gum in spirits of
turpentine, added to the mixture enough lamp-black to produce a bright
black color, and invented a machine for spreading this compound over
cloth. When dried in the sun it produced a hard, smooth surface,
flexible enough to be twisted into any shape without cracking. With the
aid of a few capitalists, Chaffee organized, in 1833, a company called
the Roxbury India-rubber Company, and manufactured an india-rubber cloth
from which wagon-covers, piano-covers, caps, coats, shoes, and other
articles were made. The product of the factory sold well, and the
success of the Roxbury Company led to the establishment of a number of
similar factories elsewhere. Apparently all who were engaged in the
production of rubber goods were on the highway to wealth.

A day of disaster, however, came. Most of the goods produced in the
winter of 1833-1834 became worthless during the following summer. The
shoes melted to a soft mass and the caps, wagon-covers, and coats became
sticky and useless. To make matters worse they emitted an odor so
offensive that it was necessary to bury them in the ground. Twenty
thousand dollars' worth of these goods were thrown back on the hands of
the Roxbury Company alone, and the directors were appalled by the ruin
that threatened them. It was useless to go on manufacturing goods that
might prove worthless at any moment. India-rubber stock fell rapidly,
and by the end of 1836 there was not a solvent rubber company in the
Union, the stockholders losing about $2,000,000. People came to detest
the very name of india-rubber.

One day, in 1834, a Philadelphia hardware merchant, named Charles
Goodyear, was led by curiosity to buy a rubber life-preserver. And thus
began for this unfortunate genius nearly twenty-five years of struggle,
misery, and disappointment. Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven,
Conn., December 29, 1800. When a boy his father moved to Philadelphia,
where he engaged in the hardware business, and upon becoming of age,
Charles Goodyear joined him as a partner. In the panic of 1836-1837 the
house went down. Goodyear's attention had been attracted for several
years by the wonderful success of the india-rubber companies. Upon
examining his life-preserver he discovered a defect in the inflating
valve and made an improved one. Going to New York with this device, he
called on the agent of the Roxbury Company and, explaining it to him,
offered to sell it to the company. The agent was impressed with the
improvement, but instead of buying it, told the inventor the real state
of the india-rubber business of the country, then on the verge of a
collapse. He urged Goodyear to exert his inventive skill in discovering
some means of imparting durability to india-rubber goods, and assured
him that if he could find a process to effect that end, he could sell it
at his own price. He explained the processes then in use and their

Goodyear forgot all about his disappointment in failing to sell his
valve, and went home intent upon experiments to make gum-elastic
durable. From that time until the close of his life he devoted himself
solely to this work. He was thirty-five years old, feeble in health, a
bankrupt in business, and had a young family depending upon him. The
industry in which he now engaged was one in which thousands of persons
had found ruin. The firm of which he had been a member owed $30,000, and
upon his return to Philadelphia he was arrested for debt and compelled
to live within prison limits. He began his experiments at once. The
price of the gum had fallen to five cents per pound, so that he had no
difficulty in getting sufficient of it to begin work. By melting and
working it thoroughly and rolling it out upon a stone table, he
succeeded in producing sheets of india-rubber that seemed to him to
possess new properties. A friend loaned him enough money to manufacture
a number of shoes which at first seemed to be all that could be desired.
Fearful, however, of coming trouble, Goodyear put his shoes away until
the following summer, when the warm weather reduced them to a mass of so
offensive an odor that he was glad to throw them away. His friend was so
thoroughly disheartened by this failure as to refuse to have anything
more to do with Goodyear's scheme. The inventor, nevertheless, kept on.

It occurred to him that there must be some substance which, mixed with
the gum, would render it durable, and he began to experiment with almost
every substance that he could lay his hands on. All proved total
failures with the exception of magnesia. By mixing half a pound of
magnesia with a pound of the gum he produced a substance whiter than the
pure gum, which was at first as firm and flexible as leather, and out of
which he made beautiful book-covers and piano-covers. It looked as if he
had solved the problem; but in a month his pretty product was ruined.
Heat caused it to soften; fermentation then set in, and finally it
became as hard and brittle as thin glass. His stock of money was now
exhausted. He was forced to pawn all his own valuables and even the
trinkets of his wife. But he felt sure that he was on the road to
success and would eventually win both fame and fortune. He removed his
family to the country, and set out for New York, where he hoped to find
someone willing to aid him in carrying his experiments further. Here he
met two acquaintances, one of whom offered him the use of a room in Gold
Street as a workshop, and the other, a druggist, agreed to let him have
on credit such chemicals as he needed. He now boiled the gum, mixed with
magnesia, in quicklime and water, and as a result obtained firm, smooth
sheets that won him a medal at the fair of the American Institute in
1835. He seemed on the point of success, and easily sold all the sheets
he could manufacture, when, to his dismay, he discovered that a drop of
the weakest acid, such as the juice of an apple or diluted vinegar,
would reduce his new compound to the old sticky substance that had
baffled him so often.

His first important discovery on the road to real success was the result
of accident. He liked pretty things, and it was a constant effort with
him to make his productions as attractive to the eye as possible. Upon
one occasion, while bronzing a piece of rubber cloth, he applied aqua
fortis to it for the purpose of removing part of the bronze. It took
away the bronze, but it also destroyed the cloth to such a degree that
he supposed it ruined and threw it away. A day or two later, happening
to pick it up, he was astonished to find that the rubber had undergone a
remarkable change, and that the effect of the acid had been to harden it
to such an extent that it would now stand a degree of heat which would
have melted it before. Aqua fortis contained sulphuric acid. Goodyear
was thus on the threshold of his great discovery of vulcanizing rubber.
He called his new process the "curing" of india-rubber.

The "cured" india-rubber was subjected to many tests and passed through
them successfully, thus demonstrating its adaptability to many important
uses. Goodyear readily obtained a patent for his process, and a partner
with a large capital was found ready to aid him. He hired the old
india-rubber works on Staten Island and opened a salesroom in Broadway.
He was thrown back for six weeks at this important time by an accident
which happened to him while experimenting with his fabrics and which
came near causing his death. Just as he was recovering and preparing to
begin the manufacture of his goods on a large scale the terrible
commercial crisis of 1837 swept over the country, and by destroying his
partner's fortune at one blow, reduced Goodyear to absolute beggary. His
family had joined him in New York, and he was entirely without the means
of supporting them. As the only resource at hand he decided to pawn an
article of value--one of the few which he possessed--in order to raise
money to procure one day's supply of provisions. At the very door of the
pawnbroker's shop he met one of his creditors, who kindly asked if he
could be of any further assistance to him. Weak with hunger and overcome
by the generosity of his friend the poor man burst into tears and
replied that, as his family was on the point of starvation, a loan of
$15 would greatly oblige him. The money was given him on the spot and
the necessity for visiting the pawnbroker averted for several days
longer. Still he was a frequent visitor to that person during the year,
and one by one the relics of his better days disappeared. Another friend
loaned him $100, which enabled him to remove his family to Staten
Island, in the neighborhood of the abandoned rubber works, which the
owners gave him permission to use so far as he could. He contrived in
this way to manufacture enough of his "cured" cloth, which sold readily,
to enable him to keep his family from starvation. He made repeated
efforts to induce capitalists to come to the factory and see his samples
and the process by which they were made, but no one would venture near
him. There had been money enough lost in such experiments, these
acquaintances said, and they were determined to risk no more.

Indeed, in all the broad land there was but one man who had the
slightest hope of accomplishing anything with india-rubber, and that one
was Charles Goodyear. His friends regarded him as a monomaniac. He not
only manufactured his cloth, but even dressed in clothes made of it,
wearing it for the purpose of testing its durability, as well as of
advertising it. He was certainly an odd figure, and in his appearance
justified the remark of one of his friends, who, upon being asked how
Mr. Goodyear could be recognized, replied: "If you see a man with an
india-rubber coat on, india-rubber shoes, and india-rubber cap, and in
his pocket an india-rubber purse with not a cent in it, that is

In September, 1837, a new gleam of hope lit up his pathway. A friend
having loaned him a small sum of money he went to Roxbury, taking with
him some of his best specimens. Although the Roxbury Company had gone
down with a fearful crash, Mr. Chaffee, the inventor of the first
process of making rubber goods in this country, was still firm in his
faith that india-rubber would at some future time justify the
expectations of its earliest friends. He welcomed Goodyear cordially and
allowed him to use the abandoned works of the company for his
experiments. The result was that Goodyear succeeded in making shoes and
cloths of india-rubber of a quality so much better than any that had yet
been seen in America that the hopes of the friends of india-rubber were
raised to a high point. Offers to purchase rights for certain portions
of the country came in rapidly, and by the sale of them Goodyear
realized between four and five thousand dollars. He was now able to
bring his family to Roxbury, and for the time fortune seemed to smile
upon him.

[Illustration: Calenders Heated Internally by Steam, for Spreading India
Rubber into Sheets or upon Cloth, called the "Chaffee Machine."]

His success was but temporary, however. He obtained an order from the
general Government for one hundred and fifty india-rubber mail-bags,
which he succeeded in producing, and as they came out smooth, highly
polished, hard, well shaped, and entirely impervious to moisture, he
was delighted and summoned his friends to inspect and admire them. All
who saw them pronounced them a perfect success, but alas! in a single
month they began to soften and ferment, and finally became useless. Poor
Goodyear's hopes were dashed to the ground. It was found that the aqua
fortis merely "cured" the surface of the material, and that only very
thin cloth made in this way was durable. His other goods began to prove
worthless and his promising business came to a sudden and disastrous
end. All his possessions were seized and sold for debt, and once more he
was reduced to poverty. His position was even worse than before, for his
family had increased in size and his aged father also had become
dependent upon him for support.

Friends, relatives, and even his wife, all demanded that he should
abandon his empty dreams and turn his attention to something that would
yield a support to his family. Four years of constant failure, added to
the unfortunate experience of those who had preceded him, ought to
convince him, they said, that he was hoping against hope. Hitherto his
conduct, certainly had been absurd, though they admitted that he was to
some extent excused for it by his partial success; but to persist in it
would be criminal. The inventor was driven to despair, and being a man
of tender feelings and ardently devoted to his family, might have
yielded to them had he not felt that he was nearer than ever to the
discovery of the secret that had eluded him so long.

Just before the failure of his mail-bags had brought ruin upon him, he
had taken into his employ a man named Nathaniel Hayward, who had been
the foreman of the old Roxbury works, and who was still in charge of
them when Goodyear came to Roxbury, and was making a few rubber articles
on his own account. He hardened his compound by mixing a little powdered
sulphur with the gum, or by sprinkling sulphur over the rubber cloth and
drying it in the sun. He declared that the process had been revealed to
him in a dream, but could give no further account of it. Goodyear was
astonished to find that the sulphur cured the india-rubber as thoroughly
as the aqua fortis, the principal objection being that the sulphurous
odor of the goods was frightful in hot weather. Hayward's process was
really the same as that employed by Goodyear, the "curing" of the
india-rubber being due in each case to the agency of the sulphur, the
principal difference between them being that Hayward's goods were dried
by the sun and Goodyear's with nitric acid. Hayward set so small a value
upon his discovery that he readily sold it to his new employer.

Goodyear felt that he had now all but conquered his difficulties. It was
plain that sulphur was the great controller of india-rubber, for he had
proved that when applied to thin cloth it would render it available for
most purposes. The problem that now remained was how to mix sulphur and
the gum in a mass, so that every part of the rubber should be subjected
to the agency of the sulphur. He experimented for weeks and months with
the most intense eagerness, but the mystery completely baffled him. His
friends urged him to go to work to do something for his family, but he
could not turn back. The goal was almost in sight, and he felt that he
would be false to his mission were he to abandon his labors now. To the
world he seemed a crack-brained dreamer, and some there were who, seeing
the distress of his family, did not hesitate to apply still harsher
names to him. Had it been merely wealth that he was working for,
doubtless he would have turned back and sought some other means of
obtaining it; but he sought more. He felt that he had a mission to
fulfil, and that no one else could perform it.

He was right. A still greater success was about to crown his labors, but
in a manner far different from his expectations. His experiments had
developed nothing; chance was to make the revelation. It was in the
spring of 1839, and in the following manner: Standing before a stove in
a store at Woburn, Mass., he was explaining to some acquaintances the
properties of a piece of sulphur-cured india-rubber which he held in his
hand. They listened to him good-naturedly, but with evident incredulity,
when suddenly he dropped the rubber on the stove, which was red hot. His
old clothes would have melted instantly from contact with such heat;
but, to his surprise, this piece underwent no such change. In amazement
he examined it, and found that while it had charred or shrivelled like
leather, it had not softened at all. The bystanders attached no
importance to this phenomenon, but to him it was a revelation. He
renewed his experiments with enthusiasm, and in a little while
established the facts that india-rubber, when mixed with sulphur and
exposed to a certain degree of heat for a specified time, would not melt
or soften at any degree of heat; that it would only char at two hundred
and eighty degrees, and that it would not stiffen from exposure to any
extent of cold. The difficulty now consisted in finding out the exact
degree of heat necessary for the perfecting of the rubber and the exact
length of time required for the heating.

[Illustration: Charles Goodyear's Exhibition of Hard India Rubber Goods
at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, England. (From a print published at the

He made this discovery in his darkest days, when, in fact, he was in
constant danger of arrest for debt, having already been a frequent
inmate of the debtors' prison. He was in the depths of bitter poverty
and in such feeble health that he was constantly haunted by the fear of
dying before he had perfected his discovery--before he had fulfilled his
mission. He needed an apparatus for producing a high and uniform heat
for his experiments, and he was unable to obtain it. He used to bake his
compound in his wife's bread-oven and steam it over the spout of her
tea-kettle, and to press the kitchen fire into his service so far as it
would go. When this failed, he would go down to the shops in the
vicinity of Woburn and beg to be allowed to use the ovens and boilers
after working hours were over. The workmen regarded him as a lunatic,
but were too good-natured to deny him the request. Finally he induced
a bricklayer to make him an oven, and paid him in masons' aprons of
india-rubber. The oven was a failure. Sometimes it would turn out pieces
of perfectly vulcanized cloth, and again the goods would be charred and
ruined. Goodyear was in despair.

All this time he lived on the charity of his friends. His neighbors
pretended to lend him money, but in reality gave him the means of
keeping his family from starvation. He has declared that all the while
he felt sure he would, before long, be able to pay them back, but they
have declared with equal emphasis that, at that time, they never
expected to witness his success. He was yellow and shrivelled in face,
with a gaunt, lean figure, and his habit of wearing an india-rubber
coat, which was charred and blackened from his frequent experiments with
it, gave him a wild and singular appearance. People shook their heads
solemnly when they saw him, and said that the mad-house was the proper
place for him.

The winter of 1839-40 was long and severe. At the opening of the season
Goodyear received a letter from a house in Paris, making him a handsome
offer for the use of his process of curing india-rubber with aqua
fortis. Here was a chance for him to rise out of his misery. A year
before he would have closed with the offer, but since then he had
discovered the effects of sulphur and heat on his compound, and had
passed far beyond the aqua-fortis stage. Disappointment and want had not
warped his conscience, and he at once declined to enter into any
arrangements with the French house, informing them that although the
process they desired to purchase was a valuable one, it was about to be
entirely replaced by another which he was then on the point of
perfecting, and which he would gladly sell them as soon as he had
completed it. His friends declared that he was mad to refuse such an
offer; but he replied that nothing would induce him to sell a process
which he knew was about to be rendered worthless by still greater

A few weeks later a terrible snow-storm passed over the land, one of the
worst that New England had ever known, and in the midst of it Goodyear
made the appalling discovery that he had not a particle of fuel or a
mouthful of food in the house. He was ill enough to be in bed himself,
and his purse was entirely empty. It was a terrible position, made
worse, too, by the fact that his friends who had formerly aided him had
turned from him, vexed with his pertinacity, and abandoned him to his
fate. In his despair he bethought him of a mere acquaintance named
Coleridge, who lived several miles from his cottage, and who but a few
days before had spoken to him with more of kindness than he had received
of late. This gentleman, he thought, would aid him in his distress, if
he could but reach his house, but in such a snow the journey seemed
hopeless to a man in his feeble health. Still the effort must be made.
Nerved by despair, he set out and pushed his way resolutely through the
heavy drifts. The way was long, and it seemed to him that he would
never accomplish it. Often he fell prostrate on the snow, almost
fainting with fatigue and hunger, and again he would sit down wearily in
the road, feeling that he would gladly die if his discovery were but
completed. At length, however, he reached the end of his journey, and
fortunately found his acquaintance at home. To this gentleman he told
the story of his discovery, his hopes, his struggles, and his present
sufferings, and implored him to help him. Mr. Coleridge listened to him
kindly, and after expressing the warmest sympathy for him, loaned him
money enough to support his family during the severe weather and to
enable him to continue his experiments.

Seeing no prospect of success in Massachusetts, he now resolved to make
a desperate effort to get to New York, feeling confident that the
specimens he could take with him would convince someone of the
superiority of his new method. He was beginning to understand the cause
of his many failures, but he saw clearly that his compound could not be
worked with certainty without expensive apparatus. It was a very
delicate operation, requiring exactness and promptitude. The conditions
upon which success depended were many, and the failure of one spoiled
all. It cost him thousands of failures to learn that a little acid in
his sulphur caused the blistering; that his compound must be heated
almost immediately after being mixed or it would never vulcanize; that a
portion of white lead in the compound greatly facilitated the operation
and improved the result; and when he had learned these facts, it still
required costly and laborious experiments to devise the best methods of
compounding his ingredients in the best proportions, the best mode of
heating, the proper duration of the heating, and the various useful
effects that could be produced by varying the proportions and the degree
of heat. He tells us that many times when, by exhausting every resource,
he had prepared a quantity of his compound for heating, it was spoiled
because he could not, with his inadequate apparatus, apply the heat soon




To New York, then, he directed his thoughts. Merely to get there cost
him a severer and a longer effort than men in general are capable of
making. First he walked to Boston, ten miles distant, where he hoped to
borrow from an old acquaintance $50, with which to provide for his
family and pay his fare to New York. He not only failed in this, but he
was arrested for debt and thrown into prison. Even in prison, while his
old father was negotiating to procure his release, he labored to
interest men of capital in his discovery, and made proposals for
founding a factory in Boston. Having obtained his liberty, he went to a
hotel and spent a week in vain efforts to effect a small loan. Saturday
night came, and with it his hotel bill, which he had no means of
discharging. In an agony of shame and anxiety, he went to a friend and
entreated the sum of $5 to enable him to return home. He was met with a
point-blank refusal. In the deepest dejection, he walked the streets
till late in the night, and strayed at length, almost beside himself, to
Cambridge, where he ventured to call upon a friend and ask shelter for
the night. He was hospitably entertained, and the next morning walked
wearily home, penniless and despairing. At the door of his house a
member of his family met him with the news that his youngest child, two
years old, whom he had left in perfect health, was dying. In a few hours
he had in his house a dead child, but not the means of burying it, and
five living dependents without a morsel of food to give them. A
storekeeper near by had promised to supply the family, but, discouraged
by the unforeseen length of the father's absence, he had that day
refused to trust them further. In these terrible circumstances he
applied to a friend, upon whose generosity he knew he could rely, one
who never failed him. He received in reply a letter of severe and
cutting reproach, enclosing $7, which his friend explained was given
only out of pity for his innocent and suffering family. A stranger who
chanced to be present when this letter arrived sent them a barrel of
flour, a timely and blessed relief. The next day the family followed on
foot the remains of the little child to the grave.

This was about the darkest hour of poor Goodyear's life, but it was
before the dawn. He managed to obtain $50, with which he went to New
York, and succeeded in interesting two brothers, William and Emory
Rider, in his discoveries. They agreed to advance to him a certain sum
to complete his experiments. By means of this aid he was enabled to keep
his family from want, and his experiments were pursued with greater ease
and certainty. His brother-in-law, William De Forrest, a rich wool
manufacturer, also came to his aid, now that success seemed in view.
Nevertheless, the experiments of that and the following year cost nearly
$50,000. Thanks to this timely aid, he was able in 1844, ten years after
beginning his work, to produce perfect vulcanized india-rubber with
economy and certainty. To the end of his life he was at work, however,
endeavoring to improve the material and apply it to new uses. He took
out more than sixty patents covering different processes of making
rubber goods.



Donne pour la Decouverte de la Vulcanisation et Durcissement du


If Goodyear had been a man of business instincts and habits, the years
following the completion of his great work might have brought him an
immense fortune; but everywhere he seems to have been unfortunate in
protecting his rights. In France and England he lost his patent rights
by technical defects. In the latter country another man, who had
received a copy of the American patent, actually applied and obtained
the English rights in his own name. Goodyear, however, obtained the
great council medal at the London Exhibition of 1851, a grand medal at
Paris, in 1855, and later the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. In this
country he was scarcely less unfortunate. His patents were infringed
right and left, he was cheated by business associates and plundered of
the profits of his invention. The United States Commissioner of Patents,
in 1858, thus spoke of his losses:

"No inventor, probably, has ever been so harassed, so trampled upon, so
plundered by that sordid and licentious class of infringers known in the
parlance of the world as 'pirates.' The spoliation of their incessant
guerrilla warfare upon his defenceless rights has unquestionably
amounted to millions."

Goodyear died in New York in July, 1860, worn out with work and
disappointment. Neither Europe nor America seemed disposed to accord him
any reward or credit for having made one of the greatest discoveries of
the time. Notwithstanding his invention, which has made millions for
those engaged in working it, he died insolvent, and left his family
heavily in debt. A few years after his death an effort was made to
procure from Congress an extension of his patent for the benefit of his
family and creditors. The opposition of the men who had grown rich and
powerful by successfully infringing his rights prevented that august
body from doing justice in the matter and the effort came to nothing.



Captain John Ericsson, although not by birth an American, rendered such
signal services to this country and lived here for so many years that we
may fairly consider him in the light of an American inventor. The
inventions to which he devoted the best years of his life were made in
this country. He loved America, he died here, and though his ashes have
been sent back to Sweden, the world of Europe, in common with ourselves,
probably thinks of Ericsson as an American.

[Illustration: John Ericsson.]

By the roadside near a mountain hamlet of Central Sweden stands a
pyramid of iron cast from ore dug from the adjacent mines and set upon a
base of granite quarried from the hills which overlook the valley. This
monument bears the information that two brothers, Nils Ericsson and John
Ericsson, were born in a miner's hut at that place, respectively,
January 31, 1802, and July 31, 1803. Nils Ericsson was a man of unusual
distinction, who held high position in Sweden as engineer of the canals
and railroads of the kingdom. The name of his brother is known the world
over. These two notable Swedes were sons of Olof Ericsson, a Swedish
miner. Poverty was one of the bits of good fortune that fell to the lot
of the two boys, and among John's earliest recollections is that of the
seizure of their household effects by the sheriff. The mother was a
woman of intelligence and somewhat acquainted with the literature of her
time. In boyhood John Ericsson worked in the iron mines of Central
Sweden. Machinery was his first love and his last. Before he was eleven
years old, during the winter of 1813, he had produced a miniature
saw-mill of ingenious construction, and had planned a pumping-engine
designed to keep the mines free from water. The frame of the saw-mill
was of wood; the saw-blade was made from a watch-spring and was moved by
a crank made from a broken tin spoon. A file, borrowed from a
neighboring blacksmith, a gimlet, and a jack-knife were the only tools
used in this work. His pumping-engine was a more ambitious affair, to be
operated by a wind-mill.

[Illustration: John Ericsson's Birthplace and Monument.]

The family then lived in the wilderness, surrounded by a pine forest,
where Ericsson's father was engaged in selecting timber for the
lock-gates of a canal. A quill and a pencil were the boy's tools in the
way of drawing materials. He made compasses of birch wood. A pair of
steel tweezers were converted into a drawing-pen. Ericsson had never
seen a wind-mill, but following as well as he could the description of
those who had, he succeeded in constructing on paper the mechanism
connecting the crank of a wind-mill with the pump-lever. The plan,
conceived and executed under such circumstances by a mere boy,
attracted the attention of Count Platen, president of the Gotha Ship
Canal, on which Ericsson's father was employed, and when Ericsson was
twelve years old he was made a member of the surveying party carrying
out the canal work and put in charge of a section. Six hundred of the
royal troops looked for directions in their daily work to this boy, one
of his attendants being a man who followed him with a stool, upon which
he stood to use the surveying instruments. The amusements of this boy
engineer, even at the age of fifteen, are indicated by a portfolio of
drawings made in his leisure moments, giving maps of the most important
parts of the canal, three hundred miles in length, and showing all the
machinery used in its construction. His precocity was, however, the
normal and healthy development of a mind as fond of mechanical
principles as Raphael was of color.

It was in 1811 that Ericsson made his first scale drawing of the famous
Sunderland Iron Bridge, and from that time on his career in Sweden was a
brilliant one. After serving as an engineer upon the Gotha Canal he
became an officer in the Swedish army, from which circumstance he got
his title of captain. Most government work was then done by army
officers, especially in field surveying. The appointments of government
surveyors being offered soon afterward to competitive examination among
the officers of the army, Ericsson went to Stockholm and entered the
lists. Detailed maps of fifty square miles of Swedish territory, still
upon file at Stockholm, show his skill. Though his work as a surveyor
exceeded that of any of his companions, he was not satisfied. He sought
an outlet for his superfluous activity in preparing the drawings and
engraving sixty-four large plates for a work illustrating the Gotha
Canal. His faculty for invention was shown here by the construction of a
machine-engraver, with which eighteen copper-plates were completed by
his own hand within a year.

From engraving young Ericsson turned his attention to experiments with
flame as a means of producing mechanical power, and it is interesting to
note that forty years afterward a large part of his income in this
country was derived from his gas-or flame-engine, thousands of which are
now in use in New York City alone for pumping water up to the tops of
the houses. His early flame-engine, as it was called, turned out so well
that after building one of ten horse-power, he obtained leave of absence
to go to England to introduce the invention. He never returned to Sweden
for any length of time, although he remained a Swede at heart, and many
Swedish orders and decorations have been conferred upon him. In addition
to the monument near Ericsson's birthplace, already mentioned, the
government has erected a granite shaft, eighteen feet high, in front of
the cottage in which he was born. This shaft, bearing the inscription,
"John Ericsson was born here in 1803," was dedicated on September 3,
1867, when work was suspended in the neighboring mines and iron
furnaces, and a holiday was held in honor of Sweden's famous son. Poems
were read, the chief engineer of the mining district delivered an
oration, and Dr. Pallin, a savant from Philipstad, reminded his hearers
that seven cities in Greece contended for the honor of being Homer's
birthplace. "Certificates of baptism did not then exist," said Dr.
Pallin, "and there is no doubt with us as to Ericsson's birthplace; yet
to guard against all accidents we have here placed a record of baptism
weighing eighty thousand pounds." The monument stands on an isthmus
between two lakes surrounded by green hills.

[Illustration: The Novelty Locomotive, built by Ericsson to compete with
Stephenson's Rocket, 1829.]

Ericsson's life in England began in 1826. Fortune did not smile upon his
efforts to introduce his flame-engine, for the coal fire which had to be
used in England was too severe for the working parts of the apparatus.
But Ericsson possessed a capacity for hard work that recognized no
obstacles. He undertook a new series of experiments which resulted
finally in the completion of an engine which was patented and sold to
John Braithwaite. Young Ericsson's capacity for work and for keeping
half a dozen experiments in view at the same time seems to have been as
remarkable in those early days as when he became famous. Records of the
London Patent Office credit him with invention after invention. Among
these were a pumping-engine on a new principle; engines with surface
condensers and no smoke-stack, as applied to the steamship Victory in
1828; an apparatus for making salt from brine; for propelling boats on
canals; a hydrostatic weighing machine, to which the Society of Arts
awarded a prize; an instrument to be used in taking deep-sea soundings;
a file-cutting machine. The list covers some fourteen patented
inventions and forty machines.

Perhaps his most important work at this period was a device for creating
artificial draught in locomotives, to which aid the development of our
railroad owes much. In 1829 the Liverpool & Manchester Railroad offered
a prize of $2,500 for the best locomotive capable of doing certain work.
The prize was taken by Stephenson with his famous Rocket; but his
sharpest competitor in this contest was John Ericsson. Four locomotives
entered the contest. The London _Times_ of October 8, 1829, speaks
highly of the Novelty, the locomotive entered by Messrs. Braithwaite &
Ericsson, saying: "It was the lightest and most elegant carriage on the
road yesterday, and the velocity with which it moved surprised and
amazed every beholder. It shot along the line at the amazing rate of
thirty miles an hour. It seemed indeed to fly, presenting one of the
most sublime spectacles of human ingenuity and human daring the world
ever beheld."

[Illustration: Ericsson on his Arrival in England, aged twenty-three.]

[Illustration: Mrs. John Ericsson, née Amelia Byam.

(From an early daguerreotype.)]

The railroad directors, at whose invitation this test was made, had
asked for ten miles an hour; Ericsson gave them thirty. The excitement
of the witnesses found vent in loud cheers. Within an hour the shares
of the railroad company rose ten per cent., and the young engineer might
well have considered his fortune made. But although he had beaten his
rival ten miles an hour, the judges determined to make traction power,
rather than speed, the critical test, and the prize was awarded to
Stephenson's Rocket, which drew seventeen tons for seventy miles at the
rate of thirteen miles an hour. Stephenson's engine weighed twice as
much as Ericsson's. Nevertheless Ericsson's success with the Novelty was
such as to keep him busy in this particular field. He followed it up
with a steam fire-engine that astonished London at the burning of the
Argyle Rooms, in 1829, when for the first time, as one of the local
papers remarked, "fire was extinguished by the mechanical power of
fire." Another engine, of larger power, built for the King of Prussia,
soon after rendered excellent service in Berlin, and a third was built
for Liverpool in 1830. Ten years afterward the Mechanics' Institute of
New York awarded a gold medal to Ericsson as a prize for the best plan
of a steam-engine.

[Illustration: Exterior View of Ericsson's House, No. 36 Beach Street,
New York, 1890.]

Disappointed in his ill success with inventions pertaining to
locomotives, Ericsson now turned his attention to his early
flame-engine, and the working model of a caloric engine of five-horse
power soon attracted the attention of London. At first there seemed to
be a great future for engines upon this principle, but after many years
of experiments, at great expense, Ericsson found that the principle was
useful only for purposes requiring small power. In 1851 he built a
heat-engine for the ship Ericsson, a vessel two hundred and sixty feet
in length, and tells the result as follows: "The ship after completion
made a successful trip from New York to Washington and back during the
winter season; but the average speed at sea proving insufficient for
commercial purposes, the owners, with regret, acceded to my proposition
to remove the costly machinery, although it had proved perfect as a
mechanical combination. The resources of modern engineering having been
exhausted in producing the motors of the caloric ship, the important
question, Can heated air, as a mechanical motor, compete on a large
scale with steam? has forever been set at rest. The commercial world is
indebted to American enterprise for having settled a question of such
vital importance. The marine engineer has thus been encouraged to renew
his efforts to perfect the steam-engine without fear of rivalry from a
motor depending on the dilation of atmospheric air by heat."

[Illustration: Solar-engine Adapted to the Use of Hot Air.

(Patented as a pumping-engine, 1880.)]

Before leaving this question of heat-engines and passing to the more
important inventions by which Ericsson will be remembered, it may be as
well to say a few words concerning the solar-engines to which he devoted
many years' time, and one of which I saw in operation in the back yard
of the pleasant old house in Beach Street, opposite the freight depot of
the Hudson River Railroad. This house, by the way, which Ericsson
occupied for nearly forty years, faced on St. John's Park, the pleasant
square which was afterward filled up by the railroad company. Toward the
last years of Ericsson's life the neighborhood became anything but a
pleasant one to live in; it was dirty and noisy. Nevertheless Ericsson
refused to move. Perhaps the unpleasantness of the surroundings made him
the recluse he was. It is not surprising that he should have been
attracted by the possibility of obtaining power from the heat of the
sun. In an early pamphlet on the subject he says: "There is a rainless
region extending from the northwestern coast of Africa to Mongolia, nine
thousand miles in length and nearly one thousand miles wide. In the
Western Hemisphere, Lower California, the table-lands of Guatemala, and
the west coast of South America, for a distance of more than two
thousand miles, suffer from a continuous radiant heat." Ericsson
estimated that the mechanical power that would result from utilizing the
solar heat on a strip of land a single mile wide and eight thousand
miles long would suffice to keep twenty-two million solar-engines, of
one hundred horse-power each, going nine hours a day. He believed that
with the exhaustion of European coal-fields the day for the solar-engine
would come, and that those countries which possessed unfailing sunshine,
such as Egypt, would displace England, France, and Germany as the
manufacturing powers of the world, for the European would have to move
his machinery to the borders of the Nile. By concentrating the rays of
the sun upon a small copper boiler filled with air Ericsson was enabled
to work a little motor, and for some years he also attempted to produce
steam by means of heat from the sun. He was not successful, however, in
making anything of commercial value in this direction, and so far as I
have been able to learn none of the tropical countries invited by him to
take up the problem for its own benefit responded to the invitation.

Ericsson's studies and improvements of the screw as a means of
propelling boats began in England. A model boat, two feet long, fitted
up with two screws, was launched in a London bath-house, and, supplied
by steam from a boiler placed at the side of the tank, was sent around
at a speed estimated at six miles an hour. Ericsson was so delighted
with it that he built a boat eight feet by forty, armed with two
propellers, in the hope that the British Admiralty might adopt the
invention. This boat went through the water at the rate of ten miles an
hour, or seven miles an hour towing a schooner of one hundred and forty
tons burden. He invited the Admiralty to see the work of his screw.
Steaming up to Somerset House with his little vessel, Ericsson took the
Admiralty barge in tow, to the wonder of the watermen, who could make
nothing of the novel craft with no apparent means of propulsion. The
British Admiralty, however, was not easily convinced. These wiseacres
said nothing, but Ericsson professed to have heard that their verdict
was against him because one of the authorities of the board decided that
"even if the propeller had the power of propelling a vessel it would be
found altogether useless in practice, because the power, being applied
to the stern, it would be absolutely impossible to make the vessel

This official blindness cost England the services of the inventor. The
United States happened to have as consul in Liverpool at that day (1837)
Mr. Francis B. Ogden, a pioneer in steam navigation on the Ohio River.
Ogden saw Ericsson's invention and introduced him to Captain Robert F.
Stockton, of the United States Navy. With Stockton, seeing was
believing, and when he returned from a trip on Ericsson's boat, he
exclaimed: "I do not want the opinion of your scientific men. What I
have seen to-day satisfies me." Before the vessel had completed her
trip, Ericsson received from Stockton an order for two boats. Upon
Stockton's assurance that the United States would try his propeller upon
a large scale, Ericsson closed up his affairs in England and embarked
for the United States. Through the good offices of Stockton, but after
considerable delay, a vessel called the Princeton was ordered and
completed. She carried a number of radical improvements destined to make
a revolution in naval warfare. The boilers and engines were below the
waterline, out of the way of shot and shell. The smoke-stack was a
telescopic affair, replacing the tall pipe that formed so conspicuous a
target upon the old boats. Centrifugal blowers in the hold, worked by
separate engines, secured increased draught for the furnaces. The
Princeton was a wonder, and everyone was ready to praise the inventive
genius of Ericsson and the daring of Captain Stockton in adopting so
many radical novelties. An entry in the diary of John Quincy Adams,
dated February 28, 1844, tells the sad story of the public exhibition of
the Princeton at Washington:

"I went into the chamber of the Committee of Manufactures and wrote
there till six. Dined with Mr. Grinnell and Mr. Winthrop. While we were
at dinner John Barney burst into the chamber, rushed up to General Scott
and told him, with groans, that the President wished to see him; that
the great gun on board the Princeton had burst and killed the Secretary
of State, Upshur; the Secretary of the Navy, T.W. Gilmer; Captain
Beverly Kennon, Virgil Maxey, a Colonel Gardiner, of New York, a colored
servant of the President, and desperately wounded several of the crew."

So tragic an introduction was not needed to direct public attention to
the Princeton. Ericsson had placed the United States at the head of
naval powers in the application of steam-power to warfare. He had made
the experiment of the Princeton at a great cost to himself, and two
years of concentrated effort had been devoted to the service of the
Government. For his time, labor, and necessary expenditures he rendered
a bill of $15,000, leaving the question of what, if anything, should be
charged for his patent rights entirely to the discretion and generosity
of the Government. The bill was refused payment by the Navy Department
because of its limited discretion. Ericsson went to Congress with it,
but a dozen years passed without the slightest progress toward a
settlement. A court of claims rendered a unanimous decree in his favor,
but Congress, to which the bill was again sent, failed to make an
appropriation, and there the matter has remained, notwithstanding the
brilliant services since rendered to this country by the inventor.

Various nations claim the invention of the screw as applied to boats. At
Trieste and at Vienna stand statues erected to Joseph Ressel, for whom
the Austrians lay claim. Commodore Stevens, of New Jersey, is also said
by Professor Thurston to have built and worked a screw-propeller on the
Hudson in 1812. Whatever may be the final decision as to Ericsson's
claim in this matter, there, can be no doubt as to the value of the
services he rendered in building the Monitor. The suggestion of the
Monitor was first made in a communication from Ericsson to Napoleon
III., dated New York, September, 1854. This paper contained a
description of an iron-clad vessel surmounted by a cupola substantially
as in the Monitor as finally built. The emperor, through General Favre,
acknowledged the communication. Favre wrote: "The emperor has himself
examined with the greatest care the new system of naval attack which you
have communicated to him. His Majesty charges me with the honor of
informing you that he has found your ideas very ingenious and worthy of
the celebrated name of their author." For eight years Ericsson continued
working upon his idea of a revolving cupola or turret upon an iron-clad
raft, but found no opportunity to test the practical value of the
device. His time finally came when, in 1861, the Navy Department
appointed a board to examine plans for iron-clads. The board consisted
of Commodores Joseph Smith, Hiram Paulding, and Charles H. Davis.
Ericsson, having learned to distrust his own powers as a business agent,
engaged the assistance of C. S. Bushnell, a Connecticut man of some
wealth, who went to Washington and presented the designs of the Monitor
to the board.

Colonel W.C. Church, Ericsson's biographer, who has just been honored by
Sweden for his publications upon the life of the inventor, tells an
interesting story of the negotiations concerning the vessel which was to
render such signal services to the country. Bushnell could make no
headway with the board and decided that Ericsson's presence in
Washington was necessary. But the inventor was then, as during his
whole life, averse to any self-advertisement, and preferred his
workshop to any place on earth. But as he possessed a sort of rude
eloquence due to enthusiasm, Bushnell got him to Washington by
subterfuge. He was told that the board approved his plans for an
iron-clad and that it would be necessary for him to go to the capital
and complete the contract. Presenting himself before the board, what was
his astonishment to find that he was not only an unexpected but
apparently an unwelcome visitor. He was not long in doubt as to the
meaning of this reception. To his indignation and astonishment he was
informed that the plan of a vessel submitted by him had already been
rejected. His first impulse was to withdraw at once. Mastering his
anger, however, he inquired the reason for this decision. Commodore
Smith explained that the vessel had not sufficient stability; in other
words, it would be liable to upset. Captain Ericsson was too experienced
a naval designer to have overlooked this point, and in a lucid
explanation put his views before the board, winding up with the
declaration: "Gentlemen, after what I have said, I consider it to be
your duty to the country to give me an order to build the vessel before
I leave this room."

Withdrawing to a corner the board held a consultation and invited the
inventor to call again at one o'clock. When Ericsson returned he brought
with him a diagram illustrating more fully his reasons for considering
his proposed vessel to be perfectly stable. Commodore, afterward
Admiral, Paulding was convinced, and admitted that Ericsson had taught
him much about the stability of vessels. Secretary Welles was informed
that the board reported favorably upon Ericsson's plan, and told the
inventor that he might return to New York and begin work, as the
contract would follow him. When the contract came it was found to be a
singularly one-sided affair. If the Monitor proved vulnerable--in other
words; if it was not a success--the money paid for it by the Navy
Department was to be refunded.

[Illustration: Sectional View of Monitor through Turret and

[Illustration: The Original Monitor.]

It took one hundred days to build the Monitor. During those three months
Ericsson scarcely slept, and even in his dreams he went over the details
of the new-fangled war-engine he was building. He named her Monitor
because, he said, she would warn the nations of the world that a new era
in naval warfare had begun. The story of his untiring activity has been
told almost as often as that of the battle between the Monitor and the
Merrimac. He was at the ship-yard before any of the workmen, and was the
last to leave. In the construction of so novel a craft difficulties of a
puzzling nature came up every day. If Ericsson could not solve them on
the spot, he studied the matter in the quiet of the night, and was ready
with his drawings in the morning. The result of the naval battle in
Hampton Roads, on the 9th of March, 1862, between the little Monitor and
the big Merrimac made Ericsson the hero of the hour. Had no David
appeared to stop the ravages of the Confederate Goliath, it is hard to
say what might not have been the injury inflicted upon the cause of the
Union by the terrible Merrimac. The United States Navy was virtually
panic-stricken when the Monitor, this "Yankee cheese-box on a plank," as
the Southerners called her, came to the rescue.

Notwithstanding the tremendous service rendered the country, Ericsson
declined to receive more compensation for the Monitor than his contract
called for. In reply to a resolution of the New York Chamber of Commerce
calling for "a suitable return for his services as will evince the
gratitude of the nation," Ericsson said: "All the remuneration I desire
for the Monitor I get out of the construction of it. It is
all-sufficient." Our grateful nation took him at his word. But honors of
another and less costly kind were showered upon him. Chief Engineer
Stimers, who was on the Monitor during her battle with the Merrimac,
wrote to Ericsson: "I congratulate you on your great success. Thousands
have this day blessed you. I have heard whole crews cheer you. Every man
feels that you have saved this place to the nation by furnishing us with
the means to whip an iron-clad frigate that was, until our arrival,
having it all her own way with our most powerful vessels."

[Illustration: Fac-simile of a Pencil Sketch by Ericsson, giving a
Transverse Section of his Original Monitor Plan, with a Longitudinal
Section drawn over it.]

[Illustration: Interior of the Destroyer, Looking toward the Bow.]

War vessels upon the plan of the Monitor speedily appeared among the
navies of several nations. England refused at first to admit the value
of the invention and was not converted until the double-turreted
Miantonomoh visited her waters in 1866, when one of the London papers
described her appearance among the British fleet as that of a wolf among
a flock of sheep. The day of the big wooden war-vessels was over. It
was, nevertheless, an Englishman and a naval officer, Captain Cowper
Coles, who sought to deprive Ericsson of the honor of his invention.
Coles declared that he had devised a ship during the Crimean War, in
which a turret or cupola was to protect the guns. Ericsson's letter to
Napoleon III., written in 1854, is sufficient answer to this, besides
which Ericsson's scheme includes more than a stationary shield for the
guns, which is all that Coles claimed. Coles succeeded, however, in
inducing the British Admiralty to build a vessel according to his plans.
This ill-fated craft upset off Cape Finisterre on the night of September
6, 1870, and went to the bottom with Coles and a crew of nearly five
hundred men.

Having devised an apparatus that made wooden war-vessels useless,
Ericsson turned his attention to the destruction of iron-clads, and
devoted ten years of his life to the construction of his famous
torpedo-boat, the Destroyer, upon which he spent about all the money he
amassed by other work. According to his belief, no vessel afloat could
escape annihilation in a battle with his Destroyer. This vessel is
designed to run at sufficient speed to overtake any of the iron-clads.
It offers small surface to the shot of an enemy, and besides being
heavily armored, it can be partly submerged beneath the waves. When
within fighting distance it fires under water, by compressed air, a
projectile containing dynamite sufficient to raise a big war-ship out of
the water. The explosion takes place when the projectile meets with
resistance, such as the sides of a ship. To Ericsson's great
disappointment, the United States Government persistently refused to
purchase the Destroyer or to commission Ericsson to build more vessels
of her type.

[Illustration: Development of the Monitor Idea.]

Of Ericsson's home life there is not much to be told. He was utterly
wrapped up in his work. With his devoted secretary, Mr. Arthur Taylor,
his days knew scarcely any variation. Of social recreation he had none.
In conversation he was abrupt and somewhat peculiar, apparently
regarding all other talk than that relating to mechanics and germane
subjects as a waste of words. His shrewd face, with its blue eyes and
fringe of white hair, was not an unkindly one, however, and the few
workmen he employed in the Beach Street house were devoted to him. No
great man was ever more intensely averse to personal notoriety. Although
often advised to make his Destroyer better known by means of newspaper
articles, he persistently refused to see newspaper men; and the
professional interviewer and lion-hunter were his pet aversions. It was
perhaps to avoid them that he left his house only after nightfall, and
then but for a walk in the neighborhood.

[Illustration: The Room in which Ericsson Worked for More than Twenty

His time was divided according to rule. For thirty years he was called
by his servant at seven o'clock in the morning, and took a bath of very
cold water, ice being added to it in summer. After some gymnastic
exercises came breakfast at nine o'clock, always of eggs, tea, and brown
bread. His second and last meal of the day, dinner, never varied from
chops or steak, some vegetables, and tea and brown bread again.
Ice-water was the only luxury that he indulged in. He used tobacco in no
form. During the daytime he was accustomed to work at his desk or
drawing-table for about ten hours. After dinner he resumed work until
ten, when he started out for the stroll of an hour or more, which always
ended his day. The last desk work accomplished every day was to make a
record in his diary, always exactly one page long. This diary is in
Swedish and comprises more than fourteen thousand pages, thus covering a
period of forty years, during which he omitted but twenty days, in
1856, when he had a finger crushed by machinery. He scarcely knew what
sickness was, and just before his death said that he had not missed a
meal for fifteen years. He was a widower and left no children. He died
in the Beach Street house, after a short illness, on March 8, 1889, and
his remains were transferred to Sweden with naval honors.

[Illustration: Cyrus Hall McCormick.]



In the course of an argument before the Commissioner of Patents, in
1859, the late Reverdy Johnson declared that the McCormick reaper was
worth $55,000,000 a year to this country, an estimate that was not
disputed. At about the same time the late William H. Seward said that
"owing to Mr. McCormick's invention the line of civilization moves
westward thirty miles each year." Already the London _Times_, after
ridiculing the McCormick reaper exhibited at the London World's Fair of
1851, as "a cross between an Astley (circus) chariot, a wheel-barrow,
and a flying-machine," confessed, when the reaper had been tested in the
fields, that it was "worth to the farmers of England the whole cost of
this exhibition." Writing of this glorious success, Mr. Seward said: "So
the reaper of 1831, as improved in 1845, achieved for its inventor a
triumph which all then felt and acknowledged was not more a personal one
than it was a national one. It was justly so regarded. No general or
consul, drawn in a chariot through the streets of Rome by order of the
Senate, ever conferred upon mankind benefits so great as he who thus
vindicated the genius of our country at the World's Exhibition of Art
in the metropolis of the British empire in 1851." In 1861, though
declining to extend the patent for the reaper, the Commissioner of
Patents, D.P. Holloway, paid the inventor this remarkable tribute:
"Cyrus H. McCormick is an inventor whose fame, while he is yet living,
has spread through the world. His genius has done honor to his own
country, and has been the admiration of foreign nations, and he will
live in the grateful recollection of mankind as long as the
reaping-machine is employed in gathering the harvest." Nevertheless the
extension of the patent of 1834, which act of justice would have given
the inventor an opportunity to obtain an adequate reward for his work,
was refused upon the extraordinary ground that "the reaper was of too
great value to the public to be controlled by any individual." In other
words, the benefit conferred by McCormick upon the country was too great
to be paid for; therefore no effort should be made to pay for it.
Finally, the French Academy of Sciences, when McCormick was elected to
the Institute of France--an honor paid but to few Americans--mentioned
the election as due to "his having done more for the cause of
agriculture than any other living man."

[Illustration: Farm where Cyrus H. McCormick was Born and Raised.]

It is thus evident that the tremendous service done to the civilized
world by the invention of the McCormick reaper was appreciated years
ago. Yet it is improbable that the whole value of the invention was
fully realized. To-day the McCormick works at Chicago turn out yearly,
and have turned out for several years, more than one hundred thousand
reapers and mowers. At a moderate estimate every McCormick reaper, and
every reaper founded upon it and containing its essential features,
saves the labor of six men during the ten harvest days of the year. The
present number of reapers in operation to-day, all of them based upon
the McCormick patents, is estimated at about two million, so that,
counting a man's labor at $1 a day, here is a yearly saving of more than
$100,000,000. The reaper thus stands beside the steam-engine and the
sewing-machine as one of the most important labor-saving inventions of
our time, relieving millions of men from the most arduous drudgery and
increasing the world's wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars every
year. It is some satisfaction to know that the inventor of the reaper
lived to enjoy the fruits of his work. A remarkable man in every
respect, his ingenuity, perseverance, courage under injustice, and
generosity finally won him not only the material rewards that were his
by right, but the esteem and honor of the civilized world.

Like Fulton and Morse, Cyrus Hall McCormick came of Scotch-Irish blood,
a race marked by fixed purpose, untiring industry in carrying out that
purpose, a strong sense of moral obligation, and an unswerving
determination to do right by the light of conscience though the heavens
fall. He was born on the 15th of February, 1809, at Walnut Grove, in
Rockbridge County, Va., and was the eldest of eight children, six of
whom lived to grow up. His father, Robert McCormick, in addition to
farming, had workshops of considerable importance on his farm, as well
as a saw-mill and grist-mill and smelting furnaces. In these workshops
young Cyrus McCormick probably got his first love for mechanical
devices. Robert McCormick was an inventor of no mean attainment. He
devised and built a thresher, a hemp-breaker, some mill improvements,
and in 1816 he made and tried a mechanical reaper. In those days so much
of the farmer's hard labor was expended in swinging the scythe that it
seems strange we have no record of more attempts to make a machine do
the work. A schoolmaster named Ogle is said to have built a reaper in
1822, but, according to his own admission, it would not work. Bell, a
Scotch minister, also contrived a reaping-machine that was tried in
1828. In the course of the subsequent patent litigation over the reaper
the claims of these early inventors were made the most of by McCormick's
opponents, but the courts of last resort invariably settled the question
in McCormick's favor.

As a farmer boy, young Cyrus McCormick began his day's work in the
fields at five o'clock. In winter he went to the Old Field School.
During his boyhood he would watch his father's experiments and
disappointments. His first attempt in the same direction was the
construction, at the age of fifteen, of a harvesting-cradle by which he
was enabled to keep up with an able-bodied workman. His first patented
invention (1831) was a plough which threw alternate furrows on either
side, being thus either a right-hand or left-hand plough. This was
superseded in 1833 by an improved plough, also by McCormick, called the
self-sharpening plough, which did excellent work. His father having
worked long and unsuccessfully at a mechanical reaper, it was natural
that young McCormick's mind should turn over the same problem from time
to time, and his father's failures did not deter him, although Robert
McCormick had suffered so much in mind and pocket through the
impracticability of his reaper that he warned his son against wasting
more time and money upon the dream. One martyr to mechanical progress
was enough for the McCormick family. But the possibility of making a
machine do the hard, hot work of the harvest-field had a fascination for
the young man, and the more he studied the discarded reaping-machine
made by his father in 1816, the more firmly he became convinced that
while the principle of that device was wrong, the work could be done. In
those days the development of the country really depended upon some
better, cheaper way of harvesting. The land was fertile, and there was
practically no end of it. But labor was scarce.

[Illustration: Exterior of the Blacksmith Shop where the First Reaper
was Built.]

Cyrus McCormick's plough was a success that encouraged him to take hold
of the more difficult problem of the reaper. He found that some device,
such as his father's, would cut grain after a fashion, provided it was
in perfect condition and stood up straight; the moment it became matted
and tangled and beaten down by wind and rain the machine was useless.
Other devices had been arranged whereby a fly-wheel armed with sickles
slashed off the heads of the wheat, leaving the stalks; but here again
such a machine would work only when the field was in prime condition. He
determined that no device was of any value which would not cut grain as
it might happen to stand, stalk and all. After months of labor in his
father's shop, making every part of the machine himself, in both wood
and iron, as he said, he turned out, in 1831, the first reaper that
really cut an average field of wheat satisfactorily. Its three great
essential features were those of the reaper of to-day--a vibrating
cutting-blade, a reel to bring the grain within reach of the blade, a
platform to receive the falling grain, and a divider to separate the
grain to be cut from that to be left standing. This machine, drawn by
horses, was tested in a field of six acres of oats, belonging to John
Steele, within a mile of Walnut Grove. Its work astonished the
neighboring farmers who gathered to witness the test. The problem of
cutting standing grain by machinery had been solved.

There were, however, certain defects in the reaper which caused Cyrus
McCormick not to put the machine on the market. All the cog-wheels were
of wood. There was no place upon it for either the driver or the raker.
The former rode on the near horse and the latter followed on foot,
raking the grain from it as best he could. But it cut grain fast, and
both father and son were so impressed by its possibilities as
foreshadowed in even this crude affair, that for the next few years they
devoted their time, money, and thoughts to it. Robert McCormick was as
enthusiastic as his son, and he is rightly entitled to a share of the
honor, for his invention of 1816 turned the attention of his son to the
problem and pointed out the radical errors to be avoided. A year after
its first trial, with certain improvements, the reaper cut fifty acres
of wheat in so perfect and rapid a manner as to insure its practical
value beyond all doubt. The self-restraint shown by McCormick in
refusing to sell machines until he was satisfied with them shows the
man. The patent was granted in 1834, but for six years he kept at work
experimenting, changing, improving, during the short periods of each
harvest. In a letter to the Commissioner of Patents, on file in the
Patent Office, Mr. McCormick said: "From the experiment of 1831 until
the harvest of 1840 I did not sell a reaper, although during that time I
had many exhibitions of it, for experience proved to me that it was best
for the public as well as for myself that no sales were made, as defects
presented themselves that would render the reaper unprofitable in other
hands. Many improvements were found necessary, requiring a great deal of
thought and study. I was sometimes flattered, at other times
discouraged, and at all times deemed it best not to attempt the sale of
machines until satisfied that the reaper would succeed."

[Illustration: Interior of the Blacksmith Shop where the First Reaper
was Built.]

About 1835 the McCormicks engaged in a partnership for the smelting of
iron ore. The reaper, as a business pursuit, was yet in the distance,
and the new iron industry offered large profits. The panic of 1837 swept
away these hopes. Cyrus sacrificed all he had, even the farm given him
by his father, to settle his debts, and his scrupulous integrity in this
matter turned disaster into blessing, for it compelled him to take up
the reaper with renewed energy. With the aid of his father and of his
brothers, William and Leander, he began the manufacture of the machine
in the primitive workshop at Walnut Grove, turning out less than fifty
machines a year, all of them made under great disadvantages. The
sickles were made forty miles away, and as there were no railroads in
those days, the blades, six feet long, had to be carried on horseback.
Neither was it easy, when once the machines were made, to get them to
market. The first consignment sent to the Western prairies, in 1844, was
taken in wagons from Walnut Grove to Scottsville, then down the canal to
Richmond, Va.; thence by water to New Orleans, and then up the
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Cincinnati.

The great West, with its vast prairies, was the natural market for the
reaper. Upon the small farms of the East hand labor might still suffice
for the harvest; in the West, where the farms were enormous and labor
scarce, it was out of the question. Realizing that while his reaper was
a luxury in Virginia, it was a necessity in Ohio and Illinois, Cyrus
McCormick went to Cincinnati in the autumn of 1844 and began
manufacturing. At the same time he made some valuable improvements and
obtained a second patent. The reaper had become known and the inventor
rode on horseback through Illinois and Wisconsin, obtaining farmers'
orders for reapers, which he offered to A.C. Brown, of Cincinnati, as
security for payment, if he would use his workshops for manufacturing
them. McCormick was enabled also to arrange with a firm in Brockport,
N.Y., to make his reapers on a royalty, and this business provided the
great wheat district of Central New York with machines. In 1847 and 1848
he obtained still other patents for new features of the reaper.

[Illustration: The First Reaper.]

In 1846 he had already fixed upon Chicago as the best centre of
operations for the reaper business, and at the close of the year he
moved there. The next year the sale of the reapers rose to seven
hundred, and more than doubled in 1849. Having associated his two
brothers, William S. and Leander J., with him, Cyrus McCormick found
time to devote himself to introducing the reaper in the Old World. The
American exhibit at the London World's Fair of 1851 was rather a small
one, redeemed largely by the McCormick reaper, which the London _Times_,
as I have already said, praised as worth to the farmers of Great Britain
more than the whole cost of the exhibition. To it was awarded the grand
prize, known as the council medal.

The reaper's advance in public favor was as steady on the other side of
the water as here, and medals and honors were awarded McCormick at many
important exhibitions. During the Paris Exposition of 1867 McCormick
superintended the work of his reapers at a field trial held by the
exposition authorities, and so conclusively defeated all competitors
that Napoleon III., who walked after the reapers, expressed his
determination to confer upon the inventor, then and there, the Cross of
the Legion of Honor. At the French Exposition of 1878 the McCormick
wire-binder won the grand prize. From 1850 the success of the reaper was
assured. Mr. McCormick might have rested content with what had been
achieved, but it was not his nature. He not only continued to bear upon
his shoulders the larger share of responsibility of the rapidly growing
business, but he labored persistently to add to the effectiveness of his

The great fire that swept Chicago in 1871 left nothing of the already
important works established by Mr. McCormick. But, as might be expected
from such a man, he was a tower of strength to the city in her time of
distress, and one of those to rally first from the blow and to inspire
hope. Within a year, assisted by his brother Leander, he had raised from
the ashes an immense establishment, which with the growth of the last
few years now covers forty acres of ground. More than 2,000 men are here
employed. The statistics for last year show that more than 20,000 tons
of special bar-iron and steel, 2,800 tons of sheet steel, and 26,000
tons of castings were used in making the 142,000 machines sold. Ten
million feet of lumber were used, chiefly in boxing and crating, as very
little wood is now used in the reaper.

This is a marvellous development from the little Virginia shop of 1840,
with its output of one machine a week, and the growth means far more for
the country at large than might be inferred from these figures; the
farmers of the world owe more to the McCormick reaper than they can
repay. The whir of the American reaper is heard around the world. In
Egypt, Russia, India, Australia the machine is helping man with more
than a giant's strength. Recent American travellers through Persia have
described the singular effect produced upon them by seeing the McCormick
reaper doing its steady work in the fields over which Haroun Al Raschid
may have roamed. And this wonderful machine is followed with awe by the
more ignorant of the natives, who look upon its achievements as little
short of magical. They are not far wrong, however, for it is more
amazing than any wonder described in their "Arabian Nights."

The last years of Cyrus H. McCormick's life were such as have fallen to
few of the world's benefactors, for as a rule the pioneer who shows the
road has a hard time of it, even unto the end. Mr. McCormick had the
satisfaction of knowing not only that by his invention he had conferred
a blessing upon the workmen of the world, but that the world had
acknowledged the debt. Material prosperity, however, was not considered
any reason for luxurious idleness. To the close of his life Mr.
McCormick continued to supervise the business of his firm and to make
the reaper more perfect. No great exhibition abroad or in this country
passed without some of its honors falling to the share of the McCormick

The private life of Cyrus H. McCormick was a happy one, and to this may
be attributed no small share of the elasticity and courage that
recognized no defeat as final. Congress failed to do him justice; his
business was attacked by hordes of rivals; it was interrupted by the
fire of 1871 and afterward threatened by labor strikes incited by
self-seeking demagogues. Hard work was the rule of his life and not the
exception. But that his nature remained sweet and just is shown by his
untiring work upon behalf of others. His home life, as I have just
remarked, was unusually blessed. In 1858 he married Miss Nettie Fowler,
a daughter of Melzar Fowler, of Jefferson County, New York. Of the seven
children born of this marriage, five lived to grow up, his son, Cyrus H.
McCormick, now occupying his father's place at the head of the great
works in Chicago. One of the daughters, Anita, is the widow of Emmons
Blaine. The inventor of the reaping-machine died on the 13th of May,
1884. Robert H. Parkinson, of Cincinnati, speaks as follows of one of
the last interviews he had with Mr. McCormick: "Though struggling with
the infirmities of age, he took on a kind of majesty which belongs alone
to that combination of great mental and moral strength, and he surprised
me by the power with which he grappled the matters under discussion, and
the strong personality before which obstacles went down as swiftly and
inevitably as grain before the knife of his machine. I think myself
fortunate in having had this glimpse of him and in being able to
remember with so much personal association a life so complete in its
achievements, so far-reaching in its impress, alike upon the material,
moral, and religious progress of the country, and so thoroughly
successful and beneficial in every department of activity and influence
which it entered." One of his friends, speaking of Mr. McCormick, said:
"That which gave intensity to his purpose, strength to his will, and
nerved him with perseverance that never failed was his supreme regard
for justice, his worshipful reverence for the true and right. The
thoroughness of his conviction that justice must be done, that right
must be maintained, made him insensible to reproach and impatient of
delay. I do not wonder that his character was strong, nor that his
purpose was invincible, nor that his plans were crowned with an ultimate
and signal success, for where conviction of right is the motive-power
and the attainment of justice the end in view, with faith in God there
is no such word as fail."

Cyrus H. McCormick was not only the inventor of a great labor-saving
device, but he helped his fellow-man in other ways. Philanthropy,
religion, education, journalism, and politics received a share of his
attention. More than thirty years ago he was already an active power for
good in the councils of his church. In 1859 he proposed to the General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to endow with $100,000 the
professorships of a theological seminary, to be established in Chicago.
This was done, and during his lifetime he gave about half a million
dollars to this institution--the Theological Seminary of the Northwest.
The McCormick professorship of natural philosophy in the Washington and
Lee University of Virginia, and gifts to the Union Theological Seminary
at Hampden-Sidney, and to the college at Hastings, Neb., also attest his
solicitude for the church in which he had been reared and of which he
had been a member since 1834. In 1872 he came to the aid of the
struggling organ of the Presbyterian Church in the Northwest, the
_Interior_, and used it to foster union between the Old and the New
Schools in the church, to aid in harmonizing the Presbyterian Church in
the North and South, to advance the interests of the Theological
Seminary, and to promote the welfare of the Presbyterian Church in the
Northwest. Under his care and advice the _Interior_ grew to be a mighty
voice, expressing the convictions, the aspirations, and hopes of a great

[Illustration: Thomas A. Edison.]



[Illustration: Edison's Paper Carbon Lamp.]

Thomas A. Edison is sometimes spoken of rather as a master mechanic than
as a master inventor or discoverer, and with regard to some of his
work--I might even say most of it--this characterization holds true.
Edison's fame is chiefly associated in the popular mind with the
electric light. Yet it is perfectly well known to every student of the
matter, that in all that he has done toward making the electric light a
useful every-day--or perhaps I should say every-night--affair, he has
simply made practicable what other men had invented or discovered before
him. The fundamental discovery upon which the incandescent electric lamp
is founded--that a wire of metal or other substance if heated to
incandescence in a glass bulb from which the air has been exhausted will
give light for a longer or shorter time, according to the character of
the apparatus and the degree to which a perfect vacuum has been effected
in the bulb--this dates from the first half of the century. As early as
1849 Despretz, the French scientist, described a series of experiments
with sticks of carbon sealed in a glass globe from which air had been
exhausted. When a powerful current was passed through the carbon
filament it became luminous and remained so for a short time. This was,
perhaps, the first of a long line of similar experiments in which a
number of American physicists--Farmer, Draper, Henry, Morse, and Maxim
among them--took part. But notwithstanding the labors of a score of
experts in Europe and this country, the incandescent electric light--the
wire in a glass bulb exhausted of its air--remained a laboratory
curiosity up to the time, fifteen years ago, when Edison took hold of
it. It gave light only for a short time and was too expensive a toy for
practical use. The carbon burned out or disintegrated, and the lamp
failed. Edison took hold of the mechanical difficulties of the problem.
With a patience, an ingenuity, a fertility of device in which he stands
alone, he got to the bottom of each radical defect and remedied it. The
lamp would not burn long because the platinum wire used gave out, partly
because platinum was not fitted for the work, fusing at too low a
temperature. Edison substituted carbonized strips of paper. These in
turn failed, and he found a species of bamboo that answered. The lamp
would not burn because air still remained in the little bulbs
notwithstanding the most careful manipulation with Sprengel pumps to
exhaust the air. Edison invented new pumps and devices by which the
air, down to one millionth part, was excluded. The lamp cost too much to
operate, because large copper wires were needed to carry the current,
and the generators used up steam power too fast. Edison devised new
forms of conductors and generators. All such work called more for
mechanical ingenuity than for actual invention. No new principles were
involved--merely the better adaptation of known methods. Given a perfect
carbon, a globe perfectly free from air, cheap electric current, and
cheap means of carrying it from the generating machine to the lamps, and
the problem was solved.

Edison, as a master mechanic, furnished all this, or at least so nearly
solved the problem as to entitle him to claim credit for having given
the electric light to the world--a better illuminant than gas in every
way, and destined some day to be infinitely cheaper.

With regard to Edison's work upon the telegraph, telephone, electric
railway, dynamo, the ore-extracting machines, the electric pen, and a
score of other inventions which have made him the most profitable
customer of the United States Patent Office in this or any other
generation, the labor of this remarkable genius has also been largely
that of one who made practical and useful the dreams of others. And I am
by no means sure that the man who does this is not entitled to more
credit than he who simply suggests that such and such a wonder might be
accomplished and stops there. It is certain that before Edison we had
no electric lights; now we have them in every important building in the
country, and ere long shall have them everywhere.

Edison dislikes intensely the term discoverer as applied to himself.
"Discovery is not invention," he once remarked in the course of an
interesting talk with Mr. George Parsons Lathrop, printed in _Harper's
Magazine_. "A discovery is more or less in the nature of an accident. A
man walks along the road intending to catch the train. On the way his
foot kicks against something, and looking down to see what he has hit,
he sees a gold bracelet embedded in the dust. He has discovered that,
certainly not invented it. He did not set out to find a bracelet, yet
the value of it is just as great to him at the moment as if, after long
years of study, he had invented a machine for making a gold bracelet out
of common road metal. Goodyear discovered the way to make hard rubber.
He was at work experimenting with india-rubber, and quite by chance he
hit upon a process which hardened it--the last result in the world that
he wished or expected to attain. In a discovery there must be an element
of the accidental, and an important one, too; while an invention is
purely deductive. In my own case but few, and those the least important,
of my inventions owed anything to accident. Most of them have been
hammered out after long and patient labor, and are the result of
countless experiments all directed toward attaining some well-defined
object. All mechanical improvements may safely be said to be inventions
and not discoveries. The sewing-machine was an invention. So were the
steam-engine and the typewriter. Speaking of this latter, did I ever
tell you that I made the first twelve typewriters at my old factory in
Railroad Avenue, Newark? This was in 1869 or 1870, and I myself had
worked at a machine of similar character, but never found time to
develop it fully."

[Illustration: Edison Listening to his Phonograph.]

There is one great invention, however, for which Edison deserves credit,
both as discoverer and practical inventor--the phonograph. Here was a
genuine discovery. The phonograph knows no other parent than Edison, and
he has brought it to its present condition by devotion and tireless
skill. I have always believed in the phonograph as an instrument
destined to play some day an important part among the blessings that
ingenuity has given to man. There are still obstacles in the way of its
practical success, but that the missing screw or spring--perhaps no more
than that--will be found in the near future, is not doubted by any
competent observer.

Thomas Alva Edison was born February 11, 1847, at Milan, Erie County,
O., an obscure canal village. When a small boy, his family, a most
humble one (his father being a village jack-of-all-trades, living upon
odd jobs done for neighboring farmers), moved to Port Huron, Mich.,
where Edison's boyhood was passed. There his father was in turn tailor,
well-digger, nursery-man, dealer in grain, lumber, and farm lands. His
parents were of Dutch-Scotch descent and gave him the iron constitution
that enables him to-day, at the age of forty-seven, to tire out the most
robust of his assistants. One of his ancestors lived to the age of one
hundred and two, and another to the age of one hundred and three, so
that we may reasonably expect the famous inventor to open the door for
us to still other wonders of which we do not yet even dream. His mother,
born in Massachusetts, had a good education and at one time taught
school in Canada. Of regular schooling, young Edison had but two months
in his life. Whatever else he knew as a boy he learned from his mother.
There are no records showing extraordinary promise on his part. He was
an omnivorous reader, having an intense curiosity about the world and
its great men. At ten years of age he was reading Hume's "England,"
Gibbon's "Rome," the Penny Encyclopædia, and some books on chemistry.

At the age of twelve he entered upon his life work as newsboy on the
Grand Trunk Railroad of Canada and the Michigan Central, selling papers,
books, candies, etc., to the passengers.

"Were you one of the train-boys," he was once asked, "who sold figs in
boxes with bottoms half an inch thick?"

"If I recollect aright," he replied, with a merry twinkle, "the bottoms
of my boxes were a good inch."

[Illustration: From Edison's Newspaper, the "Grand Trunk Herald."]

Perhaps the twelve-year-old boy learned something from the books and
papers he sold. At all events he says that the love of chemistry, even
at that age, led him to make the corner of the baggage-car where he
stored his wares a small laboratory, fitted up with such retorts and
bottles as he could pick up in the railroad workshops. He had a copy of
Fresenius's "Qualitative Analysis," into which he plunged with the ardor
a small boy usually shows for nothing literary unless it has a yellow
cover decorated with an Indian's head. He seems also to have had a habit
of "hanging around" all interesting places, from a machine-shop to a
printing-office, keeping his eyes very wide open. In one such expedition
he received as a gift from W.F. Storey, of the _Detroit Free Press_,
three hundred pounds of old type thrown out as useless. With an old
hand-press he began printing a paper of his own, the _Grand Trunk
Herald_, of which he sold several hundred copies a week, the employees
of the road being his best customers. "My news," he says, talking of
this time, "was purely local. But I was proud of my newspaper and looked
upon myself as a full-fledged newspaper man. My items used to run about
like this: 'John Robinson, baggage-master at James's Creek Station, fell
off the platform yesterday and hurt his leg. The boys are sorry for
John.' Or, 'No. 3 Burlington engine has gone into the shed for

This was Edison's only dip into a literary occupation. He has no
predilection in that way. He realizes the value of newspapers and books,
but chiefly as tools, and his splendid library at the Orange laboratory,
kept with scrupulous system, is filled with scientific books and
periodicals only. Telegraphy was to be the field in which he was to win
his first laurels. Some years ago he told the story as follows:

"At the beginning of the civil war I was slaving late and early at
selling papers; but, to tell the truth, I was not making a fortune. I
worked on so small a margin that I had to be mighty careful not to
overload myself with papers that I could not sell. On the other hand, I
could not afford to carry so few that I should find myself sold out long
before the end of the trip. To enable myself to hit the happy mean, I
formed a plan which turned out admirably. I made a friend of one of the
compositors of the _Free Press_ office, and persuaded him to show me
every day a 'galley-proof' of the most important news article. From a
study of its head-lines I soon learned to gauge the value of the day's
news and its selling capacity, so that I could form a tolerably correct
estimate of the number of papers I should need. As a rule I could
dispose of about two hundred; but if there was any special news from the
seat of war, the sale ran up to three hundred or over. Well, one day my
compositor brought me a proof-slip of which nearly the whole was taken
up with a gigantic display head. It was the first report of the battle
of Pittsburgh Landing--afterward called Shiloh, you know--and it gave
the number of killed and wounded as sixty thousand men.

"I grasped the situation at once. Here was a chance for enormous sales,
if only the people along the line could know what had happened! If only
they could see the proof-slip I was then reading! Suddenly an idea
occurred to me. I rushed off to the telegraph-operator and gravely made
a proposition to him which he received just as gravely. He on his part
was to wire to each of the principal stations on our route, asking the
station-master to chalk up on the bulletin-board--used for announcing
the time of arrival and departure of trains--the news of the great
battle, with its accompanying slaughter. This he was to do at once,
while I, in return, agreed to supply him with current literature 'free,
gratis, for nothing' during the next six months from that date.

"This bargain struck, I began to bethink me how I was to get enough
papers to make the grand _coup_ I intended. I had very little cash and,
I feared, still less credit. I went to the superintendent of the
delivery department, and preferred a modest request for one thousand
copies of the _Free Press_ on trust. I was not much surprised when my
request was curtly and gruffly refused. In those days, though, I was a
pretty cheeky boy and I felt desperate, for I saw a small fortune in
prospect if my telegraph operator had kept his word--a point on which I
was still a trifle doubtful. Nerving myself for a great stroke, I
marched upstairs into the office of Wilbur F. Storey himself and asked
to see him. A few minutes later I was shown in to him. I told who I was,
and that I wanted fifteen hundred copies of the paper on credit. The
tall, thin, dark-eyed, ascetic-looking man stared at me for a moment and
then scratched a few words on a slip of paper. 'Take that downstairs,'
said he, 'and you will get what you want.' And so I did. Then I felt
happier than I have ever felt since.

"I took my fifteen hundred papers, got three boys to help me fold them,
and mounted the train all agog to find out whether the telegraph
operator had kept his word. At the town where our first stop was made I
usually sold two papers. As the train swung into that station I looked
ahead and thought there must be a riot going on. A big crowd filled the
platform and as the train drew up I began to realize that they wanted my
papers. Before we left I had sold a hundred or two at five cents apiece.
At the next station the place was fairly black with people. I raised the
'ante' and sold three hundred papers at ten cents each. So it went on
until Port Huron was reached. Then I transferred my remaining stock to
the wagon which always waited for me there, hired a small boy to sit on
the pile of papers in the back, so as to discount any pilfering, and
sold out every paper I had at a quarter of a dollar or more per copy. I
remember I passed a church full of worshippers, and stopped to yell out
my news. In ten seconds there was not a soul left in meeting. All of
them, including the parson, were clustered around me, bidding against
each other for copies of the precious paper.

"You can understand why it struck me then that the telegraph must be
about the best thing going, for it was the telegraphic notices on the
bulletin-boards that had done the trick. I determined at once to become
a telegraph-operator. But if it hadn't been for Wilbur F. Storey I
should never have fully appreciated the wonders of electrical science."

Telegraphy became a hobby with the boy. From every operator along the
road he picked up something. He strung the basement of his father's
house at Port Huron with wires, and constructed a short line, using for
the batteries stove-pipe wire, old bottles, nails, and zinc which
urchins of the neighborhood were induced to cut out from under the
stoves of their unsuspecting mothers and bring to young Edison at three
cents a pound. In order to save time for his experiments, he had the
habit of leaping from a train while it was going at the rate of
twenty-five miles an hour, landing upon a pile of sand arranged by him
for that purpose. An act of personal courage--the saving of the
station-master's child at Port Clements from an advancing train--was a
turning-point in his career, for the grateful father taught him
telegraphing in the regular way. Telegraphy was then in its infancy,
comparatively speaking; operators were few, and good wages could be
earned by means of much less proficiency than is now required. Still,
Edison had so little leisure at his disposal for learning the new trade,
that it took him several years to become an expert operator. Most of his
studies were carried on in the corner of the baggage-car that served him
as printing-office, laboratory, and business headquarters. With so many
irons in the fire, mishaps were sure to occur. Once he received a
drubbing on account of an article reflecting unpleasantly upon some
employee of the road. One day during his absence a bottle of phosphorus
upset and set the old railroad caboose on fire, whereupon the conductor
threw out all the painfully acquired apparatus and thrashed its owner.

Edison's first regular employment as telegraph-operator was at
Indianapolis when he was eighteen years old. He received a small salary
for day-work in the railroad office there, and at night he used to
receive newspaper reports for practice. The regular operator was a man
given to copious libations, who was glad enough to sleep off their
effects while Edison and a young friend of his named Parmley did his
work. "I would sit down," says Edison, "for ten minutes, and 'take' as
much as I could from the instrument, carrying the rest in my head. Then
while I wrote out, Parmley would serve his turn at 'taking,' and so on.
This worked well until they put a new man on at the Cincinnati end. He
was one of the quickest despatchers in the business, and we soon found
it was hopeless for us to try to keep up with him. Then it was that I
worked out my first invention, and necessity was certainly the mother of

"I got two old Morse registers and arranged them in such a way that by
running a strip of paper through them the dots and dashes were recorded
on it by the first instrument as fast as they were delivered from the
Cincinnati end, and were transmitted to us through the other instrument
at any desired rate of speed. They would come in on one instrument at
the rate of forty words a minute, and would be ground out of our
instrument at the rate of twenty-five. Then weren't we proud! Our copy
used to be so clean and beautiful that we hung it up on exhibition; and
our manager used to come and gaze at it silently with a puzzled
expression. He could not understand it, neither could any of the other
operators; for we used to hide my impromptu automatic recorder when our
toil was over. But the crash came when there was a big night's work--a
Presidential vote, I think it was--and copy kept pouring in at the top
rate of speed until we fell an hour and a half or two hours behind. The
newspapers sent in frantic complaints, an investigation was made, and
our little scheme was discovered. We couldn't use it any more.

[Illustration: Edison's Tinfoil Phonograph--the First Practical

"It was that same rude automatic recorder that indirectly led me long
afterward to invent the phonograph. I'll tell you how this came about.
After thinking over the matter a great deal, I came to the point where,
in 1877, I had worked out satisfactorily an instrument that would not
only record telegrams by indenting a strip of paper with dots and dashes
of the Morse code, but would also repeat a message any number of times
at any rate of speed required. I was then experimenting with the
telephone also, and my mind was filled with theories of sound vibrations
and their transmission by diaphragms. Naturally enough, the idea
occurred to me: if the indentations on paper could be made to give forth
again the click of the instrument, why could not the vibrations of a
diaphragm be recorded and similarly reproduced? I rigged up an
instrument hastily and pulled a strip of paper through it, at the same
time shouting, 'Hallo'! Then the paper was pulled through again, my
friend Batchelor and I listening breathlessly. We heard a distinct
sound, which a strong imagination might have translated into the
original 'Hallo.' That was enough to lead me to a further experiment.
But Batchelor was sceptical, and bet me a barrel of apples that I
couldn't make the thing go. I made a drawing of a model and took it to
Mr. Kruesi, at that time engaged on piece-work for me, but now assistant
general manager of our machine-shop at Schenectady. I told him it was a
talking-machine. He grinned, thinking it a joke; but he set to work and
soon had the model ready. I arranged some tinfoil on it, and spoke into
the machine. Kruesi looked on, still grinning. But when I arranged the
machine for transmission and we both heard a distinct sound from it, he
nearly fell down in his fright. I was a little scared myself, I must
admit. I won that barrel of apples from Batchelor, though, and was
mighty glad to get it."

To go back to earlier days, the story of Edison's first years as a
full-fledged operator shows that from the beginning he was more of an
inventor than an operator. He was full of ideas, some of which were
gratefully received. One day an ice-jam broke the cable between Port
Huron, in Michigan, and Sarnia, on the Canada side, and stopped
communication. The river is a mile and a half wide and was impassable.
Young Edison jumped upon a locomotive and seized the valve controlling
the whistle. He had the idea that the scream of the whistle might be
broken into long and short notes, corresponding to the dots and dashes
of the telegraphic code. "Hallo there, Sarnia! Do you get me? Do you
hear what I say?" tooted the locomotive.

No answer.

"Do you hear what I say, Sarnia?"

A third, fourth, and fifth time the message went across without
response, but finally the idea was caught on the other side; answering
toots came cheerfully back and the connection was recovered.

Anything connected with the difficulties of telegraphy had a fascination
for him. He lost many a place because of unpardonable blunders due to
his passion for improvement. At Stratford, Canada, being required to
report the word "Six" every half hour to the manager to show that he was
awake and on duty, he rigged up a wheel to do it for him. At
Indianapolis he kept press reports waiting while he experimented with
new devices for receiving them. At Louisville, in procuring some
sulphuric acid at night for his experiments, he tipped over a carboy of
it, ruining the handsome outfit of a banking establishment below. At
Cincinnati he abandoned the office on every pretext to hasten to the
Mechanics' Library to pass his day in reading.

An indication of his thirst for knowledge, and of a _naïve_ ignoring of
enormous difficulties, is found in a project formed by him at this time
to read through the whole public library. There was no one to tell him
that a summary of human knowledge may be found in a moderate number of
volumes, nor to point out to him what they are. Each book was to him a
part of the great domain of knowledge, none of which he meant to lose.
He began with the solid treatises of a dusty lower shelf and actually
read, in the accomplishment of his heroic purpose, fifteen feet along
that shelf. He omitted no book and nothing in the book. The list
contained Newton's "Principia," Ure's Scientific Dictionary, and
Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy."

At that time a message sent from New Orleans to New York had to be taken
at Memphis, re-telegraphed to Louisville, taken down again by the
operator there, and telegraphed to another centre, and so on till it
reached New York. Time was lost and the chance of error was increased.
Edison was the first to connect New Orleans and New York directly. It
was just after the war. He perfected an automatic repeater which was put
on at Memphis and did its work perfectly. The manager of the office
there, one Johnson, had a relative who was also busy on the same
problem, but Edison solved it ahead of him and received complimentary
notices from the local papers. He was discharged without cause. He got a
pass as far as Decatur on his way home, but had to walk from there to
Nashville, a hundred and fifty miles. From there he got a pass to
Louisville, where he arrived during a sharp snow-storm, clad in a linen

It was soon after this that Edison, already a swift and competent
operator when he devoted himself to practical work, received promise of
employment in the Boston office. The weather was quite cold and his
peculiar dress, topped with a slouchy broad-brimmed hat, made something
of a sensation. But Edison then cared as little for dress as he does
to-day. So one raw wet day a tall man with a limp, wet duster clinging
to his legs, stalked into the superintendent's room, and said:

"Here I am."

The superintendent eyed him from head to foot, and said:

"Who are you?"

"Tom Edison."

"And who on earth might Tom Edison be?"

The young man explained that he had been ordered to report for duty at
the Boston office, and was finally told to sit down in the
operating-room, where his advent created much merriment. The operators
guyed him loudly enough for him to hear. He didn't care. A few moments
later a New York sender noted for his swiftness called up the Boston
office. There was no one at liberty.

"Well," said the office chief, "let that new fellow try him." Edison sat
down, and for four hours and a half wrote out messages in his peculiarly
clear round hand, stuck a date and number on them and threw them on the
floor for the office boy to pick up. The time he took in numbering and
dating the sheets were the only seconds he was not writing out
transmitted words. Faster and faster ticked the instrument, and faster
and faster went Edison's fingers, until the rapidity with which the
messages came tumbling on the floor attracted the attention of the
other operators, who, when their work was done, gathered around to
witness the spectacle. At the close of the four and a half hours' work
there flashed from New York the salutation:


"Hello yourself," ticked back Edison.

"Who the devil are you?" rattled into the Boston office.

"Tom Edison."

"You are the first man in the country," ticked the instrument, "that
could ever take me at my fastest, and the only one who could ever sit at
the other end of my wire for more than two hours and a half. I'm proud
to know you."

Edison was once asked with what invention he really began his career as
an inventor.

"Well," said he, in reply, "my first appearance at the Patent Office was
in 1868, when I was twenty-one, with an ingenious contrivance which I
called the electrical vote recorder. I had been impressed with the
enormous waste of time in Congress and in the State Legislatures by the
taking of votes on any motion. More than half an hour was sometimes
required to count the 'Ayes' and 'Noes.' So I devised a machine somewhat
on the plan of the hotel annunciator that was invented long afterward,
only mine was a great deal more complex. In front of each member's desk
were to have been two buttons, one for 'Aye,' the other for 'No,' and by
the side of the Speaker's desk a frame with two dials, one showing the
total of 'Ayes' and the other the total of 'Noes.' When the vote was
called for, each member could press the button he wished and the result
would appear automatically before the Speaker, who could glance at the
dials and announce the result. This contrivance would save several hours
of public time every day in the session, and I thought my fortune was
made. I interested a moneyed man in the thing and we went together to
Washington, where we soon found the right man to get the machine
adopted. I set forth its merits. Imagine my feelings when, in a
horrified tone, he exclaimed:

[Illustration: Vote Recorder--Edison's First Patented Invention.]

"'Young man, that won't do at all. That is just what we do not want.
Your invention would destroy the only hope the minority have of
influencing legislation. It would deliver them over, bound hand and
foot, to the majority. The present system gives them time, a weapon
which is invaluable, and as the ruling majority always knows that they
may some day become a minority, they will be as much averse to any
change as their opponents.' I saw the force of these remarks, and the
vote recorder got no further than the Patent Office."

But he began to believe in himself. His next work was upon the
applications of the vibratory principle in telegraphing, upon which so
many of his subsequent inventions were founded. His first ambitious
attempt was in the direction of a multiplex system for sending several
messages over one wire at the same time. It was not much of a success,
however, and Edison drifted to New York, where, after a vain attempt to
interest the telegraph companies in his inventions, he established
himself as an electrical expert ready for odd jobs and making a
specialty of telegraphy. One day the Western Union Company had trouble
with its Albany Wire. The wire wasn't broken, but wouldn't work, and
several days of experimenting on the part of the company's electricians
only served to puzzle them the more. As a forlorn hope they sent for
young Edison.

"How long will you give me?" he asked. "Six hours?"

The manager laughed and told him he would need longer than that.

Edison sat down at the instrument, established communication with Albany
by way of Pittsburgh, told the Albany office to put their best man at
the instrument, and began a rapid series of tests with currents of all
intensities. He directed the tests from both ends, and after two hours
and a half told the company's officers that the trouble existed at a
certain point he named on the line, and he told them what it was. They
telegraphed the office nearest this point the necessary directions, and
an hour later the wire was working properly. This incident first
established his value in New York as an expert, and the business became
profitable. Moreover, it led the different telegraph companies to give
respectful attention to what he had to offer in the way of patented

Edison's mechanical skill soon became so noted that he was made
superintendent of the repair shop of one of the smaller telegraph
companies then in existence, all of which were using what was known as
the Page sounder, a device for signalling, the sole right to which was
claimed by the Western Union Company. Owing to the latter company's
success in a patent suit over this sounder, there came a time when an
injunction was obtained, silencing all sounders of that type, and
practically putting a serious obstacle in the way of rapid work. Edison
was called into the president's office and the situation explained. For
a long time, according to one who was present, he stood chewing
vigorously upon a mouthful of tobacco, looking first at the sounder in
his hand, and then falling into a brown study. At length he picked up a
sheet of tin used as a "back" for manifolding on thin sheets of paper,
and began to twist and cut it into queer shapes; a group of persons
gathered around and watched. Not a word was spoken. Finally Edison tore
off the Page sounder on the instrument before him, and substituting his
bit of tin, began working. It was not so good as the patented
arrangement discarded, but it worked. In four hours a hundred such
devices were in use over the line, and what would have been a ruinous
interruption to business was avoided.

Edison's first large sums of money came from the sale of an improvement
in the instruments used to record stock quotations in brokers' offices,
commonly known as "tickers." His success in this direction led him to
take a contract to manufacture some hundreds of "tickers," and his only
venture in this direction was carried out with considerable success at a
shop he rented in Newark about 1875. But as he told me a few years
later, in talking about this incident in his career, manufacturing was
not in his line. Like Thoreau, who having succeeded in making a perfect
lead-pencil, declared he should never make another, he hates routine. "I
was a poor manufacturer," said he, "because I could not let well enough
alone. My first impulse upon taking any apparatus into my hand, from an
egg-beater to an electric-motor, is to seek a way of improving it.
Therefore, as soon as I have finished a machine I am anxious to take it
apart again in order to make an experiment. That is a costly mania for a

[Illustration: Edison in his Laboratory.]

It was his success with a device for printing stock quotations upon
paper tape that finally induced several New York capitalists to accept
Edison's offer to experiment with the incandescent electric light, they
to pay the expense of the experiments and share in the inventions if
any were made. For the sake of quiet Edison moved out to Menlo Park,
a little station on the Pennsylvania road about twenty-five miles beyond
Newark, and built a shop twenty-eight feet wide, one hundred feet long,
and two stories high. It was here that I first made his acquaintance, in
January, 1879, soon after the newspapers had announced that he had
solved the problem of the electric light. It may be remembered that gas
stock tumbled in price at that time, and there was a rush to sell before
the new light should displace gas altogether. One cold day I climbed the
hill from the station, and once past the reception-room, in which every
new-comer was carefully scrutinized, for inventors are apt to have odds
and ends lying about that they do not want seen by everyone, I found
myself in a long big work-shop. To anyone accustomed to the orderly
appearance of the ideal machine-shop, it presented a curious appearance,
for evidently half the machines in it--forges, lathes, furnaces,
retorts, etc.--were dismantled for the moment and useless. Half a dozen
workmen were busy in an apparently aimless manner.

Upstairs, in a room devoted to chemical experiments, I found Edison
himself. He is to-day just what he was then. Prosperity has not changed
him in the least, except perhaps in one particular. In those days of
struggle the inventor was far less affable with visitors than he is
to-day. One felt instinctively that he was a man struggling to
accomplish some serious task to which he was devoting every waking
thought and probably dreaming about it at night. As I strode across the
laboratory in the direction indicated by one of the workmen present, a
compactly built but not tall man, with rather a boyish, clean-shaven
face, prematurely old, was holding a vial of some liquid up to the
light. He had on a blouse such as chemists wear, but it was hardly
necessary, as his clothes were well stained with acids; his hands were
covered with some oil with which his hair was liberally streaked, as he
had a habit of wiping his fingers upon his head. "Good clothes are
wasted upon me," he once explained to me. "I feel it is wrong to wear
any, and I never put on a new suit when I can help it." Edison has been
slightly deaf for a number of years, and like all persons of defective
hearing, closely watches anyone with whom he talks. His patience with
visitors is proverbial, and provided any intelligence is shown, he will
plunge into long explanations. As he goes on from point to point,
warming up to his subject, he is sometimes quite oblivious to the fact
that it is all lost upon his visitor until brought back by some question
or comment which shows that he might as well talk Sanskrit. Then he
laughs and goes back to simpler matters.

I watched him for a few moments before presenting myself. After a long
look at his bottle, held up against the light, he put it down again on
the table before him, and resting his head between his hands, both
elbows on the table, he peered down at the bottle as if he expected it
to say something. Then, after a moment's brown study, he would seize it
again, give it a shake, as if to shake its secret out, and hold it up to
the light. As pantomime nothing could have been more expressive. That
liquid contained a secret it would not give up, but if it could be made
to give it up, Edison was the man to do it, as a terrier might worry the
life out of a rat.

[Illustration: Edison's Menlo Park Electric Locomotive (1880).]

The secret of his success might well be "Persistency, more persistency,
still more persistency." One of his foremen relates that once in Newark
when his printing telegraph suddenly refused to work, he locked himself
into his laboratory, declaring that he would not come out till the
trouble was found. It took him sixty hours, during which time his only
food consisted of crackers and cheese eaten at the bench; then he went
to bed and slept twenty hours at a stretch. At another time, during the
height of the first electric-light excitement, all the lamps he had
burning in Menlo Park, about eighty in all, suddenly went out, one after
another, without apparent cause. Everything had gone well for nearly a
month and the great success of the experiment had been published to the
world. If the lamps, with their carbon filaments of charred paper would
burn for a month there seemed to be no reason why they should not burn
for a year, and Edison was stunned by the catastrophe. The trouble was
evidently in the lamps themselves, for new lamps burned well. Then began
the most exciting and most exhaustive series of experiments ever
undertaken by an American physicist. For five days Edison remained day
and night at the laboratory, sleeping only when his assistants took his
place at whatever was going on. The difficulties in the way of
experimenting with the incandescent lamp are enormous because the light
only burns when in a vacuum. The instant the glass is broken, out it
goes. Edison's eyes grew weak studying the brilliant glow of the carbon
filament. At the end of the five days he took to his bed, worn out with
excitement and sick with disappointment. During the last two days and
nights he ate nothing. He could not sleep, for the moment he left the
laboratory and closed his eyes some new test suggested itself. Neither
was there much sleep for his faithful force. Ordinarily one of the most
considerate of men, he seemed quite surprised when rest and refreshments
were sometimes suggested as in order after fifteen hours' incessant
work. The trouble was finally discovered to be one that time alone could
have proved. The air was not sufficiently exhausted from the lamps. To
add to the discomfiture of the inventor, a professor of physics in one
of the well-known colleges declared in a newspaper article widely
circulated that the Edison lamp would never last long enough to pay for

"I'll make a statue of that man," said Edison to me one day when he was
still groping in the dark for the secret of his temporary defeat, "and
I'll illuminate it brilliantly with Edison lamps and inscribe it: 'This
is the man who said the Edison lamp would not burn.'"

To go back to Edison, shaking his bottle in the sunlight, his brown
study gave way to a pleasant smile of welcome when I had made my
business known. "Take a look at these filings," he said, making room for
me at the bench. "See how curiously they settle when I shake the bottle
up. In alcohol they behave one way, but in oil in this way. Isn't that
the most curious thing you ever saw--better than a play at one of your
city theatres, eh?" and he chuckled to himself as he shook them up

"What I want to know," he went on, more to himself than to me, "is what
they mean by it, and I'm going to find out." To me the interesting
spectacle was Edison tossing up his bottle and watching the filings
settle, and not the curious behavior of the filings.

When he put the bottle by, with a deep sigh, he took me over the whole
place, pointing out with particular pride the apparatus for making the
paper carbons for the lamps, and the new forms of Sprengel mercury pumps
that did better work in extracting air from the lamps than any yet

Looking back to that first visit to Edison, the first of perhaps a score
that I have had occasion to make him in the last fifteen years, what
impressed me most was the immensity of the field in which he takes an
interest. Ask Edison what he thinks will be the next step in the
development of the sewing-machine, or the telescope, the microscope, the
steam-engine, the electric-motor, the reaping-machine, or any device by
which man accomplishes much work in little time, and invariably it will
be found that he has some novel ideas upon the subject, perhaps fanciful
in the extreme, but practical enough to show that he has pondered the
matter. He shares the opinion of the gentleman who insists that whatever
is is wrong, but only to this extent: that whatever is might be better.
Authority means nothing to him; he must test for himself. For instance,
it is well known that he rejects the Newtonian theory in part and holds
that motion is an inherent property of matter; that it pushes, finding
its way in the direction of least resistance, and is not pulled or
attracted. "It seems to me," he said once, "that every atom is possessed
by a certain amount of primitive intelligence. Look at the thousand
ways in which atoms of hydrogen combine with those of other elements,
forming the most diverse substances. Do you mean to say that they do
this without intelligence? Atoms in harmonious and useful relation
assume beautiful or interesting shapes and colors, or give forth a
pleasant perfume, as if expressing their satisfaction. In sickness,
death, decomposition, or filth the disagreement of the component atoms
immediately makes itself felt by bad odors." It is partly due to this
belief in the sensibility of atoms that Edison attributes his faith in
an intelligent Creator.


It is hard to say into what field of inquiry Edison has not dipped. He
told me once that whenever he travelled he carried a note-book with him,
in which he jotted down suggestions for experiments to be made. Railway
journeys, at a time when Edison was a constant traveller, were
productive of much material of this kind, for the inventor never sleeps
when travelling, and his brain works, going over, even in a doze, the
thousand and one aspects of his work, and evolving theories to be
dismissed almost as soon as evolved. His mind, when at rest, reviews his
day's work almost automatically, just as a chess player's brain will,
after an exciting game, go over every situation in a half dream-like
condition and evolve new solutions. He has great respect for even what
appear to be the most inconsequential observations, provided they are
made by a competent person, and a large force in his splendid
laboratory at Orange is always employed in studies that appear to the
outsider to be aimless; for instance, the action of chemicals upon
various substances or upon each other. Strips of ivory in a certain oil
become transparent in six weeks. A globule of mercury in water takes
various shapes for the opposite poles of the electric-battery upon the
addition of a little potassium. There is no present use for the
knowledge of such facts, but it is recorded in voluminous note-books,
and some day the connecting-link in the chain of an invaluable discovery
may here be found.

My next visit to Menlo Park was a few months later, when I found Edison
in bed sick with disappointment. The lamps had again taken to antics for
which no remedy or explanation could be discovered. There was an air of
desolation over the place. The laboratory was cold and comfortless. Upon
every side were signs of strict economy. Most of the assistants were
young men glad to work for little or nothing. For the last month Edison
had been working in the direction of a general improvement of all parts
of the lamp instead of devoting himself to one feature. Expert
glass-blowers were brought to Menlo Park, the air-pumps were made more
perfect, new substances were tried for carbons. All this had taken time,
during which outsiders freely predicted failure. The stock in the
enterprise fell to such a price that it was hard to raise money for the
maintenance of the laboratory. It was argued, and with some truth, as I
have had occasion to remark, that Edison had really discovered nothing
new; he had attempted to do what a dozen famous men had tried before him
and he had failed. The quotations of New York gas stocks rose again.

The next time I visited the laboratory, a few days later, Edison was up
again and talking cheerfully. But he had grown five years older in five
months. "I shall succeed," he said to me, "but it may take me longer
than I at first supposed. Everything is so new that each step is in the
dark; I have to make the dynamos, the lamps, the conductors, and attend
to a thousand details that the world never hears of. At the same time I
have to think about the expense of my work. That galls me. My one
ambition is to be able to work without regard to the expense. What I
mean is, that if I want to give up a whole month of my time and that of
my whole establishment to finding out why one form of a carbon filament
is slightly better than another, I can do it without having to think of
the cost. My greatest luxury would be a laboratory more perfect than any
we have in this country. I want a splendid collection of material--every
chemical, every metal, every substance in fact that may be of use to me,
and I hardly know what may not be of use. I want all this right at hand,
within a few feet of my own house. Give me these advantages and I shall
gladly devote fifteen hours a day to solid work. I want none of the rich
man's usual toys, no matter how rich I may become. I want no horses or
yachts--have no time for them. I want a perfect workshop."

In the last twelve years Edison has seen his dream fulfilled. His
electric light has not displaced gas, by any means, but it has been the
foundation of a business large enough to make the inventor sufficiently
rich to build the finest laboratory in the world, in the most curious
room of which are to be found the three hundred models of machinery and
apparatus of various kinds devised by Edison in the last twenty years
and made by himself or under his eye. He is still a gaunt fellow, with a
slight stoop, a clean-shaven face, and a low voice. His hands are still
soiled with acids, his clothes are shabby, and there is always a cigar
in his mouth.

[Illustration: The Home of Thomas A. Edison.]

[Illustration: Edison's Laboratory.]

The Edison laboratory deserves a chapter by itself. In 1886 Edison
bought a fine villa in Llewellyn Park at a cost of $150,000. He took the
house as it stood, with all its luxurious fittings, rather to please his
wife than himself; a corner of the laboratory would suit him quite as
well. Right outside the gates of the park and within view of the house,
he bought ten acres of land and began his laboratory. Two handsome
structures of brick, each 60 feet wide, 100 feet long, and four stories
high, accommodate the machine-shop, library, lecture-room, experimental
workshops, assistants' rooms and store-rooms. The boiler-house and
dynamo-rooms are outside the main buildings. Also, in a separate room,
the floor of which consists of immense blocks of stone, are the delicate
instruments of precision used in testing electric currents. The
instruments in this one room, twenty feet square, cost $18,000 to make
and to import from Europe. Upon first entering the main building, the
visitor finds what is apparently a busy factory of some sort, with long
rows of machinery, from steam-hammers to diamond-lathes. Everywhere
workmen are busy at their tasks, and Edison has good reason to be proud
of his laboratory force, for it consists of the picked workmen of the
country. Whenever he finds in one of the Edison factories in Newark,
New York, Schenectady, or elsewhere a particularly expert and
intelligent man, he has him transferred to the Orange laboratory, where,
at increased pay for shorter hours, the man not only finds life
pleasanter, but has a chance of learning and becoming somebody. The
whole place hums with the rattle of machinery and glows with electric
light. There are eighty assistants, who have charge of the various
departments. The most expert iron-workers, glass-blowers, wood-turners,
metal-spinners, screw-makers, chemists, and machinists in the country
are to be found here. A rough drawing of the most complicated model is
all they require to work from.

The store-rooms contain all the material needed. Four store-keepers are
employed to keep the supplies, valued at $100,000, in order and ready
for use at a moment's notice. Each article is put down in a catalogue
which shows the shelf or bottle where it may be found. Every known
metal, every chemical known to science, every kind of glass, stone,
earth, wood, fibre, paper, skin, cloth, is to be found there. In making
up the chemical collection an assistant was kept at work for weeks going
through the three most exhaustive works on chemistry in English, French,
and German, making a note of every substance mentioned, and this list
constituted the order for chemicals, an order, by the way, which it
required seven months to fill. In the glass department, for instance,
there is every known kind of glass, from plates two inches thick to the
finest, film, and if anything else in the way of glass is needed, the
glass-workers are there to make it. This stupendous collection of
material, filling one floor, is intended to guard against annoying
delays that might occur at critical times for want of some rare
material. In 1885, when working upon an apparatus for getting a current
of electricity directly from heat--the thermo-electric
generator--Edison's work was brought to a standstill for want of a few
pounds of nickel, an article not then to be found in any quantity in
this country. The store-room was organized to avert such delays. The
library is the only part of the main building that shows any attempt at
decoration. It is a superb room, 60 feet by 40, with a height of 25
feet. Galleries run around the second story. At one end is a monumental
fireplace, and in the centre of the hall a fine group of palms and
ferns. The room is finished in oiled hard wood and lighted by
electricity. Fine rugs cover the floors. The shelves contain nothing but
scientific works and the files of the forty-six scientific periodicals
in English, French, and German to which Edison subscribes. They are
indexed by a librarian as soon as received, so that Edison can see at a
glance what they contain concerning the special fields in which he is

Nothing in this big establishment, often employing more than one hundred
persons, is made for sale. It is wholly devoted to experimental work and
tests. Its expenses, said to be more than $150,000 a year, are paid by
the commercial companies in which Edison is interested, he, on his
part, giving them the benefit of any improvements made. Thus in one room
hundreds of incandescent electric lamps burn night and day the year
through. Each lamp is specially marked and when it burns out more
quickly than the average, or lasts longer, a special study is made as to
the contributing causes. It may seem impossible that the suggestions of
one man can keep busy a big workshop upon experiments the year round,
but Edison says that the temptation is always to increase the force.
When it is remembered that the list of Edison's patents reaches to seven
hundred and forty, and that on the electric light alone he has worked
out several hundred theories, the wonder ceases. Ten minutes' work with
a pencil may sketch an apparatus that a dozen men cannot finish inside
of a fortnight.

When the new Orange laboratory was finished and Edison found himself
with time and means at his disposal, his first thought was to take up
his phonograph. The history of the great hopes built upon the phonograph
and the bitter disappointment that followed is too familiar to need
repetition here. As may be imagined, Edison is most keenly bent upon
tightening the loose screw that has prevented it from doing all that its
friends predicted for it. He still works at other problems, but chiefly
as relaxation. He rests from inventing one thing by inventing something

[Illustration: Library at Edison's Laboratory.]

One day recently, when I found him less confident than usual as to the
triumph of the phonograph in the near future, he said: "There are some
difficulties about the problem that seem insurmountable. I go on
smoothly until at a certain point I run my head against a stone wall; I
cannot get under, over, or around it. After butting my head against that
wall until it aches, I go back to the beginning again. It is absurd to
say that because I can see no possible solution of the problem to-day,
that I may not see one to-morrow. The very fact that this century has
accomplished so much in the way of invention, makes it more than
probable that the next century will do far greater things. We ought to
be ashamed of ourselves if we are content to fold our hands and say that
the telegraph, telephone, steam-engine, dynamo, and camera having been
invented, the field has been exhausted. These inventions are so many
wonderful tools with which we ought to accomplish far greater wonders.
Unless the coming generations are particularly lazy, the world ought to
possess in 1993 a dozen marvels of the usefulness of the steam-engine
and dynamo. The next step in advance will perhaps be the discovery of a
method for transforming heat directly into electricity. That will
revolutionize modern life by making heat, power, and light almost as
cheap as air. Inventors are already feeling their way toward this
wonder. I have gone far enough on that road to know that there are
several stone walls ahead. But the problem is one of the most
fascinating in view."



[Illustration: Professor Bell Sending the First Message, by
Long-distance Telephone, from New York to Chicago.]

Sir Charles Wheatstone, the eminent English electrician, while engaged
in perfecting his system of telegraphy discovered that wires charged
with electricity often carried noises in a curious manner. He made and
exhibited at the Royal Society, in 1840, a clock in which the tick of
another clock miles away was conveyed through a wire. This experiment
appears to have been one of the germs of the telephone. In 1844 Captain
John Taylor, also an Englishman, invented an instrument to which he gave
the name of the telephone, but it had nothing electrical about it. It
was an apparatus for conveying sounds at sea by means of compressed air
forced through trumpets. He could make his telephone heard six miles
away. The first real suggestion of the telephone as we know it comes
from Reis, the German professor of physics at Friedrichsdorf, who in
1860 constructed with a coil of wire, a knitting-needle, the skin of a
German sausage, the bung of a beer-barrel, and a strip of platinum an
instrument which reproduced the sound of the voice by the vibration of
the membrane and sent a series of clicks along an electric wire to an
electro-magnetic receiver at the other end of the wire. The same idea
was taken up in this country by Elisha Gray, Edison, and by Alexander
Graham Bell, who first exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition an
apparatus that transmitted speech by electricity in a fairly
satisfactory manner. The American claimants to the honor of having
invented the telephone include Daniel Drawbaugh, a backwoods genius of
Pennsylvania, who claims to have made and used a practical telephone in
1867-68. A large fortune has been spent in fighting Drawbaugh's claims
against the Bell monopoly, but the courts have finally decided in favor
of the latter. It should be recorded as a matter of justice to Mr. Gray,
that he appears to have solved the problem of conveying speech by
electricity at about the same time as Bell. Both these inventors filed
their caveats upon the telephone upon the same day--February 14, 1876.
It was Bell's good fortune to be the first to make his device
practically effective.

Alexander Graham Bell is not an American by birth. He was born in
Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 1st of March, 1847. His father, Alexander
Melville Bell, was the inventor of the system by which deaf people are
enabled to read speech more or less correctly by observing the motion of
the lips. His mother was the daughter of Samuel Symonds, a surgeon in
the British navy.

In 1872 the Bells moved to Canada, and young Alexander Bell became
widely known in Boston as an authority in the teaching of the deaf and
dumb. He first carried to great perfection in this country the art of
enabling the deaf and dumb to enunciate intelligible words and sounds
that they themselves have never heard. Most of his art he acquired from
his father, one of the most expert of teachers in this field. The elder
Bell is still active in his work, constantly devising new methods and
experiments. He lives in Washington with his son and is frequently heard
in lectures in New York and Boston.

In 1873 Alexander Bell began to study the transmission of musical tones
by telegraph. It was in the line of his work with deaf and dumb people
to make sound vibrations visible to the eye. With the phonautograph he
could obtain tracings of such vibrations upon blackened paper by means
of a pencil or stylus attached to a vibrating cord or membrane. He also
succeeded in obtaining tracings upon smoked glass of the vibrations of
the air produced by vowel sounds. He began experimenting with an
apparatus resembling the human ear, and upon the suggestion of Dr.
Clarence J. Blake, the Boston aurist, he tried his work upon a prepared
specimen of the ear itself. Observation upon the vibrations of the
various bones within the ear led him to conceive the idea of vibrating a
piece of iron in front of an electro-magnet.

Mr. Bell was at this time an instructor in phonetics, or the art of
visible speech, in Monroe's School of Oratory in Boston. One of his old
pupils describes him then as a swarthy, foreign-looking personage, more
Italian than English in appearance, with jet-black hair and dark skin.
His manner was earnest and full of conviction. He was an enthusiast in
his work, and only emerged from his habitual diffidence when called upon
to talk upon his studies and views. He was miserably poor and almost
without friends. When he was attacked with muscular rheumatism, in 1873,
his hospital expenses were paid by his employer, and his only visitors
were some of the pupils at the school.

Until the close of 1874, Bell's experiments seemed to promise nothing of
practical value. But in 1875 he began to transmit vibrations between two
armatures, one at each end of a wire. He was much interested at the time
in multiple telegraphy and fancied that something might come of some
such arrangement of many magnetic armatures responding to the vibrations
set up in one.

In November, 1875, he discovered that the vibrations created in a reed
by the voice could be transmitted so as to reproduce words and sounds.
One day in January, 1876, he called a dozen of the pupils at Monroe's
school into his room and exhibited an apparatus by which singing was
more or less satisfactorily transmitted by wire from the cellar of the
building to a room on the fourth floor. The exhibition created a
sensation among the pupils, but, although no attempts were made by Bell
to conceal what he was doing, or how he did it, the noise of his
discovery does not seem to have reached the outside world. With an old
cigar-box, two hundred feet of wire, two magnets from a toy fish-pond,
the first Bell telephone was brought into existence. The apparatus was,
however, not yet the practical telephone as we know it, but it was
sufficient of a curiosity to warrant its exhibition in an improved form
at the Centennial Exhibition, when Sir William Thomson spoke of it as
"perhaps the greatest marvel hitherto achieved by the electric

The next year Bell succeeded in bringing the telephone to the condition
in which it became of immediate practical value. Strange to say, the
public was at first slow to appreciate the great importance of the
invention, and when Bell took it to England, in 1877, he could find no
purchaser for half the European rights at $10,000. In this country,
thanks to the business energy of Professor Gardiner Hubbard, of Harvard,
Bell's father-in-law, the telephone was soon made commercially valuable,
and there are now said to be nearly six hundred thousand telephones in
use in the United States alone.

Professor Bell, as may be imagined, is not idle. His vast fortune has
enabled him to continue costly experiments in aiding deaf and dumb
people, and it will probably be in this field that his next achievement
will be made. Personally, he is a reserved and thoughtful man, wholly
given up to his scientific work. His wife, whom he married in 1876, was
one of his deaf and dumb pupils. It is often said that it was largely
due to his intense desire to soften her misfortune that his experiments
were so exhaustive and finally became so productive in another
direction. His home life in Washington, where he bought, in 1885, the
superb house on Scott Circle known as "Broadhead's Folly," after the man
who built it and ruined himself in so doing, is said to be an ideally
peaceful and happy one, given up to study and efforts to alleviate the
troubles of the deaf and dumb.

As in the case of most inventions of such immense value as the
telephone, a fortune has had to be spent in order to protect the patent
rights; but in Bell's case the inventor's money reward has been ample
and is now said to amount to more than $1,000,000 a year. Just at
present Mr. Bell is engaged upon a modification of the phonograph, which
may enable persons not wholly deaf to hear a phonographic reproduction
of the human voice, even if they cannot hear the voice itself. Honors
have poured in upon him within the last fifteen years. In 1880 the
French Government awarded him the Volta prize of $10,000, which Mr. Bell
devoted to founding the Volta Laboratory in Washington, an institution
for the use of students. In 1882 he also received from France the ribbon
of the Legion of Honor.



There are now in force in this country nearly three hundred thousand
patents for inventions and devices of more or less importance and aid to
everyone. To how great a degree the world is indebted to the inventor,
very few of us realize. The more we think of the matter, however, the
more are we likely to believe that the inventor is mankind's great
benefactor. Watt should stand before Napoleon in the hero-worship of the
age, and the man who perfected the friction-match before the author of
an epic. Some day this redistribution of the world's honors will surely
take place, and it should be a satisfaction to us Americans that our
country stands so high in the ranks of inventive genius. Within the last
half century Americans have contributed, to mention only great
achievements, the telegraph, the telephone, the electric light, the
sewing-machine, the reaper, and vulcanized rubber, to the world's
wealth--a far larger contribution than that of any other nation. What
may not the next generation produce? Some people seem to believe that so
much has already been invented as to have exhausted the field. In this
connection I have quoted in another place some remarks Mr. Edison once
made to me as to what the next fifty years might bring forth. Still more
astonishing than our past fecundity in invention would be future
barrenness. This century has done its work and produced its marvels with
comparatively blunt tools, or no tools at all. The next century will be
able to work with superb instruments of which our grandfathers knew
nothing. The school-boy to-day knows more of the forces of nature and
their useful application than the magician of fifty years ago. It has
been said that the fifteen blocks in the "Gem" puzzle can be arranged in
more than a million different ways. The material in the game at which
man daily plays is so infinitely more complex that the number of
combinations cannot be written out in figures. The rôle played by
invention in modern life is infinitely greater than during preceding
ages. One invention, by affording a new tool, makes others possible. The
steam-engine made possible the dynamo, the dynamo made possible the
electric light. In its turn the electric light may lead to wonders still
more extraordinary.

The degree to which invention has contributed to civilization is far
from suspected by the careless observer. Almost everything we have or
use is the fruit of invention. Man might be defined as the animal that
invents. The air we breathe and the water we drink are provided by
Nature, but we drink water from a vessel of some kind, an invention of
man. Even if we drink from a shell or a gourd, we shape it to serve a
new purpose. If we want our air hotter or colder, we resort to
invention, and a vast amount of ingenuity has been expended upon putting
air in motion by means of fans, blowers, ventilators, etc. We take but a
small part of our food as animals do--in the natural state. The savage
who first crushed some kernels of wheat between two stones invented
flour, and we are yet hard at it inventing improvements upon his
process. The earliest inventions probably had reference to the procuring
and preparing of food, and the ingenuity of man is still exercised upon
these problems more eagerly than ever before. During the last fifty
years the power of man to produce food has increased more than during
the preceding fifteen centuries. Sixty years ago a large part of the
wheat and other grain raised in the world was cut, a handful at a time,
with a scythe, and a man could not reap much more than a quarter of an
acre a day. With a McCormick reaper a man and two horses will cut from
fifteen to twenty acres of grain a day. In the threshing of grain,
invention has achieved almost as much. A man with a machine will thresh
ten times as much as he formerly could with a flail.

It is less than sixty years since matches have come into common use.
Many old men remember the time in this country when a fire could be
kindled only with the embers from another fire, as there were no such
things as matches. Most of us who have reached the age of forty
remember the abominable, clumsy sulphur-matches of 1860, as bulky as
they were unpleasant. And yet the first sulphur-matches, made about
1830, cost ten cents a hundred. To-day the safety match, certain and
odorless, is sold at one-tenth of this price. The introduction of
kerosene was one of the blessings of modern life. It added several hours
a day to the useful, intelligent life of man, and who can estimate the
influence of these evening hours upon the advance of civilization? The
evening, after the day's work is done, has been the only hour when the
workingman could read. Before cheap and good lights were given him,
reading was out of the question. Gas marked a step in advance, but only
for large towns, and now electricity bids fair soon to displace gas; and
we hear vague suggestions of a luminous ether that will flood houses
with a soft glow like that of sunlight.


In 1850 sperm oil, then commonly used in lamps, had become high-priced,
owing to the failure of the New Bedford whalers, and cost $2.25 a
gallon. Oil obtained by the distillation of coal was tried, but was also
too costly--not less than $1 a gallon. It burned well, but its odor was
frightful. The problem of a cheap and pleasant light was solved by James
M. Townsend and E.L. Drake, both of New Haven. In 1854 a man brought to
Professor Silliman, of Yale, some oil from Oil Creek, Pa., to be tested.
His report was so favorable that a company was formed, which leased all
the land along Oil Creek upon which were traces of the new rock oil. The
hard times of 1857 came before any headway had been made, and the
company tried to find some way of ridding itself of the lease. At this
time Townsend, who knew something about the property, undertook to get
possession. Boarding in the same house in New Haven was E.L. Drake, once
a conductor on the New York & New Haven Railroad, who had been obliged
to give up work on account of ill-health. Townsend proposed that as
Drake could get railroad passes as an ex-employee, he should go to
Pennsylvania and look into the property. He did so, and reported that a
fortune might be made by gathering the oil and bottling it for medicinal
purposes. Drake and Townsend organized the Seneca Oil Company. The oil
was gathered by digging trenches, and was sold at $1 a gallon. Drake
suggested that it might be well to bore for oil. A man familiar with
salt-well boring was brought from Syracuse, and in 1850 the first well
was begun at Titusville under the supervision of Drake. He was commonly
considered by the neighbors to be insane. The work was costly and slow.
When many months and about $50,000 had been spent, the stockholders in
the company refused to go any further--all except Townsend, who sent his
last $500 to Drake, with instructions to use it in paying debts and his
expenses in reaching home. On the day before the receipt of this
money--August 29, 1859--the auger, which was down sixty-eight feet,
struck a cavity, and up came a flow of oil that filled the well to
within five feet of the surface. Pumping began at the rate of five
hundred gallons a day, and a more powerful pump doubled this flow. As
this oil was worth a dollar a gallon, fortune was within sight. But the
very quantity of the oil proved to be the company's ruin. Their works
were destroyed by fire in the winter of 1859-60, and before they could
be rebuilt, scores of other wells, some of them requiring no pumping
apparatus, had been sunk in the neighborhood. The supply was soon far in
excess of the demand, which was limited by the small number of
refineries, the want of good lamps in which to burn the oil, and the
attacks by manufacturers of other oils. Such was the effect of these
causes that the new oil fell to a dollar a barrel, a price so low that
it did not pay for the handling. The Seneca Oil Company was so much
discouraged that they sold out their leases and disbanded. Both Townsend
and Drake would have died richer men had they never heard of the
Pennsylvania rock oil.


[Illustration: Alvan Clark.]

The fame of American telescopes is due to the work and inventions of the
Clark family of Cambridgeport, Mass., the descendants of Thomas Clark,
the mate of the Mayflower. The founder of the great--in a scientific
sense--house of Alvan Clark & Sons, telescope-makers, was a remarkable
man. Until after his fortieth year he devoted himself to
portrait-painting. In 1843 his attention was accidentally turned toward
telescope-making. One day the dinner-bell at Phillips Academy, Andover,
Mass., happened to break. The pieces were gathered up by one of Clark's
boys, George, who proceeded to melt them in a crucible over the kitchen
fire, declaring that he was going to make a telescope. His mother
laughed, but his father was deeply interested and helped the boy make a
five-inch reflecting telescope which showed the satellites of Jupiter.
This was the beginning of telescope-making in the Clark family, an
industry which has given to the scientific world its most remarkable
lenses. Alvan Clark dropped his paintbrushes, never to take them up
again until at the age of eighty-three he made an excellent portrait of
his little grandson. To Alvan G. Clark, the present head of the house,
are chiefly due the scores of devices by which American ingenuity has
surpassed the slower European methods. The delicacy required in the
manipulation and grinding of the immense lenses made by the Clarks is
almost incredible. The latest triumph of the firm--a forty-inch lens for
the Spence Observatory at Los Angeles, Cal.--required two years of
grinding and polishing after a piece of glass perfect enough had been
obtained. So delicately finished is it that half a dozen sharp rubs with
the soft part of a man's thumb would be sufficient to ruin it. Alvan G.
Clark is now a man sixty-one years-old. He has lived all his life at the
home in Cambridgeport. His greatest sorrow is that there is no son of
his to carry on the work after his death. His only son died a few years
ago, just as he was beginning to show wonderful aptitude in the art
which has made the family famous in all the great observatories of the


In looking over the work done by American inventors, the great names are
those to be found at the heads of the preceding chapters. But the list
is by no means exhausted. Among the early men of achievement in the
field of invention I have had to omit at least a dozen whose work
deserves more than a paragraph. The history of the steamboat is not
complete without reference to John Fitch.

Fulton was fortunate in making the first really successful attempt at
propelling boats by steam, but Fitch came very near reaping the honors
for this invention. The account of Fitch's life and experiments, written
by himself and now in the possession of the Franklin Library of
Philadelphia, clearly shows that this unhappy genius really deserves to
share in Fulton's glory. Fitch was born in Connecticut, in January,
1743, more than twenty years before Fulton. He was a farmer's boy and
picked up knowledge as best he could. Before he was twenty he had
learned clock-making and then button-making. It was in 1788 that he
obtained his first patent for a steamboat. His experimental boat was an
extraordinary affair, fully described in the _Columbian_ (Philadelphia)
_Magazine_ for December, 1786. Its motive power consisted of a clumsy
engine that moved horizontal bars, upon which were fastened a number of
oars or paddles. So far as possible the machine imitated the movements
of a man rowing. This boat made eight miles an hour in calm water.
Finding nothing but ridicule for his project here, as his steamboat cost
too much money to run as a commercial undertaking, Fitch went to Europe,
and was equally unsuccessful there. There is still in existence a letter
from him in which he predicts that steam would some day carry vessels
across the Atlantic. He died in 1796, without having contributed more
than a curiosity to the art of steam navigation.

Another early inventor was Oliver Evans, who has been called the Watt of
America. In 1804 Evans offered to build for the Lancaster Turnpike
Company a steam-carriage to carry one hundred barrels of flour fifty
miles in twenty-four hours. The offer was derided. Here is one of
Evans's predictions written at about this time: "The time will come when
people will travel in stages, moved by steam-engines, from one city to
another, almost as fast as birds fly, fifteen or twenty miles an hour.
Passing through the air with such velocity, changing the scene with such
rapid succession, will be the most rapid, exhilarating exercise. A
carriage (steam) will set out from Washington in the morning, the
passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in
New York the same day. To accomplish this, two sets of railways will be
laid so nearly level as not in any way to deviate more than two degrees
from a horizontal line, made of wood, or iron, or smooth paths of
broken stone or gravel, with a rail to guide the carriages so that they
may pass each other in different directions and travel by night as well
as by day. Engines will drive boats ten or twelve miles per hour, and
there will be many hundred steamboats running on the Mississippi." In
1805 Evans built a steam-carriage propelled by a sort of paddle-wheel at
the stern, the paddles touching the ground. This apparatus he named the
"Oructor Amphibolis," and it is believed to have been the first
application of steam in America to the propelling of land carriages. He
died in 1819 without having seen his steam-carriage come to anything
practicable. He made a fortune, however, from some patents upon
flour-mill improvements.


In the domain of textile fabrics Amos Whittemore, the Massachusetts
inventor of the card-machine, which did away with the old-fashioned
method of making cards for cotton and woollen factories, must be
mentioned. Before Whittemore's machine came into use, about 1812, such
cards were made by hand, the laborer sticking one by one into sheets of
leather the wire staples, which operation gave work to thousands of
families in New England early in the century. Whittemore made a fortune
by his invention, and devoted the last years of his life to astronomy.

Another Massachusetts boy, Thomas Blanchard, invented the lathe for
turning irregular objects, and well deserves mention. Born in 1788, he
was noted as a boy for his efficiency in the New England accomplishment
of whittling, making wonderful windmills and water-wheels with his
knife. When thirteen years old he made an apple-paring machine, with
which at the "paring bees" held in the neighborhood he could accomplish
more than a dozen girls. Soon after this achievement he began helping
his brother in the manufacture of tacks. The operation consisted in
stamping them out from a thin plate of iron, after which they were taken
up, one at a time, with the thumb and finger and caught in a tool worked
by the foot, while a blow given simultaneously with a hammer held in the
right hand made a flat head of the large end of the tack projecting
above the face of the vise. This was the only method then known, and it
was so slow and irksome that young Blanchard often grew disgusted. As a
daily task he was given a certain quantity of tacks to make, which
number was ascertained by counting. Finding this much trouble, he
constructed a counting-machine, consisting of a ratchet-wheel which
moved one tooth every time the jaws of the heading tool or vise moved in
the process of making a tack. From this achievement he passed to a tack
machine, and after six years of hard work turned out an apparatus that
made five hundred tacks a minute. He sold his patent for the trifle of

With part of this money he began his experiments in turning
musket-barrels, an operation that was simple enough except at the
breech, where the flat and oval sides had to be ground down or chipped.
Blanchard made a lathe that turned the whole barrel satisfactorily.
While exhibiting his new lathe at the United States Armory at
Springfield, occurred the incident that led to Blanchard's great device
for turning irregular forms. One of the men employed in cutting
musket-stocks remarked that Blanchard could never spoil his job, for he
could not turn a gun-stock. The remark struck Blanchard, who replied, "I
am not so sure of that, but will think of it a while." The result of six
months' study was the lathe with which such articles as gun-stocks,
shoe-lasts, hat-blocks, tackle-blocks, axe-handles, wig-blocks, and a
thousand other objects of irregular shape may now be turned. While at
Washington getting his patent, Blanchard exhibited his machine at the
War Office, where many heads of departments had assembled. Among the
rest was a navy commissioner, who, after listening to Blanchard,
remarked to the inventor: "Can you turn a seventy-four?"

"Yes," was the reply, "if you will furnish the block." Blanchard
afterward made many interesting experiments in steam-carriages, but his
chief claim to fame rests upon his lathe.


From the end of the first half of this century date movements of
extraordinary importance in the world of American invention. The
locomotive, the steam-engine and steam-boat, the telegraph,
reaping-machine, the printing-press, all seemed to reach an era of wide
usefulness at about the same time. It was in 1814 that Walters first
printed the London _Times_ by steam, the sullen pressmen standing around
waiting for a pretext to destroy the machinery, and only prevented by
strategy from doing so. About thirty years afterward Richard M. Hoe
first turned his attention to the improvement of printing-presses. The
founder of the famous house of printing-press makers, Robert Hoe, was
born in England. His son, Richard March Hoe, was born in New York on the
12th of September, 1812. He made his first press in 1840, when he turned
out the machine known as "Hoe's Double-cylinder," which was capable of
making about six thousand impressions an hour, and was the admiration of
all the printers in the city. So long as the newspaper circulation knew
no great increase this wonderful press was all-sufficient; but the
greater the supply the greater grew the demand, and a printing-press
capable of striking off papers with greater rapidity was felt to be an
imperative need. It was often necessary to hold the forms back until
nearly daylight for the purpose of getting the latest news, and the
work of printing the paper had to be done in a very few hours. In 1842
Hoe began to experiment for the purpose of getting greater speed. There
were many difficulties in the way, however, and at the end of four years
of experimenting he was about ready to confess that the obstacles were
insurmountable. One night in 1846, while still in this mood, he resumed
his experiments; the more he reviewed the problem, the more difficult it
seemed. In despair he was about to give it up for the night, when there
flashed across his brain a plan for securing the type on the surface of
a cylinder. This was the solution of the problem, and within a year our
leading newspapers had their "Lightning" presses, in which from four to
ten cylinders were used to feed sheets of paper against the surface of
the type as it flew around. So recently as 1870 the ten-cylinder Hoe
press, printing twenty-five thousand sheets an hour, was considered a

Then came the perfecting press, a far smaller machine, but capable of
five times as much work, thanks to the substitution of rolls of paper
for separate sheets fed in one by one. The device by which the web of
paper after being printed on one side is turned over and printed on the
other side in the same machine was another triumph of American
ingenuity. Stereotyping made it possible to print from a dozen presses
at the same time without the trouble of setting up new type, and
inventions for pasting, folding, and counting the papers still further
increased the speed at which papers may be issued, while at the same
time decreasing the number of men employed as pressmen. In 1865 it
required the services of twenty-six men and boys to print and fold
twenty-five thousand copies of an eight-page paper in an hour. To-day a
perfecting press, with the aid of four men, does four times as much
work. It has been recently estimated that to print, paste, and fold the
Sunday edition of one of the great newspapers with the machinery of 1865
would require the services of five hundred persons.


The gimlet-pointed screw patented in 1838 by Thomas W. Harvey, of
Providence, R.I., is a marked instance of an improvement so useful that
we can scarcely realize that less than fifty years ago such screws were
unknown to the carpenter, for it was not until 1846 that Harvey
succeeded in getting people to abandon the old blunt-ended screw that we
now occasionally find in buildings put up before 1850. Harvey was a
Vermont boy, born in 1795. His faculty for the invention of machinery
for screw-making and other purposes gave him and his associates and
successors--Angell, Sloan, and Whipple--great fortunes according to the
estimate of that day. He died in 1856.


[Illustration: C.L. Sholes.]

A great many men contributed to make the typewriter what it is
to-day--as much of an improvement upon the pen as the sewing-machine is
upon the needle. So long ago as 1843 some patents were taken out for
divers forms of writing-machines, all more or less impracticable. It was
not until C.L. Sholes, then of Wisconsin, took up the problem, in 1866,
that the present form of a number of type-bars, arranged so that their
ends strike upon a common centre, was devised. Sholes died in 1890,
having also helped by many minor devices the increase in the use of
writing-machines. From 1865 to 1873 he made thirty different working
models of writing-machines, devoting himself to the task almost day and
night for eight years.


[Illustration: B.B. Hotchkiss.]

American inventors have had, as a rule, but small success in making
Europe see the value of their inventions before this country has proved
it. Morse could get neither England nor France to take an interest in
his telegraph schemes, and, at a later day, Bell's telephone was
received in England as a curious device, but not worth investing money
in. An exception to this rule may be found, however, in the case of B.B.
Hotchkiss, a Connecticut inventor, who during the civil war conceived
the idea of a breech-loading cannon. In 1869 Hotchkiss mounted one of
his small guns in the Brooklyn Navy-yard, but found no encouragement to
experiment further. The Franco-German war found him in Europe with a
breech-loading gun that would throw shells. His success was such that
there is not a civilized country where Hotchkiss guns, throwing light
shells with a rapidity not dreamed of years ago, are not now in use.
The inventor has made a large fortune and has had the pleasure of
sending to this country a number of guns for our cruisers, the Atlanta,
the Boston, the Chicago, and the Dolphin. So great is the rapidity,
accuracy, and power of these Hotchkiss rapid-fire guns that some experts
expect to see two-thirds of an action fought with these or similar
pieces, which they think will silence and put out of action all the
heavy guns in a few minutes after the enemies come within fifteen
hundred yards of each other. For instance, the latest piece is a
six-pounder, which, with smokeless powder, has a range of five thousand
yards and an effective fighting range of one thousand yards, within
which distance a target the size of a six-inch gun can be hit nearly
every time and five inches of wrought iron perforated. A speed in
firing of twenty-five shots a minute has been attained.


A trifling incident revealed to an Italian savant the fact that when two
metals and the leg of a frog came into contact the muscles of the leg
contracted. The galvanic battery resulted. Years later another observer
discovered that if a wire carrying a current of electricity was wound
around a piece of soft iron the latter became a magnet. Out of these
simple discoveries have arisen the telegraph, the telephone, and a host
of inventions depending upon electricity. And to-day, with all the
wonders accomplished in this field, we are yet upon the threshold of the
enchanted palace that electricity is about to open to us. Through its
aid we shall one day enjoy light, heat, and power almost as freely as we
now enjoy air. The crops will be planted, watered, cultivated, gathered,
and transported to the uttermost ends of the earth by electricity. The
steam-engine is said to do the work of two hundred million men, and to
have been the chief agent in reducing the average working hours of men
in the civilized world in this century from fourteen hours a day to ten.
But electricity, according to even conservative judges, will accomplish
infinitely more. It will make possible the harnessing of vast forces of
nature, such as the falls of Niagara, because the electric current can
be transported from place to place at small cost and it is easily
transformed into light or power or heat. Within a few months we shall
see the first results of the great work at Niagara. Before many years
the power of the tides is certain to be used along the seaboard for
producing electricity. Here is a force equal to that of a million
Niagaras going to waste.

[Illustration: Charles F. Brush.]

The late Clerk Maxwell, when asked by a distinguished scientist what was
the greatest scientific discovery of the last half-century, replied:
"That the Gramme machine is reversible." In other words, that power will
not only produce electricity, but that electricity will produce power.
By turning a big wheel at Niagara we can produce an electric current
that will turn another wheel for us fifty, or perhaps five hundred miles
away. The dynamo is one of the great achievements of the day to which
Charles F. Brush, of Cleveland, O., has devoted himself with much signal
success. Brush was born in March, 1849, in Euclid Township near
Cleveland, and his early years were spent on his father's farm. When
fourteen years old he went to the public school at Collamer, and later
to the Cleveland High-school, and as early as 1862 distinguished himself
by making magnetic machines and batteries for the high-school. During
his senior year in the high-school, the chemical and physical apparatus
of the laboratory of the school was placed under his charge. In this
year he constructed an electric motor having its field magnets as well
as its armature excited by the electric current. He also constructed a
microscope and a telescope, making all the parts himself, down to the
grinding of the lenses. He devised an apparatus for turning on the gas
in the street-lamps of Cleveland, lighting it and turning it off again.
When he was eighteen years of age he entered Michigan University at Ann
Arbor, and, following his particular bent, was graduated as a mining
engineer in 1869, one year ahead of his class. Returning to Cleveland he
began work as an analytical chemist and soon became interested in the
iron business. In 1875 Brush's attention was first called to electricity
by George W. Stockly, who suggested that there was an immense field
ready for a cheaper and more easily managed dynamo than the Gramme or
Siemens, the best types then known. Stockly, who was interested in the
Telegraph Supply Company, of Cleveland, agreed to undertake the
manufacture of such a machine if one was devised. In two months Brush
made a dynamo so perfect in every way that it was running until it was
taken to the World's Fair in 1893. Having made a good dynamo, the next
step was a better lamp than those in use. Six months of experimenting
resulted in the Brush arc light. Stockly was so well satisfied with the
commercial value of these inventions that the Telegraph Supply Company,
a small concern then employing about twenty-five men, was reorganized in
1879, as the Brush Electric Company. In 1880 the Brush Company put its
first lights into New York City, and it has since extended the system
until there is scarcely a town in the country where the light may not be
found. Besides dynamos and lamps, the immense establishment at Cleveland
employs its twelve hundred men in making carbons, storage-batteries, and
electro-plating apparatus. Mr. Brush is a self-taught mechanic, able to
do any work of his shops in a manner equal to that of an expert. He is
intensely practical, never over-sanguine, and an excellent business man.
If a delicate piece of work is to be done for the first time, he will
probably do it with his own hands. He is not fond of experiment for the
experiment's sake; he wants to see the practical utility of the aim in
view before devoting time to its attainment. Of the scores of patents
he has taken out, two-thirds are said to pay him a revenue. In 1881, at
the Paris Electrical Exposition, Brush received the ribbon of the Legion
of Honor. In personal appearance there is nothing of the
round-shouldered, impecunious, studious inventor about him. He is six
feet or more in height, and so fine a specimen of manhood that Gambetta,
the French statesman, once remarked that the man impressed him quite as
much as the inventor.


[Illustration: Rudolph Eickemeyer.]

In the same field of electricity, as applied to every-day life, a
Bavarian by birth, but an American by adoption, Rudolf Eickemeyer, of
Yonkers, has done some valuable work in devising a useful form of
dynamo. His machines are now used almost exclusively for elevators and
hoisting apparatus, one large firm of elevator builders having put in no
less than six hundred Eickemeyer motors within the last four years. As
electricity becomes more and more useful for small powers, such as
lathes, pumps, and elevators, an effective and simple motor becomes of
the utmost importance. Rudolf Eickemeyer was born in October, 1831, at
Kaiserslautern, Bavaria, where his father was employed as a forester. He
was educated at the Darmstadt Polytechnic Institute and at once showed a
predilection for scientific work. When still a boy he joined the
Revolutionists under Siegel, and after the upheaval of 1848 came here
with Siegel, Carl Schurz, and George Osterheld, the latter afterward
becoming his partner. The young man's first work here was as an engineer
on the Erie Railroad line, then building. In 1854 he established himself
in Yonkers in the business of repairing the tools used in the many
hat-shops of that already flourishing city. The next twenty years of his
life were devoted to inventions and improvements in every branch of
hat-making. His shaving-machines, stretchers, blockers, pressers,
ironers, and sewing-machines substituted mechanism for laborious and
slow methods of hand work. At the beginning of the war Eickemeyer was
quick to see the opportunity for turning his factory to other uses, and
vast quantities of revolvers were made there. When that industry
declined, he took up the manufacture of mowing-machines, having invented
a driving mechanism for such machines that met with wide favor. The
introduction of the Bell telephone in Yonkers first turned Eickemeyer's
attention to electricity, and for the last ten years he has devoted
himself almost exclusively to the invention and manufacture of electric
motors. His first successful invention in this field was a dynamo to
furnish light for railroad trains. From this he was led to the invention
of a dynamo capable of doing effective work at much lower speed than
that usually employed, and this has proved to be his most valuable
achievement. Some improvements in winding the armatures have also been
accepted as valuable and adopted by other manufacturers. In connection
with storage batteries Mr. Eickemeyer has also done a good deal of
interesting work. But he is chiefly known to the electrical world as the
inventor of a most useful dynamo for power purposes. For the last forty
years he has been one of the men who have most aided in the growth of
Yonkers, taking great interest in all questions pertaining to its
government and school system. He was married in 1856 to Mary T. Tarbell,
of Dover, Me., and his eldest son, Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr., is associated
with him in business.


[Illustration: George Westinghouse, Jr.]

George Westinghouse, Jr., to whom is due the railroad air-brake, and who
was also largely instrumental in revolutionizing Pittsburgh by the
introduction of natural gas, was born at Central Bridge, in Schoharie
County, N.Y., in 1846. His father was a builder and, later,
superintendent of the Schenectady Agricultural Works, and it was in the
shops of these works that the boy found his vocation. Before he was
fifteen he had modelled and built a steam engine. The war took him away
from work in 1864, but when that was over he returned to Schenectady
and, although yet in his teens, he began to attempt improvements upon
every device that presented itself. Sometimes he was successful. Among
one of his first valuable achievements was a steel railroad frog that
resulted in a good deal of money and some reputation. This was in 1868.
While in Pittsburgh making his frogs, which sold well, he one day came
across a newspaper account of the successful use of compressed air in
piercing the Mont Cenis tunnel. His success in the field of railroad
appliances had led him to study the question of better brakes, and the
suggestion of compressed air came to him as a revelation. To stop a
train by the old methods was a matter of much time and a tremendous
expenditure of muscular energy by the brakeman, whose exertions were not
always effective enough to prevent disaster. Westinghouse consulted one
or two friends, who were inclined to ridicule the idea that a rubber
tube strung along under the cars could do better work than the men at
the brakes. Fortunately, he was able to make the experiment, and the
air-brake was speedily recognized as one of the important inventions of
the century.

When petroleum was discovered in the fields near Pittsburgh, some ten
years ago, Mr. Westinghouse was greatly interested, and at once
suggested that perhaps oil might be found near his own home in
Washington County. He decided to test the matter, and planted a derrick
on his own grounds. The drill was started in December, 1883, and at a
depth of 1,560 feet a vein was struck, not of oil, as was anticipated,
but--what had not been counted upon as among the contingencies--of gas.
Gas was not what Westinghouse was after or wanted, but there it was, and
not wishing to let it run to waste, he began to consider what use could
be made of it. Other people who had been boring for oil also struck gas,
which, taking fire, shot up twenty or thirty feet. If such gas could be
made to serve foundry purposes, here was a gigantic power going to
waste. Within three years the business grew to be an immense one. The
company organized by Mr. Westinghouse owned or controlled fifty-six
thousand acres, upon which were one hundred wells and a distributing
plant of four hundred miles of pipes. Notwithstanding the failure of
some of the wells since then, natural gas is an extraordinary boon for
which Pittsburgh has to thank Mr. Westinghouse. Of late years this
inventor's energies have been turned toward electric machinery for
lighting and power, especially as applied to railroad purposes, and a
number of useful devices have resulted. Mr. Westinghouse is still in the
prime of life and is activity personified. He makes his home in
Pittsburgh, and is naturally looked upon as one of its leading spirits.

The field of electric invention is so vast and so actively worked that
one cannot take up a newspaper without finding reference to some new
achievement made possible by this wonderful agent, whose real powers
were unsuspected fifty years ago. Aside from the direct value of these
inventions in promoting the comfort and increasing the wealth of the
country there is another factor to be considered having the most vital
relation to the industries of the country and its powers of production.
The large number of inventions made in these United States implies a
high degree of intelligence and mental activity in the great body of the
people. It indicates trained habits of observation and trained powers of
applying knowledge which has been acquired. It shows an ability to turn
to account the forces of Nature and, train them to the service of man,
such as has been possessed by the laborers of no other country. It
suggests as pertinent the inquiry whether any other country is so well
equipped for competition in production as our own; whether in any other
country the mechanic is so efficient and his labor, therefore, so cheap
as in our own; whether he does not exhibit the seeming paradox of
receiving more for his labor than in any other country, and at the same
time doing more for what he receives.


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