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Title: Historic Inventions
Author: Holland, Rupert S.
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 "Historic Inventions" ***

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

    Historic Inventions


    _Author of “Historic Boyhoods,” “Historic Girlhoods,”
    “Builders of United Italy,” etc._


    Copyright, 1911, by
    _Published August, 1911_

    _All rights reserved_
    Printed in U.S.A.

    J. W. H._


      II. PALISSY AND HIS ENAMEL                     42

     III. GALILEO AND THE TELESCOPE                  53

      IV. WATT AND THE STEAM-ENGINE                  70


      VI. WHITNEY AND THE COTTON-GIN                 96

     VII. FULTON AND THE STEAMBOAT                  111

    VIII. DAVY AND THE SAFETY-LAMP                  126


       X. MORSE AND THE TELEGRAPH                   168

      XI. MCCORMICK AND THE REAPER                  189

     XII. HOWE AND THE SEWING-MACHINE               206

    XIII. BELL AND THE TELEPHONE                    215



     XVI. THE WRIGHTS AND THE AIRSHIP               273


    Palissy the Potter After an Unsuccessful
    Experiment                                     _Facing page_   46

    Galileo’s Telescope                                 "    "     58

    Watt First Tests the Power of Steam                 "    "     72

    Sir Richard Arkwright                               "    "     88

    The Inventor of the Cotton Gin                      "    "    104

    _The Clermont_, the First Steam Packet              "    "    120

    The Davy Safety Lamp                                "    "    136

    One of the First Locomotives                        "    "    156

    Morse and the First Telegraph                       "    "    180

    The Earliest Reaper                                 "    "    194

    Elias Howe’s Sewing-Machine                         "    "    210

    The First Telephone                                 "    "    222

    Edison and the Early Phonograph                     "    "    258

    Wireless Station in New York City Showing
    the Antenna                                         "    "    268

    The Wright Brothers’ Airship                        "    "    281



About 1400-1468

The free cities of mediæval Germany were continually torn asunder by
petty civil wars. The nobles, who despised commerce, and the burghers,
who lived by it, were always fighting for the upper hand, and the
laboring people sided now with one party, and now with the other.
After each uprising the victors usually banished a great number of the
defeated faction from the city. So it happened that John Gutenberg, a
young man of good family, who had been born in Mainz about 1400, was
outlawed from his home, and went with his wife Anna to live in the
city of Strasburg, which was some sixty miles distant from Mainz. He
chose the trade of a lapidary, or polisher of precious stones, an art
which in that age was held in almost as high esteem as that of the
painter or sculptor. He had been well educated, and his skill in
cutting gems, as well as his general learning and his interest in all
manner of inventions, drew people of the highest standing to his
little workshop, which was the front room of his dwelling house.

One evening after supper, as Gutenberg and his wife were sitting in
the room behind the shop, he chanced to pick up a playing-card. He
studied it very carefully, as though it were new to him. Presently
his wife looked up from her sewing, and noticed how much absorbed he
was. “Prithee, John, what marvel dost thou find in that card?” said
she. “One would think it the face of a saint, so closely dost thou
regard it.”

“Nay, Anna,” he answered thoughtfully, “but didst thou ever consider
how the picture on this card was made?”

“I suppose it was drawn in outline, and then painted, as other
pictures are.”

“But there is a better way,” said Gutenberg, still studying the
playing-card. “These lines were first marked out on a wooden block,
and then the wood was cut away on each side of them, so that they were
left raised. The lines were then smeared with ink and pressed on the
cardboard. This way is shorter, Anna, than by drawing and painting
each picture separately, because when the block is once engraved it
can be used to mark any number of cards.”

Anna took the playing-card from her husband’s hand. It represented a
figure that was known as the Knave of Bells. “It’s an unsightly
creature,” she said, studying it, “and not to be compared with our
picture of good St. Christopher on the wall yonder. Surely that was
made with a pen?”

“Nay, it was made from an engraved block, just like this card,” said
the young lapidary.

“St. Christopher made in that way!” exclaimed his wife. “Then what a
splendid art it must be, if it keeps the pictures of the blessed
saints for us!”

The picture of the saint was a curious colored woodcut, showing St.
Christopher carrying the child Jesus across the water. Under it was an
inscription in Latin, and the date 1423.

“Yes, thou art right, dear,” Gutenberg went on. “Pictures like that
are much to be prized, for they fill to some extent the place of
books, which are so rare and cost so much. But there are much more
valuable pictures in the Cathedral here at Strasburg. Dost thou
remember the jewels the Abbot gave me to polish for him? When I
carried them back, he took me into the Cathedral library, and showed
me several books filled with these engraved pictures, and they were
much finer than our St. Christopher. The books I remember were the
‘Ars Memorandi,’ the ‘Ars Moriendi,’ and the ‘Biblia Pauperum,’ and
the last had no less than forty pictures, with written explanations

“That is truly wonderful, John! And what are they about?”

“The ‘Biblia Pauperum’ means ‘Bible for the Poor,’ and is a series of
scenes from the Old and New Testaments.”

“I think I’ve heard of it; but I wish you’d tell me more about it.”

John leaned forward, his keen face showing unusual interest. “The
forty pictures in it were made by pressing engraved blocks of wood on
paper, just like the St. Christopher, or this playing-card. The lines
are all brown, and the pictures are placed opposite each other, with
their blank backs pasted together, so they form one strong leaf.”

“And how big are the pictures?”

“They are ten inches high and seven or eight inches wide, and each is
made up of three small pictures, separated by lines. More than that,
there are four half-length figures of prophets, two above and two
below the larger pictures. Then there are Latin legends and rhymes at
the bottom of each page.”

“And all that is cut on wood first?” said Anna, doubtfully. “It sounds
almost like a miracle.”

“Aye. I looked very closely, and the whole book is made from blocks,
like the playing-card.”

“Art thou sure it’s not the pencraft of some skilful scribe?”

“Assuredly I am. Dost thou see, Anna, how much better these blocks are
than the slower way of copying by hand? When they’re once cut many
books can be printed as easily as one.”

“Aye,” answered his wife, “and they will be cheaper than the works
written out by the scribes, and still be so costly that whoever can
make them ought to grow rich from the sale. If thou canst do it, it
will make thy fortune. Thou art so ingenious. Canst thou not make a
‘Bible for the Poor’?”

“Little wife, thou must be dreaming!” But John Gutenberg smiled, for
he saw that she had discovered the thought that had been in his mind.

“But couldst thou not?” Anna persisted. “Thou art so good at inventing
better ways of doing things.”

Gutenberg laughed and shook his head. “I have found new ways to polish
stones and mirrors,” said he, “but those are in my line of work. This
is quite outside it, and much more difficult.”

Nothing more was said on the subject that night, but Anna could see,
as day followed day, that her husband was planning something, and she
felt very certain that he was thinking out a way of making books more
quickly than by the old process of copying them word for word by hand.

A few weeks later the young lapidary surprised his wife by showing her
a pile of playing-cards. “See my handicraft,” said he. “Aren’t these
as good as the Knave of Bells I gave thee?”

She looked at them, delight in her eyes. “They are very much better,
John. The lines are much clearer, and the color brighter.”

“Still, that is only a step. It is of little use unless I can cut
letters, and press them on vellum as I did these cards. I shall try
thy name, Anna, and see if I cannot engrave it here on wood.”

He took a small wooden tablet from the work-table in his shop, and
marking certain lines upon it, cut away the wood so that it left a
stamp of his wife’s name. Brushing ink over the raised letters he
pressed the wood upon a sheet of paper, and then, lifting it
carefully, showed her her own name printed upon the paper.

“Wonderful!” she cried. “The letters have the very likeness of

“Aye,” agreed Gutenberg, looking at the four letters, “it is not a
failure. I think with patience and perseverance I could even impress a
copy of our picture of St. Christopher. It must have been made from
some manner of engraved block. See.” He took the rude print from the
wall, and showed her on the back of it the marks of the stylus, or
burnisher, by which it had been rubbed upon the wood. “Thou mayst be
sure from this that these lines were not produced by a pen, as in
ordinary writing,” said he.

“Well,” said Anna, “it would surely be a pious act to multiply
pictures of the holy St. Christopher.”

Encouraged by his wife’s great interest, and spurred on by the passion
for invention, Gutenberg now set himself seriously to study the
problem of engraving. First of all he found it very difficult to find
the right kind of wood. Some kinds were too soft and porous, others
were liable to split easily. Finally he chose the wood of the
apple-tree, which had a fine grain, was dense and compact, and firm
enough to stand the process of engraving. Another difficulty was the
lack of proper tools; but he worked at these until his box was
supplied with a stock of knives, saws, chisels, and gravers of many
different patterns. Then he started to draw the portrait of the saint.

At his first attempt he made the picture and the inscription that went
with it on the same block, but as soon as he had finished it a better
idea occurred to him. The second time he drew the picture and the
inscription on separate blocks. “That’s an improvement,” he said to
his wife, “for I can draw the picture and the letters better
separately, and if I want I can use different colored inks for
printing the two parts.” Then he cut the wood away from the drawings,
and inking them, pressed them upon the paper. The result was a much
clearer picture than the old “St. Christopher” had been.

He studied his work with care. “So far so good,” said he, “but it’s
not yet perfect. The picture can’t be properly printed without thicker
ink. This flows too easily, and even using the greatest care I can
hardly keep from blotting it.”

He had to make a great many experiments to solve this difficulty of
the ink. At last he found that a preparation of oil was best. He could
vary the color according to the substances he used with this. Umber
gave him lines of a darkish brown color, lampblack and oil gave him
black ink. At first he used the umber chiefly, in imitation of the old
drawings that he was copying.

When his ink was ready he turned again to his interested wife. “Now
thou canst help me,” said he. “Stuff and sew this piece of sheepskin
for me, while I get the paper ready for the printing.”

Anna had soon done as he asked. Then Gutenberg added a handle to the
stuffed ball. “I need this to spread the ink evenly upon the block,”
said he. “One more servant of my new art is ready.”

He had ground the ink upon a slab. Now he dipped his printer’s dabber
in it, and spread the ink over the wood. Then he laid the paper on it,
and pressed it down with the polished handle of one of his new graving
tools. He lifted it carefully. The picture was a great improvement
over his first attempt. “This ink works splendidly!” he exclaimed in

“Now I shall want a picture of St. Christopher in every room in the
house,” said Anna.

“But what shall I do?” said Gutenberg. “I can’t afford the time and
money to make these pictures, unless I can sell them in some way.”

“And canst thou not do that?”

“I know of no way at present; but I will hang them on the wall of the
shop, and perhaps some of my customers will see them and ask about

The young lapidary was poor, and he had spent part of his savings in
working out his scheme of block-printing. He could give no more time
to this now, but he hung several copies of the “St. Christopher” in
his front room. Several days later a young woman, stopping at
Gutenberg’s shop for her dowry jewels, noticed the pictures. “What are
those?” said she. “The good saint would look well on our wall at home.
If thou wilt wrap the picture up and let me take it home I will show
it to my husband, and if he approves I will send thee the price of it

Gutenberg consented, and the next day the woman sent the money for the
“St. Christopher.” A few days later it happened that several people,
calling at the shop to buy gems, chose to purchase pictures instead.
Anna was very much pleased by the sales, and told her husband so at
supper that evening. But he was less satisfied. “In spite of the sales
I have lost money today,” said he. “Those who bought the prints had
meant to buy jewels and mirrors, and if they had done so I should have
made a bigger profit. The pictures take people’s attention from the
gems, and so hurt my business.”

“But may it not be that the printing will pay thee better than the
sale of jewels, if thou wilt keep on with it?” suggested the hopeful
wife. “How soon shalt thou go to the Cathedral with the Abbot’s

“As soon as I have finished the polishing. Engraving these blocks has
kept me back even in that.”

“When thou dost go take some of thy prints with thee,” begged Anna,
“and see what the Father has to say about them.”

By working hard Gutenberg had the Abbot’s jewels finished two days
later, and he took them with several of his prints to the Cathedral.
He was shown into the library, where often a score of monks were
busied in making copies of old manuscripts. He delivered the jewels to
the Abbot, and then showed him the pictures.

“Whose handiwork is this?” asked the Father.

But Gutenberg was not quite ready to give away his secret, and so he
answered evasively, “The name of the artisan does not appear.”

“Where didst thou obtain them?” asked the Abbot.

“I pray thee let me keep that also a secret,” answered Gutenberg.

The Abbot looked them over carefully. “I will take them all,” said he.
“They will grace the walls of our library, and tend to preserve us
from evil.”

The young jeweler was very much pleased, and hurried home to tell his
wife what had happened. She was delighted. “Now thou art in a fair way
to grow rich,” said she.

But Gutenberg was by nature cautious. “We mustn’t forget,” he
answered, “that the steady income of a regular trade is safer to rely
on than occasional success in other lines.”

A few days later a young man named Andrew Dritzhn called at
Gutenberg’s shop, and asked if he might come and learn the lapidary’s
trade. Theretofore Gutenberg had had no assistants, but, on thinking
the matter over, he decided that if he had a good workman with him he
would have more time to study the art of printing. So he engaged
Dritzhn. Soon after this the new apprentice introduced two young
friends of his, who also begged for the chance to learn how to cut
gems and set them, and how to polish Venetian glass for mirrors and
frame them in carved and decorated copper frames. Gutenberg agreed and
these two others, named Hielman and Riffe, came to work with him.

The shop was now very busy, with the three apprentices and the master
workman all occupied. But Gutenberg was anxious to keep his new
project secret, and so he fitted up the little back room as a shop,
and spent his evenings working there with Anna.

On his next visit to the Cathedral he came home with a big package
under his arm. He unwrapped it, and showed Anna a large volume. “See,”
said he, “this is the ‘History of St. John the Evangelist.’ The Abbot
gave it to me in return for some more copies of my St. Christopher. It
is written on vellum with a pen, and all the initial letters are
illuminated. There are sixty-three pages, and some patient monk has
spent months, aye, perhaps years, in making it. But I have a plan to
engrave it all, just as I did the picture.”

“Engrave a whole book! That would be a miracle!”

“I believe I can do it. And when once the sixty-three blocks are cut,
a block to a page, I can print a score of the books as easily as one

“Then thou canst sell books as well as the monks! And when the blocks
are done it may not take more than a day to make a book, instead of
months and years.”

So John Gutenburg set to work with new enthusiasm. He needed a very
quiet place in which to carry out his scheme, and more room than he
had at home. It is said he found such a place in the ruined cloisters
of the Monastery of St. Arbogast in the suburbs of Strasburg. Thither
he stole away whenever he could leave the shop, and not even Anna went
with him, nor even to her did he tell what he was doing. At last he
brought home the tools he had been making, and started to cut the
letters of the first pages of the “History of St. John.” Night after
night he worked at it, until a great pile of engraved blocks was done.

Then one evening there was a knock at the door of the living-room, and
before he could answer it the door was opened, and the two
apprentices, Dritzhn and Hielman, came in. They saw their master
bending over wooden blocks, a pile of tools, and the open pages of the
History. “What is this?” exclaimed Dritzhn. “Some new mystery?”

“I cannot explain now,” said the confused inventor.

“But thou promised to teach us all thy arts for the money we pay
thee,” objected Hielman, who was of an avaricious turn of mind.

“No, only the trade of cutting gems and shaping mirrors.”

“We understood we paid thee for all thy teaching,” objected the
apprentice. “’Tis only fair we should have our money’s worth.”

Gutenberg thought a moment. “This work must be done in quiet,” said
he, “and must be kept an absolute secret for a time. But I do need
money to carry it on rightly.”

This made Dritzhn more eager than ever to learn what the work was. “We
can keep thy secret,” said he, “furnish funds, and perhaps help in the

Gutenberg had misgivings as to the wisdom of increasing his
confidants, but he finally decided to trust them. First he pledged
each to absolute secrecy. Then he produced his wooden cuts, and
explained in detail how he had made them. Both the apprentices showed
the greatest interest. “Being a draughtsman, I can help with the
figures,” said Dritzhn.

“Yes,” agreed Gutenberg, “but just now I am chiefly busy in cutting
blocks for books.”

“Books!” exclaimed the apprentice.

“Yes. I have found a new way of imprinting them.” Then he showed them
what he was doing with the History.

Dritzhn was amazed. “There should be a fortune in this!” said he. “But
will not this art do away with the old method of copying?”

“In time it may,” agreed the inventor. “That’s one reason why we must
keep it secret. Otherwise the copyists might try to destroy what I
have done.”

As a result of this interview a contract was drawn up between
Gutenberg and his apprentices, according to the terms of which each
apprentice was to pay the inventor two hundred and fifty florins. The
work was to be kept absolutely secret, and in case any of the partners
should die during the term of the agreement the survivors should keep
the business entirely to themselves, on payment of one hundred florins
to the heirs of the deceased partner. Riffe, the third apprentice, was
admitted to the business, and after that the four took turns looking
after the jewelry shop and working over the blocks for the History.

But the pupils were not so well educated as the master. They could not
read, and had to be taught how to draw the different letters. They
were clumsy in cutting the lines, and spoiled block after block.
Gutenberg was very patient with them. Again and again he would throw
away a spoiled block and show them how the letters should be cut

In time the blocks were all finished. “Now I can help,” said Anna.
“Thou must let me take the impressions.”

“So thou shalt,” her husband answered. “To-night we will fold and cut
the paper into the right size for the pages, and grind the umber for
ink. To-morrow we will begin to print the leaves.”

The following day they all took turns making the impressions. Page
after page came out clear and true. Then Anna started to paste the
blank sides of the sheets together, for the pages were only printed
on one side. In a week a pile of the Histories was printed and bound,
and ready to be sold.

The jewelers had little time to offer the books to the wealthy people
of the city, and so Gutenberg engaged a young student at the
Cathedral, Peter Schœffer by name, to work for him. The first week
he sold two copies, and one other was sold from the shop. That made a
good beginning, but after that it was more difficult to find buyers,
and the firm began to grow doubtful of their venture.

The poor people of Strasburg could not read, and could not have
afforded to buy the books in any event, the nobility were hard to
reach, and the clergy, who made up the reading class of the age, were
used to copying such manuscripts as they needed. But this situation
did not prevent Gutenberg from continuing with his work. He knew that
the young men who were studying at the Cathedral had to copy out word
for word the “Donatus,” or manual of grammar they were required to
learn. So the firm set to work to cut blocks and print copies of this
book. When they were finished they sold more readily than the History
had done, and the edition of fifty copies was soon disposed of. But by
that time all the scholars of the city were supplied, and it was very
difficult to send the books to other cities. There were no newspapers,
and no means of advertising, and the only practical method of sale was
to show the book to possible purchasers, and point out its merits to
them. So Gutenberg turned to two other books that were used by the
monks, and printed them. One was called the “Ars Memorandi,” or “Art
of Remembering,” and the other the “Ars Moriendi,” or “Art of Knowing
How to Die.”

Whenever he printed a new book Gutenberg took it to the Cathedral to
show the priests. He carried the “Ars Moriendi” there, and found the
Abbot in the library, looking over the manuscripts of several monks.

“Good-morning, my son,” said the Abbot. “Hast thou brought us more of
thy magical books?”

“It is not magic, Father; it is simply patience that has done it,”
said Gutenberg, handing the Abbot a copy of his latest book.

“Thanks, my son. It is always a pleasure to examine thy manuscripts.”

The monks gathered around the Abbot to look at the new volume. “It is
strange,” said one of them, named Father Melchior. “How canst thou
make so many books? Thou must have a great company of scribes.”

Another was turning over the pages of the book. “It is not quite like
the work of our hands,” said he.

“It is certain that none of us can compete with thy speed in writing,”
went on Father Melchior. “Every few weeks thou dost bring in twelve or
more books, written in half the time it takes our quickest scribe to
make a single copy.”

“Moreover,” said another, “the letters are all so exact and regular.
Thou hast brought two copies, and one has just as many letters and
words on a page as the other, and all the letters are exactly alike.”

The Abbot had been studying the book closely. Now he asked the monks
to withdraw. When Gutenberg and he were alone, he said, “Are these
books really made with a copyist’s pen?” He cast a searching glance at
the lapidary.

Gutenberg, much embarrassed, had no answer for him.

“It is as I guessed,” said the Abbot. “They are made from blocks, like
the St. Christopher.”

The Abbot smiled at the look of dismay on Gutenberg’s face. “Have no
fear,” he added. “It may be that I can supply thee with better work
for thy skill. We need more copies of the ‘Biblia Pauperum’ for our
use here, and I have no doubt thou couldst greatly improve on the best
we have.”

“I should like to do it,” said Gutenberg, “if there were not too much

“The priests will need many copies,” the Abbot assured him. “And thou
shalt be well paid for them.”

So the young printer agreed to undertake this new commission. It meant
much to him to have secured the patronage of the Abbot, for this would
set a seal upon the excellence of his work, and bring him to the
notice of the wealthy and cultivated people of the day.

Gutenberg took the Abbot’s copy of the “Biblia” home, and he and the
apprentices started work upon the wooden blocks. There were many cuts
in the book which had to be copied, and so they engaged two wood
engravers who lived in Strasburg to help them. Even so, it took them
months to finish the book. But when it was printed and bound, and a
copy shown to the Abbot, he was delighted with it. “Thou hast done
nobly, my son,” said he, “and thy labors will serve the interests of
our Mother Church. Thou shalt be well paid.”

Gutenberg returned home with the money, and showed it delightedly to
his wife. “I knew thou wouldst triumph,” said she. “Only to think of a
real ‘Biblia Pauperum’ made by my John Gutenberg. We shall see
wonderful days!”

Now fortune grew more favorable. The “Biblia” sold better than the
other books had done, and they next printed the Canticles, or
Solomon’s Song. This was impressed, as the others had been, on only
one side of the page, and from engraved wooden blocks. Then Gutenberg
thought he would like to print the entire Bible. Anna favored this,
and he started to figure out how long the work would take.

“There are seven hundred pages in the Bible,” said he. “I cannot
engrave more than two pages a month working steadily, and at such a
rate it would take me fully three hundred and fifty months, or nearly
thirty years, to make blocks enough to print the Holy Book.”

“Why, thou wouldst be an old man before it was done!” cried his wife
in dismay.

“Yes, and more than that, this process of engraving is dimming to the
eyes. I should be blind before my work was half done.”

“But couldst thou not divide the work with the others?”

“Yes, if only I could persuade them to attempt so big a work. They
want to try smaller books, for they say my new process is hardly
better for making a large book than the old method of copying. It may
be that I can get them to print the Gospels gradually, one book at a

Though the workmen were now growing more weary and disheartened with
each new volume they undertook, Gutenberg would not give up. He
persuaded them to start cutting the blocks for the Gospel of St.
Matthew. But as he worked with his knives the apprentices grumbled
about him. At last he had the first block nearly done. Then his hand
slipped, the tool twisted, and the block was split across.

The other men looked aghast. So much work had gone for nothing.

Gutenberg sat studying the broken block of wood. As he studied it a
new idea came to him. Picking up his knife he split the wood, making
separate pieces of every letter carved on it. Then he stared at the
pile of little pieces that lay before him like a bundle of splinters.
He realized that he was now on the trail of a greater discovery than
any he had yet made, for these separate letters could be used over and
over again, not only in printing one book but in printing hundreds.

Taking a fresh block he split it into little strips, and cutting these
down to the right size, he carved a letter on the end of each strip.
This was more difficult than cutting on the solid block, and he
spoiled many strips of wood before he got a letter that satisfied him.
But finally he had made one, and then another, and another, until he
had all the letters of the alphabet. He was careful to cut the sticks
of the proper width, so that the letters would not be too far apart
when they should be used for printing. When they were done he showed
them to the others and called them _stucke_, or type. They soon saw
what a great step forward he had made.

The first words he printed with type were _Bonus homo_, “a good man.”
He took the letters that spelled the first word, and putting them in
their proper order tied them together with a string. He only had one
letter o, so he had to stop and cut two more. Then he made a supply of
each letter of the alphabet, and put type of each letter separately in
little boxes, to keep them from getting mixed. So he made the first
font of movable type known to history.

As he experimented with these first type he made another improvement.
He found it was hard to keep the letters tight together, so that he
could ink them and print from them. He cut little notches in the edges
of the different type, and by fastening his linen thread about the
notches in the outside letters of each word he found that he could
hold a word as tightly together as if all the letters in it were cut
on a single block.

The cutting of the type and the studying out of new and better ways of
holding them together took a great deal of time, and meanwhile the
sales of gems and mirrors had fallen off. The apprentices had not the
master’s skill in holding the letters together, and they grew
discouraged as time after time the type would separate as they were
ready to print from it. They wanted to go back to the blocks, but
Gutenberg insisted that his new way was the better. At last he hit
upon another idea. He would make a press which would hold the type
together better than a linen thread or a knot of wire.

After many patient experiments he finished a small model of a press
which seemed to him to combine all the qualifications needed for his
work. He took this to a skilful turner in wood and metal, who examined
it carefully. “This is only a simple wine-press I am to make, Master
John,” said he.

“Yes,” answered Gutenberg, “it is in effect a wine-press, but it shall
shortly spout forth floods of the most abundant and marvelous liquor
that has ever flowed to quench the thirst of man.”

The mechanic, paying no heed to Gutenberg’s excitement, made the press
for him according to the model. It was set up in the printing-rooms of
Dritzhn’s dwelling, and the firm went on with their work of cutting
movable type. But the sale of books was small, and for two years more
the apprentices grumbled, and protested that they should have stuck to
the lapidary’s art.

New troubles soon arose. It was found that the ink softened the type
and spoiled the form of the letters. “We must make more fresh type,”
said Gutenberg, “until we can find a way to harden the wood.” Then a
bill was sent in of one hundred florins for press-work. The partners
were angry, and said they saw no real advantage in the press. “But
without the frame and press all our labor of making _stucke_ will
prove useless,” answered the inventor. “We must either give up the
art, and disband, or make the necessary improvements as they are
called for.”

Gutenberg was made of sterner stuff than his partner Dritzhn. Two
years of small success and great doubt had told upon the latter, and
so one day when Father Melchior of the Cathedral told him he noticed
that he was worried, Dritzhn confessed to him the secret of the
printing shop. “I have put money into the business,” said he, “and if
I leave now I fear I shall lose it all.”

“Leave it by all means,” advised the Father, “for be sure that no good
will come of these strange arts.”

But when he went back to the shop Dritzhn discovered the others
setting type for a new work, a dictionary, that was called a
“Catholicon.” They were all enthusiastic about this, believing it
would have a readier sale than their other works, and so he decided to
stay with them a little longer, in spite of the Father’s advice.

Just as the dictionary was ready to be issued, in the autumn of 1439,
an event occurred which threw the firm into confusion. Dritzhn died
suddenly, and his two brothers demanded that Gutenberg should let them
take his place in the firm. He read over the contract which they had
all signed, and then told them that they could not be admitted as
partners, but should be paid the fifteen florins which the books
showed were due to Dritzhn’s heirs. They rejected this with scorn, and
at once started a lawsuit against Gutenberg and his partners.

There were no such protections for inventions as patents then; rumor
soon spread abroad the news that Gutenberg had discovered a new art
that would prove a gold-mine, and the poor inventor saw that the
lawsuit would probably end in his ruin. The printing-press had stood
in Dritzhn’s house, and before Gutenberg could prevent it the two
brothers had stolen parts of it. Then he had what was left of it
carried to his own house; but even here spies swarmed to try to learn
something of his secret. Finally he realized that his invention was
not safe even there, and decided that every vestige of his work must
be destroyed. “Take the _stucke_ from the forms,” said he to his
friends, “and break them up in my sight, that none of them may remain

“What, all our labor for the last three years!” cried Hielman.

“Never mind,” answered Gutenberg. “Break them up, or some one will
steal our art, and we shall be ruined.”

So, taking hammers and mallets, they broke the precious forms of type
into thousands of fragments.

The lawsuit dragged along, and finally ended in Gutenberg’s favor. The
firm was ordered to pay Dritzhn’s brothers the fifteen florins, and
nothing more. But the type were destroyed, and the partners were
afraid to make new ones, lest the suspicious public should spy upon
them and learn their secret. When the term of the contract between the
partners came to an end it was not renewed. Each of the firm went his
own way, and John Gutenberg opened his lapidary’s shop again and tried
to build up the trade he had lost.

His wife was still Gutenberg’s chief encouragement. She was certain
that some day he would win success, and often in the evening she would
urge him not to despair of his invention, but to wait till the time
should be ripe for him to go on with it again. As a matter of fact it
was impossible for him to give it up. Before long he was cutting
_stucke_ again in his spare hours, and then trying his hand at
printing single pages.

He felt however that it would be impossible for him to resume his
presswork in Strasburg. There was too much prejudice against his
invention there. So he decided to go back to his home town of Mainz,
where many of his family were living. Anna agreed with this decision,
and so they closed their shop, sold their goods, and journeyed to his
brother’s home. There one day his brother introduced him to a rich
goldsmith named Faust, and this man said he understood that Gutenberg
had invented a new way of making books. John admitted this, and told
him some details of his process.

The goldsmith was most enthusiastic, and suggested that he might be
able to help the inventor with money. Gutenberg said he should need
two or three thousand florins. “I will give it to thee,” answered
Faust, “if thou canst convince me that it will pay better than

Then the printer confided all his secrets to Faust, and the latter
considered them with great care. At last he was satisfied, and told
Gutenberg that he would enter into partnership with him. “But where
shall we start the work?” he added. “Secrecy is absolutely necessary.
We must live in the house in which we work.”

“I had thought of the Zum Jungen,” answered Gutenberg, naming an old
house that overlooked the Rhine.

“The very place,” agreed Faust. “It is almost a palace in size, and
will give us ample room; it is in the city, and yet out of its bustle.
It is vacant now, and I will rent it at once. When canst thou move

“At once,” said Gutenberg, more pleased than he dared show.

So the printer and his good wife moved to the Zum Jungen, which was
more like a castle than a tradesman’s dwelling-house. Its windows
looked over the broad, beautiful river to the wooded shores beyond.
Faust advanced Gutenberg the sum of 2,020 florins, taking a mortgage
on his printing materials as security. Then Faust moved his family and
servants to the old house, and the firm started work. Hanau, the valet
of Gutenberg’s father, and a young scholar named Martin Duttlinger,
joined them at the outset.

Two well-lighted rooms on the second floor, so placed as to be
inaccessible to visitors, were chosen for the workshops. Here the four
worked from early morning until nearly midnight, cutting out new sets
of type and preparing them for the presswork. They began by printing a
new manual of grammar, an “Absies,” or alphabetical table, and the
“Doctrinale.” All three of these it was thought would be of use to all
who could read.

Soon Faust discovered the same defect in the type that the workmen at
Strasburg had discovered. The wooden letters would soften when used,
and soon lose their shape. He spoke to Gutenberg about it, and the
latter studied the problem. At length an idea occurred to him. He
opened a drawer and took out a bit of metal. He cut a letter on the
end of it. “There is the answer,” said he. “We will make our type of
lead. We can cut it, and ink cannot soften it as it does wood.”

Faust was very much pleased. Now that he understood Gutenberg’s
invention he realized how great a thing it was destined to become, and
was anxious to help its progress in every way he could. One day
Gutenberg told him that they needed a good man to cut the designs for
the engravings. “Dost thou know of one?” asked Faust. “Of only one,”
was the answer. “He is Peter Schœffer, a youth who helped me
before. He is now a teacher of penmanship in Paris.”

“We must send for him,” said Faust.

So Gutenberg sent for Schœffer, and the printing staff was
increased to five.

Schœffer had considerable reputation as a scholar, and soon after
he had joined them Gutenberg asked him what he thought was the most
important book in the world. Schœffer replied that he was not
sufficiently learned to answer the question.

“But to the best of thy knowledge,” persisted Gutenberg.

“I remember that when I was in the Cathedral school,” said
Schœffer, “Father Melchior showed us the Gothic Gospels, or Silver
Book, and said that more art and expense had been spent on the Bible
than on any other book he knew. I believe therefore that it is the
most useful and important book in the world.”

“So I believe,” agreed Gutenberg, “and I intend to print it in the
best style possible to my art.”

“But what a tremendous undertaking, to print the whole Bible!”
exclaimed Schœffer.

“Yes, a stupendous work,” Gutenberg agreed. “And so I want to start
upon it at once.”

Schœffer was amazed when Gutenberg showed him the new press he had
built at the Zum Jungen. He watched the master dab the type with ink,
slide them under the platen, and having pressed it down, take out the
printed page.

“It is wonderful!” said he. “How many impressions canst thou take from
the press in a day?”

“About three hundred, working steadily.”

“Then books will indeed multiply! What would the plodding copyists say
to this!”

When they began printing with the lead type they soon found that the
metal was too soft. The nicest skill had to be used in turning the
screw of the press, and only Gutenberg seemed able to succeed with it.
Schœffer suggested that they should try iron.

“We have,” said Gutenberg, “but it pierced the paper so that it could
not be used.”

Schœffer was used to experimenting in metals, and the next day he
brought to the workroom an alloy which he thought might serve. It was
a mixture of regulus of antimony and lead. They tried it, and found it
was precisely the right substance for their use. Gutenberg and Faust
were both delighted, and very soon afterward made Peter Schœffer a
partner in the firm.

They now started on the great work of printing the Bible. Duttlinger
was commissioned to buy a Bible to serve for his own use. This was
brought in secret to the workrooms, and the partners inspected it
carefully. They realized what a huge undertaking it would be to print
such a long book, but nevertheless they set out to do it. Each man was
allotted his share in the labor, and the work began.

The press Gutenberg was using was a very simple affair. Two upright
posts were fastened together by crosspieces at top and bottom. In this
frame a big iron screw was worked by means of a handle. A board was
fastened beneath the screw, and the type, when inked and set in a
wooden frame, were placed on this board. The printing paper was laid
over the type, and the screw forced the platen, which was the board
fixed to it, down upon the paper. Then the screw was raised by the
handle, the platen was lifted with it, and the printed paper was ready
to be taken out. The screw was worked up and down in a box, called a
hose, and the board on which the type were set for the printing was
actually a sort of sliding table. The frame or chase of type was fixed
on this table, and when inked and with the paper laid in place, was
slid under the platen, which was a smooth planed board. The screw was
turned down, the platen was pressed against the sheet of paper, and
the printing was done.

Each of the workers at the Zum Jungen suggested valuable changes and
additions. Schœffer proved wonderfully adept at cutting type, and
later at illuminating the initial letters that were needed. The copies
we have of the books published by this first Mainz press bear
striking witness to the rare skill and taste Peter Schœffer showed
in designing and coloring the large capital letters that were
considered essential at that day.

The firm had by now prepared several hundred pounds’ weight of metal
type for the Bible, had discovered that a mixture of linseed oil and
lampblack made the best ink, and had invented ink-dabbers made of skin
stuffed with wool. Then it occurred to Schœffer that there must be
some easier way of making type than by cutting it out by hand. After
some study he found it, and the firm began taking casts of type in
plaster moulds. But the success of this method seemed very doubtful at
first, for it was hard to get a good impression of such small things
as type in the soft plaster. Again Schœffer showed his skill. He
planned the cutting of punches which would stamp the outline of the
type upon the matrix. He cut matrices for the whole alphabet, and then
showed the letters cast from them to Gutenberg and Faust.

“Are these letters cast in moulds?” exclaimed the astonished Faust.

“Yes,” answered Schœffer.

“This is the greatest of all thy inventions then,” said Faust. “Thou
art beyond all question a great genius!”

With type cast in this new way the firm printed the first page of
their Bible in the spring of 1450. The press worked to perfection, and
when they removed the vellum sheet the printed letters were clear,
beautifully formed, and ranged in perfect lines. So began the
printing of what was to become famous as the Mazarine Bible. But it
was not until five years later, in 1455, that the book was finished.

The Bible was printed, but its cost had been great, and the returns
from its sale were small. Faust was dissatisfied with Gutenberg, and
took occasion to tell Schœffer one evening that he believed the
firm would do better without the master. “Thou hast devised the ink,
the forms for casting type, and the mixture of metals,” he said.
“These are almost all that has been invented. Gutenberg spent 4,000
florins before the Bible was half done, and I do not see how he can
ever repay me the sums I have advanced.”

Faust played upon young Schœffer’s vanity, he praised him
continually and disparaged Gutenberg, and finally persuaded him they
would be better off without the latter. Peter Schœffer was,
moreover, in love with Faust’s daughter Christiane, and wished to
marry her. This was another inducement for him to side with the rich

Then one day Faust asked Gutenberg blankly when he intended to repay
him the money he had advanced. Gutenberg was surprised, and told him
he had nothing but the small profits the firm was making.

“I will give thee thirty days to pay the debt,” said Faust, “and if
thou dost fail to pay within that time I shall take steps to collect

“But how am I to procure it? Wouldst thou ruin me?” cried Gutenberg.

“The money I must have, and if thou art honest thou wilt pay me,” came
the hard answer.

The month ended, and Gutenberg had not found the money. He protested
and pleaded with Faust, but the latter was obdurate. He started a
lawsuit at once to recover the sums he had expended, and judgment was
given against Gutenberg, commanding that he should pay what he had
borrowed, together with interest. Gutenberg could not do this, and so
Faust took possession of all the presses, the type, and the copies of
the Bible that were already printed.

Gutenberg knew that he was ruined. His wife tried to console him. “I
am worse than penniless,” said he. “My noble art is at an end. What I
most feared has happened. They have stolen my invention, and I have
nothing left.”

Meantime Schœffer had married Faust’s daughter, and the two men
took up the printing business for themselves. Faust showed the Bibles
to friends, and was advised to carry a supply of them to Paris. He
went to that city, and at first met with great success. He sold the
King a copy for seven hundred and fifty crowns, and private citizens
copies at smaller prices. But soon word spread abroad that this
stranger’s stock was inexhaustible. “The more he sells the more he has
for sale,” said one priest. Then some one started the report that the
stranger was in league with the devil, and soon a mob had broken into
his lodgings and found his stock of Bibles. Faust was arrested on the
charge of dealing in the black art, and was brought before the court.
He now decided that he would have to tell of the printing press if he
were to escape, and so he made a full confession. So great was the
wonder and admiration at the announcement of this new invention that
he was at once released, loaded with honors, and soon after returned
to Mainz with large profits from his trip.

But Gutenberg was not entirely left to despair. His brother Friele,
who was well-to-do, came to his aid, and interested friends in
starting John at work on his presses again. He missed Schœffer’s
discoveries as to ink and the casts for type, but although he had not
the means to print another copy of the Bible, he contrived to print
various other books which were bought by the clerical schools and the
monasteries. After a time Faust, realizing perhaps that Gutenberg was
in reality the inventor of the art which he was beginning to find so
lucrative, came to him, and asked his forgiveness. He admitted that he
had been unfair in the prosecution of the lawsuit, and urged Gutenberg
to take his old place in their firm. But Gutenberg could not be
persuaded, he preferred to work after his own fashion, and to be
responsible only to himself.

For eight years he carried on the business of his new printing shop in
the Zum Jungen, with his brother and Conrad Humery, Syndic of Mainz,
to share the expenses and profits. Then his wife, Anna, died, and he
could not keep on with the work. His brother advised him to leave
Mainz for a time and travel. So he sold his presses and type to the
Syndic, and left Mainz. Wherever he journeyed he was received with
honor, for it was now widely known that he had invented the new art of
printing. The Elector Adolphus of Nassau invited him to enter his
service as one of his gentlemen pensioners, and paid him a generous
salary. Thus he was able to live in peace and comfort until his death
in 1468.

Meanwhile Faust and Schœffer had continued to print the Bible and
other works, and had found a prosperous market in France and the
German cities. Schœffer cast a font of Greek type, and used this in
printing a copy of Cicero’s “De Officiis,” which was eagerly bought by
the professors and students of the great University of Paris. But as
Faust was disposing of the last copies of this book in the French
capital he was seized with the plague, and died almost immediately.
For thirty-six years Peter Schœffer continued printing books,
making many improvements, and bringing out better and better editions
of the Bible.

The capture of Mainz in 1462 by the Elector Adolphus of Nassau gave
the secrets of the printing press to the civilized world. Presses were
set up in Hamburg, Cologne, Strasburg, and Augsburg, two of Faust’s
former workmen began printing in Paris, and the Italian cities of
Florence and Venice eagerly took up the new work. Between 1470 and
1480 twelve hundred and ninety-seven books were printed in Italy
alone, an indication of what men thought of the value of Gutenberg’s

William Caxton, an English merchant, learned the new art while he was
traveling in Germany, and when he returned home started a press at
Westminster with a partner named Wynken de Worde. This was the first
English press, but others were quickly set up at Oxford and York,
Canterbury, Worcester, and Norwich, and books began to appear in a
steady stream.

The art of printing has seen great changes since Gutenberg’s day. The
type is now made by machinery, inked by machinery, set and distributed
again by machinery. The letters, when once set up, are cast in plates
of entire pages, so that they can be kept for use whenever they are
wanted. Stereotyping and electrotyping have made this possible. The
Mergenthaler Linotype machine sets and casts type in the form of solid
lines. The great presses of to-day can accomplish more in twelve hours
than the presses of 1480 in as many months.

But the great press we have is the direct descendant of the little one
that John Gutenberg built in the Zum Jungen at Mainz, and the letters
we read on the printed page are after all only another form of those
he cut out with so much patient labor on his wooden blocks in
Strasburg. Printing is one of the greatest inventions the world has
ever seen, but it had its beginning in the simple fact that a young
German polisher of gems fell to wondering how a rude playing-card had
been made.



About 1510-1589

The discovery of a long-sought enamel and the successful manufacture
of a new and beautiful type of pottery can scarcely be ranked among
the great inventions of history, but the story of Bernard Palissy is
far too interesting to need any such excuse. He was a worker in the
fine arts, in a day when objects of beauty were considered of the
first importance, and his success was then regarded as almost as great
a thing as the building of the first McCormick reaper in another age.

This maker of a new and beautiful porcelain was a Frenchman, born
about 1510 at the little village of La Chapelle Biron, which lies
between the Lot and Dordogne, in Perigord. His parents were poor
peasants, without the means or the opportunity to give Bernard much of
a schooling, but he picked up a very fair knowledge of reading and
writing, and kept his eyes so wide open that he learned much more than
the average country boy. It was the age when the churches of France
were being made glorious with windows of many-colored glass, and
Bernard, watching the glass-workers, dared to ask if they would take
him as apprentice. One of them would, and so the boy of Perigord began
his career of artist, his field covering not only the manufacture of
glass, but its cutting, arranging, and sometimes its painting for the
rose-windows of the Gothic churches. And so skilled were those
glass-workers and so deeply in love with their art that their glass
has been the despair of the later centuries that have tried to copy

Like a true artist he was very much in earnest. With his spare time
and such money as he could save he studied all subjects that seemed
apt to be of help to him. He learned geometry, and drawing, painting,
and modeling. In his desire for the greatest subjects for his windows
and the finest treatment of them, Bernard turned to Italy, the home of
the great painters, and copied their works. This led his eager mind to
delve into Italian literature, and shortly the young workman was not
only draughtsman and artist, but something of a man of letters as
well. The little village of La Chapelle Biron found that the peasant’s
son, without any education in the church schools, was already a man of
many talents and quite remarkable learning.

He had mastered his profession, and the town in Perigord was somewhat
too small for him. He must see something of that outer world where
many others were making works of art. His skill as a painter of glass,
as a draughtsman, and land-measurer, would earn him a living wherever
he might go. So he set forth on his travels, as many young scholars
and artisans were used to do in those days, working here and there,
collecting new ideas, talking with many men of different minds, and
gaining a first-hand knowledge of the world that lay about him. He
visited the chief provinces of France, saw something of Burgundy and
Flanders, and stayed for a time on the banks of the Rhine. His love of
acquiring knowledge grew as he traveled, and he studied natural
history, geology and chemistry. Where churches were being built he
painted glass, where towns or nobles needed measurers or surveyors of
their lands he worked for them. When he had seen as much of the world
as he wished, he went to the town of Saintes, married, and settled
there as a man of several trades.

It was in 1539 that Palissy became a citizen of Saintes, and several
years later that chance sent his way a beautiful cup of enameled
pottery. Some have said that the cup came from Italy, and some from
Nuremberg, but it was of a new pattern to Palissy, and the more he
looked at it and handled it the more he wanted to learn the secret of
its making, and duplicate it or improve on it. He had the artist’s
wish to create something beautiful, and with it was the belief that he
could provide well for his wife and children, and raise the potter’s
art to a new height if he could learn the secret of this enamel. That
thought became his lodestone, and he left all his other work to
accomplish it. Much as he knew about glass, he knew nothing about
enamel. He had no notion of the materials he should need, nor how he
was to combine them. He started to make earthen vessels without
knowing how other men had made them. He knew that he should need a
furnace, and so he built one, although he had never seen a furnace

The attempt seemed foolhardy from the start. What he had saved he
spent in his attempts to find the right materials. Soon his savings
were gone, and he had to look about for a new means of living. A
survey and plan of the great salt-marshes of Saintonge was wanted in
1543, and Palissy obtained the work. He finished it, was paid the
stipulated sum, and immediately spent it in fresh experiments to find
the coveted enamel. But he could not find it. One experiment after
another ended in rebuff. He labored day and night, and the result of
all his labors was the same. But the desire to find that enamel had
possessed Palissy’s mind, and it was not a mind to veer or change.

The man was beset by friends who told him he was mad to continue the
chase, and that his undoubted talents in other lines were being
wasted. He was implored, reproached, and belabored by his wife, who
begged him to leave his furnace, and turn to work that would feed and
clothe his growing family. He might well have seemed a fanatic, he
might well have seemed distraught and cruel to his family, but he met
each protest with a simple frankness that disarmed all attacks and
showed his indomitable purpose. Those were days of intense suffering
for Palissy, and later he described them in his own writings in a way
that showed his real depth of feeling and his constant struggle
against what he held to be temptations.

He borrowed money to build a new furnace, and when this was done he
lived by it, trying one combination of materials after another in his
search for the secret of the enamel. Those were superstitious days,
and some of his more ignorant neighbors thought that Bernard Palissy
must be in league with the devil, since he spent day and night feeding
fuel to his furnace, and sending a great volume of smoke and sparks
into the air. Some said he was an alchemist trying to turn base metals
into gold, some that he was discovering new poisons, some frankly
believed that his learning had turned his mind and made him mad. They
were all certain of one thing, and that was that his great fires were
providing very ill for his family, who became in time a charge on the
town’s charity.

For sixteen years Palissy experimented. For sixteen years he had to
resist the reproaches of wife and children, and the threats of
neighbors. That was an epic struggle, well worth the recording. We can
picture the little mediæval town, surrounded by its salt marshes, the
prosperous burghers, and the strange man, Bernard Palissy, at whom all
others scoffed, whose children played in the streets in rags and
tatters, but who, himself, was always working at his furnace with
demoniac zeal. “Too much learning,” says one burgher, shaking his
head. “What business had a simple glass-worker to study those texts
out of Italy?” “Seeking for more learning than other folk have is apt
to league one with the Evil One,” says number two. “Bernard has sold
his soul. He will fall in his furnace some day, and go up in smoke.”
“Nay,” says the third burgher, “he will live forever, to bring shame
to our town of Saintes. He is like one of those plagues the priests
tell us of.” And he crosses himself devoutly.


But Palissy cared for nothing but to learn that secret. At first he
had had a workman to help him; now he let him go. He had no money to
pay him, and so gave him all his clothes except those he had on. He
knew his family were starving, and he dared not go out into the
streets for fear of the maledictions of his neighbors. But he fed that
furnace and he melted his different compositions. When he could get no
other fuel he turned to the scant furnishings of his house. He burned
his bed and chairs, his table, and everything that was made of wood.
He felt that he was now on the verge of his discovery; but he must
have more fire. He tore strips of board from the walls, and piled them
in the furnace. Still he needed more heat, and ran out into the yard
behind his dwelling. There were sticks that supported vines, and a
fence that ran between his land and the next. He took the wood of the
fence, the sticks of the vines, and hurried back with them to the
furnace. He threw them on the blaze, he bent over his composition, and
he found the secret answered for him. After sixteen years he learned
how to make that rare enamel.

It was a glorious achievement, and it brought Palissy fame and
fortune. With his new knowledge he had soon fashioned pottery,
decorated with rustic scenes, and exquisitely enameled, that all
lovers of works of art desired at any price. The first pieces of his
rustic pottery soon reached the court of France, and Henry II and his
nobles ordered vases and figures from him to ornament the gardens of
their châteaux. Catherine de’ Medici became his patron, and the
powerful Constable de Montmorenci sent to Saintes for Palissy to
decorate his château at Ecouen. Fragments of this work have been
preserved, exquisite painted tiles, and also painted glass, setting
forth the story of Psyche, which Palissy prepared for the château.

The people of Saintes now found that their madman, instead of bringing
obloquy upon their town, was to bring it fame. The Reformation had
made many Protestants in that part of France, and Palissy was one of
them. But when the Parliament of Bordeaux, in 1562, ordered the
execution of the edict of 1559, that had been directed against the
Protestants, the Catholic Duke of Montpensier gave him a special
safeguard, and ordered that his porcelain factory should be exempted
from the general proscription. Party feeling ran very high, however,
and in spite of the Duke’s safeguard Palissy was arrested, his
workshop ordered destroyed by the judges at Saintes, and the King
himself had to send a special messenger to the town and claim that
Palissy was his own servant, in order to save his life. The royal
family, in spite of their many faults, were sincere lovers of
beautiful workmanship, and they summoned Palissy to Paris, where they
could insure his safety. Catherine de’ Medici gave him a site for his
workshop on a part of the ground where the Palace of the Tuilleries
stood later, and used often to visit him and talk with him about his
art. He made the finest pieces of his porcelain here in Paris. Here he
also resumed his earlier studies, and came to lecture on natural
history and physics to all the great scholars of the day. When the
massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve deluged France with the blood of
Protestants Catherine saw that Palissy was spared from the general

Palissy had shown the inborn courage of his nature during those
sixteen lean years in Saintes. The perilous ups and downs of life in
sixteenth century France were to show that courage in another light.
In spite of royal favor the Catholic League reached for him, and in
1588, when he was nearly eighty years old, he was arrested by order of
the Sixteen, thrown into the Bastille, and threatened with death.
Henry III, son of Catherine, and in his own way a friend of artists,
went to see Palissy in prison. “My good friend,” said the King, “you
have now been five and forty years in the service of my mother and
myself; we have allowed you to retain your religion in the midst of
fire and slaughter. Now I am so pressed by the Guises and my own
people that _I am constrained_ to deliver you up into the hands of
your enemies, and to-morrow you will be burned unless you are

“Sire,” answered the old man, “I am ready to resign my life for the
glory of God. You have told me several times that you pity me, and I,
in my turn, pity you, who have used the words _I am constrained_. It
was not spoken like a king, sire; and these are words which neither
you nor those who constrain you, the Guisards and all your people,
will ever be able to make me utter, for I know how to die.”

The King, however, admiring Palissy’s talents, and remembering his
mother’s fondness for the artist, would not give him up to the party
of the League. Instead he let him remain in his dungeon in the
Bastille, where he died in 1589.

The maker of Palissy ware, as it is called, had many talents, and
among them was that of the writer. During his days in prison he busied
himself in penning his philosophic, religious, and artistic
meditations, as many other illustrious prisoners have done. His
autobiography is curious, and its note of sincerity has given it great
value as a human document. Says Lamartine of the writings of Palissy,
they are “real treasures of human wisdom, divine piety, and eminent
genius, as well as of great simplicity, vigor, and copiousness of
style. It is impossible, after reading them, not to consider the poor
potter one of the greatest writers of the French language. Montaigne
is not more free and flowing, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is scarcely more
graphic; neither does Bossuet excel him in poetical power.”

But Palissy did not explain his art of enamel in detail in any of his
writings, and after the death of his brothers or nephews, who
succeeded to his work, the secret of Palissy ware, like that of
certain other arts of the Renaissance, was lost.

Palissy did not decorate his porcelain with flat painting. His
figures, which usually dealt with historical, mythological, or
allegorical subjects, were executed in relief, and colored. These
colors were bright, and were generally yellows, blues, and grays,
although sometimes he used greens, violets, and browns. He never
acquired the pure white enamel of Luca della Robbia, nor that of the
faience of Nevers. His enamel is hard, but the glaze is not so fine
as that of Delft. The back of his ware is never all the same color,
but usually mottled with several colors, often yellow, blue, and

Palissy’s studies in natural history helped him when he came to
decorate his pottery. The figures are strikingly true in form and
color, and seem to have been moulded directly from nature, as they
probably were. Thus the fossil shells which he frequently used in his
border decorations are the shells found in the Paris basin, his fish
are those of the Seine, his plants, usually the watercress, the hart’s
tongue, and the maidenhair fern, are those which he found in the
country about Paris. His rustic scenes have that same charm of
fidelity to nature.

He also made very beautiful tiles to overlay walls, stoves, and
floors. The château at Ecouen has a large room entirely paved with
them, and many are to be seen in the chapel. They bear heraldic
designs, the devices of the Constable de Montmorenci, and the colors
are fresh and bright, due to the artist’s unique method of enameling.

Like so many Renaissance artists Palissy tried his skill in many
lines. If his most remarkable work was his “rustic pieces,” as they
are called, great dishes ornamented with fishes, reptiles, frogs,
shells, and plants in relief, intended to be used as ornaments and not
for service, scarcely less interesting were his statuettes, his stands
for fountains, his “rustic figures” for gardens, his candlesticks,
ewers and basins, saltcellars, ink-stands, and baskets. Large
collections of his work are to be found in the Louvre, the Hôtel de
Cluny, and at Sèvres. Many pieces have strayed into the hands of great
private collectors of rare porcelain, and both England and Russia have
many fine examples of his masterpieces.

He had two assistants, either brothers or nephews, and they knew the
secret of his process. They had worked with him, and they continued
his art into the reign of Henry IV. One of their productions shows
that king surrounded by his family. But these successors had not the
artistic instinct or touch of the master. They had little originality,
and speedily became servile copyists, so that Palissy ware for a time
lost the high place it had held. But these successors did not hand on
the secret, and when no more of the ware was forthcoming good judges
of the potter’s art found it easy to distinguish between the work of
Bernard and of his followers, and his own porcelain was again
enthroned among the greatest productions of French art. Connoisseurs
of to-day find it easy to know real Palissy ware.

Such is the story of a great artist of the Renaissance in France, of a
man born with the love of beauty, who found a new way of giving the
world delight, and who overcame what seemed almost superhuman trials.




Three days before the death of the great Italian Michael Angelo, in
the year 1564, there was born in Pisa a boy who was given the name of
Galileo Galilei, and who was destined to become one of the greatest
philosophers and inventors the world has ever known. He came of a
noble family of Florence, which had originally borne the name of
Bonajuti, but had later changed it to that of Galilei, and he is
usually known by his baptismal name of Galileo, according to the
Italian custom of that age. His father was a merchant, engaged in
business in Pisa, a man well versed in the Latin and Greek tongues,
and well known for his knowledge of mathematics. He was anxious that
each of his three sons should have a good education, and so he sent
Galileo, his eldest boy, to the famous monastery of Vallombrosa,
situated in a beautiful wooded valley not far from Florence. But the
father did not intend his son to become a priest, and so, when he
found his thoughts tending in that direction, he took him away from
the monastery, planning to make him a merchant like himself.

But the mind of the young Galileo was already remarkably acute. He was
a good musician, a skilful draughtsman and painter, something of a
poet, and had shown considerable talent in designing and building a
variety of toy machines. His father soon decided that his son’s bent
did not lie in the direction of a dealer in cloths, and, casting about
for a scientific career, chose that of medicine for Galileo. So he
took up this study at the University of Pisa.

One afternoon the youth of eighteen went to the great Cathedral of the
city. He knelt to make his devotions. From the roof of the nave hung a
large bronze lamp, and as the boy watched he saw an attendant draw the
lamp toward him to light it, and then let it swing back again. The
swinging caught his attention, and he watched it with more and more
interest. At first the arc of the swinging lamp was wide, but
gradually it grew less and less. But what struck him as singular was
that the oscillations all seemed to be made in the same time. He had
no watch, so he put his fingers on his wrist in order to note the
pulse-beats. As nearly as he could determine the swings of the lamp as
they lessened were keeping the same times.

When he went home he began to experiment with this idea of the
swinging lamp, or pendulum as it came to be called, and soon had
constructed an instrument which marked with very fair accuracy the
rate and variation of the pulse-beats. It was imperfect in many
respects, but when he showed it to his teachers at the university they
were delighted with it, and it was soon generally used by the
physicians of the day under the name of the Pulsilogia.

But, to his father’s dismay, the young Galileo did not show great
interest in the study of medicine. Instead he spent his time studying
the mathematics of Euclid, and from them went on to the writings of
Archimedes and the laws of mechanics. These latter absorbed him, and
fresh from reading them he constructed for himself a hydrostatic
balance, the purpose of which was to ascertain accurately the relative
proportions of any two metals in an alloy. He wrote an essay on his
invention, and circulated it among his friends and teachers. This
added to his reputation as a scientist, but brought him no money. His
family were poor, and he needed a means of support, and so he applied
for, and after a time obtained, appointment to the post of Professor
of Mathematics at the University of Pisa.

For centuries the laws of mechanics as laid down by the Greek
Aristotle had been accepted without much dispute by the civilized
world. But a spirit of new thought and investigation was now rising in
Europe, and more especially in Italy. Galileo determined to study the
laws of mechanics by experiment, and not, as so many earlier
scientists had done, by argument or mere theoretical opinions.
Therefore he undertook to establish definitely the laws relating to
falling bodies.

Aristotle, almost two thousand years before, had announced that if two
bodies of different weights were dropped from the same height the
heavier would reach the ground sooner than the lighter, according to
the proportion of their weights. Galileo doubted this, and decided to
try it. Accordingly he assembled the teachers and students of the
university one morning about the base of the famous Leaning Tower of
Pisa. He himself climbed to the top, carrying with him a ten-pound
shot and a one-pound shot. He balanced them on the edge of the tower
and let them fall together. They struck the ground together. As a
result of this experiment Galileo declared three laws in relation to
falling bodies. He said that if one neglected the resistance of the
air, or in other words supposed the bodies to fall through a vacuum,
it would be found, first, that all bodies fall from the same height in
equal times; second, that in falling the final velocities are
proportional to the times; and third, that the spaces fallen through
are proportional to the squares of the times.

The first of these laws was shown by his experiment on the Leaning
Tower. To show the others he built a straight inclined plane with a
groove down its centre. A bronze ball was free to move in the groove
with the least possible friction. By means of this he showed that no
matter how much he inclined the plane, and so changed the time, the
ball would always move down it according to the laws he had stated.

But in disproving the accuracy of the old laws of Aristotle the young
scientist had raised a hornet’s nest about his ears. The men of the
old school would not believe him, a conspiracy was set on foot against
him, and finally the criticism of his new teachings grew so severe
that he was forced to resign his position, and move to Florence.

In spite of his wide-spread reputation no school or university was
ready to welcome the young scientist. He was known as a man of a very
original turn of mind, and therefore one who would be apt to clash
with those who clung to their belief in the old order of thought. At
last, however, he succeeded in obtaining the chair of Professor of
Mathematics at the University of Padua, then one of the greatest seats
of learning in Italy. Here again he showed the great scope of his
knowledge, and wrote on military architecture and fortifications, the
laws of motion, of the sphere, and various branches of mechanics. He
invented a machine for raising water, and was granted a patent which
secured him his rights in it for twenty years, and he also produced
what he called his Geometrical and Military Compass, but what was
later commonly known as the Sector.

Galileo’s fame as a teacher had now spread widely throughout Europe,
and students began to flock to Padua to study under him. He had a
large house, where a number of his private pupils lived with him, a
garden, in which he delighted, and a workshop. Here he experimented on
his next invention, that of the air thermometer. One of his friends,
Castelli, wrote of this in a letter many years later, dated 1638. “I
remember,” he writes, “an experiment which our Signor Galileo had
shown me more than thirty-five years ago. He took a small glass bottle
about the size of a hen’s egg, the neck of which was two palms long,
and as narrow as a straw. Having well heated the bulb in his hand, he
inserted its mouth in a vessel containing a little water, and,
withdrawing the heat of his hand from the bulb, instantly the water
rose in the neck more than a palm above its level in the vessel. It
is thus that he constructed an instrument for measuring the degrees of
heat and cold.”

In 1604 the attention of all the astronomers of Europe was attracted
by a new star which suddenly appeared in the constellation
Serpentarius. Galileo studied it, and shortly began to lecture on the
comparatively new science of astronomy. Formerly he had taught the old
system of Aristotle to his classes, now, after a searching
investigation, he declared his belief in the contrary conclusions of
Copernicus. This study led him on and on. He became interested in the
magnetic needle, and its use as a compass in navigation. Columbus’
discovery of its changing its position according to its relation to
the North Pole took place on his first voyage to America, and reports
of this had reached Padua. All educated men were rousing to the fact
that the age was fertile with new discoveries in every branch of
knowledge, and Galileo and those who were working with him gave eager
heed to each month’s batch of news.

Mere chance is said to have brought about the making of the first
telescope. The story goes that an apprentice of Hans Lipperhey, an
optician of Middleburg, in Holland, was, one day in October, 1608,
playing with some spectacle lenses in his master’s shop. He noticed
that by holding two of the lenses in a certain position he obtained a
large and inverted view of whatever he looked at. He told Master Hans
about this, and the optician fixed two lenses in a tube, and looking
at the weathercock on a neighboring steeple saw that it seemed much
nearer and to be upside down. He hung the tube in his shop as a
curious toy, and one day the Marquis Spinola examined it and bought it
to present to Prince Maurice of Nassau. Soon a number of Hans
Lipperhey’s scientific neighbors were trying to make copies of his
tube, and before very long reports of it were carried to Italy. The
news reached Galileo while on a visit to Venice in June, 1609. This is
his account of what followed, taken from a letter written to his
brother-in-law Landucci, and dated August 29, 1609.


“You must know then that about two months ago a report was spread here
that in Flanders a spy-glass had been presented to Prince Maurice, so
ingeniously constructed that it made the most distant objects appear
quite near, so that a man could be seen quite plainly at a distance of
two miles. This result seemed to me so extraordinary that it set me
thinking, and as it appeared to me that it depended upon the laws of
perspective, I reflected on the manner of constructing it, and was at
length so entirely successful that I made a spy-glass which far
surpasses the report of the Flanders one. As the news had reached
Venice that I had made such an instrument, six days ago I was summoned
before their Highnesses, the Signoria, and exhibited it to them, to
the astonishment of the whole senate. Many of the nobles and senators,
although of a great age, mounted more than once to the top of the
highest church tower in Venice, in order to see sails and shipping
that were so far off that it was two hours before they were seen,
without my spy-glass, steering full sail into the harbor; for the
effect of my instrument is such that it makes an object fifty miles
off appear as large as if it were only five.

“Perceiving of what great utility such an instrument would prove in
naval and military operations, and seeing that His Serenity the Doge
desired to possess it, I resolved on the 24th inst. to go to the
palace and present it as a free gift.” So Galileo did, and as a result
the senate elected him to the Professorship at Padua for life, with a
salary of one thousand florins yearly.

But what were Galileo’s claims to the invention of this great
instrument? Here is what he wrote in 1623. “Perhaps it may be said
that no great credit is due for the making of an instrument, or the
solution of a problem, when one is told beforehand that the instrument
exists, or that the problem is solvable. It may be said that the
certitude of the existence of such a glass aided me, and that without
this knowledge I would never have succeeded. To this I reply, the help
which the information gave me consisted in exciting my thoughts in a
particular direction, and without that, it is possible they may never
have been directed that way; but that such information made the act of
invention easier to me I deny, and I say more--to find the solution of
a definite problem requires a greater effort of genius than to resolve
one not specified; for in the latter case hazard, chance, may play the
greater part, while in the former all is the work of the reasoning and
intelligent mind. Thus, we are certain that the Dutchman, the first
inventor of the telescope, was a simple spectacle-maker, who, handling
by chance different forms of glasses, looked, also by chance, through
two of them, one convex and the other concave, held at different
distances from the eye; saw and noted the unexpected result; and thus
found the instrument. On the other hand, I, on the simple information
of the effect obtained, discovered the same instrument, not by chance,
but by the way of pure reasoning. Here are the steps: the artifice of
the instrument depends either on one glass or on several. It cannot
depend on one, for that must be either convex, or concave, or plain.
The last form neither augments nor diminishes visible objects; the
concave diminishes them, the convex increases them, but both show them
blurred and indistinct. Passing then to the combination of two
glasses, and knowing that glasses with plain surfaces change nothing,
I concluded that the effect could not be produced by combining a plain
glass with a convex or a concave one; I was thus left with the two
other kinds of glasses, and after a few experiments I saw how the
effect sought could be produced. Such was the march of my discovery,
in which I was not assisted in any way by the knowledge that the
conclusion at which I aimed was a verity.”

The telescope that Galileo presented to the Doge of Venice, and which
was later lost, consisted of a tube of lead, with what is called a
plano-concave eye-glass and a plano-convex object glass, and had a
magnifying power of three diameters, which made objects look three
times nearer than they actually were, and as a result nine times
larger. The tube was about seventy centimeters long and about
forty-five millimeters in diameter. It was first used in public from
the top of the campanile in the piazza at Venice on August 21, 1609,
and the most distant object that could be seen through it was the
campanile of the church of San Giustina in Padua, about thirty-five
kilometers away.

As soon as Galileo returned to his home in Padua he busied himself
with improving his invention. First he constructed a new telescope,
which as he said “made objects appear more than sixty times larger.”
Soon he had a still better one, which enlarged four hundred times. He
used this to examine the moon, and said that it brought that body “to
a distance of less than three semi-diameters of the earth, thus making
it appear about twenty times nearer and four hundred times larger than
when seen by the unaided eye.” To use the instrument more accurately
he built a support which held it firmly. He had also now learned to
make the lenses adjustable, by fixing the tubes that held them so that
they could be drawn out of, or pushed into the main tube of the
telescope. To see objects not very far distant very clearly he would
push the glasses a little way apart, and to see things very far
distant he drew the glasses together.

But this last telescope did not altogether satisfy him, and so he
built a still larger one. This brought objects more than thirty times
closer and showed them almost a thousand times larger in size. With
this he discovered the moons of Jupiter, and some of the fixed stars,
and added much to what was already known concerning the Milky Way, a
region of the sky which had long been a puzzle to astronomers.

He spent a great part of his time now in his workshop, making and
grinding glasses. They were expensive and very difficult to prepare
properly. Out of more than one hundred that he ground at first he
found only ten that would show him the newly found moons of Jupiter.
The object glasses were the more difficult, for it was this glass
which had to bring to a focus as accurately as possible all the rays
of light that passed into the telescope.

As the voyage of Columbus had brought a new world in the western ocean
to the notice of Europe, so Galileo’s discoveries with his telescope
brought forth a new world in the skies. Galileo wrote out statements
of his discoveries, and sent these, with his new telescopes, to the
princes and learned men of Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. At
all the courts and universities the telescopes were received with the
greatest enthusiasm, and put to instant use in the hope of discovering
new stars. But again the followers of Aristotle, those who were
unwilling to admit that anything new could be learned about the laws
of nature or the universe, arose in wrath. They attacked Galileo and
his discoveries. They would not admit that Jupiter had four attendant
moons, although these satellites could be seen by any one through the
telescope, and a little later, when Galileo stated that the planet
Saturn was composed of three stars which touched each other (later
found to be one planet with two rings) they rose up to denounce him.
But as yet these protests against the discoverer had little effect.
Europe was too much interested in what he was showing it to realize
how deeply he might affect men’s views of the universe.

Fame was now safely his. Men came from all parts of Europe to study
under this wonderful professor of Padua. But teaching gave him too
little time to carry on his own researches. So he looked about for
some other position that would give him greater leisure, and finally
stated his wishes to Cosimo II, Duke of Florence. Galileo had named
the satellites of Jupiter after the house of Medici, to which this
Duke belonged, and Cosimo was much flattered at the compliment. As a
result he was soon after made First Mathematician of the University of
Pisa, and also Philosopher and Mathematician to the Grand Duke’s Court
of Florence.

Settled at last at Florence his work as an astronomer steadily went
forward. He discovered that the planet Venus had a varying crescent
form, that there were small spots circling across the face of the sun,
which he called sun-spots, and later that there were mountains on the
moon. He also visited Rome, where he was received with the greatest
good-will by Pope Paul V and his cardinals, and where he met the
leading scientists of the capital.

But Galileo’s course was no less flecked with light and shade than
were the sun and moon he studied. The envy of rivals soon spread false
reports about him, and the professors at Pisa refused to accept the
results of his studies. Then one of the latter stirred the religious
scruples of the Dowager Grand Duchess by telling her that Galileo’s
conclusion that the earth had a double motion must be wrong, since it
was opposed to the statements of the Bible. Galileo heard of this, and
wrote a letter in reply, in which he said that in studying the laws of
nature men must start with what they could prove by experiments
instead of relying wholly on the Scriptures. This was enough to set
the machinery of his enemies in motion. Galileo’s teachings were
pointed out as dangerous to the teachings of the Church, and the
officers of the Inquisition began to consider how they might best deal
with him. Certain of his writings were declared false and prohibited,
and he was admonished that he must follow certain lines in his
teachings. He went to Rome himself, and saw the Pope again, but found
that his friends were fewer and his enemies growing more powerful.

The theory of Copernicus that the earth and planets are in constant
motion was the very foundation of Galileo’s scientific studies, and
yet the order of the Church now forbade him to use this theory. He
went back to Florence out of health and despondent. His old students
were falling away from him through fear of the Pope’s displeasure, and
he was left much alone. But his thirst for knowledge would not let him
rest. He took up his residence in the fine old Torre del Gallo, which
looks down on Florence and the river Arno, and went on with his work.
He wrote out the results of his discoveries, and made a microscope
from a model he had seen. Soon he had greatly improved upon his model,
and had an instrument, which, as he said, “magnifies things as much as
50,000 times, so that one sees a fly as large as a hen.” He sent
copies to some friends, and shortly his microscopes were as much in
demand as his telescopes had been.

In 1632 he published what he called “The Dialogues of Galileo
Galilei.” This divided the world of Italy into two camps, the one
those who believed in Aristotle and the old learning, the other those
who followed Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. The Jesuits took up the
gage he had thrown down, and Galileo found the Church of Rome arrayed
against him. The sale of his book was forbidden, a commission was
appointed to bring charges against him, and he was ordered to go to
Rome for trial. The commission reported that Galileo had disobeyed the
Church’s orders by maintaining that the earth moves and that the sun
is stationary, that he had wrongly declared that the movements of the
tides were due to the sun’s stability and the motion of the earth, and
that he had failed to give up his old beliefs in regard to the sun and
the earth as he had been commanded.

Galileo, although he was ill, went to Rome, and was placed on trial
before the Inquisition. After weeks of weary waiting and long
examinations he was ordered to take a solemn oath, forswearing his
belief in his own writings and rejecting the conclusion that the sun
was stationary and that the earth moved. Rather than suffer the pains
of the Inquisition he agreed, and made his solemn declaration.
According to an old story, now discredited, as he rose from his knees
after the ceremony he whispered to a friend “_Eppur si muove_” (It
does move, nevertheless). Whether he said this or not there can be no
doubt but that the great astronomer knew the performance was a farce,
and that the world did move in spite of all the Inquisition could

The Inquisition did its work ruthlessly. Notices of the sentence
prohibiting the reading of Galileo’s book and ordering all copies of
it to be surrendered, and copies of the declaration he had made
denying his former teachings, were sent to all the courts of Europe
and to many of the universities. In Padua the documents were read to
teachers and students at the university where for so many years
Galileo had been the greatest glory of learning, and in Florence the
Inquisitor read the sentence publicly in the church of Santa Croce,
notices having been sent to all who were known to be friends or
followers of Galileo, ordering them to attend. Thus his humiliation
was spread broadcast, and in addition he was ordered to be held at
Rome as a prisoner.

After a time he was permitted to go on parole to the city of Siena,
which was at least nearer his home outside Florence. There he stayed
until the Grand Duke Cosimo, who had stood by him, persuaded the
Church that Galileo’s health required that he be allowed to join his
friends. At last he reached his home, and again took up his studies.
His eyesight was failing, and eventually he became entirely blind, but
meanwhile his speculations covered the widest fields of science, he
studied the laws of motion and equilibrium, the velocity of light, the
problems of the vacuum, of the flight of projectiles, and the
mathematical theory of the parabola. He wrote another book, dealing
with two new sciences, and was busy with designs for a pendulum clock
at the time of his death in 1642. He was buried in the church of Santa
Croce, the Pantheon of Florence, under the same roof with his great
fellow countryman, Michael Angelo.

What is known as the modern refracting telescope is based upon a
different combination of lenses than that used by Galileo. Kepler
studied Galileo’s instrument, and then designed one consisting of two
convex lenses. The modern telescope follows Kepler’s arrangement, but
Galileo’s adjustment is still suitable where only low magnifying
powers are needed, and is used to-day in the ordinary field- and

Galileo knew nothing of what we call the reflecting telescope. He
found that by using a convex-lens as an object-glass he could bring
the rays of light from any distant object to a focus, and it did not
apparently occur to him that he could achieve the same end by the use
of a concave mirror. James Gregory, a Scotchman, designed the first
reflector in 1663, and described it in a book, but he was too poor to
construct it. Nine years later Sir Isaac Newton, having studied
Gregory’s plans, built the first reflecting telescope, which is now to
be seen in the hall of the Royal Society in London. But invention has
gone yet farther in perfecting these instruments with which to study
the skies, and the great telescopes of modern times have in most
instances discarded Newton’s reflector for the refracting instrument.
And these are built on a tremendous scale. The Yerkes telescope at
Williams Bay, Wisconsin, has a refractor of forty inches, and the one
built for the Paris Exposition of 1900, one of fifty inches. In
numerous other details they have changed, and yet each is chiefly
indebted to that simple spy-glass of Galileo, by which he was able to
show the nobles and senators of Venice full-rigged ships, which
without it were barely distant specks on the horizon. Or, going still
farther back, the men who make our present telescopes are following
the trail that was first blazed on the day when the Dutch apprentice
of Middleburg chanced to pick up two spectacle lenses and look through
the two of them at once.

Galileo made many great discoveries and inventions; there was hardly a
field of science that he did not enter and explore; but his greatest
work was to open a new world to men’s attention. It was this that
brought him before the Inquisition and that branded him as a dangerous
heretic, and it was this that placed him in the forefront of the
world’s discoverers. Men might say that the earth stood still, because
it suited them best to believe so, but Galileo gave the world an
instrument by which it could study the matter for itself, and the
world has gone on using that instrument and that method ever since.




It was no pressing need that drove John Gutenberg to the invention of
his printing press, nor was it necessity that led to Galileo’s
discovery of the telescope, but it was a very urgent demand that led
to the building of a steam-engine by James Watt. England and Scotland
found that men and women, even with the aid of horses, could not work
the coal mines as they must be worked if the countries were to be kept
supplied with fuel. The small mines were used up, the larger ones must
be deepened, and in that event it would be too long and arduous a task
for men and women to raise the coal in small baskets, or for horses to
draw it out by the windlass. A machine must be constructed that would
do the work more quickly, more easily, and more cheaply.

A Frenchman named Denys Papin had built the first steam-engine with a
piston. He had seen certain experiments that showed him how much
strength there was in compressed air. He had noticed that air pressure
could lift several men off their feet. His problem therefore was how
best to compress the air, or, as it appeared to him, how to secure a
vacuum. His experiments proved that he could do this by the use of
steam. He took a simple cylinder and fitted a piston into it. Water
was put in the cylinder under the piston, a fire was lighted beneath
it, and as the water came to the boiling point the piston was forced
upward by the steam. Then the fire was taken away, and as the steam in
the cylinder condensed, the piston was forced down by the air pressure
above. He fastened the upper end of the piston to a rope, which passed
over two pulleys. If a weight were hung to the other end of the rope
it would be raised as the piston was forced down. In that way the air
pressure did the work of lifting the weight, and the necessary vacuum
was obtained by forming steam and then condensing it in the cylinder.
This was a very primitive device, requiring several minutes for the
engine to make one stroke, but it was the beginning of the practical
use of steam as a motive power.

Thomas Newcomen, an English blacksmith by trade, first put Papin’s
idea to use. Instead of the rope and pulleys Newcomen fastened a
walking-beam to the end of the piston, and attached a pump-rod to the
other end of the walking-beam. He used the steam in the cylinder only
to balance the pressure of the air on the piston, and let the pump-rod
descend by its own weight. As the steam condensed the piston fell, and
the pump-rod rose again. By this means he could pump water from a
mine, or lift coal. His first engine was able to lift fifty gallons of
water fifty yards at each stroke, and could make twelve strokes a
minute. At first he condensed his steam by throwing cold water on the
outside of the cylinder, but one day he discovered that the engine
suddenly increased its speed, and he found that a hole had been worn
in the cylinder, and that the water with which he had covered the top
of the piston was entering through this hole. This condensed the steam
more rapidly, and he adopted it as an improvement in his next engine.
A little later a boy named Humphrey Potter, who had charge of turning
the cocks that let the water and steam into the cylinder, found a way
of tying strings to the cocks so that the engine would turn them
itself, and so originated what came to be known as valve-gear.

Newcomen’s engine was a great help to the coal mines of England and
Scotland, but it was very expensive to run, a large engine consuming
no less than twenty-eight pounds of coal per hour per horse-power.
Then it happened that in 1764 a small Newcomen engine that belonged to
the University of Glasgow was given to James Watt, an instrument-maker
at the university, to be repaired. To do this properly he made a study
of all that had been discovered in regard to engines, and then set
about to construct one for himself.

There are many stories told of the boyhood of James Watt. He lived at
Greenock on the River Clyde in Scotland, and was of a quiet, almost
shy disposition, and delicate in health. He was fond of drawing and of
studying mechanical problems, but rarely had much to say about his
studies. The story goes that as he sat one evening at the tea-table
with his aunt, Mrs. Muirhead, she said reprovingly to him, “James
Watt, I never saw such an idle boy: take a book or employ yourself
usefully; for the last hour you haven’t spoken a word, but taken
off the lid of that kettle and put it on again, holding a cup or a
silver spoon over the steam, watching it rise from the spout, and
catching the drops it falls into. Aren’t you ashamed of spending your
time in this way?” And history goes on to presume that as the boy
watched the bubbling kettle he was studying the laws of steam and
making ready to put them to good use some day.


He picked out the trade of a maker of mathematical instruments, and
went to London to fit himself for it. He was apprenticed to a good
master and made rapid progress, but the climate of London was bad for
his health, and as soon as his term of instruction was finished he
went back to Scotland. There he found it difficult to get employment,
but at last he obtained permission to open a small shop in the
grounds of the University of Glasgow, and to call himself
“Mathematical-instrument-maker to the University.”

When the Newcomen engine was given to Watt to repair he studied it
closely, and soon reached an important conclusion. A great amount of
heat was lost whenever the cold water was let into the cylinder to
condense the steam, and this loss vastly increased the expense of
running the engine, and cut down its power. He saw that to prevent
this loss the cylinder must be kept as hot as the steam that entered
it. This led him to study the nature of steam, and he had soon made
some remarkable discoveries in regard to it. He found that water had a
high capacity for storing up heat, without a corresponding effect on
the thermometer. This hidden heat became known as latent heat.

It was of course a matter of common knowledge that heat could be
obtained by the combustion of coal or wood. Watt found that heat lay
also in water, to be drawn out and used in what is called steam. If
you change the temperature of water you find that it exists in three
different states, that of a liquid, or water, that of a solid, or ice,
and that of a gas, or steam. If water were turned into steam, and two
pounds of this steam passed into ten pounds of water at the freezing
point the steam would become liquid, or water, again, at 212° of
temperature, but at the same time the ten pounds of freezing water
into which the steam had been passed would also have been raised to
212° by the process. This shows that the latent heat of the two pounds
of steam was sufficient to convert the ten pounds of freezing water
into boiling water. That is the latent heat which is set free to work
when the steam coming in contact with the cold changes the vapor from
its gaseous to a liquid state. The heat, however, is only latent, or
in other words of no use, until the temperature of the water is raised
to 212°, and the vapor rises.

Mr. Lauder, a pupil of Lord Kelvin, writing of Watt’s “Discoveries of
the Properties of Steam,” describes his results in this way: “Suppose
you take a flask, such as olive oil is often sold in, and fill it with
cold water. Set it over a lighted lamp, put a thermometer in the
water, and the temperature will be observed to rise steadily till it
reaches 212°, where it remains, the water boils, and steam is produced
freely. Now draw the thermometer out of the water, but leaving it
still in the steam. It remains steady at the same point--212°. Now it
requires quite a long time and a large amount of heat to convert all
the water into steam. As the steam goes off at the same temperature as
the water, it is evident a quantity of heat has escaped in the steam,
of which the thermometer gives us no account. This is latent heat.

“Now, if you blow the steam into cold water instead of allowing it to
pass into the air, you will find that it heats the water six times
more than what is due to its indicated temperature. To fix your idea:
suppose you take 100 lbs. of water at 60°, and blow one pound of steam
into it, making 101 lbs., its temperature will now be about 72°, a
rise of 12°. Return to your 100 lbs. of water at 60° and add one pound
of water at 212° the same temperature as the steam you added, and the
temperature will only be raised about 2°. The one pound of steam heats
six times more than the one pound of water, both being at the same
temperature. This is the quantity of latent heat, which means simply
hidden heat, in steam.

“Proceeding further with the experiment, if, instead of allowing the
steam to blow into the water, you confine it until it gets to some
pressure, then blow it into the water, it takes the same weight to
raise the temperature to the same degree. This means that the total
heat remains practically the same, no matter at what pressure.

“This is James Watt’s discovery, and it led him to the use of
high-pressure steam, used expansively.”

Newcomen, in making his steam-engine, had simply made additions to
Papin’s model. Watt had already done much more, for in trying to find
how the engine might be made of greater service he had discovered at
the outset the principle of the latent heat of steam. He knew that in
Newcomen’s engine four-fifths of all the steam used was lost in
heating the cold cylinder, and that only one-fifth was actually used
in moving the piston. It was easy to see how this loss occurred. The
cylinder was cooled at the top because it was open to the air, and was
cooled at the bottom in condensing the steam that had driven the
piston up so as to create a vacuum which would lower the piston for
another stroke. Watt knew that what he wanted was a plan by which the
cylinder could always be kept as hot as the steam that went into it.
How was he to obtain this? He solved it by the invention of the
“separate condenser.” This is how he tells of his discovery. “I had
gone to take a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon, early in 1765. I had
entered the green by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street and had
passed the old washing-house, when the idea came into my mind that as
steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a
communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel
it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling
the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam
and injection-water if I used a jet as in Newcomen’s engine. Two ways
of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a
descending pipe, if an offlet could be got at the depth of thirty-five
or thirty-six feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump.
The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and
air.... I had not walked farther than the golf-house when the whole
thing was arranged in my mind.”

This was the discovery that gave us practically the modern
steam-engine, with its countless uses in unnumbered fields. Newcomen’s
engine was limited to the pressure of the atmosphere, Watt’s could use
the tremendous force of steam under higher and higher pressure. He led
the steam out of the cylinder and condensed it in a separate vessel,
thereby leaving the cylinder hot. He closed the cylinder top, and
prevented the loss of steam. The invention may seem simple enough as
we study it, but as a matter of fact it was the attainment of this
result of keeping the cylinder as hot as the steam that enters it that
has given us our steam-engine.

The morning following that Sunday afternoon on which the idea of the
condenser had occurred to Watt he borrowed a brass syringe from a
college friend, and using this as a cylinder and a tin can as a
condenser tried his experiment. The scheme worked, albeit in a
primitive way, and Watt saw that he was on the track of an engine that
would revolutionize the labor of men. But he saw also that it would
take both time and money to bring his invention to its most efficient

His instrument-making business had prospered, he had taken in a
partner, and the firm now employed sixteen workmen. About the same
time he married, and rented a house outside the university grounds.
Soon he was busily at work building a working model of his

A working model was very hard to make. Watt himself was a skilful
mechanician, but the men who helped him were not. The making of the
cylinder and the piston gave him the chief trouble. The cylinder would
leak. It took him months to devise the tools that would enable him to
make a perfect-fitting cylinder, and when he had accomplished that he
still found that in one way or another a certain amount of steam would
escape. Yet, although imperfect, his model was already many times more
powerful than the Newcomen engine he had started with.

But before very long Watt found that this work was leading him into
debt. He told his good friend Professor Black, who had discovered the
latent heat of steam before Watt had, that he needed a partner to help
him in his business of building engines. Black suggested Dr. Roebuck,
who had opened the well-known Carron Iron Works near Glasgow. The two
men met, and, after some negotiations, formed a partnership. Roebuck
agreed to pay Watt’s debts to the sum of a thousand pounds, to provide
the money for further experiments, and to obtain a patent for the
steam-engine. In return for this he was to become the owner of a
two-third interest in the invention.

It was more difficult to secure a patent in those days than in later
times, for both the courts and the public considered that the right to
make use of any new invention should belong to the whole world, and
not alone to one man or to a few men. Watt’s models had to be very
carefully made, and his designs very accurately drawn if he was to
secure any real protection, and the preparation of these took a vast
amount of time. But Roebuck continued to encourage him, and on January
5, 1769, he was granted his first patent, the very same day on which
another great English inventor, Arkwright, obtained a patent for his
spinning-frame. This first patent covered Watt’s invention of the
condenser, but not his next invention, which was the double-acting
engine, or in other words, a method by which the steam should do work
on the downward as well as on the upward stroke.

With his patent secured Watt spent six months building a huge new
engine, which he had ready for use in September, 1769. In spite of all
his painstaking it was only a partial success. The cylinder had been
badly cast, the pipe-condenser did not work properly, and there was
still the old leakage of steam at the piston. Men began to doubt
whether the new engine could ever be made to accomplish what Watt
claimed for it, but although he realized the difficulties the inventor
would not allow himself to doubt. Unfortunately his way was no longer
clear. Dr. Roebuck met with reverses and had to end the partnership
agreement, and Watt had to borrow money from his old friend Professor
Black to secure his patent. To add to his distress his wife, who had
been his best counselor, died.

Dr. Roebuck had owed money to a celebrated merchant of Birmingham
named Matthew Boulton. Boulton had heard a great deal about Watt’s
engine, and now consented to take Roebuck’s interest in Watt’s
invention in payment of the debt. At the same time the firm of
Boulton and Watt was formed, and in May, 1774, Watt shipped his trial
engine south, and set out himself for Birmingham.

Boulton was a business genius, and Watt now found that he could leave
financial matters entirely to his care, and busy himself solely with
his engine. He had better workmen, better appliances, and better
material in Birmingham than he had had in Glasgow, and the engine was
soon beginning to justify his hopes. But the original patent had only
been granted for fourteen years, and six of these had already passed.
Boulton was not willing to put money into the building of a great
factory until he was sure that the engines would be secured to the
firm. Therefore more time had to be spent in obtaining an extension of
the patent. This was finally done, and Watt was granted a term of
twenty-four years. At once Boulton set to work, the first engine
factory rose, and hundreds of men in England turned to Birmingham to
see how much truth there was in the wonderful stories that had been
spread abroad of the new invention.

Men soon learned that the stories were true. Orders began to flow in,
and Watt had his hands full in traveling about the country
superintending the erection of his steam-engines. The mines of
Cornwall had become unworkable, and as a great deal depended on the
success of the engine in such work, he traveled to Cornwall to make
sure that there should be no faults. The miners, the engineers, and
the owners had gathered to see the new engine. It stood the test
splendidly, making eleven eight-foot strokes per minute, which broke
the record. After that the other mines of Great Britain discarded the
old expensive Newcomen engine, and sent in orders for Watt’s. The firm
prospered, and the inventor began to feel some of the material
comforts of success. He had married a second time, and made a home for
his wife and children in Birmingham. Now, when he could spare the time
from superintending the workmen and traveling over the country, he
gave his thoughts to further inventive schemes.

Watt had not only invented the condenser and the double-acting engine,
he had produced an indicator for measuring the pressure of steam in
the cylinder, and also what was called the fly-ball governor, which
took the place of the throttle-valve he had first used to regulate the
speed of his engines. These improvements had so increased the uses of
the engine that scores of rival inventors were abroad, and therefore
he decided to secure a second patent. This he did in 1781, the patent
being issued “for certain new methods of producing a continued
rotative motion around an axis or centre, and thereby to give motion
to the wheels of mills or other machines.” The next year he secured
still another patent, and now he had so perfected his double-acting
engine that it had a regular and easily controlled motion, in
consequence of which, as he said in his specifications, “in most of
our great manufactories these engines now supply the place of water,
wind and horse mills, and instead of carrying the work to the power,
the prime agent is placed wherever it is most convenient to the
manufacturer.” This meant that the steam-engine had now reached the
point where it could be made to serve for almost any purpose and
placed in almost any position that might be required.

There was one further step for Watt to take in the development of his
invention. He wished a more powerful engine than his double-acting
one, and so he produced the “compound” engine. This was really two
engines, the cylinders and condensers of which were so connected that
the steam which had been used to press on the piston of the first
could then be used to act expansively upon the piston of the second,
and in this way the second engine be made to work either alternately
or simultaneously with the first. And this compound engine is
practically the very engine that we have to-day. Improvements have
been made, but they have been made in details. The piston-rings
invented by Cartwright have prevented the escape of steam, and so
permitted the use of a higher pressure than Watt could achieve, and
the cross-head invented by Haswell has provided the piston with a
better bed on which to rest and freed it from a certain friction.

The firm of Boulton and Watt had a successful career, and in time the
sons of the two partners took the latters’ places. Watt had occasion
to protect his patents by a suit at law, but he was victorious in
this, and by the time the patent rights had expired the firm had built
up such a large business that it was safe from rivals. Confident of
his son’s ability to carry on the business Watt at length retired, to
busy himself in studying other inventions, to cultivate his garden,
and to revisit familiar scenes in his beloved Scotland.

The steam-engine had come to take its place in the great onward march
of progress. Men were already at work planning to make it move cars
across the land and ships upon the sea. It was to revolutionize the
manufacture of almost everything; what men and women had done before
by hand it was now to do, and, devised at first because of the great
need of a new way to work the coal mines, it was to provide a motive
power to accomplish all kinds of labor.

Such is the story of how James Watt took Newcomen’s simple piston and
cylinder and so harnessed steam that he could make it do the work he




All the great English inventors have sprung from families of small
means, and have had to work for their living. Richard Arkwright, born
at Preston, in Lancashire, December 23, 1732, was no exception to this
rule. He was the youngest of thirteen children, and his parents were
as poor as the proverbial church mice. He had no real education, only
such as he could pick up by chance, but he made the most of such
chances as came his way. He was apprenticed to a barber at Bolton, and
later took up that business for himself. It was an occupation in which
he would be apt to glean much gossip and many stray scraps of
information, but little that would tend to broaden his mind. Perhaps
he realized this for himself, and concluded that the hairdressing line
was not to be his destiny, for when he was in the neighborhood of
twenty-eight years of age he retired from his barber-shop, and became
a traveling dealer in hair and dyes. This would at least allow him to
see something more of the world.

His prospects at this new trade were good. He had come upon a new
method of dyeing hair and preparing it to be made into wigs. Wigs were
the fashion, and Arkwright had an excellent process, and was an
energetic and resourceful dealer. He saw something of the country
world of England, the men and women in it, what they wanted, and what
they needed. Doubtless his inventive mind was already revolving
improvements for them. The dealer in dyes and wigs was a shrewd and
canny man. Carlyle had this to say concerning him and his progress:
“Nevertheless, in stropping of razors, in shaving of dirty beards, and
the contradictions and confusions attendant thereon, the man had
notions in that rough head of his! Spindles, shuttles, wheels, and
contrivances, plying ideally within the same; rather hopeless-looking,
which, however, he did at last bring to bear. Not without difficulty.”

There is always a strain of romance, or at least adventure, in the
life of the itinerant pedlar, something of the free-footedness of the
gypsy, and something of the acumen of those Eastern traders who
traveled in caravans from the Orient. But doubtless we see the charm
more clearly than the traveler himself. It may have been, and most
likely was, a workaday job for Richard Arkwright. But consider the
romance that underlay it! This country vendor of hair was to become
one of the world’s great inventors, and to kneel before his sovereign
for the accolade that was to make him knight. Figaro of Seville, famed
as he was, was none superior to the Lancashire barber.

He traveled much through South Lancashire and Cheshire, and there he
came in daily contact with the cotton-spinners. A weaver of great
ingenuity and tireless purpose, James Hargreaves, had invented what
was known as a spinning-jenny, an arrangement by which many spindles,
fastened in a wooden frame, would work together by the turning of a
fly-wheel. This machine could do the work of many spinners, and in a
much shorter time. The rovings of cotton went under a bar-clasp that
took the place of the spinner’s finger and thumb. This bar-clasp could
be moved backward and forward on a rod as the spinner’s hand would do
when stretching the thread and winding it on. It had a precision of
action that resulted in a much greater regularity in the spun thread
than by the earlier process. It was a very ingenious device, and
Hargreaves deserved the greatest credit for the skill with which he
solved the problem.

But the spinners did not take kindly to this improvement. When they
discovered that Hargreaves could do more spinning with less work with
his machine, and could supply his own loom with all the woof that was
needed instead of keeping three or four spinners employed, they grew
highly indignant. They did not realize that the demand for cotton
cloth was far greater than the supply, and that they could all be
profitably employed operating the spinning-jenny. That panic which has
so often come over people when they learn of a new device entering
their field of action struck the cotton-spinners, and Hargreaves was
regarded as a foe rather than a friend. Hargreaves was driven from
Lancashire to Nottingham, and many of his larger jennies were broken
by mobs. A few of the smaller machines were saved, but the people’s
mind was very evident.

Hargreaves’ improvement on the old-fashioned spinning-wheel dates
from 1767, though he himself, it is said, had first used such a
machine in 1764. Two men, Wyatt and Paul, of Birmingham, had earlier
built a machine to spin stronger yarn than that usually used, but
their machine had shown many defects, and they had abandoned its use.
Arkwright knew of Hargreaves’ jenny, but not of the other machine, and
as he came upon none in use in his travels he cannot be held to have
been under any obligations to this earlier device.

The manufacture of cotton goods was in a primitive state in England.
Pure cotton fabrics could not be made, and the fustians that were
produced had a warp of linen yarn in them, due to the fact that no way
was known by which cotton yarn of sufficient strength could be spun.
Arkwright soon learned these difficulties that arose from the absence
of cotton warp and the deficiency of cotton weft, and his alert mind
commenced to wonder whether he could not so improve on Hargreaves’
jenny as to overcome these difficulties. He was not a skilled mechanic
himself, and so, when he decided to take up the subject, he employed a
clockmaker, named Kay, to help him. Realizing the hostility to any
improvement on the part of the cotton-spinners, he gave out that he
was engaged in building a machine to solve the world-old problem of
perpetual motion.

Under this cloak he worked, and soon found that his new occupation was
vastly more interesting than that of dealer in wigs had been. He was a
shrewd man, and therefore, when he withdrew from that trade in 1767,
it is probable that he foresaw that he was on the track of something
better. His idea was that cotton could be spun by rollers, and he said
that this thought occurred to him as he happened to watch a red-hot
iron bar lengthened out by passing between two rollers. But the iron
would necessarily have to be drawn out in such a process, while the
cotton wool could be indefinitely packed together. It would have to be
taken hold of, and forcibly stretched as it passed through the pair of
rollers, if it were to be drawn out, and not merely compressed. His
solution of this problem was a machine that had two pairs of rollers,
which were called drawing-rollers, the first pair of which revolved
slowly in contact with each other, while the second pair revolved more
rapidly in a similar way. One roller of each pair was covered with
leather, and the other was fluted lengthwise. The two were pressed
together by means of weights. In this manner the adhesion of the
cotton wool was safely secured, and there was no chance of the rollers
slipping around without drawing it in. The cotton passed through the
two pairs of rollers, and its extension depended entirely on the
difference in the velocity of the revolutions of the two pairs. When
the proper fineness had been obtained in this way, the cotton, as it
passed from the second pair of rollers, was twisted into a firm strong
thread by spindles attached to the frame.

Arkwright realized that he must have assistance in order to put his
machines on the market. He applied to a Mr. Atherton, and the latter,
although he considered the venture a hazardous one, sent him two
workmen to help in building his first machine. When this was
finished Arkwright went with it to Preston, and there set up his
spinning-frame and began to use it in a room of the house that
belonged to the Free Grammar School. His experiments convinced him of
its success. Then he thought how he could best introduce his machine
with least risk of rousing the popular fury. John Smalley, a liquor
merchant and painter, had helped him build his machine, and after
consultation, the two men decided to take the spinning-jenny to
Nottingham, which lay in the heart of the frame-work stocking trade.


Arkwright’s great opportunity lay in the fact that the manufacture of
cotton hosiery had hitherto had to be carried on on a limited scale,
owing to the difficulty of obtaining yarn that was sufficiently strong
for the stocking-frames that were then used. At first he and John
Smalley were associated with the Messrs. Wright, Nottingham bankers,
but these bankers, figuring on the experience that had befallen the
inventors of other spinning machines, soon withdrew their aid. But
Arkwright was more fortunate in his next step. Samuel Need, a
Nottingham manufacturer of stockings, and his partner, Jedediah
Strutt, of Derby, who had himself invented a device for making ribbed
stockings, became interested in his machine, tested it carefully, and
with the experience they had already gained as practical
manufacturers, decided in its favor. It was their approval that
started Arkwright on the road to fortune.

Arkwright took out his first patent in 1769, the same year that Watt
patented his steam-engine with a separate condenser. A little later,
with his partners Need and Strutt, he built a very complete factory at
Cromford, on the Derwent River. He had already shown his power of
originating and perfecting a working machine, now he showed an
additional ability for organizing a great manufactory, and improving
and adding new devices to his original model. This was the test of his
strength, and perhaps the most wonderful part of his character. Many
men have come upon new ideas, and many have sent them forth to improve
the world’s work, but only a few have developed them, day in and day
out, until they stand forth as a finished achievement. That is the
gauge, the test that has proved the inventor. Not Watt’s first
innovations on the stationary steam-engine, nor Stephenson’s building
of his original locomotive, nor Arkwright’s discovery that rollers
could be used to draw the cotton, but the years of trial and
improvement Watt spent at Birmingham, and Stephenson in his shops at
Killingworth, and Arkwright in his factory at Cromford, have made the
three men famous in history. They were the years of patience and
perseverance, which must come in the life of every great inventor to
test his strength.

The country people about Cromford came to see Arkwright’s machines,
and wonder at them, and sometimes to buy a dozen pairs of stockings
that had been made of Arkwright’s yarn. But the big Manchester
manufacturers refused to trade with him. The fine water-twist that was
being spun on his spinning-frames was perfectly adapted to be used as
warp, and would have supplied the demand for genuine cotton goods,
which otherwise had to be imported from India. But, though they needed
his yarn, the manufacturers would not buy it from him, and he was
forced to find some way of using his large output himself. First he
used it to manufacture stockings, and then, in 1773, to make, for the
first time in England, fabrics entirely of cotton. This was the
turning point in England’s trade in cotton goods. Heretofore she had
not been able to meet the demands of her own people, now she was to
commence a campaign that was ultimately to send her cloth to the
farthest ends of the earth.

His powers of resistance were to be still further tested. An act was
passed, based on the assumption that the English spinners could never
compete with the fine Indian handiwork, that a duty of sixpence a yard
should be levied on all calicoes, which were a variety of cotton goods
originally imported from Calicut, in India. In addition, the sale of
printed calicoes was forbidden. The customs officers immediately began
to levy the duty on the products of Arkwright’s mills, claiming that
the goods were in reality calicoes, although they were made in
England. It followed that merchants who had ordered goods from the
Cromford Mill cancelled their orders, rather than pay the duty, and
again Arkwright found his cottons piling up on his hands.

The act was too unfair to stand, and after a time was repealed. Cotton
and all mixed fabrics were taxed threepence per yard, and the
prohibition on printed cotton goods was withdrawn. The opposition of
rival manufacturers could not in the nature of things long retard
what was to become one of the nation’s main industries.

He took out his second patent in 1775, and it embraced almost the
entire field of cloth manufacture. It contained innumerable devices
that he had worked out during the years he had been experimenting at
his factory. It covered “carding, drawing, and roving machines for use
in preparing silk, cotton, flax, and wool for spinning.” The man who
had been a vendor of wigs had now revolutionized the whole spinning
world. He had taught men and women to work at his machines, instead of
in the old way of individual hand labor, he had organized a great
business, and was showing the world that more could be accomplished by
the division of labor and its control by one mind than could ever have
resulted from individual initiative. In this way he was taking a most
vital part in the progress of those new economic ideas that were
dawning into consciousness toward the close of the eighteenth century.

It is so easy to see the successful result, so difficult to appreciate
the trials that have been undergone. We look at the great picture and
we admire the genius of the artist, but how rarely we realize the no
less wonderful patience, the no less wonderful struggle that underlies
what we see. The creator has not wrought easily, that is certain; and
his greatness consists in what he has overcome.

Arkwright was ill with asthma during many of the years when he was
fighting for his fortune, and time and again it seemed as if his
strength must fail before the task he had undertaken. But he was a
great fighter, and so he won through. His workmen were offered bribes
to leave his service, and teach his methods to rivals, his patents
were infringed, right and left there was warfare, and he was fighting
a score of enemies single-handed.

In 1781 he had to bring suit against Colonel Mordaunt, and eight other
manufacturers, for infringing his patent. The influence of all the
Lancashire cotton-spinners was aligned against his claims. They could
not deny the fact that he had invented the spinning-jenny, but they
said that the specifications of his patent were not sufficiently
clear. The court upheld this contention, and declared the patent
invalid. Arkwright withdrew the other suits he had started, and wrote
and published his “Case,” in order to set forth to the world the truth
of his claims.

In 1785 he brought his case again into court, and this time Lord
Loughborough ruled that his patent was valid. On account of this
conflict of decisions the matter was referred to the Court of King’s
Bench. Here a Lancashire man named Highs, who had constructed a double
jenny to work fifty-six spindles in 1770, was declared by Arkwright’s
opponents to be the real inventor. It was said that Arkwright had
stolen this man’s ideas. On such evidence Arkwright’s claims were
denied, and his patent overruled. This was the species of constant
warfare with which he had to occupy himself.

Manchester had fought against the spinning-frame for years, but it was
to receive the chief fruits of its success. Arkwright built a mill
there in 1780, and it prospered exceedingly, in spite of the fact that
he no longer had the protection of his patents. He was such a good
business man, such a splendid organizer, that he could overcome his
enemies without that help, and in time he built up a fortune.

When he had started his first mill at Nottingham Arkwright had been
obliged to use horse-power, and it was owing to the expense of such a
system that he had soon moved to Cromford, where he could obtain
water-power from the Derwent River. It was this that gave his yarn the
name of water-twist. But in his Manchester Mill he made use of a
hydraulic wheel, supplied with water by a single-stroke atmospheric
steam-engine. Later Boulton and Watt’s engines were installed, and
with the most profitable results. As a result of these improvements
the imports of cotton wool, which had averaged less than 5,000,000
pounds a year in the five years from 1771 to 1775, rose to an average
of more than 25,000,000 pounds in the five years ending with 1790.
England began to export cotton goods in 1781, which was sufficient
evidence that the manufacture of such goods was proceeding more
rapidly than the home demand for them. This was due largely to
Arkwright’s invention, to his building up of factories on new methods,
and to the great help furnished to all machinery by the steam-engines
of James Watt.

This is the romance of the dealer in wigs and dyes. He had won fame
and fortune, and a powerful position in his country. In 1786 he was
appointed High Sheriff in Derbyshire, and the same year was knighted
by George III. He died at Cromford in 1792.

His personality was strong, aggressive, dominating. Nothing could turn
him from his course when he had made up his mind in regard to it. He
was determined to make a fortune out of cotton-spinning, and he did,
in spite of the loss of his patents, and the rivals who were always
pursuing him. He stands high as inventor, and quite as high as one of
the makers of modern commercial England.




Cotton-growing has been for a long time the main industry of the
Southern United States, and the exporting of cotton by that part of
the country has largely fed the mills of the world. Yet in 1784 the
customs officers at Liverpool seized eight bags of cotton arriving on
an American vessel, claiming that so much of the raw material could
not have been produced in the thirteen states. In 1793 the total
export of cotton from the United States was less than ten thousand
bales, but by 1860 the export was four million bales. The chief reason
for this marvelous advance was the cotton-gin, for which Eli Whitney
applied for a patent in 1793.

Wherever cotton grew in the South there the cotton-gin was to be
found. It brought prosperity and ease and comfort, it allowed the
small as well as the large owner to have his share of the profits of
the markets of the world. It gave the cotton country its living, and
yet Whitney struggled for years to win the slightest recognition of
his claims. He wrote to Robert Fulton, “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 court-house.”

He came to the South from New England, having been born in
Westborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts, December 8, 1765,
educated at Yale College, and going to Georgia as teacher in a private
family. General Greene, of Savannah, took a great interest in him, and
taught him law. Whitney had been a good student, had an attractive
personality, and had already shown a natural knack for mechanics.
While he was teaching at the Greenes’ home he noticed that the
embroidery frame that Mrs. Greene used tore the fine threads of her
work. He asked her to let him study it, and shortly had made a frame
on an entirely different plan that would do the same work without
injuring the threads. His hostess was delighted with it, and spread
the word of her young teacher’s ingenuity through the neighborhood.

As in all Southern mansions hospitality was rife at the Greenes’, and
it happened that one evening a number of gentlemen were gathered there
who had fought under the General in the Revolution. The subject of the
growing of cotton came under discussion, and some one spoke of the
unfortunate fact that no method had been found for cleaning the cotton
staple of the green seed. If that could be done cotton could be grown
with profit on all the land that was unsuited for rice. To separate a
single pound of the clean staple from the green seed took a whole
day’s work for a woman. There was little profit in trying to grow
much cotton at such a rate, and most of the cotton picking was done by
the negroes in the evenings, when the harder labor of the fields was
finished. Then Mrs. Greene pointed to Eli Whitney with a smile.
“There, gentlemen,” said she, “apply to my friend Mr. Whitney for your
device. He can make anything.” The guests looked at the young man, but
he hastened to disclaim any such abilities, and said that he had never
even seen cotton-seed.

But in spite of his disclaimer he began to consider whether he could
make a machine that would help to separate the seed from the cotton.
He went to see a neighbor, Phineas Miller, and talked over his plans
with him. Miller became interested, and gave him a room in his house
where he might carry on his experiments. He had to use very primitive
implements, making his own tools and drawing his own wire. He worked
quietly, only Mr. Miller and Mrs. Greene knowing what he was doing.

Whitney worked on his machine all the winter of 1793, and by spring it
was far enough completed to assure him of success. Mr. Miller, who was
a lawyer with a taste for mechanics, and who was, again like Eli
Whitney, a New Englander and graduate of Yale, married Mrs. Greene
after the General’s death. It was he who actually made Whitney’s
machine a business possibility by proposing that he should become a
partner with the inventor, and bear all the expenses of manufacturing
it until they should secure their patent. They drew up a legal
agreement to this effect, dated May 27, 1793, and stipulating that
all the profits should be equally divided between them.

There followed very soon the first dramatic scenes in the long battle
between the owners of the cotton-gin and the public. The Southern
people knew how invaluable such an invention would be to them; it
meant food and shelter and better living all along the line; it would
increase the value of their property a hundredfold. So as soon as it
became bruited abroad that Eli Whitney had such a machine in his
workroom that spot became the Mecca for the countryside. Crowds came
to beg for a look at the wonderful machine, and hung about the house
and plotted to get in. But Whitney and Miller were afraid to let
people see the invention until they had made sure of their patents on
it, and so they refused to let the crowds have a look at it. Then the
more reckless of the crowds threw all sense of fairness to the winds,
and broke into Mr. Miller’s house, seized the machine, and carried it
off with them. Soon it was publicly displayed, and before Whitney
could finish his model for the Patent Office a dozen machines, similar
to his, were in use in the cotton fields.

Whitney’s cotton-gin was made of two cylinders of different diameters,
mounted in a strong wooden frame. One cylinder had a number of small
circular saws that were fitted into grooves cut into the cylinder. The
other cylinder was covered with brushes, and so placed that the tips
of the bristles of these brushes touched the saw-teeth. The raw cotton
was put in a hopper, where it was met by the teeth of the saws, and
torn from the seeds. The brushes then swept the cotton clear of the
gin. The seeds were too large to go between the bars through which the
series of saws protruded, and were kept apart by themselves. Of course
many improvements were made upon this machine, but it was found that
even in this original form it would enable one man, using two
horse-power, to clean the seed from five thousand pounds of cotton in
a day. That meant that fortunes could be made in the hitherto
disregarded cotton fields of the South.

Whitney now went to Connecticut to finish certain improvements on the
machine, to secure his patents, and to begin the manufacturing of as
many gins as his partner Miller should find were needed in Georgia.
The partners’ wrote frequently to each other, and their letters show
the fierceness of the struggle they were waging to protect their
rights. “It will be necessary,” wrote 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.”

The two men did everything in their power to hasten the building of
their gins. They knew their rivals were unscrupulous, and were in fact
already trying their best to prejudice the minds of the more
conservative Georgia cotton-growers against them. But money was very
scarce, and the manufacture of the machines proved so costly that
Whitney found it impossible to furnish as many gins as his partner

Whitney applied for his patent in 1793. The following April he went
back to Georgia, where he found unusually large crops of cotton had
been planted, in expectation of using the gin. As there were not
enough of his gins ready rivals were pushing their inferior machines.
One of these, called the roller-gin, destroyed the seeds by crushing
them between two revolving cylinders, instead of separating them by
teeth. A large part of the crushed seed was, however, apt to stay in
the cotton after it had passed through the machine, and this form of
gin did not therefore produce as satisfactory results as did
Whitney’s. Another rival was the saw-gin, which was almost identical
with Whitney’s gin, except that the saw-teeth were cut in circular
rings of iron instead of being made of wire. This machine infringed
the partners’ patents, and caused them an almost endless series of
expensive lawsuits.

Two years of conflict in the South proved the superiority of Whitney’s
invention over all other machines, but resulted in little actual
profit. In March, 1795, he went north to New York, where he was kept
for several weeks by illness. When he got back to his factory in New
Haven he found that fire had wiped out his workshop, together with all
his gins and papers. He was $4,000 in debt, and virtually bankrupt.
Yet he had great courage, and fortunately his partner Miller had the
same faith. When Whitney sent him the news from New Haven, Miller
replied, “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.”

Whitney attempted to rebuild his factory, but the affairs of the firm
were in extreme jeopardy. He had to pay twelve per cent. a year to
borrow money for his work. Then certain English manufacturers reported
that the cotton that was cleaned by Whitney’s gin was not of good
quality. The struggle was a hard one. He wrote to Miller, “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.”

Pirates now filled the field, and the lawsuits which they were
compelled to bring to defend themselves went against them. Miller
wrote to Whitney on 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 $2,000 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

“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.”

The failure of that patent suit loosed all the pirates, and Whitney
saw the cotton fields flooded with gins, all of which were really
based on his invention, and yet from which he did not receive one
penny. The public had given over paying any attention to his patents.
Every one seemed determined that a machine which meant so much to the
cotton lands should be free to all, irrespective of any legal or moral
rights in the matter. Miller wrote him a little later, “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.”


Affairs could not well have been worse for the partners. They would
have been willing to give up making gins and devote themselves to
selling the rights they had already obtained, but it was difficult to
find purchasers for titles which were so openly disregarded on every
hand. They found it almost impossible to collect payments for the few
machines they did sell, the buyers preferring to be sued, trusting to
a jury of their neighbors deciding for them against the unpopular
manufacturers, who claimed to control such an important machine as the
gin. Whitney tried to sell his patent rights for South Carolina to
that state itself, and had the matter brought before the Legislature.
It met with better success than usual. “I have been at this place,” he
writes in a letter, “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.” To this he added, “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

This plan of selling the rights to the states seemed to promise better
things for the inventor. In December, 1802, he arranged for the sale
of similar rights to the state of North Carolina, and a little later a
similar agreement was made with Tennessee. But imagine his dismay when
the South Carolina Legislature suddenly annulled its contract with
him, refused to make any further payments, and began suit to recover
what had already been paid him. The current of popular opinion had
again set against this firm of two. It was said that a man in
Switzerland had invented a cotton-gin before Whitney, and that the
main features of his own machine had been taken from others. But there
were some upright and honorable men in the South Carolina Legislature,
and they finally succeeded in convincing their associates that Whitney
had been maligned. In the session of 1804 the Legislature rescinded
its latest act in regard to the gin, and testified to its high opinion
of Whitney.

The inventor’s faithful partner, Miller, died in 1803. He had stood by
Whitney through thick and thin, and had met one buffet after another.
In spite of his splendid spirit the ceaseless war to protect their
claims had somewhat broken him, and he had despaired of ever receiving
justice in the courts. Whitney himself was now receiving some return
from the sales to the states, and these enabled him to keep out of
debt, but the greater part of his earnings had still to go for the
costs of his suits at law.

In December, 1807, the United States Court in Georgia gave a decision
in Whitney’s favor against a man named Fort who had infringed on his
patent. The words of Judge Johnson in this case became celebrated. “To
support the originality of the invention,” said he, “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 afford
a valuable employment for their shipping.”

Whitney had fought long and hard, and had at last received at least
partial justice. But it had been so slow in coming that, when his
rights were to a certain extent established, there were only a few
years left his patents to run. He had realized for some time that he
must look elsewhere for financial returns, and so, in 1798, had begun
the manufacture of firearms. He purchased a site for his factory near
New Haven, at a place called Whitneyville now, then known as East
Rock. Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury, ordered 10,000 stand
of arms from him, and he contracted to furnish them. At first he met
with many difficulties, owing to lack of proper materials and workmen,
and his own lack of familiarity with the business. But as time went on
the works improved, and Whitney applied his inventive genius to many
important improvements. He received other contracts, and eventually
the national government came to rely upon his factory for a large part
of its war supplies.

In 1812 Whitney applied for a renewal of his patent for the
cotton-gin. He set forth the facts that he had received almost no
compensation for his invention, that it had made the fortune of many
of the Southern states, that it enabled one man to do the work of a
thousand men before, but that, placing the value of one man’s labor at
twenty cents a day, the whole amount he had received was less than the
value of the labor saved in one hour by the use of his machines
throughout the country. But again there was opposition from many
influential Southern planters, and his application was denied.

The inventor was, however, making money from his factory for firearms,
and his personal fortunes had brightened. In 1817 he married Henrietta
Edwards, the daughter of Judge Pierpont Edwards, of Connecticut. His
home life was ideally happy, he was fond of New Haven, and eventually
he received increasing evidence that the people of the cotton lands
were learning their indebtedness to him, and were anxious to make some
restitution for their earlier disregard of his claims. He died January
8, 1825.

The material value of Eli Whitney’s invention can hardly be estimated.
It opened a new kingdom to the South. It built up countless acres of
hitherto unprofitable land. But in spite of men’s recognition of the
value of his cotton-gin, and their instant adoption of it everywhere,
he was for years denied his title to it, and had to wage a warfare
that is almost without parallel in the history of American inventors.




There is a peculiar charm attaching to the figure of Robert Fulton,
the attraction that plays about the man who is many-sided, and
picturesque on whatever side one looks at him. He was a man at home on
both shores of the Atlantic, at a time when such men were rare. He had
been taught drawing by Major André, when the latter was a prisoner of
war in the little Pennsylvania town of Lancaster. He had hung out his
sign as Painter of Miniatures at the corner of Second and Walnut
Streets in Philadelphia, under the friendly patronage of Benjamin
Franklin. He had lodged in London at the house of Benjamin West, and
shown his pictures at the Royal Academy. Two great English noblemen
became his allies in scientific studies. Napoleon, as First Consul,
bargained with him over his invention of torpedoes. Finally he sent
the little _Clermont_ up the Hudson under steam. There was a man of
rare ability, one who had many hostages to give to fortune. He was the
artist turned inventor, as many another has done, and if he was not as
great an artist as Leonardo da Vinci neither was Leonardo as great an
inventor as Robert Fulton.

Fulton invented a machine for cutting marble, one for spinning flax,
a double inclined plane for canal navigation, a machine for twisting
rope, an earth-scoop for canal and irrigation purposes, a
cable-cutter, the earliest French panorama, a submarine torpedo boat,
and the steamboat. Other men had worked over steamboats, but he
reached the goal. He made the steamboat practicable, as Watt had the
steam-engine. Above all, he was very fortunate; he found his
countrymen ready to welcome the _Clermont_, and to fall in with his
plans, an attitude which had not faced certain men in England and in
France who had built similar boats earlier than Fulton. Some engineers
have been tempted to call him a lucky amateur, a talented artist who
happened to become interested in new methods of navigation. If one
grants all this there is still the fact that it was the _Clermont’s_
success that opened the watercourses of the world to steam.

“Quicksilver Bob” he was called as a boy in Lancaster, because he used
to buy all that metal he could for experiments. Even then he was
many-sided. He made designs for firearms and experimented with guns to
learn the carrying distance of various bores and balls. There was a
factory in Lancaster where arms were being made for the Continental
troops, and “Quicksilver Bob” was given the run of the place. In
addition he painted signs to hang before the village shops and

To simplify his fishing expeditions he made a model of a boat
propelled by paddles, and later he built such a boat and used it on
the Conestoga River. No one could tell what he would turn to next.
When Hessian prisoners were kept in the neighborhood the town boys
would go out to look at them, and Robert would make sketches of them.
These sketches gave him a local reputation, and his friends were not
surprised when at seventeen he left Lancaster to seek his fortune as a
painter of portraits and miniatures in Philadelphia.

He was well liked in the city. He had a talent for friendship, which,
combined with good looks, more than ordinary intelligence, and most
uncommon industry, carried him far. He drew plans for machinery, he
designed houses and carriages, he worked as professional painter.
Franklin became his patron and adviser. Then illness sent him to the
fashionable hot springs of Virginia, and there he heard so much talk
of England and of France that he decided to see those countries for
himself. Before he left America he bought a farm in Washington County,
Pennsylvania, in order to insure a home for his mother and sisters.
That done, he sailed for England, with a packet of letters of
introduction, in 1786.

In London Fulton professed himself to be an artist, although his
thoughts were constantly tending toward inventions. He lived at the
house of Benjamin West, and painted, and his portraits were shown at
the Royal Academy and at the Society of Artists. Betimes he enjoyed
himself in society and in trips to the counties. He journeyed into
Devonshire and stayed at Powderham Castle, copying famous pictures
there. Wherever he went he made friends, and their influence was
constantly helping him forward on what must have been a somewhat
precarious career.

Two of these friends, the Duke of Bridgewater and the Earl of
Stanhope, were scientists of repute. The Duke owned a great estate, of
untold mineral wealth, which had never been properly worked because of
lack of transportation facilities. He had recently built several
canals on this property, and was at the head of a number of companies
which were planning to intersect England with waterways. He interested
Fulton in his schemes and gradually weaned his thoughts away from art
to civil engineering. The Earl of Stanhope corresponded with him over
the possibility of propelling boats by steam, and in these letters
Fulton first gave the outlines of the plans he was later to perfect in
the _Clermont_. The Earl was deeply interested, and encouraged the
young American to persevere, but for the time Fulton left the
steamboat to work out other problems.

The possibility of a great English canal system appealed to him
strongly, and in 1794 he obtained an English patent for a double
inclined plane for raising and lowering canal boats. Later he took
English patents on a machine for spinning flax, and on a new device
for twisting hemp rope. There followed others for a machine that
should scoop out earth to make canals or aqueducts, for a “Market or
Passage Boat” to use on canals, and for a “Dispatch Boat” that should
travel quickly. He sent drawings of all these inventions to his
influential friends, hoping that they would push them, and he also
wrote and published “A Treatise on Canal Navigation.” By this time he
would seem to have given up all thought of the artist’s career, and
to have turned his talent with the pen to the aid of his mechanical

The French Revolution was imminent, and Fulton was busy studying the
conditions that were leading to it. He believed that Free Trade would
tend to abolish many of the difficulties that divided nations, and he
wrote a paper on that subject, addressed to the French Directory. He
believed in democracy, but he was strongly of the opinion that the
young American republic should take no part in the struggle for
liberty in Europe. In a letter written in 1794 he says, “It has been
much Agitated here whether the Americans would join the French. But I
Believe every Cool friend to America could wish them to Remain nuter.
The americans have no troublesome Neighbors, they are without foreign
Possessions, and do not want the alliance of any Nation, for this
Reason they have nothing to do with foreign Politics. And the Art of
Peace Should be the Study of every young American which I most
Sincerely hope they will maintain.”

But Fulton himself was in a manner to be drawn into the turmoil. When
France had quieted somewhat England began that policy of aggression on
the sea toward American ships and crews that was to lead to the War of
1812. Fulton’s attention was drawn from canal-building to the
possibility of some invention that might tend to subserve peace, and
this in time led him to design and build the first torpedo.

Again Fulton’s talent for friendship stood him in good stead. When he
had left London for Paris he called upon Joel Barlow, poet and
American diplomat, and was urged to take up his residence first at the
hotel where the Barlows were staying, and later at their house. For
seven years Fulton lived with them, busy about the most diverse
matters, and always keenly interested in the struggles of the new and
hot-tempered republic. A rich American had bought a tract of central
real estate in Paris and had built a row of shops arranged on the two
sides of a cloister. Fulton suggested that he add a panorama to the
other buildings, and the idea was adopted. Fulton was given charge,
and by 1800 he had built and opened the first panorama that Paris had
ever seen. The show made money, and the inventor, a perfect
Jack-of-all-trades, added another feather to his varicolored cap.

In December, 1797, Fulton had interested his friend Barlow in a
machine intended to drive “carcasses” of gunpowder under water. But
his first experiments at exploding the gunpowder at a definite moment
failed. Then he moved to Havre, where he would have greater
opportunity to try out his torpedo-boats, as he christened them. His
idea was that if his invention succeeded war would be made so
dangerous that nations would be obliged to keep peace. Barlow was able
to assist him with money until he had built and actually navigated
some of his torpedoes along the coast. When he had satisfied himself,
he wrote to the French government, the Directory, offering them his
invention for use against their enemies.

The Directory was pleased with the offer, but the government was in
so much of a turmoil that it was months before any positive action was
taken. At length, on February 28, 1801, Fulton received word from
Napoleon, the First Consul, to send his torpedo-boat against the
English fleet. He set out; but the English fleet did not come his way,
and he spent the summer vainly reconnoitering along the coast. To show
the value of his invention he arranged to attack a sloop. This he
described in his letter to the French Commission on Submarine
Navigation. “To prove this experiment,” he wrote, “the Prefect
Maritime and Admiral Villaret ordered a small Sloop of about 40 feet
long to be anchored in the Road, on the 23rd of Thermidor. With a bomb
containing about 20 pounds of powder I advanced to within 200 Metres,
then taking my direction so as to pass near the Sloop, I struck her
with the bomb in my passage. The explosion took place and the sloop
was torn into atoms, in fact, nothing was left but the buye [buoy] and
cable. And the concussion was so great that a column of Water, Smoke
and fibres of the Sloop were cast from 80 to 100 feet in Air. This
simple Experiment at once proved the effect of the Bomb Submarine to
the satisfaction of all the Spectators.”

This exhibition took place in August, 1801, before a crowd of
onlookers, and at once established the value of the torpedo. But, as
he was unable to attack any English ships, the French government lost
interest in his invention, and Napoleon’s scientific advisers reported
to him that they regarded the young American as “a visionary.”

At the same time the British government awakened to the great
possibilities of Fulton’s device. His old friend, Lord Stanhope, urged
that suitable offers be made him. This was ultimately done, and in
April, 1804, Fulton left France and returned to London. A contract was
drawn up by which he was to put his torpedo at the service of the
English government and receive in return two hundred pounds a month
and one-half the value of all ships that might be destroyed by his

This arrangement, however, was of short duration. A change of ministry
dampened his hopes, and in 1806 the government declined to adopt his
invention on his terms. At the same time they tried to suppress this
new method of warfare, and to that end made him another offer. Fulton,
always an ardent patriot, answered, “At all events, whatever may be
your reward, I will never consent to let these inventions lie dormant
should my Country at any time have need of them. Were you to grant me
an annuity of £20,000 a year, I would sacrifice all to the safety &
independence of my Country. But I hope that England and America will
understand their mutual Interest too well to War with each other And I
have no desire to Introduce my Engines into practice for the benefit
of any other Nation.”

He was already eager to return home to work upon his long cherished
plans for a steamboat. He continues, “As I am bound in honor to Mr.
Livingston to put my steamboat in practice and such engine is of more
immediate use to my Country than Submarine Navigation, I wish to
devote some years to it and should the British Government allow me an
annuity I should not only do justice to my friends but it would enable
me to carry my steamboat and other plans into effect for the good of
my Country.--It has never been my intention to hide these Inventions
from the World on any consideration, on the contrary it has been my
intention to make them public as soon as consistent with strict
justice to all with whom I am concerned. For myself I have ever
considered the interest of America [n] free commerce, the interest of
mankind, the magnitude of the object in view and the rational
reputation connected with it superior to all calculations of a
pecuniary kind.”

Satisfactory terms of agreement were reached, and in 1806 Fulton was
free and ready to return to that native land from which he had been
away twenty years.

The building of a practicable steamboat had long been in his mind. He
had corresponded on the subject with Chancellor Livingston, who had
devoted much time and money to new inventions. Fulton, when in Paris,
had experimented with models of steamboats, and had studied the
records of what had already been done in that line. In 1802 he had
started a course of calculations on the resistance of water, and the
comparative advantages of the known means of propelling vessels. He
had rejected the plan of using paddles or oars, and also of forcing
water out of the stern of the vessel, and had retained the idea of the
paddle-wheel. This he tried successfully on a small model that he
built and used on a river that ran through the village of Plombières.
He then built an experimental boat, sixty-six feet long and eight
feet wide, and this he exhibited to a large audience of Parisians in
August, 1803. His success led him to order certain parts of a
steam-engine from the firm of Boulton and Watt in Birmingham, these to
be shipped to America. Meantime Chancellor Livingston had obtained for
himself and Fulton the exclusive right to navigate the waters of New
York state by vessels propelled by fire or steam.

As soon as he reached America in December, 1806, Fulton started work
on his boat. He engaged Charles Brownne, a ship-builder on the East
River, to lay down the hull. He decided to name the vessel the
_Clermont_, the name of Chancellor Livingston’s country-place on the
Hudson, where Fulton had been a guest. The engine duly arrived from
Birmingham and was carried to the shipyard. As a number of loafers and
hangers-on about the docks threatened injury to “Fulton’s Folly,” as
the building boat was called, he had to engage watchmen to guard his
property. By August the boat was finished, and was moved by her own
engine from the yards to the Jersey shore. She was one hundred and
fifty feet long, thirteen feet wide, and drew two feet of water.
Before she had gone a quarter of a mile both passengers and observers
on the shore were satisfied that the steamboat was a thoroughly
practicable vessel.

On Sunday, August 9, 1807, Fulton made a short trial trip of the
_Clermont_, and wrote an account of it to Livingston. “Yesterday about
12 o’clock I put the steamboat in motion first with a paddle 8 inches
broad, 3 feet long, with which I ran about one mile up the East River
against a tide of about one mile an hour, it being nearly high
water. I then anchored and put on another paddle 8 inches wide, 3 feet
long, started again and then, according to my best observations, I
went 3 miles an hour, that is two against a tide of one: another board
of 8 inches was wanting, which had not been prepared, I therefore
turned the boat and ran down with the tide--and turned her round
neatly into the berth from which I parted. She answers the helm equal
to anything that ever was built, and I turned her twice in three times
her own length. Much has been proved by this experiment. First that
she will, when in complete order, run up to my full calculations.
Second, that my axles, I believe, will be sufficiently strong to run
the engine to her full power. Third, that she steers well, and can be
turned with ease.”


It was on August 17, 1807, that the _Clermont_ made her first historic
trip up the Hudson. At one o’clock she cast off from her dock near the
State’s Prison, in what was called Greenwich Village, on the North
River. The inventor described the voyage characteristically to a
friend. He wrote, “The moment arrived in which the word was to be
given for the boat to move. My friends were in groups on the deck.
There was anxiety mixed with fear among them. They were silent, sad
and weary. I read in their looks nothing but disaster, and almost
repented of my efforts. The signal was given and the boat moved on a
short distance and then stopped and became immovable. To the silence
of the preceding moment, now succeeded murmurs of discontent, and
agitations, and whispers and shrugs. I could hear distinctly
repeated--‘I told you it was so; it is a foolish scheme: I wish we
were well out of it.’

“I elevated myself upon a platform and addressed the assembly. I
stated that I knew not what was the matter, but if they would be quiet
and indulge me for half an hour, I would either go on or abandon the
voyage for that time. This short respite was conceded without
objection. I went below and examined the machinery, and discovered
that the cause was a slight maladjustment of some of the work. In a
short time it was obviated. The boat was again put in motion. She
continued to move on. All were still incredulous. None seemed willing
to trust the evidence of their own senses. We left the fair city of
New York; we passed through the romantic and ever-varying scenery of
the Highlands; we descried the clustering houses of Albany; we reached
its shores,--and then, even then, when all seemed achieved, I was the
victim of disappointment.

“Imagination superseded the influence of fact. It was then doubted if
it could be done again, or if done, it was doubted if it could be made
of any great value.”

But the _Clermont_, in spite of all prophecies to the contrary, had
traveled under her own steam from New York to Albany, and the trip was
the crowning event in Fulton’s career as inventor. At the time she
made that first voyage the _Clermont_ was a very simple craft, decked
for a short distance at bow and stern, the engine open to view, and
back of the engine a house like that on a canal-boat to shelter the
boiler and provide an apartment for the officers. The rudder was of
the pattern used on sailing-vessels, and was moved by a tiller. The
boiler was of the same pattern used in Watt’s steam-engines, and was
set in masonry. The condenser stood in a large cold-water cistern, and
the weight of the masonry and the cistern greatly detracted from the
boat’s buoyancy. She was so very unwieldy that the captains of other
river boats, realizing the danger of the steamboat’s competition, were
able to run into her, and make it appear that the fault was hers; and
as a result she several times reached port with only a single wheel.

There were almost as many quaint descriptions of the boat as there
were people who saw it. One described it as an “ungainly craft looking
precisely like a backwoods sawmill mounted on a scow and set on fire.”
Others said the _Clermont_ appeared at night like a “monster moving on
the waters defying the winds and tide, and breathing flames and
smoke.” Some of the ignorant along the Hudson fell on their knees and
prayed to be delivered from the monster. The boat must have been a
very strange sight; pine wood was used for fuel, and when the engineer
stirred the fire a torrent of sparks went shooting into the sky.

The boat was clumsy beyond question. The exposed machinery creaked and
groaned, the unguarded paddle-wheels revolved ponderously and splashed
a great deal of water, the tiller was badly placed for steering.
Fulton quickly remedied some of the defects, and the _Clermont_ that
began to make regular runs from New York to Albany a little later was
quite a different boat from that which made her maiden voyage on
August 17th.

In spite of Fulton’s gloomy tone in his letter there were many among
the men and women who made the first trip with him who were not
dubious concerning the invention. As soon as the first difficulties
were overcome and the boat was moving on a steady keel, the
passengers, most of whom were close friends of Fulton and of
Chancellor Livingston, broke into song. As they passed by the
Palisades it is said they sang “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonny Doon.”
Fulton himself could not be overlooked. A contemporary described him:
“Among a thousand individuals you might readily point out Robert
Fulton. He was conspicuous for his gentle, manly bearing and freedom
from embarrassment, for his extreme activity, his height, somewhat
over six feet,--his slender yet energetic form and well accommodated
dress, for his full and curly dark brown hair, carelessly scattered
over his forehead and falling around his neck. His complexion was
fair, his forehead high, his eyes dark and penetrating and revolving
in a capacious orbit of cavernous depths; his brow was thick and
evinced strength and determination; his nose was long and prominent,
his mouth and lips were beautifully proportioned, giving the impress
of eloquent utterance. Trifles were not calculated to impede him or
damp his perseverance.”

Fulton was now forty-two years old, and famous on both sides of the
Atlantic. He asked Harriet Livingston, a near relation of his friend
the Chancellor, to become his wife. She accepted him, and he was
warmly welcomed into that rich and influential family.

On September 2, 1807, Fulton advertised regular sailings of the
_Clermont_ between New York and Albany. These proved popular, and
other routes were soon planned. That winter he made many changes in
the vessel and worked out certain devices that he wished to patent.
The name of _Clermont_ was changed to the _North River_ the following
spring, and the reconstructed steamboat continued in regular service
on the Hudson for a number of years. In the succeeding year he built
other boats, the _Rariton_, to run from New York to New Brunswick, and
_The Car of Neptune_ as a second Hudson River boat. He was very much
occupied perfecting new commercial schemes, protecting his patents
from a horde of pirates, and planning to introduce his invention into
Europe. Before his death in 1815, eight years after the _Clermont’s_
first trip, he had built seventeen boats, among them the first steam
war frigate, a torpedo boat, and the first steam ferry-boats with
rounded ends to be used for approaching opposite shores.

A century has not dimmed Fulton’s fame, nor set aside his claim to be
the practical inventor of the steamboat. He built the first one to be
used in American waters, and his model was copied in all other
countries. He carried his ideas to completion, and that, with his
talent to observe and improve upon other men’s work, gave him his
leading place among the world’s pioneers.




Humphrey Davy, according to his contemporaries, could have chosen any
one of several roads to fame. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said of him,
“Had not Davy been the first chemist, he probably would have been the
first poet of his age.” Among many activities he invented the
safety-lamp, the object of which was to protect miners from the perils
of exploding fire-damp. George Stephenson invented a similar device at
about the same time, or a little earlier, but Davy’s lamp was the one
most generally adopted, and his claim as inventor is commonly
recognized, while Stephenson’s fame is secure with the perfection of
the steam-locomotive and the railroad.

Davy was born at Penzance in Cornwall December 17, 1778, the eldest
son in a family of five children. More alert and imaginative than
other boys, and with an uncommonly good memory, he made great headway
at Mr. Coryton’s grammar school, where he went when he was six.
Coleridge’s opinion of him may have been correct, for history says
that he was a fluent writer of English and Latin verses while still a
schoolboy, and that he could tell stories well enough to hold an
audience of his teachers and neighbors. He liked fine language and
the arts of speech, and, according to his brother, Dr. John Davy, he
cultivated those arts in his walks. Once when he was taking a bottle
of medicine to a sick woman in the country he began to declaim a
stirring speech, and at its climax threw the bottle away. He never
noticed its loss until he reached the patient, and then wondered what
could have become of the vial. The bottle was found next morning in a
hay-field adjoining the path Davy had taken.

When he was fourteen he left Mr. Coryton’s school for the Truro
Grammar School, where he stayed for a year. Here he was famed for his
good-humor and a very original turn of mind. A school friend,
reminiscing about Humphrey, told of a walk several of them took one
hot day. “Whilst others complained of the heat,” said he, “and whilst
I unbuttoned my waistcoat, Humphrey appeared with his great-coat
close-buttoned up to his chin, for the purpose, as he declared, of
keeping _out_ the heat. This was laughed at at the time, but it struck
me then, as it appears to me now, as evincing originality of thought
and an indisposition to be led by the example of others.”

This originality of thought and love of experiment for its own sake
were to be chief characteristics of the future scientist.

His school education was finished when he was fifteen, and he returned
home, where he studied French in a desultory fashion, and devoted most
of his time to fishing, of which he was always very fond. His father’s
death made him realize that as the eldest of the sons he must shoulder
the responsibility for the family’s support, and, all his natural
tastes lying in that direction, he decided to become a physician.

A practicing surgeon and apothecary of Penzance, Bingham Borlase, was
willing to take Davy as an apprentice, and the youth began work and
study in his office. But the boy was no ordinary apprentice. He became
almost at once an omnivorous student and writer. He laid out a plan of
study that included theology, astronomy, logic, mathematics, Latin,
Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew, and he wrote essays, remarkably
mature and well-phrased, in a series of note-books that he kept in the
office. Poetry he wrote also, filled with love of the sea that circled
his native Cornwall, and the great cliffs and moorlands that make that
part of England one of the most picturesque spots in the world.

His work with Mr. Borlase brought him into the field of chemistry when
he was nineteen. It was a field of magic to him. He read two books,
Lavoisier’s “Elements of Chemistry,” and Nicholson’s “Dictionary of
Chemistry,” and rushed from them to experiment for himself. His
bedroom was his laboratory. His tools were old bottles, glasses,
tobacco-pipes, teacups, and such odds and ends as he could find. When
he needed fire he went to the kitchen. The owner of the house, Mr.
Tonkin, was an old friend of the Davy family, and very fond of
Humphrey, but the amateur experiments were almost too much for him.
Said he, after he had watched some more than usually noisy combustion
at the fire, “This boy, Humphrey, is incorrigible. Was there ever so
idle a dog? He will blow us all into the air.” But Humphrey minded no
arguments nor objections; he was studying the effects of acids and
alkalies on vegetable colors, the kind of air that was to be found in
the vesicles of common varieties of seaweed, and the solution and
precipitation of metals. The work was all-engrossing; it occupied
every spare moment of his time and thought.

If any greater stimulus to scientific study had been needed it would
have been supplied to young Davy by his acquaintance with Gregory
Watt, the son of the inventor James Watt. Gregory came to board at
Mrs. Davy’s house when he was twenty-one, and Humphrey nineteen. He
was a splendid companion, and possessed of a remarkably brilliant
mind. In a short time the two youths had become inseparable friends,
experimenting together, and taking walks to the mines and quarries in
the neighborhood of Penzance in search of minerals for study. It was
an ideal friendship, incomparably valuable for Davy. But Gregory Watt
died when he was twenty-eight. “Gregory was a noble fellow,” Davy
wrote to a friend, “and would have been a great man.”

In the meantime the young physician’s apprentice had been lured away
from Penzance. Dr. Beddoes had established what he styled a Pneumatic
Institution at Clifton, the object of which was to try the medicinal
effects of different gases on consumptive patients. Davy, only twenty,
had been offered the position of director, and had accepted. His old
friend Mr. Tonkin, who had thought to see Humphrey become the leading
physician of Penzance, was so much put out with this change of plan
that he altered his will and revoked a legacy he had intended for

Filled with the ardor of research Davy went on with his experiments at
Clifton. He discovered silica in the epidermis of the stems of weeds,
corn, and grasses. He experimented with nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
for ten months until he had thoroughly learned its intoxicating
effects. Often he jeopardized his life, and once nearly lost it, by
breathing carburetted hydrogen. He published the results of his more
important experiments. When he was twenty-one he issued his “Essays on
Heat and Light.” He experimented with galvanic electricity, and
increased the powers of Volta’s Galvanic Pile. Moreover he outlined
and partly drafted an epic poem on the deliverance of the Israelites
from Egypt. The total is a surprising catalogue of industries for the
young Clifton Director.

His ardor had worn him out, and he was forced to take a holiday at
Penzance. His reputation as a rising scientist had reached the little
Cornish town, and he was given a hearty welcome. He loved his own
country and never lost his delight in her natural beauties. Nor did he
ever forget his own days in the grammar school, and in his will he
directed that a certain sum of money should be paid to the master each
year “on condition that the boys may have a holiday on his birthday.”

Davy had already made influential friends, and one of them, Dr. Hope,
the professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, was to give
him his next step forward. Dr. Hope knew Davy’s works on heat,
nitrous oxide, and galvanic electricity, and he recommended the young
scientist to Count Rumford for the professorship of chemistry in the
Royal Philosophical Institution in London, which Count Rumford had
been instrumental in founding. Davy wrote to his mother that this was
“as honorable as any scientific appointment in the kingdom, with an
income of at least five hundred pounds a year.”

He went to London in 1801, and there he had the great satisfaction of
meeting many scientific men whose names and work were well known to
him. Six weeks after he arrived he began his first course of lectures,
taking for his subject the history of galvanism, and the various
methods of accumulating galvanic influence. The _Philosophical
Magazine_ said of the new lion, “The sensation created by his first
course of lectures at the Institution, and the enthusiastic admiration
which they obtained, is at this period hardly to be imagined. Men of
the first rank and talent,--the literary and the scientific, the
practical and the theoretical,--blue-stockings and women of fashion,
the old and the young, all crowded, eagerly crowded, the lecture-room.
His youth, his simplicity, his natural eloquence, his chemical
knowledge, his happy illustrations and well-conducted experiments,
excited universal attention and unbounded applause. Compliments,
invitations, and presents were showered upon him in abundance from all
quarters; his society was courted by all, and all appeared proud of
his acquaintance.”

Davy was an eloquent, enthusiastic, forceful speaker. He prepared his
lectures with the greatest care, and he delivered them with that
attention to dramatic effect which is instinctive in all really great
speakers. Coleridge said, “I attend Davy’s lectures to increase my
stock of metaphors,” and there were many others who went to hear the
young chemist for other reasons than a liking for science. He had his
own theories of the arts of public address. “Great powers,” said he,
“have never been exerted independent of strong feelings. The rapid
arrangement of ideas from their various analogies to the equally rapid
comparisons of these analogies, with facts uniformly occurring during
the progress of discovery, have existed only in those minds where the
agency of strong and various motives is perceived--of motives
modifying each other, mingling with each other, and producing that
fever of emotion which is the joy of existence and the consciousness
of life.”

In addition to his lectures Davy worked hard in the well-stocked
laboratory of the Institution, where he was supplied with a corps of
capable assistants. His researches covered a very large part of the
field of chemistry, and he was indefatigable in running down any new
idea which his active brain chanced to hit upon. In his vacations from
London he went to the farthest regions of the British Isles, spending
considerable time in the north of Ireland and the Hebrides. Here he
studied the geological structures, and collected all the information
he could in regard to agriculture. Anything to do with natural science
interested him. He sketched a great deal, and he was forever asking
questions of all the countrymen he met. His questions made him famous
in many a hamlet, where such inquisitiveness had never been known

Shortly after he had moved to London he had been asked to investigate
astringent plants in connection with tanning. To this end he visited
tan-yards and farmers, and in 1802 began to deliver a course of
lectures on “The Connection of Chemistry with Vegetable Physiology.”
These lectures proved remarkably popular, and for ten years he
repeated them at the meetings of the Board of Agriculture. They were
later published in book form, and so great was their interest that
they were translated into almost every European language. _The
Edinburgh Review_, that dean of British critics, said, “We feel
grateful for his having thus suspended for a time the labors of
original investigation, in order to apply the principles and
discoveries of his favorite science to the illustration and
improvement of an art which, above all others, ministers to the wants
and comforts of man.”

When his agricultural researches were finished he went back to his
studies with the voltaic pile or battery. He discovered that potash
and soda can be decomposed, with the resultant metals of potassium and
sodium. When he made this discovery he was so delighted that he danced
about the room, and was too excited to finish the experiment for some

He had worked too hard, and soon after this discovery he fell ill. For
days all London watched for the bulletins of the young chemist’s
condition. Fortunately he recovered, and in time went back to the
work which was proving so invaluable for the world of science.

The Royal Institution now provided him with a voltaic battery that was
four times as powerful as any that had previously been constructed.
With this he made numberless chemical discoveries. The Royal Society
had made him a fellow when he was twenty-five years old, and one of
its secretaries when he was twenty-nine. His London lectures grew
continually more popular. The Dublin Society invited him to lecture in
that city, and his course at once attracted the greatest attention. He
was already the scientific lion of England, but withal a very modest
and unassuming lion. Cuvier said, “Davy, not yet thirty-two, in the
opinion of all who could judge of such labors, held the first rank
among the chemists of this or of any other age.” The National
Institute of France awarded him the prize that had been established by
Napoleon for the greatest discovery made by means of galvanism. Then,
in 1812, when he was thirty-three, he was knighted by the Prince

Sir Humphrey Davy, as he now was, married Mrs. Appreece, a woman of
many talents and unusual intelligence. She was rich, and soon after
their marriage Davy was able to resign his professorship at the Royal
Institution, which he had held for twelve years, and devote himself to
original research and to travel. Carrying a portable chemical
apparatus for his studies, Sir Humphrey and Lady Davy went first to
Scotland, and then to France, Italy, and Germany. They met the most
prominent men of the age in those countries. These men found the
famous chemist interested in everything about him, as much of a poet
as a scientist. In Rome he wrote a sonnet to the sculptor Canova, and
the literary circles of Italy proclaimed him a poet after their own

Davy was now one of the foremost chemists of the world, but he could
as yet hardly lay claim to the title of inventor. He had been an
ambitious man, and had once said that he had escaped the temptations
that lay in wait for many men because of “an active mind, a deep ideal
feeling of good, and a look toward future greatness.” That future
greatness had always been in his thoughts, and had been one of the
compelling powers in his great chemical discoveries. But beyond this
thought of greatness was a very deep and earnest desire to help his
fellow men. So when the chance to do this offered he took advantage of
it at once.

Explosions of coal-gas were only too common in the mines of England.
They were almost always fatal to the miners, and formed the greatest
peril of those who labored underground. In 1812 a terrible explosion
occurred in a leading English mine, and caused the death of almost a
hundred miners. The mine had caught on fire, and had to be closed at
the mouth, which meant certain destruction to those within. The
catastrophe was so great that the biggest mine-owners met to see
whether some protection against such accidents could not be devised.
After much discussion they appointed a committee to call on Sir
Humphrey Davy and ask him to investigate the possibilities for them.

Davy realized that here lay his opportunity to be of real service to
men, the goal he had always had in mind. He took up the question,
experimented with fire-damp, and found that it was in reality light
carburetted hydrogen. He visited many mines, and took into careful
consideration the conditions under which the men worked. For months he
investigated and experimented, and at length, in 1815, he constructed
what he called the safety-lamp. This was an oil lamp which had a
chimney or cage of wire gauze. The gauze held the flame of the lamp
from passing through and igniting the fire-damp outside. It was only
possible for a very little of the fire-damp to penetrate the gauze and
such as did was held harmless prisoner. The cage allowed air to pass
and light to escape, and although by the combustion of the fire-damp
the wire gauze might become red hot, it was still efficient as a

Davy’s safety-lamp proved exactly what was needed to act as protection
from exploding fire-damp. It was tried under all conditions and served
admirably. George Stephenson had worked out a somewhat similar
safety-lamp at about the same time, and his was used in the collieries
around Newcastle. In the rest of England Davy’s lamp was at once
adopted. All miners were equipped with either the Davy lamp or the
“Geordie” lamp, as the other was called, and the mine fatalities from
fire-damp immediately decreased. This lamp is still the main safeguard
of those who have to contend with dangerous explosive gases in mines
all over the world.

Friends urged Davy to patent his lamp, and thus ensure himself a
very considerable income from its sale. But he said, “I never thought
of such a thing: my sole object was to serve the cause of humanity;
and if I have succeeded, I am amply rewarded in the gratifying
reflection of having done so. I have enough for all my views and
purposes; more wealth could not increase either my fame or my
happiness. It might undoubtedly enable me to put four horses to my
carriage; but what would it avail me to have it said that Sir Humphrey
drives his carriage and four?”

[Illustration: THE DAVY SAFETY LAMP]

His fellow men appreciated the great value of this service he had
rendered. At Newcastle, the centre of the mining country, a dinner was
given in his honor, and a service of plate, worth over twelve thousand
dollars, was presented to him. The Emperor of Russia sent him a
magnificent silver-gilt vase, with a letter congratulating him on his
great achievement, and the King of England made him a baronet.

Davy himself, in spite of his reputation as a chemist, placed this
invention above all his other work. “I value it more than anything I
ever did,” said he. “It was the result of a great deal of
investigation and labor; but if my directions be attended to, it will
save the lives of thousands of poor men. I was never more affected
than by a written address which I received from the working colliers
when I was in the north, thanking me on behalf of themselves and their
families for the preservation of their lives.”

Davy’s note-books are most interesting reading and show the
philosophic trend of his thoughts. At one time he said, “Whoever
wishes to enjoy peace, and is gifted with great talents, must labor
for posterity. In doing this he enjoys all the pleasures of
intellectual labor, and all the desire arising from protracted hope.
He feels no envy nor jealousy; his mark is too far distant to be seen
by short-sighted malevolence, and therefore it is never aimed at....
To raise a chestnut on the mountain, or a palm in the plain, which may
afford shade, shelter, and fruit for generations yet unborn, and
which, if they have once fixed their roots, require no culture, is
better than to raise annual flowers in a garden, which must be watered
daily, and in which a cold wind may chill or too ardent a sunshine may
dry.... The best faculties of man are employed for futurity: speaking
is better than acting, writing is better than speaking.”

He was fond of travel, and after he had seen the successful use of his
lamp he went abroad again. When he returned he was made president of
the Royal Society, a position which had been made illustrious by Sir
Isaac Newton. The British navy asked him to discover what could be
done to prevent the corrosion of copper sheathing on vessels, caused
by salt water. He made experiments, and at last succeeded in rendering
the copper negatively electrical by the use of small pieces of tin,
zinc, or iron nails. But shells and seaweed would adhere to the
non-corroded surface, and hence the process was not entirely
successful. This principle of galvanic protection, however, was found
to be applicable to many other purposes.

These and other experiments in chemistry and electricity, travel, and
his duties as president of the Royal Society filled his days. In 1826
he was attacked by paralysis, and from then he spent much of his time
on the continent, seeking health and strength. He wrote on fishing and
on travel, and all his writings, on whatever theme he touched, are
filled with the love of nature and of beauty, and permeated with that
philosophic balance that had been characteristic of his whole career.
He died in Geneva, May 29, 1829.

Davy was not the born inventor, drawn irresistibly to construct
something new. He was the born chemist, and it was only when he was
asked to investigate the nature of the fire-damp that he fell to
studying whether some adequate protection could not be afforded the
miners. Yet he himself said that he was more proud of his safety-lamp
than of all his other discoveries, and although the scientists and
chemists may think of Humphrey Davy as a great experimenter, great
lecturer, and great writer on chemistry and electricity, the world at
large knows him best for his safety-lamp and for the great change for
the better he was able to bring about in the mines of England.




The need of finding a new way of working the coal mines of England,
and of marketing the coal, which had been such an important factor in
the development of the steam-engine, was a scarcely less important
factor in the building of the earliest practical railway locomotive.
The coal had to be hauled from the pit of the colliery to the shipping
place. It was carried in cars that were pushed or pulled over a rude
line of wooden or iron rails. But it was evident from the time when
James Watt began to build his steam-engines to lift the coal from the
mine that men of inventive minds would soon seek to send the cars over
the level ground by the same power. We owe the railroad chiefly to the
needs of the north of England, and there we find the real birth of the

About the beginning of the nineteenth century a number of men in
England were experimenting with new means of locomotion, both for
merchandise and for passengers. Their projects varied from cars
running on wheels and drawn by horses to carriages propelled by small
stationary steam-engines, placed at short distances from each other
along the road. In 1802 Richard Trevethick, a captain in a Cornish
tin-mine, took out a patent for a steam-carriage. The machine he built
looked like an ordinary stage-coach on four wheels. It had one
horizontal cylinder, which was placed in the rear of the hind axle,
together with the boiler and the furnace-box. The motion of the piston
was carried to a separate crank-axle, and that in turn gave the motion
to the axle of the driving-wheel. This was in itself a great
invention, being the first really successful high-pressure engine that
was built on the principle of moving a piston by the elasticity of
steam against only the pressure of the air. The steam was admitted
from the boiler under the piston that moved in a cylinder, and forced
it upward. When the motion had reached its limit, the communication
between the piston and the under side of the cylinder was shut off,
and the steam escaped into the atmosphere. Then a passage was opened
between the boiler and the upper end of the piston, which was
consequently pushed downward, and then the steam was again allowed to
escape. As a result the power of the engine was equal to the
difference between the atmosphere’s pressure and the elastic force of
the steam in the boiler.

This steam-carriage of Trevethick was fairly successful, and created a
great sensation in that part of Cornwall where it was built. He
decided to take it to London, and drove it himself to Plymouth, from
which port it was to be carried by sea. On the road it caused
amazement and consternation, and won the name of Captain Trevethick’s
dragon. He exhibited it in London, but after a short time gave up
driving it, believing that the roads of England were too badly built
to make the use of a steam-carriage feasible.

Other men were working on similar lines. Among them was the owner of a
colliery in the north named Blackett, who built a number of engines
for propelling coal-cars and used them at his mines. But these were
very clumsy and heavy, moved slowly, and had to be continually
repaired at considerable expense, so that other miners, after
examining Blackett’s engines, decided they were not worth the cost of
manufacture. To make the steam-carriage really serviceable it must be
more efficient and reliable.

Meantime a young man named George Stephenson, who was working at a
coal mine at Killingworth, seven miles north of Newcastle, was
studying out a new plan of locomotive. His father had been a fireman
in a colliery at Wylam, a village near Newcastle, and there the son
George was born on June 9, 1781. He had lived the life of the other
boys of the village, had been a herd-boy to care for a neighbor’s
cows, had been a “picker” in the colliery, and separated stones and
dross from the coal, had risen to assistant fireman, then fireman,
then engineman. He was strong and vigorous, fond of outdoor sports,
and also considerable of a student. In time he moved to Willington
Quay, a village on the River Tyne, where coal was shipped to London.
Here he married, and made his home in a small cottage near the quay.
He was in charge of a fixed engine on Willington Ballast Hill that
drew the trains of laden coal-cars up the incline.

After he had worked for three years at Willington he was induced to
take the position of brakesman of the engine at the West Moor Colliery
at Killingworth. He had only been settled in his new place a short
time when his wife died, leaving him with a son Robert. Stephenson
thenceforth threw himself into his work harder than ever, studying
with his son as the boy grew older, and spending a great deal of time
over his plans for a steam-engine that should move the coal-cars. He
knew the needs of the colliery perfectly, had acquired a good
knowledge of mechanics, and proposed to put his knowledge to account.

He had already, as engine-wright of the Killingworth Colliery, applied
the surplus power of a pumping steam-engine to the work of drawing
coal from the deeper workings of the mine, thereby saving a great
amount of manual and horse labor. When the coal was drawn up it had to
be transported to the quays along the Tyne, and to simplify this
Stephenson laid down inclined planes so that a train of full wagons
moving down the incline was able to draw up another train of empty
wagons. But this would only work over a short distance, and was in
itself a small saving in effort.

The engines that Mr. Blackett had built, using Trevethick’s model as a
basis, were working daily near the Killingworth Colliery, and
Stephenson frequently went over to see them. He studied Mr. Blackett’s
latest locomotive, nicknamed “Black Billy,” with the greatest care,
and then told his friend Jonathan Foster that he was convinced that he
could build a better engine than Trevethick’s, one that would work
more effectively and cheaply and draw a train of cars more steadily.

He also had the advantage of seeing other primitive locomotives that
were being tried at different places near Newcastle. One of these,
known as Blenkinsop’s Leeds engine, ran on a tramway, and would draw
sixteen wagons with a weight of seventy tons at the rate of about
three miles an hour. But the Blenkinsop engine was found to be very
unsteady, and tore up the tram-rails, and when its boiler blew up the
owner decided that the engine was not worth the cost of repair.
Stephenson, however, drew some useful points from it, as well as from
each of the other models he saw, and proposed to himself to follow
Watt’s example in constructing his steam-engine, namely, to combine
the plans and discoveries of other inventors in a machine of his own,
and so achieve a more complete success.

Stephenson was now very well regarded at the colliery for the
improvements he had made there. He brought the matter of building a
new “Traveling Engine,” as he called it, to the attention of the
lessees of the mine in 1813. Lord Ravensworth, the principal partner,
formed a favorable opinion of Stephenson’s plans, and agreed to supply
him with the funds necessary to build a locomotive.

With his support Stephenson went to work to choose his tools and
workmen. He had to devise and make many of the tools he needed, and to
train his men specially for this business. He built his first engine
in the workshops at the West Moor Mine. It followed to some extent the
model of Blenkinsop’s engine. It had a cylindrical boiler, eight feet
long and thirty-four inches in diameter, with an internal flue tube
passing through it. The engine had two vertical cylinders and worked
the propelling gear with cross-heads and connecting-rods. The power of
the two cylinders was carried by means of spur-wheels, which continued
the motive power to the wheels that supported the engine on the rails.
The engine was simply mounted on a wooden frame that was supported on
four wheels. These wheels were smooth, as Stephenson was convinced
that smooth wheels would run properly on an edge-rail.

This engine, christened the “Blutcher,” and taking about ten months to
build, was tried on the Killingworth Railway on July 25, 1814. It
proved to be the most successful working engine that had yet been
built, and would pull eight loaded wagons of about thirty tons’ weight
up a slight grade at the rate of four miles an hour. For some time it
was used daily at the colliery.

But the “Blutcher” was after all a very clumsy machine. The engine had
no springs, and its movement was a series of jolts, that injured the
rails and shook the machinery apart. The important parts of the
machinery were huddled together, and caused friction, and the
cog-wheels soon became badly worn. Moreover the engine moved scarcely
faster than a horse’s walk, and the expense of running it was very
little less than the cost of horse-power. Stephenson saw that he must
in some way increase the power of his engine if he was to provide a
new motive power for the mines.

In this first engine the steam had been allowed to escape into the air
with a loud, hissing noise, which frightened horses and cattle, and
was generally regarded as a nuisance. Stephenson thought that if he
could carry this steam, after it had done its work in the cylinders,
into the chimney by means of a small pipe, and allow it to escape in a
vertical direction, its velocity would be added to the smoke from the
fire, or the rising current of air in the chimney, and would in that
way increase the draught, and as a result the intensity of combustion
in the furnace. He tried this experiment, and found his conjecture
correct; the blast stimulated combustion, consequently the capability
of the boiler to generate steam was greatly increased, and the power
of the engine increased in the same proportion. No extra weight was
added to the machine. The invention of this steam blast was almost the
turning point in the history of the locomotive. Without it the engine
would have been too clumsy and slow for practical use, but with it the
greatest possibilities of use appeared.

Encouraged by the success of his steam blast Stephenson started to
build a second locomotive. In this he planned an entire change in
mechanical construction, his principal objects being the use of as few
parts as possible, and the most direct possible application of power
to the wheels. He took out a patent for this engine on February 28,
1815. This locomotive had two vertical cylinders that communicated
directly with each pair of the four wheels that supported the engine,
by means of a cross-head and a pair of connecting-rods. “Ball and
socket” joints were used to make the union between the ends of the
cross-heads where they united with the connecting-rods, and between
the rods and the crank-pins attached to each driving-wheel. The
mechanical skill of his workmen was not equal to the forging of all
the necessary parts as Stephenson had devised them, and he was obliged
to make use of substitutes which did not always work smoothly, but he
finally succeeded in completing a locomotive which was a vast
improvement on all earlier ones, and that was notable for the simple
and direct communication between the cylinders and the wheels, and the
added power gained by using the waste steam in the steam blast. This
second locomotive of Stephenson’s was in the main the model for all
those built for a considerable time.

During the time when Stephenson was working on his second locomotive
explosions of fire-damp were unusually frequent in the coal mines of
Northumberland and Durham, and for a space he turned his attention to
the possibility of inventing some pattern of safety-lamp. The result
was his perfection of a lamp that would furnish the miners with
sufficient light and yet preclude risk of exploding fire-damp. This
came to be known as the “Geordie Lamp,” to distinguish it from the
“Davy Lamp” that Sir Humphrey Davy was inventing at about the same
time. The lamp was used successfully by the miners at Killingworth,
and was considered by many as superior to Davy’s lamp. Disputes arose
as to which was invented first, and long controversies between
scientific societies, most of which sided with the friends of Davy.
Stephenson himself stated his claims firmly, but without rancor, and
when he saw that it prevented the accidents in mines was satisfied
that he had gained his object, and returned to the more absorbing
subject of locomotives.

He realized that the road and the rails were almost as important as
the engine itself. At that time the railways were laid in the most
careless fashion, little attention was paid to the rails’ proper
joining, and less to the grades of the roads. Stephenson laid down new
rails at Killingworth with “half-lap joints,” or extending over each
other for a certain distance at the ends, instead of the “butt joints”
that were formerly used. Over these both the coal-cars drawn by horses
and his locomotive ran much more smoothly. To increase this smoothness
of travel he added a system of spring carriage to his engine, and
saved it from the jolting that had handicapped his first model.

The second locomotive was proving so efficient at the Killingworth
Colliery that friends of the inventor urged him to look into the
possible use of steam in traveling on the common roads. To study this
he made an instrument called the dynamometer, which enabled him to
calculate the resistance of friction to which carriages would be
exposed on railways. His experiments made him doubtful of the
possibility of running such railroads, unless a great amount of very
expensive tunneling and grading were first done.

All this time George Stephenson continued to study with his son
Robert. The boy was employed at the colliery, and was rapidly learning
the business under the skilful charge of his father. Stephenson had
decided however that Robert should have a better education than had
been his, and in 1820 took him from his post as viewer in the West
Moor Pit, and sent him to the University of Edinburgh.

News spread slowly in England in that day, and the fact that a steam
locomotive was being successfully used at Killingworth attracted very
little attention in the rest of the country. Even in the neighborhood
of the mines people soon grew used to seeing “Puffing Billy,” as the
engine was called, traveling back and forth from the pit to the quay,
and took it quite for granted. Here and there scattered scientific
men, ever since Watt’s perfection of the steam-engine, had considered
the possibility of travel by steam, but practical business men had
failed to come forward to build a railway line. At length, however,
Edward Pease, of Darlington, planned a road to run from Stockton to
Darlington, and set about building it. He had a great deal of
difficulty in forming a company to finance it, but he was a man of
much perseverance, and at length he succeeded. While he was doing this
Stephenson was patiently building new locomotives, and trying to
induce the mine-owners along the Tyne to replace their horse-cars with
his engines. In 1819 the owners of the Hetton Colliery decided to make
this change, and asked Stephenson to take charge of the construction
of their line. He obtained the consent of the Killingworth owners, and
began work. On November 18, 1822, the Hetton Railway was opened. Its
length was about eight miles, and five of Stephenson’s locomotives
were working on it, under the direction of his brother Robert. In
building this line George Stephenson was thoroughly practical.
Although he knew that his name was becoming more and more identified
with the locomotive engine, he did not hesitate to use stationary
engines wherever he considered that they would be more economical. In
the Hetton Railway, which ran for a part of its distance through rough
country, he used stationary engines wherever he could not secure
grades that would make locomotives practicable. His own steam-engines
traveled over this line at the rate of about four miles an hour, and
each was able to draw a train of seventeen coal wagons, weighing about
sixty-four tons.

The coal mines of the Midlands and the north of England had been the
original inducement to inventors to build engines that would draw
cars, and the manufacturing needs of Manchester and Liverpool were now
gradually inducing promoters to consider building railroads. The
growth of Manchester and the towns close to it was tremendous, the
cotton traffic between Manchester and Liverpool had jumped to enormous
figures, and men felt that some new method of communication must be
found. Robert Fulton’s friend, the Duke of Bridgewater, had been of
some help with his canal system, but the trade quickly outstripped
this service. Then William James, a man of wealth and influence, a
large landowner and coal-operator, took up the subject of a Liverpool
and Manchester Railway with some business friends, and had a survey of
such a line begun. His men met with every possible resistance from the
country people, who had no wish to have “Puffing Billys” racing
through their fields; bogs had to be crossed and hills leveled; and it
soon appeared that the cost of a road would be very expensive. The
local authorities gave James and his associates some encouragement,
but those members of Parliament he approached were more or less
opposed to his plans. The time was not yet quite ripe for the road,
but the needs of trade were growing more and more pressing.

Meantime Mr. Pease was again growing eager to build his Darlington and
Stockton line. Near the end of the year 1821 two men called at his
house. One introduced himself as Nicholas Wood, viewer at
Killingworth, and then presented his companion, George Stephenson, of
the same place. Stephenson had letters to Mr. Pease, and after a talk
with him, persuaded him to go to the Killingworth Colliery and see his
locomotives. Pease was much impressed with the engines he saw there,
and even more with Stephenson’s ability as a practical engineer. The
upshot of the matter was that Pease reported the results of his visit
to the directors of his company, and they authorized him to secure
Stephenson’s services in surveying the line they wished to build. He
took up the work, made careful surveys and reports, and was finally
directed to build a railway according to his own plans. This he did,
working with the best corps of assistants and the most efficient
materials he could find. When the line was nearly completed he made a
tour of inspection over it with his son and a young man named John
Dixon. Dixon later recalled that Stephenson said to the two as they
came to the end of their trip, “Now, lads, I will tell you that I
think you will live to see the day, though I may not live so long,
when railways will come to supersede almost all other methods of
conveyance in this country--when mail coaches will go by railway, and
railroads will become the Great Highway for the king and all his
subjects. The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a working man
to travel on a railway than to walk on foot. I know there are great
and almost insurmountable difficulties that will have to be
encountered; but what I have said will come to pass as sure as we

In spite of the powerful opposition that the company encountered, and
the threats of the road trustees and others, the Stockton and
Darlington line was opened for travel on September 27, 1825. A great
concourse of people had gathered to see the opening of this first
public railway. Everything went well. Stephenson himself drove the
engine, and the train consisted of six wagons, loaded with coal and
flour, then a special passenger coach, filled with the directors and
their friends, then twenty-one wagons temporarily fitted with seats
for passengers, and then six wagons of coal, making thirty-four
carriages in all. A contemporary writer says, “The signal being given
the engine started off with this immense train of carriages; and such
was its velocity, that in some parts the speed was frequently twelve
miles an hour; and at that time the number of passengers was counted
to be four hundred and fifty, which, together with the coals,
merchandise, and carriages, would amount to near ninety tons. The
engine, with its load, arrived at Darlington, a distance of eight and
three-quarter miles, in sixty-five minutes. The six wagons loaded with
coals, intended for Darlington, were then left behind; and, obtaining
a fresh supply of water and arranging the procession to accommodate a
band of music, and numerous passengers from Darlington, the engine set
off again, and arrived at Stockton in three hours and seven minutes,
including stoppages, the distance being nearly twelve miles.” By the
time the train reached Stockton there were about six hundred people
riding in the cars or hanging on to them, and the train traveled on a
steady average of four to six miles an hour from Darlington.

This road was primarily built to transport freight, and passengers
were in reality an afterthought. But the directors decided to try a
passenger coach, and accordingly Stephenson built one. It was an
uncouth carriage, looking something like a caravan used at a country
fair. The doors were at the ends, a row of seats ran along each side
of the interior, and a long deal table extended down the centre.
Stephenson called this coach the “Experiment,” and in a short time it
had become the most popular means of travel between Stockton and

With the Stockton and Darlington Railway an assured and successful
fact, the men who had been interested in building a line between
Liverpool and Manchester earlier took up the subject again. Some
improvement in the means of communication between the two cities was
more needed than ever. The three canals and the turnpike road were
often so crowded that traffic was held up for days and even weeks. In
addition the canal charges were excessive. On the other hand the
railway builders had to meet the opposition of the powerful canal
companies and landowners along the line they wished to open, and it
took time and ingenuity to accomplish working adjustments.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway bill came up for consideration in
the House of Commons early in 1825. A determined stand was made
against it, and the promoters and their engineers, chief among whom
was Stephenson, had to be very modest in their claims. Stephenson had
said to friends that he was confident that locomotives could be built
that would carry a train of cars at the rate of twenty miles an hour,
but such a claim would have been received by the public as ridiculous,
and the engineer laughed to scorn. His opponents tried to badger him
in every way they could, and ridicule even his modest statements.
“Suppose now,” said one of the members of Parliament in questioning
him, “one of these engines to be going along a railroad at the rate of
nine or ten miles an hour, and that a cow were to stray upon the line
and get in the way of the engine; would not that be a very awkward
circumstance?” “Yes,” answered Stephenson, with a twinkling eye, “very
awkward--_for the coo_!”

In fact very few of the members understood Stephenson’s invention at
all. A distinguished barrister represented about the general level of
ignorance when he said in a speech, “Any gale of wind which would
affect the traffic on the Mersey would render it _impossible_ to set
off a locomotive engine, either by poking the fire, or keeping up the
pressure of the steam till the boiler was ready to burst.” Against
such opposition it was not surprising that the bill failed of passage
that year.

But the necessities of commerce could not be denied, and the following
year the bill came up again, and was passed. Stephenson, as principal
engineer of the railway, at once began its building. This in itself
was a unique and very remarkable feat. An immense bog, called Chat
Moss, had to be crossed, and Stephenson was the only one of the
engineers concerned who did not doubt whether such a crossing were
really possible. Ditches that were dug to drain the bog immediately
filled up; as soon as one part was dug out the bog flowed in again; it
swelled rapidly in rainy weather, and piles driven into it would sink
down into the mire. But Stephenson finally built his road across it. A
matting of heath and the branches of trees was laid on the bog’s
surface, and in some places hurdles interwoven with heather; this
floating bed was covered over with a few inches of gravel, and on this
the road proper was constructed. In addition to the crossing of Chat
Moss a tunnel of a mile and a half had to be cut under part of
Liverpool, and in several places hills had to be leveled or cut
through. The old post-roads had never had to solve such problems, and
George Stephenson deserves to rank as high as a pioneer of railroad
construction as he does as builder of the working locomotive.

The directors of the railway were anxious to secure the best engine
possible, and opened a general competition, naming certain conditions
the engine must fulfil. Stephenson and Henry Booth built the “Rocket,”
and, as this was the only engine that fulfilled all the conditions,
took the prize. The “Rocket” was by far the most perfect locomotive
yet built, having many new improvements that Stephenson had recently
worked out.

The “Rocket” would make thirty miles an hour, a wonderful achievement,
and was put to work drawing the gravel that was used in building the
permanent road across Chat Moss. With the aid of such a powerful
engine the work went on more rapidly, and in June, 1830, a trial trip
was made from Liverpool to Manchester and back. There was a huge
gathering at the stations at each end of the line. The train was made
up of two carriages, filled with about forty passengers, and seven
wagons loaded with stores. The “Rocket” drew this train from Liverpool
to Manchester in two hours and one minute, and made the return trip in
an hour and a half. It crossed Chat Moss at the rate of about
twenty-seven miles an hour.

The public opening of the new road occurred on September 15, 1830. By
that time Stephenson had built eight locomotives, and they were all
ready for service. Much of the opposition of the general public had
been overcome, and the opening was considered a great national event.
The Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, and many
other prominent men were present. George Stephenson drove the first
engine, the “Northumbrian,” and was followed by seven other
locomotives and trains, carrying about 600 passengers. Stephenson’s
son drove the second engine, and his brother the third. They started
from Liverpool, and the people massed along the line cheered and
cheered again as they saw the eight trains speed along at the rate of
twenty-four miles an hour.


Unfortunately an accident occurred about seventeen miles out of
Liverpool. The first engine, with the carriage containing the Duke of
Wellington, had been stopped on a siding so that the Duke might review
the other trains. Mr. Huskisson, one of the members of Parliament for
Liverpool, and a warm friend and supporter of Stephenson and the
railroad, had stepped from his coach, and was standing on the railway.
The Duke called to him, and he crossed over to shake hands. As they
grasped hands the bystanders began to cry, “Get in, get in!” Confused,
Mr. Huskisson tried to go around the open door of the carriage, which
projected over the opposite rail. As he did so he was hit by the
“Rocket,” an engine coming up on the other track, was knocked down,
and had one leg crushed. That same night he died in the near-by
parsonage of Eccles. This first serious railway accident, occurring at
the very opening of the line, cast a gloom over the event. It revealed
something of the danger coincident with the new invention. The Duke of
Wellington and Sir Robert Peel both expressed a wish that the trains
should return to Liverpool, but when it was pointed out that a great
many people had gathered from all the neighboring country at
Manchester, and that to abandon the opening would jeopardize the whole
future success of the road, they agreed to go on. The journey was
completed without any further mishap, and the people of Manchester
gave the eight trains a warm welcome.

With the opening of this line the success of the railroad as a
practical means of conveyance became assured. Singularly enough the
builders of the railroad had based their estimates almost entirely on
merchandise traffic, and had stated to the committee of the House of
Commons that they did not expect their passenger coaches to be more
than half filled. The carriages they planned to use would have carried
400 to 500 persons if full, but the road was hardly open before the
company had to provide accommodations to carry 1,200 passengers daily,
and the receipts from passenger travel immediately far exceeded the
receipts from carrying freight.

Similarly the directors had expected that the average speed of the
locomotives would be about nine or ten miles an hour, but very soon
the trains were carrying passengers the entire thirty miles between
Liverpool and Manchester in a little more than an hour. Travel by
stage-coach had taken at least four hours, so that the railroad
reduced the time nearly one-fourth. Engineers who came from a distance
to examine the railroad were amazed at the smoothness of travel over
it. Two experts from Edinburgh declared that traveling on it was
smoother and easier than any they had known over the best turnpikes of
Mr. Macadam. They said that even when the train was going at the very
high speed of twenty-five miles an hour they “could observe the
passengers, among whom were a good many ladies, talking to gentlemen
with the utmost _sang froid_.”

Business men were delighted at being able to leave Liverpool in the
morning, travel to Manchester, do business there, and return home the
same afternoon. The price of coal, and the cost of carrying all
classes of goods, was tremendously reduced. Another result, which was
the opposite of what had been expected, was that the price of land
along the line and near the stations at once rose. Instead of the
noise and smoke of the trains frightening people away it seemed to
charm them. The very landlords who had driven the surveyors off their
property and done everything they could to hinder the builders now
complained if the railroad did not pass directly through their
domains, and begged for stations close at hand. Even the land about
Chat Moss was bought up and improved, and all along the line what had
been waste stretches began to blossom into towns and villages.

Stephenson continued to make improvements to his locomotives. He had
already added the multitubular boiler, the idea of which was to
increase the evaporative power of the boiler by adding to its heating
surface by means of many small tubes filled with water. This increase
of evaporative power increased the speed the engine could attain. In
his new engine, the “Samson,” he adopted the plan of coupling the fore
and rear wheels of the engine. This more effectually secured the
adhesion of the wheels to the rails, and allowed the carrying of
heavier loads. He improved the springs of the carriages, and built
buffers to prevent the bumping of the carriage ends, which had been
very unpleasant for the earliest passengers. He also found a new
method of lubricating his carriage axles, his spring frames, the
buffers, and the brakes he had built for the trains.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was to be followed rapidly by
other lines. George Stephenson was a good man of business as well as a
good engineer. He suggested a number of lucrative opportunities to his
Liverpool friends, and he took a financial share in some of them
himself. He thought there should be a line between Swannington and
Leicester, in order to increase the coal supply of the latter town,
which was quite a manufacturing centre. A company was formed, and his
son Robert was appointed engineer. In the course of the work Robert
learned that an estate near the road was to be sold, and decided that
there was considerable coal there. George Stephenson and two other
friends bought the place, and he took up his residence there, at Alton
Grange, in order to supervise the mining operations. The mine was very
successful, and the railroad proved of the greatest value to the
people of Leicester. Stephenson now changed his position from that of
an employee of coal-owners to that of employer of many miners himself.

The first railroads to be built were principally branches of the
Liverpool and Manchester one, and chiefly located in the mining and
manufacturing county of Lancaster. But before long the great
metropolis of London required railroad communication with the
Midlands, and the London and Birmingham road was projected. Here again
the promoters had to overcome gigantic obstacles, the opposition of
the great landed proprietors who owned vast estates in the
neighborhood of London, the opposition of the old posting companies,
and of the conservative element who were afraid of the great changes
such a method of transportation would bring about. The natural
difficulties of the first lines were increased a hundredfold, greater
marshes had to be crossed, greater streams to be bridged, greater
hills to be tunneled. But the greater the obstacles the greater
Stephenson’s resources proved. When some of his tunnels were flooded,
because the workmen had cut into an unexpected bed of quicksand, he
immediately designed and built a vast system of powerful pumps, and
drew off enough water to fill the Thames from London Bridge to
Woolwich, so that his workmen might continue the tunnels and line them
with masonry sufficiently solid to withstand any future inrush of

The men who were back of this railroad would very probably never have
projected it had they realized that the building of it would cost five
million pounds. But when the road was opened for use the excess in
traffic beyond the estimates was much greater than the excess in cost
had been. The company was able to pay large dividends, and the
builders found that they could have made no better investment. This
London and Birmingham road, 112 miles long, was opened September 17,
1838. The receipts from passenger traffic alone for the first year
were £608,564. Evidently travel by coach had not been as popular in
reality as the conservatives had ardently maintained.

It is curious to note the many kinds of opposition these first
railways encountered. Said Mr. Berkeley, a member of Parliament for
Cheltenham, “Nothing is more distasteful to me than to hear the echo
of our hills reverberating with the noise of hissing railroad engines
running through the heart of our hunting country, and destroying that
noble sport to which I have been accustomed from my childhood.” One
Colonel Sibthorpe declared that he “would rather meet a highwayman, or
see a burglar on his premises, than an engineer; he should be much
more safe, and of the two classes he thought the former more
respectable!” Sir Astley Cooper, the eminent surgeon, said to Robert
Stephenson, when the latter called to see him about a new road, “Your
scheme is preposterous in the extreme. It is of so extravagant a
character as to be positively absurd. Then look at the recklessness of
your proceedings! You are proposing to cut up our estates in all
directions for the purpose of making an unnecessary road. Do you think
for one moment of the destruction of property involved in it? Why,
gentlemen, if this sort of thing is allowed to go on, you will in a
very few years _destroy the noblesse_!” Physicians maintained that
travel through tunnels would be most prejudicial to health. Dr.
Lardner protested against passengers being compelled to put up with
what he called “the destruction of the atmospheric air,” and Sir
Anthony Carlisle insisted that “tunnels would expose healthy people to
colds, catarrhs, and consumption.” Many critics expected the boilers
of the locomotives to explode at any and all times. Others were sure
that the railways would throw so many workmen out of employment that
revolution must follow, and still others declared that England was
being delivered utterly into the power of a small group of
manufacturers and mine-owners. But in spite of all this the people
took to riding on the railways and England prospered.

The aristocracy held out the longest. Noblemen did not relish the
thought of traveling in the same carriages with workmen. The private
coach had for long been a badge of station. For a time, therefore, the
old families and country gentility sent their servants and their
luggage by train, but themselves jogged along the old post-roads in
the family chariots. But there were more accidents and more delays in
travel by coach than by train, and so, one by one, they pocketed their
pride and capitulated. The Duke of Wellington, who had seen the
accident to Mr. Huskisson near Liverpool, held out against such travel
for a long time. But when Queen Victoria, in 1842, used the railway to
go from London to Windsor, the last resistance ended, and the Iron
Duke, together with the rest of his order, followed the Queen’s
example. Said the famous Dr. Arnold of Rugby, as he watched a train
speeding through the country, “I rejoice to see it, and think that
feudality is gone forever. It is so great a blessing to think that any
one evil is really extinct.”

Stephenson himself was one of the busiest men in the kingdom. He was
engineer of half a dozen lines that were building, and he traveled
incessantly. Many nights the only sleep he had was while sitting in
his chaise riding over country roads. At dawn he would be at work,
surveying, planning, directing, until nightfall. In three years he
surveyed and directed the construction of the North Midland line,
running from Derby to Leeds, the York and North Midland, from
Normanton to York, the Manchester and Leeds, the Birmingham and Derby,
and the Sheffield and Rotherham. And in addition to this he traveled
far and wide to give advice about distant lines, to the south of
England, to Scotland, and to the north of Ireland to inspect the
proposed Ulster Railway. He took an office in London, in order that he
might take part in the railway discussions that were continually
coming before Parliament. His knowledge of every detail relating to
the subject was enormous. He knew both the engineering and the
business sides most intimately. “In fact,” he said to a committee of
the House of Commons in 1841, “there is hardly a railway in England
that I have not had to do with.” Yet in spite of all this work he
found time to look after his coal mines near Chesterfield, to
establish lime-works at Ambergate, on the Midland Railway, and to
superintend his flourishing locomotive factory at Newcastle.

King Leopold of Belgium invited him to Brussels, and there discussed
with him his plans for a railway from Brussels to Ghent. The King made
him a Knight of his Order of Leopold, and when the railway was
finished George Stephenson was one of the chief guests of honor at the
opening. Later he went to France, where he was consulted in regard to
the new line that was building between Orleans and Tours. From there
he went to Spain to look into the possible construction of a road
between Madrid and the Bay of Biscay. He found the government of
Spain indifferent to the railway, and there were many doubts as to
whether there would be sufficient traffic to pay the cost of
construction. His report to the shareholders in this proposed “Royal
North of Spain Railway” was therefore unfavorable, and the idea was
shortly after abandoned.

Stephenson had moved his home from Alton Grange to Tapton House in
1838. The latter place was a large, comfortable dwelling, beautifully
situated among woods about a mile to the northeast of Chesterfield.
Here he lived the life of a country gentleman, free to indulge the
strong love of nature that had always been one of his leading
characteristics. He began to grow fine fruits and vegetables and
flowers, and his farm and gardens and hothouses became celebrated all
over England. He was continually sought out by inventors and
scientific men, who wanted his views on their particular work. He also
spent some time at Tapton in devising improvements for the locomotive.
One of these was a three-cylinder locomotive, and such an engine was
later used successfully on the North Eastern Railway. It was, however,
found to be too expensive an engine for general railroad use. He also
invented a new self-acting brake. He sent a model of this to the
Institute of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, of which he was
president, together with a report describing it in full. “Any
effectual plan,” he wrote, “for increasing the safety of railway
traveling is, in my mind, of such vital importance, that I prefer
laying my scheme open to the world to taking out a patent for it; and
it will be a source of great pleasure to me to know that it has been
the means of saving even one human life from destruction, or that it
has prevented one serious concussion.”

He also gave great assistance to his son Robert, who was rapidly
becoming a railway engineer second only to his father in fame. George
Stephenson began the line from Chester to Holyhead, which was
completed by Robert. Robert designed the tubular bridge across the
Menai Straits on this line, which was considered a most remarkable
feat. Permission could not be obtained to interfere with the
navigation of the Straits in the slightest degree during the building,
and so piers and arches could not be used. It occurred to Robert
Stephenson that the train might be run through a hollow iron beam. Two
tubes, which were to form the bridge, were made of wrought iron,
floated out into the stream, and raised into position. This new and
original railway bridge proved a success, and convinced England that
Robert had inherited his father’s genius for surmounting what seemed
impossible natural difficulties. George Stephenson did not live to see
this line completed. He died August 12, 1848.

In many respects Stephenson was like Watt. He came from the working
classes, inheriting no special gift for science, and little leisure to
follow his own bent. What he learned he got at first hand, in the coal
mines and the engine shops. What he accomplished was due largely to
indomitable perseverance. Others had built steam-engines that were
almost successful as locomotives, but for one reason or another had
never pushed their invention to that point where the world could
actually use it. When Stephenson had built his locomotive he fought
for it, he made men take an interest in it, and the world accept it.
He always spoke of his career as a battle. “I have fought,” said he,
“for the locomotive single-handed for nearly twenty years, having no
engineer to help me until I had reared engineers under my own care.”
And again he said, “I put up with every rebuff, _determined_ not to be
put down.”

Stephenson did for the locomotive what Watt did for the condensing
engine. He took the primitive devices of other men, and by the rare
powers of selection, combination, and invention produced a finished
product of wonderful power and efficiency. True it is that neither
Watt nor Stephenson were the first men to conceive of a steam-engine
or a locomotive, nor even the first to build working models, but they
were the first to finish what they began, and add the steam-engine and
the locomotive to the other servants of men.

Dr. Arnold was doubtless right when he looked upon the railway as
presaging the end of the feudal system. Its value is beyond any
estimate. It has widened man’s horizon, and given him all the lands
instead of only the limits of his homestead.




On the packet ship _Sully_, sailing from the French port of Havre for
New York on October 1, 1832, were Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston,
who had been attending certain lectures on electricity in Paris, and
an American artist named Samuel Finley Breese Morse. Dr. Jackson was
intensely interested in electricity, and more especially in some
experiments that Faraday had lately been making in regard to it. He
had an electromagnet in his trunk, and one day, as a number of the
passengers sat at dinner, he began to describe the laws of
electro-magnetism as they were then known. He told how the force of a
magnet could be tremendously increased by passing an electric current
a number of times about a bar of soft iron. One of the diners asked
how far electricity could be transmitted and how fast it traveled. Dr.
Jackson answered that it seemed to travel instantaneously, none of the
experimenters having detected any appreciable difference in time
between the completing of the electric circuit and the appearance of
the spark at any distance. Morse, who had been interested in the study
of electricity at Yale College, said that if the electric current
could be made visible in any part of the circuit he saw no reason why
messages could not be sent instantaneously by electricity. To send a
message would simply require the breaking of the circuit in such
different ways as could be made to represent the letters of the
alphabet. The conversation went on to other subjects, but the artist
kept the conclusion he had just stated in mind. That night he walked
the deck discussing the matter with Dr. Jackson, and for the rest of
the voyage he was busy jotting down suggestions in his note-book and
elaborating a plan for transforming breaks in an electric current into

The facts at his disposal, and his first method of dealing with them,
were comparatively simple. The electric current would travel to any
distance along a wire. The current being broken, a spark would appear.
The spark would stand for one letter. The lack of a spark might stand
for another. The length of its absence would indicate another. With
these three indications as a starting-point he could build up an
alphabet. As there was no limit to the distance that electricity would
travel there seemed no reason why these dots and dashes, or sparks and
spaces, should not be sent all around the world.

Professor Jeremiah Day had taught Morse at Yale that the electric
spark might be made to pierce a band of unrolling paper. Harrison Gray
Dyar, of New York, in 1827, had shown that the spark would decompose a
chemical solution and so leave a stain as a mark, and it was known
that it would excite an electro-magnet, which would move a piece of
soft iron, and that if a pencil were attached to this a mark would be
made on paper. Therefore Morse knew that if he devised his alphabet
he had only to choose the best method of indicating the dots and
dashes by the current. The voyage from Havre to New York occupied six
weeks, and during the greater part of this time he was busy working
out a mechanical sender which would serve to break the electric
current by a series of types set on a stick which should travel at an
even rate of speed. The teeth of the type would complete the circuit
or would break the current as they passed, and so send the letters. At
the receiving end of the line the current as it was sent would excite
the electro-magnet, which would be attached to a pencil, and so make a
mark, and each mark would represent one of the symbols that were to
stand for letters. He worked day and night over these first plans, and
after a few days showed his notes to Mr. William C. Rives, a
passenger, who had been the United States Minister to France. Mr.
Rives made various criticisms, and Morse took these up in turn, and
after long study overcame each one, so that by the end of the voyage
he felt that he had worked out a practical method of making the
electric current send and receive messages.

At a later date a contest arose as to the respective claims of Samuel
Morse and Dr. Jackson to be considered the inventor of the recording
telegraph, and the evidence of their fellow passengers on board the
_Sully_ was given in great detail. From all that was then said it
would appear that Dr. Jackson knew quite as much, if not more, about
the properties of electro-magnetism than Morse did, but that he was of
a speculative turn of mind, whereas Morse was practical, and capable
of reducing the other’s theories to a working basis. The note-books he
submitted, and which were well remembered by many of his fellow
voyagers, showed the various combinations of dots, lines, and spaces
with which he was constructing an alphabet, and also the crude
diagrams of the recording instrument which should mark the dots and
lines on a rolling piece of paper. Captain Pell, in command of the
_Sully_, testified later, that as the packet came into port Morse said
to him, “Well, Captain, should you hear of the telegraph one of these
days as the wonder of the world, remember that the discovery was made
on board the good ship _Sully_.” The times were ripe for his great
invention, and although other men, abler scientists and students, had
foreseen the possibilities of such a system, it was Morse who
determined to put it into practice.

But Samuel Morse was a painter, and all his career thus far had lain
along artistic lines. True, when he was an undergraduate at Yale he
had been much interested in Professor Day’s lectures on electricity,
and had written long letters home in regard to them. But when he was
about to graduate, he wrote to his father, a well-known clergyman of
Charlestown, Massachusetts, “I am now released from college, and am
attending to painting. As to my choice of a profession, I still think
I was made for a painter, and would be obliged to you to make such
arrangements with Mr. Allston for my studying with him as you shall
think expedient. I should desire to study with him during the winter;
and, as he expects to return to England in the spring, I should
admire to be able to go with him. But of this we will talk when we
meet at home.”

Washington Allston was at that time the leading influence in the
primitive art life of the country, and Morse was very fortunate to
have won his friendship and interest. Allston took him to England, and
there introduced him to Benjamin West, the dean of painters and a man
who was always eager to aid young countrymen of his who planned to
follow his career. Morse made a careful drawing of the Farnese
Hercules and took it to West. The veteran examined it and handed it
back, saying, “Now finish it.” Morse worked over it some time longer,
and returned it to West. “Very well, indeed, sir,” said West. “Go on
and finish it.” “Is it not finished?” asked Morse. “See,” said West,
“you have not marked that muscle, nor the articulation of the
finger-joints.” Again Morse worked over it, and again returned, only
to meet with the same counsel to complete the picture. Then the older
man relented. “Well, I have tried you long enough,” said he. “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 now decided to paint a large picture of “The Dying Hercules” for
exhibition at the Royal Academy. In order to be sure of the anatomy he
first modeled the figure in clay, and this cast was so well done that,
acting on West’s advice, he entered it for a prize in sculpture then
offered by the Society of Arts. This entry won, and the young American
was presented with the gold medal of the society before a
distinguished audience. The picture that he painted from this model
was hung at the exhibition of the Royal Academy, and received high
praise from the critics, so that Morse felt he had begun his career as
artist most auspiciously.

His natural inclination was toward the painting of large canvases
dealing with historical and mythical subjects, which were much in
fashion at that period, and he now set to work on the subject, “The
Judgment of Jupiter in the case of Apollo, Marpessa, and Idas.” This
was to be submitted for the prize of fifty guineas and medal offered
by the Royal Academy. It seems to have been a fine piece of work, and
met with West’s hearty praise, but before it could be submitted the
artist was obliged to return home at an urgent summons from his

Boston had already heard of Morse’s success in London when he reached
home in October, 1815. His “Judgment of Jupiter” was exhibited, and
became the talk of the town, but when he opened a studio and began to
paint no one offered to buy any of his pictures. He needed money
badly, and he saw none coming his way. After a year’s struggle he
closed his studio, and traveled through the country sections of New
England, looking for work as a portrait painter. This he found, and he
wrote to his parents from Concord, New Hampshire, “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

In Concord he met Miss Lucretia P. Walker, whom he married a few years
later. Meantime he went to visit his uncle in Charleston, South
Carolina, and found his portraits so popular that he received one
hundred and fifty orders in a few weeks. He was also commissioned to
paint a portrait of James Monroe, then President, for the Charleston
Common Council, and the picture was considered a striking masterpiece.
He soon after married, and settled his household goods in New York,
with $3,000 made by his portraits, as his capital.

He knew what he wanted to do, to paint great historical pictures. But
the public did not appreciate his efforts in that line. He painted a
large exhibition picture for the National House of Representatives,
but it was not purchased by the government. On the other hand the
Corporation of New York commissioned him to paint the portrait of
Lafayette, who was then visiting America. At the same time he became
enthusiastic over the founding of a new society of artists, and was
chosen the first president of the National Academy of Design.

His small capital was dwindling. His efforts to paint historical
pictures rather than portraits, and his share in paying off certain
debts of his father’s, had made great inroads on the money he had
saved. To add to his misfortunes his wife died in February, 1825. In
1829 he went abroad, visited the great galleries of Europe, and tried
to find a more ready market for his historical studies. It was on his
return from France in 1832 that the conversation of Dr. Jackson and
the other passengers turned his thoughts in the direction of an
electric telegraph.

Now came his gradual transformation from painter to inventor. His
brothers gave him a room with them in New York, and this became his
studio and laboratory at one and the same time. Easels and
plastercasts were mixed with type-moulds and galvanic batteries, and
Morse turned from a portrait to his working model of telegraph
transmitter and back again a dozen times a day. He painted to make his
living, but his interest was steadily turning to his invention.

He had many friends, and a wide reputation as a man of great
intellectual ability, and in a few years he was appointed the first
Professor of the Literature of the Arts of Design in the new
University of the City of New York. This gave him a home in the
university building on Washington Square, and there he moved his
apparatus. At this time he was chiefly concerned with the question of
how far a message could be sent by the electric current, for it was
known that the current grew feebler in proportion to the resistance of
the wire through which it travels. He had learned that the
electro-magnet at the receiving end would at any great distance become
so enfeebled that it would fail to make any record of the message. His
solution of this difficulty was a relay system. He explained this to
Professor Gale, a colleague at the university, who later testified as
to Morse’s work. “Suppose,” said the inventor, “that in experimenting
on twenty miles of wire we should find that the power of magnetism is
so feeble that it will not move a lever with certainty a hair’s
breadth: that would be insufficient, it may be, to write or print; yet
it would be sufficient to close and break another or a second circuit
twenty miles farther, and this second circuit could be made, in the
same manner, to break and close a third circuit twenty miles farther,
and so on around the globe.” Gale proved of great assistance. So far
Morse had only used his recorder over a few yards of wire, his
electro-magnet had been of the simplest make, and his battery was a
single pair of plates. Gale suggested that his simple electro-magnet,
with its few turns of thick wire, should be replaced by one with a
coil of long thin wire. In this way a much feebler current would be
able to excite the magnet, and the recorder would mark at a much
greater distance. He also urged the use of a much more powerful
battery. The two men now erected a working telegraph in the rooms of
the university, and found that they could send and receive messages at

It is interesting to read Morse’s own words in regard to the beginning
of his work at Washington Square. “There,” he said, “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 passed 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.

“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 straightened 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 he devoted all his time to his invention Morse had been
anxious to paint a large historical picture for one of the panels in
the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington. His offer had been rejected,
and this had led a number of his friends to raise a fund and
commission him to paint such a picture. He chose as his subject “The
Signing of the First Compact on Board the _Mayflower_.” But he was now
so much engrossed with his experiments that he gave up the plan and
the fund was returned to the subscribers.

We have already heard in Morse’s statement of the arrival of Mr.
Alfred Vail. He was to have much to do with the success of Morse’s
invention. He had happened to call at the university building when the
inventor was showing his models to several visiting scientists.
“Professor Morse,” said Mr. Vail, “was exhibiting to these gentlemen
an apparatus which he called his Electro-Magnetic Telegraph. There
were wires suspended in the room running from one end of it to the
other, and returning many times, making a length of several hundred
feet. The two ends of the wire were connected with an electro-magnet
fastened to a vertical wooden frame. In front of the magnet was its
armature, and also a wooden lever or arm fitted at its extremity to
hold a lead pencil.... I saw this instrument work, and became
thoroughly acquainted with the principle of its operation, and, I may
say, struck with the rude machine, containing, as I believed, the germ
of what was destined to produce great changes in the conditions and
relations of mankind. I well recollect the impression which was then
made upon my mind.... Before leaving the room in which I beheld for
the first time this magnificent invention, I asked Professor Morse if
he intended to make an experiment on a more extended line of
conductors. He replied that he did, but that he desired pecuniary
assistance to carry out his plans. I promised him assistance provided
he would admit me into a share of the invention, to which proposition
he assented.... The question then arose in my mind, whether the
electro-magnet could be made to work through the necessary lengths of
line, and after much reflection I came to the conclusion that,
provided the magnet would work even at a distance of eight or ten
miles, there could be no risk in embarking in the enterprise. And upon
this I decided in my own mind to sink or swim with it.”

Alfred Vail secured his father’s financial assistance, and in
September, 1837, an agreement was executed by which Vail was to
construct a model of Morse’s telegraph for exhibition to Congress, and
to secure the necessary United States patents, in return for which he
was to have a one-fourth interest in these patent rights. The patent
was obtained on October 3, 1837, and Vail set to work to prepare the
new models. Almost all the apparatus that was used had to be specially
made for the purpose, or altered from its original use. The first
working battery was placed in a cherry-wood box divided into cells and
lined with beeswax, and the insulated wire was the same as that the
milliners used in building up the high bonnets fashionable at that
day. Vail made certain improvements as he worked on his model. He
replaced the recording pencil with a fountain pen, and instead of the
zigzag signals used the short and long lines that came to be called
“dots” and “dashes.” He learned from the typesetters of a newspaper
office what letters occurred most frequently in ordinary usage, and
constructed the Morse or Vail code on the principle of using the
simplest signals to represent those letters that would be most needed.

By the winter of 1837 many people had seen the telegraph instruments
at the university building, but few of them considered them more than
ingenious toys. Scientific men had talked of the possibilities of an
electric telegraph for a number of years, but the public had seen none
actually installed. Even Vail’s father began to doubt the wisdom of
his son’s investment. To convince him the young man, on January 6,
1838, asked his father to come to the experimenting shop where Morse
and he were working. He explained how the model operated, and said
that he could send any message to Morse, who was stationed some
distance away at the receiving end. The father took a piece of paper,
and wrote on it, “A patient waiter is no loser.” “There,” said he, “if
you can send this, and Mr. Morse can read it at the other end I shall
be convinced.” The message was sent over the wire, and correctly read
by Morse. Then Mr. Vail admitted that he was satisfied.

Morse now decided to bring his invention to the attention of Congress.
He was permitted to set up his apparatus in the room of the House
Committee on Commerce at the Capitol. There he gave an exhibition to
the committee, but most of them doubted if his plans for sending
long-distance messages were really feasible. On February 21, 1838,
he worked his telegraph through ten miles of wire contained on a reel,
with President Van Buren and his cabinet as an audience. Then he asked
that Congress appropriate sufficient money to enable him to construct
a telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore. The chairman of the
Committee on Commerce, Francis O. J. Smith, of Maine, was very much
interested by now, and drafted a bill appropriating $30,000 for this
purpose. But the bill did not come to a vote, and the matter was
allowed to drop.


Meantime rival claimants to the invention were appearing on all sides.
Morse decided that he must try to secure European patents, and went
abroad for that purpose. His claim was opposed in England, and in
France it was finally decided that in the case of such an invention
the government must be the owner. He was well received, and given the
fullest credit for his achievements, but the patents were refused, and
he had to return home with his small capital much depleted and
business prospects at a low ebb. Moreover, the United States
government now seemed to have lost interest in the subject, and his
partners, the Vails, were having financial difficulties of their own.

While he waited he continued to experiment. He believed that the
electric current could be sent under water as easily as through the
air, and to try this he insulated a wire two miles long with hempen
threads that were saturated with pitch-tar and wrapped with
India-rubber. He unreeled this cable from a small rowboat between
Castle Garden and Governor’s Island in New York Harbor on the night
of October 18, 1842. At daybreak Morse was at the station at the
Battery, and began to send a message through his submarine cable. He
had succeeded in sending three or four characters when the
communication suddenly stopped, and although he waited and kept on
with his trials no further letters could be transmitted. On
investigation it appeared that no less than seven ships were lying
along the line of Morse’s cable, and that one of these, in getting
under way, had lifted the cable on her anchor. The sailors hauled two
hundred feet of it on deck, and, seeing no end to it, cut it, and
carried part of it away with them. But the test had proved Morse’s
theory, and he became convinced that in time messages could be sent
across the ocean as easily as over land.

When Congress met in December, 1842, Morse again appeared in
Washington to obtain financial help. Congress was not very
enthusiastic over his project, but the House Committee on Commerce
finally recommended an appropriation of $30,000, and a bill to that
effect was passed in the House of Representatives by the small
majority of six votes. The Senate was overcrowded with bills, and
Morse’s was continually postponed. In the early evening of the last
day of the session there were one hundred and nineteen bills to come
to vote before his, and it seemed impossible that it should be taken
up. Morse, who had been sitting in the gallery all day, concluded that
further waiting was useless, and went back to his hotel, planning to
leave for New York early the next morning. He found that after paying
his hotel bill he would have less than half a dollar in the world.
But as he came down to breakfast the following morning he was met by
Miss Ellsworth, the daughter of his friend, the Commissioner of
Patents. She held out her hand, saying, “I have come to congratulate

“Congratulate me! Upon what?” asked Morse.

“On the passage of your bill,” she answered.

“Impossible! It couldn’t come up last evening. You must be mistaken,”
said the inventor.

“No,” said Miss 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.”

In return for this news Morse promised that Miss Ellsworth should send
the first message when his telegraph line was opened. That same day he
wrote to Alfred Vail that the bill “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.”

It had been decided to construct an underground line between
Washington and Baltimore, the conductor being a five-wire cable laid
in pipes, but after several miles had been laid from Baltimore the
insulation broke down. A very large part of the government grant had
been spent, and the situation looked very dubious. But after some
discussion it was determined to carry the wire by poles, as this
could be done much more rapidly and at smaller expense.

The National Whig Convention, to nominate candidates for President and
Vice-President, met at Baltimore on May 1, 1844. The overhead wire had
been started from Washington toward Baltimore, and by that day
twenty-two miles of it were in working order. The day before the
convention met Morse had arranged with Vail that certain signals
should mean that certain candidates had been nominated. Henry Clay was
named for President, and the news was carried by railroad to the point
where Morse had stretched his wire. He signaled it to Washington, and
the Capitol heard it long before the first messages arrived by train.

On May 24, 1844, the line was completed, and Miss Ellsworth was
invited to send the first message from the room of the United States
Supreme Court to Baltimore. She chose the Biblical words “What hath
God wrought?” and this was sent over the telegraph. Vail received the
message in Baltimore, and the first demonstration was a complete
success. The younger man had added an improvement of his own; instead
of the dots and dashes being indicated by the markings of a pen or
pencil they were embossed on the paper with a metal stylus.

An incident in connection with the Democratic Convention, which was
then in session in Baltimore for the purpose of nominating
presidential candidates, added to the public interest in Morse’s
telegraph. The Democrats had named James K. Polk for President and
Silas Wright for Vice-President. The news was sent by wire to
Washington, and Mr. Wright sent his message declining the honor over
the telegraph. The chairman of the meeting, Hendrick B. Wright,
received the message. In a letter to Benson J. Lossing he 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.” The committee returned with
word that the telegraph message had been correct. Then, all but the
convention committee being excluded from the telegraph room in
Baltimore, message after message was sent over the wire by Vail to
Morse and Silas Wright in Washington. The committee used many
arguments to urge Wright’s acceptance; he answered them all,
persisting in his refusal; and finally this decision was reported to
the convention, which nominated Mr. Dallas in his place. The story of
the part the new invention had played quickly spread abroad, and added
to the intense public interest now focussed on it.

On April 1, 1845, the first telegraph line between Washington and
Baltimore was opened for general use. Congress had appropriated $8,000
to maintain it for the first year, and placed it under the direction
of the Postmaster-General. The official charge was one cent for every
four characters transmitted. The receipts of the first four days were
one cent, for the fifth day twelve and a half cents, for the seventh
sixty cents, for the eighth one dollar and thirty-two cents, for the
ninth one dollar and four cents. Morse offered to sell his invention
to the government for $100,000, but the Postmaster-General declined
the offer, stating in his report that the service “had not satisfied
him that under any rate of postage that could be adopted its revenues
could be made equal to its expenditures.”

With the public opening of the line between Washington and Baltimore
the practical success of the new electric telegraph was assured. The
Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed to carry a wire from New York to
Philadelphia, and thence another line was run to Baltimore in 1846.
The telegraph being an accomplished fact, pirates of the patent now
appeared, and for a course of years Morse and his partners had to
fight for their rights. Henry O’Reilly, who had been employed in
building the first lines, contracted to construct another from
Philadelphia to St. Louis, and when that was finished he formed a
company known as the People’s Line, to run to New Orleans. He claimed
to use instruments entirely different from those patented by Morse,
and so to be free from the payment of royalties. Morse applied for an
injunction, and on appeal the Federal Supreme Court decided in his
favor. Other similar suits followed, and in each one the decision
justified Morse’s contention. The conclusion was that even though
other men had known of the possibilities by experiment, it was the
fact that he had first put the matter into practical form directed
toward a specific purpose, and hence was to be regarded in law as the

The telegraph grew with the country. The Western Union Company
followed the stage-coach across the plains to California, and soon the
frontier towns were linked to the large cities of the East. Other men
took up the work in other lines, and in 1854 Cyrus W. Field formed the
Atlantic Telegraph Company to lay a cable between America and Europe.
As Morse had said when he first began seriously to study the subject
on board the _Sully_, “If it will go ten miles without stopping I can
make it go around the globe.”

The inventor found himself universally honored, and at last a very
wealthy man. He married Miss Griswold of Poughkeepsie, and bought an
estate of two hundred acres near that city. He was given degrees by
American and European universities and societies, was made a member of
the French Legion of Honor, received orders of knighthood from the
rulers of Spain and Italy, Denmark, Turkey, and Portugal. In 1858 the
Emperor of the French called a Congress in Paris to honor Morse, and
the Congress awarded him a gift of 400,000 francs as a token of
gratitude. In his eightieth year his statue in bronze was placed in
Central Park, New York, and his countrymen did their utmost to show
him their appreciation of his great achievement. He died in 1872, a
short time after he had unveiled a statue of Benjamin Franklin in New
York’s Printing-house Square.

Morse was the inventor, but his partner Alfred Vail had a great share
in making the present telegraph. He discarded the original porte-rule
and type of the transmitter for the key or lever, moved up and down by
hand to complete or break the circuit. He perfected the dot and dash
code, he invented the device for embossing the message, and replaced
the inking pen by a metal disc, smeared with ink, that rolled the dots
and dashes on the paper. When it was found that the telegraph
operators would read the signals from the clicking of the marking
lever instead of from the paper, he made an instrument which had no
marking device, and in which the signals were sounded by the striking
of the lever of the armature against the metal stops. This “sounder”
soon drove out the old Morse recorder. The present instrument is in
its mechanical form far more the work of Vail than of Morse.




The same sturdy pioneer stock that gave America Daniel Boone and
Lincoln, Robert Fulton and Andrew Jackson, produced the inventor of
the reaper. He came of a line of resourceful, fearless Scotch-Irish
settlers, bone of the bone and sinew of the sinew of those generations
that laid the broad foundations of the United States. His
great-grandfather had been an Indian fighter in the colony of
Pennsylvania, his grandfather had moved to Virginia and fought in the
Revolution, and his father had built a log-house and tilled a farm in
that strip of arable Virginia land that lay between the Blue Ridge and
the Alleghany Mountains. He prospered, and added neighboring farms to
his original holding; he had two grist-mills, two sawmills, a
blacksmith shop, a smelting-furnace, and a distillery; he invented new
makes of farm machinery, and in addition was a man of considerable
reading, able to hold his own in discussion with the lawyers and the
clergymen of the countryside. He was of that same well-developed type
of countryman of whom so many were to be found in the thirteen
original states and the borderlands to the west, that settler type
which was the real backbone of the young country.

The McCormick house and farm was almost a small village in itself.
There were eight children, and their shoes were cobbled, their clothes
woven, their very beds and chairs and tables built at home. Whatever
was needed could be done, the family were always busy within doors or
without, and the spirit of helpfulness and invention was in the air.
Into such a setting Cyrus Hall McCormick was born in 1809, the same
year that saw the birth of Lincoln.

He went to one of the Old Field Schools, so called because it was
built on ground that had been abandoned for farm use. He learned what
other boys and girls were learning in simple country schools, but he
studied harder than most of them, because he had a keen desire to
understand thoroughly whatever subject he started. He saw his father
busy in his workshop at all spare moments, and he took him as a
pattern. After weeks of work he brought his teacher a remarkably exact
map of the world, drawn to scale, and outlined in ink on paper pasted
on linen, and fastened on two rollers. The work showed his ingenious
fancy, and perhaps determined his father to have him educated as a
surveyor. At eighteen he began this study, and had soon won a good
reputation in the neighborhood as an engineer. Much of the time he
spent in the fields with his father, and here he soon learned that
reaping wheat was no easy task, and that swinging a wheat cradle under
the summer sun was hard on both the temper and the back.

Many men had tried to lighten the farmer’s labor in cutting grain, and
Cyrus McCormick’s father had long had the ambition to invent a
reaper. He had succeeded in building a cumbersome machine that was
pushed at the back by a pair of horses. The plan of the machine was
well enough; it consisted of a row of short curved sickles that were
fastened to upright posts. Revolving rods drove the wheat up against
the sickles. The machine acted properly, but the grain would not.
Instead of standing up straight and separated to be cut the wheat
would more often come in great bunches, twisting about the sickles and
getting tangled in the machinery. Mr. McCormick tried the machine in
the harvesting of 1816, but it would not work, and had to be carted
away to the workshop as an invention gone wrong. But he persevered
with this idea, and from time to time built other models. After a
number of years he brought forth a machine that would cut, but left
the wheat after cutting in a badly tangled shape. He saw that this was
not sufficient. The reaper to be of real use must dispose of the grain
properly as well as shear the stalks.

Cyrus now took up the work that his father reluctantly abandoned. He
decided to build his reaper on entirely new lines. First he dealt with
the problem of how to separate the grain that was to be cut from that
which was to be left standing. This he finally solved by adding a
curved arm, or divider, to the end of his reaper’s blade. In this way
the grain that was to be cut would be properly fed to the knife.

But the grain was apt to be badly tangled before the reaper reached
it, and his machine must be able to cut that which was pressed down
and out of shape as well as that which was standing straight. To
accomplish this he decided that his knife must have two motions, one a
forward cut, and the other sideways. He tried many plans before he
finally hit upon one that solved this for him. It was a straight knife
blade that moved forward and backward, cutting with each motion. This
idea became known as the reciprocating blade.

Yet even though the machine could divide the grain properly, and the
knife cut with a double motion, there was the possibility that the
blade might simply press the grain down and so slide over it. This was
especially apt to be the case after a rain, or when the grain had been
badly blown about by the wind. The problem now was how to hold it
upright. He found the solution lay in adding a row of indentations
that projected a few inches from the edge of the knife, and acted like
fingers in catching the stalks and holding them in place to be cut.

These three ideas, the divider, the reciprocating blade, and the
fingers, were all fundamental devices of the machine Cyrus McCormick
was building. They all met the question of how the grain could be cut.
To these he next added a revolving reel, that would lift any grain
that had fallen and straighten it, and a platform to catch the grain
as it was cut and fell. His idea was that a man should walk along
beside the reaper and rake off the grain as it fell upon the platform.

Two more devices, and his first machine was completed. One was to have
the shafts placed on the outside of the reaper, or so that the horse
would pull it sideways, instead of having to push it, as had been the
case with his father’s model. The other was to have the whole machine
practically operated by one big wheel, which should bear the weight
and move the knife and the reel.

It had taken young McCormick many months to work out all these
problems, and there were only one or two weeks each year, the harvest
weeks, when he could actually try his machine. He wanted to use it in
the spring of 1831, but he found that the work of finishing all the
necessary details was enormous. He begged his father to leave a small
patch of wheat for him to try to cut, and at last, one day in July of
that year, he drove his cumbersome machine into the field. All his
family watched as the reaper headed toward the grain. They saw the
wheat gathered and swept down upon the knife, they saw the blade move
back and forth and cut the grain, and then saw it fall upon the little
platform. The machine worked with hitches, not nearly so smoothly nor
so efficiently as it should, but it did work; it gathered the grain in
and it left it in good shape to be raked off the platform. The trial
proved that such a machine could be made to do the work, and that was
all that the inventor wanted.

He drove it back to his workshop and made certain changes in the reel
and the divider. Then, several days later, he drove it over to the
little settlement at Steele’s Tavern, and cut six acres of oats in one
afternoon. That was a marvelous feat, and caused great wonder in the
countryside, but the harvesting season had ended, and the inventor
would have to wait a year before he could prove the use of his machine

By the next year McCormick was ready for a larger audience. The town
of Lexington lay some eighteen miles south of his home, and he made
arrangements with a farmer there, named John Ruff, to give an
exhibition of his reaper in the latter’s field. Over a hundred people
were present when McCormick arrived, all curious to see what could be
done with the complicated-looking machine. Many of them were
harvesters themselves, and none too eager to see a mechanical device
enter into competition for their work. The field was hilly and rough,
and the reaper careened about in it like a ship in a gale. The farmer
grew indignant, and protested that McCormick would ruin all his wheat,
and the laborers began to jeer and joke at the machine’s expense. The
exhibition gave every sign of proving a failure when one of the
spectators called out that he owned the next field and would be glad
to give McCormick a chance there. This field was level, and the young
man quickly turned his reaper into it. Before sunset he had cut six
acres of wheat, and convinced his audience that his machine was a
great improvement over the old method. That evening he drove the
reaper to the court-house square and explained its working to the
towns people. Very few of them saw how it was to revolutionize the
farmer’s labor, but one or two did. Professor Bradshaw, of the local
academy, studied the machine, and then stated publicly that in his
opinion, “This machine is worth a hundred thousand dollars.”


But if Cyrus McCormick had been fortunate in growing up on a farm
where he could study the problem of cutting grain at first hand he was
now to find that he was not so fortunate when it came to building
other reapers and marketing them. His home was four days’ travel from
Richmond. He must have money to get the iron for his machines, to
advertise, and to pay agents to try to sell them. He had very little
money. He did advertise in the _Lexington Union_ in September, 1833,
offering reapers for sale at fifty dollars; but there were no answers
to his advertisements. So skeptical were the farmers that it was seven
years before one bought a reaper of him. But he had faith enough in
his invention to take out a patent on it in 1834.

Until now McCormick had depended on the farm for his livelihood, but
there was little profit in this, and he turned his attention to a
deposit of iron ore in the neighborhood, and built a furnace and began
to make iron. This succeeded until the panic of 1837 reached the
Virginia country and brought debt and lowered prices with it. Cyrus
surrendered his farm and what other property he had to his creditors.
None of them was sufficiently interested in the crude reaper to
consider it worth taking.

But the inventor hung on to his faith in this machine, although no one
appeared to buy it, and the expense he had gone to in making it had
practically bankrupted him. And his faith met with its reward, for one
day in 1840 a stranger rode up to the door of his workshop and offered
fifty dollars for a reaper. He had seen one of the machines on
exhibition, and had decided to try it. A little later two other
farmers who lived on the James River appeared and gave McCormick two
more orders. He had the satisfaction of knowing that in the harvest of
1840 three of his reapers were having a trying out.

The next year he was busy trying to perfect a blade that would cut wet
grain. This took him weeks of experimenting, but at last he found that
a serrated edge of a certain pattern would produce the effect he
wanted. He added this to the new machines he was building, fixed the
price of the reaper at one hundred dollars, and in 1842 sold seven
machines, in 1843 twenty-nine, and in 1844 fifty. At last he had
justified himself, and the log workshop had become a busy factory.

An invention of such great value to the farmer naturally advertised
itself through the country districts. Men who heard of a machine that
would cut one hundred and seventy-five acres of wheat in less than
eight days--as happened in one case--naturally decided that it was
worth investigating. And those who already owned machines saw a chance
to make money by selling to their neighbors. One man paid McCormick
$1,333 for the reaper agency of eight counties, another $500 for the
right in five other counties, and a business man offered $2,500 for
the agency in southern Virginia. Meantime orders were coming in from
the distant states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa, and the
little home factory was being pushed to the utmost.

But it was not only difficult to obtain the necessary materials for
building reapers on the remote Virginia farm, it was almost impossible
to ship the machines ordered in time for the harvests. Those that went
west had to be taken by wagon to Scottsville, sent down the canal to
Richmond, put on shipboard for the long journey down the James River
to the Atlantic and so by ocean to New Orleans, changed there to a
river steamer that should take them up the Mississippi and by the Ohio
River to the distributing point of Cincinnati. Many delays might
happen in such a long trip, and many delays did happen, and in several
cases the reapers did not reach the farmers who had ordered them until
long after the harvesting season was over. McCormick saw that he must
build his reapers in a more central place.

At that time labor was very scarce in the great central region of the
country, and the farms were enormous. The wheat was going to waste,
for there were not enough scythes and sickles to cut it. McCormick
started on a trip through the middle West, and what he saw convinced
him that his reaper would soon be an absolute necessity on every farm.
All he needed was to find the best point for building his machines and
shipping them. He studied this matter with the greatest care, and
finally decided that the strategic place was the little town of
Chicago, situated on one of the Great Lakes, and half-way between the
prairies of the West and the commercial depots and factories of the
eastern seaboard.

Chicago in 1847 was still little more than a frontier town. It had
fought gamely with floods and droughts, with cholera and panics, with
desperadoes and with land thieves. But men saw that it was bound to
grow, for railroads would have to come to bring the wheat and others
to carry it away, and that meant that some day it would be a great
metropolis. McCormick, like most of the other business builders who
were streaming into Chicago, only wanted credit to enable him to build
and sell his goods, and he was fortunate enough to find a rich and
prominent citizen named William B. Ogden, who was ready to give him
credit and enter into partnership with him.

Ogden gave McCormick $25,000 for a half interest in the business of
making reapers, and started at once to build a factory. At last the
inventor was firmly established. He arranged to sell five hundred
reapers for the harvest of 1848, and as one after another was sent out
into the great wheat belts and set up and tried, the farmers who saw
them decided that the reapers spelled prosperity for them. The
business grew, and at the end of two years, when the partners found it
wiser to dissolve their firm, McCormick was able to tell Ogden that he
would pay him back the $25,000 that he had invested, and give him
$25,000 more for interest and profits. Ogden accepted, and McCormick
became sole owner of the business.

Cyrus McCormick was not only an inventor, but a business-builder of
the rarest talent, one of the great pioneers in a field that was later
to be cultivated in the United States to a remarkable degree. He knew
he had a machine that would lessen labor and increase wealth wherever
wheat was grown, and he felt that it was his mission to see that the
reaper should do its share in the progress of the world. In that sense
he was more than a mere business man; but in another sense he was a
gigantic business-builder. Just as he had studied the problem of
cutting wheat with the object of producing the most efficient machine
possible, so he now studied the problem of selling his reapers in such
a way that every farmer should own one. He believed in liberal
advertising, and he had posters printed with a picture of the reaper
at the top, and below it a formal guarantee warranting the machine’s
performance absolutely. There was a space beneath this for the
signature of the farmer who bought, and the agent who sold, and two
witnesses. The price of the reaper was one hundred and twenty dollars,
and the buyer paid down thirty dollars, and the balance at the end of
six months, provided the reaper would cut one and a half acres an
hour, and fulfil the other requirements. This guarantee, with a chance
to obtain the money back if the purchase was unsatisfactory, was a new
idea, and appealed to every one as a most sincere and honorable way of
doing business. More than this, he sold for a fixed price, which was
in many respects a new method of selling, and he printed in newspapers
and farm journals letters he had received from farmers telling of
their satisfaction with the reaper. In these new ways he laid the
foundation of an enormous business.

The rush to the gold fields of California in 1849 and the resulting
settlement of the far western country made Chicago even more central
than it had been before. But, although the advertisements of the
McCormick reaper were scattered everywhere, many farmers would put off
buying until the harvesting season had almost come, and when it was
too late to get the machines from the central factory. Therefore
McCormick had agents and built warehouses in every farming district,
and these agents were given a free rein in their own locality, their
instructions being to see that every farmer who needed a reaper was
given the easiest opportunity to get one. The price was a fixed one,
but McCormick was patient with the purchasers. He gave them a chance
to pay for the reapers with the proceeds of their harvests. He held
that it was better that he should wait for the money than that the
farmers should lack the machines that would enable them to make the
most of their fields of grain. “I have never yet sued a farmer for the
price of a reaper,” he stated in 1848, and he held to that policy as
steadfastly as he could. As a result he soon gained the farmers’
confidence, and his name became identified with square, and even with
lenient, dealing with all classes of purchasers. He lost little by it,
and in the long run the wide-spread advertising of this policy of
business proved an invaluable asset.

It is not to be supposed that no rival reapers were put upon the
market. Many were, and to meet some of these McCormick made use of
what became known as the Field Test. He would instruct his agents to
issue invitations to his rivals to meet him in competition. Then the
different makes of reapers would show how many acres of grain they
could cut in an afternoon before an audience of the neighboring
farmers. Judges were appointed to decide as to the merits of the
different machines, and in most of the tests McCormick’s reaper
outdistanced all its rivals. In one such meeting it is said that forty
machines competed. Such shows were the best possible form of
advertising, but in time they degenerated into absurd performances.
Trick machines of unwieldy strength were built secretly, and reapers
were driven into growths of young trees, and were fastened together
and then pulled apart to prove which was the stronger. At last it was
realized that the field tests were no longer fair, and McCormick gave
them up.

So important an invention as the reaper was certain to have many
improvements made to it. For a number of years, however, the only
additions that were made to the original model were seats for the
driver and raker. The machine did the work of the original man with
the sickle or scythe and that of the cradler, and having cut the grain
left it in loose piles on the ground. But it still had to be raked up
and bound, and a number of inventors were busy trying to perfect
mechanical devices that would do this work too. A man named Jearum
Atkins invented a contrivance that was called the “Iron Man,” which
was a post fastened to the reaper, having two iron arms that swept
round and round and brushed the grain from the platform as fast as it
was cut and had fallen. This plan was very clumsy, but improvements
were made so rapidly that by 1860 the market was filled with various
patterns of self-raking reapers.

The problem of binding the grain was more difficult. This had always
been hard labor, taking a great deal of time and requiring three or
four men to every reaper. The first step toward a self-binder was the
addition of a foot-board at the back of the reaper, on which a man
might stand and fasten the grain into sheaves as it fell. This was a
little better than the old method, but only a little. It took less
time, but it was still very hard and slow work.

McCormick was deep in a study of this matter when one day a man named
James Withington came to him from Wisconsin, and announced that he had
a machine that could automatically bind grain. McCormick had been
working night and day over his own plan, and when the inventor began
to explain he fell asleep. When he woke, Withington had left.
McCormick at once sent one of his men to the inventor’s Wisconsin
home, and, with many apologies, begged him to come back. Withington
did, and showed McCormick a wonderful machine, one made of two arms of
steel that would catch each bundle of grain, pass a wire about it and
twist the ends of the wire, cut it loose, and throw it to the ground.
Here was an invention that would more than double the usefulness of
the reaper, and one that seems quite as remarkable as the reaper
itself. McCormick at once contracted with Withington for this binder,
and tried it on an Illinois farm the following July. It worked
perfectly, cutting fifty acres of grain and binding it into sheaves.
At last only one person was needed to harvest the wheat, the one who
sat upon the driver’s seat and simply had to guide the horses. A
small boy or girl could do all the work that it had taken a score of
men to accomplish twenty years before.

Now it seemed as if the reaper was complete, and nothing could be
added to increase its efficiency. McCormick had seen to it that the
whirr of his machine was heard in every wheat field of the United
States, and was busily extending the reign of the reaper to the great
grain districts of Russia, India, and South America. Then, in the
spring of 1880, William Deering built and sold 3,000 self-binding
machines that used twine instead of wire to fasten the sheaves, and as
the news of this novelty spread the farmers declared that the wire of
the old binders had cut their hands, had torn their wheat, had proved
hard to manage in the flour-mills, and that henceforth they must have

McCormick realized that he must give the farmers what they demanded,
and he looked about for a man who could invent a new method of binding
with twine. He found him in Marquis L. Gorham, who perfected a new
twine-binder, and added a device by which all the sheaves bound were
turned out in uniform size. By the next year McCormick was pushing his
Gorham binder on the market, and the farmers who had wavered in their
allegience to his reaper were returning to the McCormick fold.

The battle of rival reapers had been long and costly. From the
building of his factory in Chicago McCormick had been engaged in
continuous lawsuits with competitors. His original patent had expired
in 1848, and he had used every effort to have it extended. The battle
was fought through the lower courts, through the Supreme Court, and in
Congress. The greatest lawyers of the time were retained on one side
of the reaper struggle or the other. His rivals combined and raised a
great fund to defeat his claims. He spent a fortune, but his patents
were not renewed, and competition was thrown wide open. With the
invention of the twine-binder the patent war burst out afresh, and
again the courts were called upon for decisions between the rivals.
But by now the competition had become so keen and the cost of
manufacturing so heavy that the field dwindled quickly. When the war
over the twine-binder ended there were only twenty-two competing firms
left; before that there had been over a hundred.

The reaper had been primarily necessary in America, because here farm
labor was very scarce, and the wheat fields enormously productive. In
fact the growth of the newly opened Western country must have been
indefinitely retarded if men had had to cut the grain by hand and
harvest it in the primitive manner. The reaper was a very vital factor
in the development of that country, and McCormick deserved the credit
of being one of the greatest profit-builders of the land.

In Europe and Asia labor was plentiful, and the reaper had to win its
way more slowly. McCormick showed his machine at the great
international exhibitions and gradually induced the large landowners
to consider it. Practical demonstration proved its value, and it made
its appearance in the fields of European Russia and Siberia, in
Germany and France and the Slavic countries, in India, Australia, and
the Argentine, and at last wherever wheat was to be cut. It trebled
the output of grain, and the welfare of the people has proven largely
dependent on their food supply. It has been an invention of the
greatest economic value to the world.




The needs of his times, and of the people among whom he lives, have
often set the inventor’s mind working along the line of his
achievement. It was so with Elias Howe, who built the first
sewing-machine. A hard-working man, and not overstrong, he would
return to his home from the machine-shop where he was employed, and
throw himself on the bed night after night to rest. Each night he
watched his young wife sewing to clothe their three children and add a
little something to the family income. With a strong taste for
mechanics it was natural that he should wonder if there were not some
way of lightening the burden of so much needlework.

He had been brought up in surroundings that naturally impressed him
with the value of looms and new appliances for spinning and weaving.
He understood the various processes of handling wool and cotton,
although his own work lay outside them. His father had been a miller
in the small Massachusetts town of Spencer, where Elias was born in
1819. New England was already building her textile factories, and when
he was only six the boy joined his brothers and sisters at the work of
sticking wire teeth through the straps of leather that were then used
for cotton-cards. What he learned from books he had to pick up during
a few weeks each summer at the district school. His health was
delicate, and he was lame, unfitted to be a farmer, and his best place
seemed to be in his father’s mill. But he was ambitious, and when he
was sixteen, a friend having brought him glowing tales of the great
cotton-mills in the fast-growing city of Lowell, he decided to seek
his fortune there. The panic of 1837 closed the mills, and Howe found
his course deflected to work in a machine-shop in Cambridge. By the
time he came of age he had married and was living in Boston, working
as a mechanic to support his family. Of a speculative turn of mind, he
was constantly suggesting improvements at the shop, and his watching
his wife labor with needle and thread turned his thoughts in the
direction of a machine for sewing.

The idea was not a new one, but the men who had studied it had decided
that there were too many difficulties to overcome. Howe took up the
matter as a pastime, giving his spare moments to it, and talking it
over with his wife in the evenings when he was not too tired.
Naturally enough what he tried to do was to imitate the action of the
hand in sewing. His idea was to make a machine that would thrust a
needle through the cloth and then push it back again, working up and
down. Therefore his first needle was sharp at both ends, and had its
eye in the middle. He decided that he could only use very coarse
thread, as the constant motion would surely snap any fine thread. But
a year’s experimenting convinced him that this simple up-and-down
thrust was too primitive a motion, and that the needle must be made
to form a different sort of stitch. He tried one method after another,
and finally hit upon the idea of making use of two threads, and
forming the stitch by means of a shuttle and a curved needle having
the eye near the point. He made a model, in wood and wire, of this
first sewing-machine, in October, 1844, and found that it would work.

An early account of Howe’s first sewing-machine says, “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.”

Howe had now decided to give all his time to introducing his
sewing-machine. He gave up his position in the machine-shop, and moved
his family to his father’s house in Cambridge. There his father was
employed in cutting palm-leaf for the manufacture of hats. The son had
a lathe put in the garret, and began to make the various parts that
were needed for his sewing-machine. He did any work he could find by
the day to supply his family with food and clothing, but it proved a
very hard battle. His father’s shop burned, and the whole family
seemed on the brink of ruin. The young inventor was in a very
difficult situation. He was confident that he had a machine that
should, if properly handled, bring him in a fortune, but he must have
some money to buy the iron and steel that were essential to its
building, and he must devise a way of interesting some capitalist in
it sufficiently to enable him to put it on the market. Meantime he
must contrive to provide for his family, who were now practically
without shelter.

Fortunately, at this point, a Cambridge dealer in coal and wood, by
the name of Fisher, heard of Howe’s machine, and asked to see it. Howe
jumped at the opportunity, explained its mechanism, and told how he
was situated. Mr. Fisher thought the model had possibilities, and
agreed to provide board for the inventor and his family, to give the
young man a workshop in his own house, and to advance him the sum of
$500, which Howe said was absolutely necessary to pay for the
construction of such a machine as could be shown to the public. For
his assistance Fisher was to receive a half-interest in a patent for
the sewing-machine if Howe could obtain one. This arrangement proved
Howe’s salvation, and in December, 1844, he moved into his new
friend’s house.

He worked all that winter, meeting the many practical difficulties
that arose as he progressed with his machine, and devising solutions
for overcoming each. He worked all day, and many a time long into the
night. His machine progressed so well that by April, 1845, he found
that it would sew a seam four yards long. The machine was entirely
completed by the latter part of May, and its work proved satisfactory
to both partners. Howe sewed the seams of two woolen suits with it,
one for himself, and one for Fisher, and it was declared that the
mechanical sewing was so well done that it promised to outlast the
cloth. There was no longer any doubt that Howe had invented a machine
that would lighten labor to a very great degree.

He took out his first patent on the sewing-machine toward the end of
1845. But when he tried to introduce his invention he met the same
difficulties that had faced all men who tried to supplant hand labor
by any mechanical process. The tailors of Boston to whom he showed it
were willing to admit its efficiency, but told him that he could never
secure its general use, as such a proceeding would ruin their
business. Every one admired the sewing-machine and praised Howe’s
ingenuity, but no one would buy one. The opposition to the completed
machine seemed insuperable, and Fisher, believing it to be so, at
length withdrew from his partnership with Howe. The latter and his
family had to move back again to his father’s house.

To make a living Howe took a position as a locomotive engineer,
leaving his invention unused at home. This work proved too hard, his
health broke down, and he was compelled to give up the position. In
his enforced idleness he began to devise new ways of selling his
machine, and finally decided to send his brother Amasa to England, and
see if he could not interest some one there in the invention. His
brother was willing to do this, and arrived in London, with a
sewing-machine, in October, 1846. He showed it to a man named William
Thomas, who became interested in it, offered $1,250 for it, and
also offered to employ Elias Howe in his business of umbrella and
corset maker.


Howe decided that this position was preferable to his idleness in
Cambridge, and accepted it. He sailed for England, and entered the
factory of William Thomas. But, although Thomas had taken a very
lively interest in Howe’s sewing-machine, he did not treat the
inventor well. For eight months Howe worked for him, and meantime he
had sent for his wife and three children, and they had arrived in
London. But eight months was the limit of his endurance of his new
master’s tyranny, and at the end of that time he gave up his position.
Matters seemed tending worse and worse with him, and the situation of
the Howe family in London, almost penniless, grew daily more and more

His family at home sent Howe a little money before his earnings were
entirely spent, and he used this to buy passage for his wife and
children back to the United States. He himself stayed in London,
believing there were better chances for the sale of his machine there
than in America. But his pursuit of fortune in England proved but the
search for the rainbow’s pot of gold. There was no market for his
wares, and after months of actual destitution he pawned the model of
his sewing-machine and even his patent papers in order to secure funds
to pay his passage home. Tragedy dogged his footsteps. He reached New
York with only a few small coins in his pocket, and received word that
his wife was lying desperately ill in Cambridge. His own strength was
spent, and he had to wait several days before he had the money to pay
his railroad fare to Boston. Soon after he reached home his wife
died. Blow after blow had fallen on him until he was almost crushed.

Even his hard-won invention seemed now about to be snatched from him.
Certain mechanics in New England, who had heard descriptions of his
model, built machines on its lines, and sold them. The newspapers
learned of these, and began to suggest their use in a number of
industries. Howe looked about him, saw the sewing-machine growing in
favor, heard it praised, and realized that it had been actually stolen
from him. He bestirred himself, found patent attorneys who were
willing to look into his patents, and when they pronounced them
unassailable, found money enough to defend them. He began several
suits to establish his claims in August, 1850, and at about the same
time formed a partnership with a New Yorker named Bliss, who agreed to
try to sell the machines if Howe would open a shop and build them in
New York.

Howe’s claims to the invention of the sewing-machine were positively
established by the courts in 1854. The machine was now well known, and
its value as a moneymaker very apparent. But the workers in cheap
clothing shops organized to prevent the introduction of the machines,
claiming that they would destroy their livelihood. Labor leaders took
up the slogan, and led the men and women workers in what were known as
the Sewing-machine Riots. In the few shops where the machines were
actually introduced they were injured or destroyed by the workmen. The
pressure became so great that the larger establishments ceased their
use, and only the small shops, that employed a few workers, were able
to continue using the new machine. In spite of its recognized value it
looked as if the sewing-machine could not prove a financial success,
and when Howe’s partner Bliss died in 1855 the inventor was able to
buy his share in the business from his heirs for a very small sum.

Opposition, even of the most strenuous order, has never been able to
retard for long the use of an invention that simplifies industry. If a
machine is made that will in an hour do the work that formerly
required several days’ hand labor that machine is certain to displace
that hand labor. The workers may protest, but industrial progress
demands the more economic method. So it was with the sewing-machine.
The riots died away, the labor leaders turned to other fields, and one
by one the clothing factories installed the new machines. Howe had the
patience to wait, and in one way and another obtained the sinews of
war to sue the infringers of his patents. The waiting was worth while.
He ultimately forced all other manufacturers of sewing-machines to pay
him for their products. In six years his royalties increased from $300
a year to over $200,000 a year. His machine was shown at the Paris
Exposition of 1867, and was awarded a gold medal, and Howe himself was
given the ribbon of the French Legion of Honor.

The wheel of fortune has turned quickly for many inventors, but
perhaps never more completely than it did for Elias Howe. The man who
had pawned his goods in London, and had reached New York with less
than a dollar in his pocket, had an income of $200,000 a year. He who
had been rebuffed by the tailors of Boston was recognized as one of
the great men of his generation, and one who, instead of taking the
bread from the mouths of poor working men and women, had lightened
their labor a thousandfold. The women, like his own wife, who had
sewed by day and night, were saved their strength and vision, and the
slavery of the clothing factories, notorious in those days, was
inestimably lightened. But it had been a hard fight to make the world
take what it sorely needed.

Howe’s struggle had been so hard that his health was badly broken when
he did succeed. He had several years to enjoy his profits and honors.
He died October 3, 1867, at his home in Brooklyn.

Many inventors have barely escaped with their lives from the fury of
mobs who thought the inventor would take their living from them.
Papin, and Hargreaves, and Arkwright all learned what such resistance
meant. But as one invention has succeeded another people have grown
wiser, and realized that each has conferred a benefit rather than
taken away a right. Howe was one of the last to find the people he
hoped to benefit aligned against him. The world has moved, since
Galileo’s day, and the inventor is now known as the great benefactor.
But Howe’s life was a fight, and his triumph that of one of the great
martyrs of invention.




None of the inventions that have resulted from the study of
electricity have been stumbled upon in the dark. Scientists in both
England and America had realized the possibility of the telegraph
before Morse built his first working outfit in his rooms on Washington
Square. Edison took out a patent covering wireless telegraphy before
Marconi gave his name to the new means of communication. Often a man
who has been following one trail through this new field has come upon
another, glanced down it, and decided to go back and explore it more
thoroughly another day. Meantime the trail is run down by a rival. The
prize has gone to that persevering one who has made that trail his
own, and learned its secret while other men were only glancing at it.
Alexander Graham Bell was by no means the first man to realize that
the sound of the human voice could be sent over a wire. He did not
happen to stumble upon this fact. He worked it out bit by bit, from
what other men had already learned concerning electricity, and his
object was to make the telephone of real use to the world. It so
happened that Elisha Gray and Bell each filed a claim upon the
telephone at the Patent Office on the same day, February 14, 1876.
But it was Bell who was able to place the first telephone at the
public’s service.

He came of a family that had long been interested in the study of
speech. His father, his grandfather, his uncle, and two brothers had
all taught elocution in one form or another at the Universities of
Edinburgh, Dublin, and London. His grandfather had worked out a
successful system to correct stammering, his father, widely known as a
splendid elocutionist, had invented a sign-language that he called
“Visible Speech,” which was of help to those learning foreign tongues,
and also a system to enable the deaf to read spoken words by the
movements of the lips. Naturally enough the young inventor started
with a very considerable knowledge of the laws of sound.

Bell was born in Edinburgh March 1, 1847, and educated there and in
London. When he was sixteen family influence was able to get him the
post of teacher of elocution in certain schools, and he spent his
leisure hours studying the science of sound. Soon after he came of age
he met two well-known Englishmen who were experts in his line of
study, Sir Charles Wheatstone and Alexander J. Ellis. Ellis had
translated Helmholtz’s celebrated book on “The Sensations of Tone,”
and was able to show Bell in his own laboratory how the German
scientist had succeeded in keeping tuning-forks in vibration by the
power of electro-magnets, and had blended the tones of several
tuning-forks so as to produce approximately the sound of the human
voice. This idea was new to Bell, and led him to wonder whether it
would not be possible to construct what might be called a musical
telegraph, sending different notes over a wire by electro-magnetism,
using a piano keyboard to give the different notes.

Sir Charles Wheatstone, the leading English authority on the
telegraph, received young Bell with the greatest interest, and showed
him a new talking-machine that had been constructed by Baron de
Kempelin. Bell studied this closely, discussed it with Wheatstone, and
decided that he would devote himself to the problems of reproducing
sounds mechanically.

The course of his life was then suddenly altered. His two brothers
died in Edinburgh of consumption, and he was told that he must seek a
change of climate. Accordingly his father and mother sailed with him
to the town of Brantford in Canada. There he at once became interested
in teaching his father’s system of “Visible Speech” to a tribe of
Mohawk Indians in the neighborhood.

He had already had very considerable success in teaching deaf-mutes to
talk by visible speech, or sign-language, and this success was
repeated in Canada. Word of it went to Boston, and as a result the
Board of Education of that city wrote to him, offering to pay him five
hundred dollars if he would teach his system in a school for
deaf-mutes there. He was glad to accept, and in 1871 moved to Boston,
which he planned to make his permanent residence.

Success crowned his teaching almost immediately. Boston University
offered him a professorship, and he opened a “School of Vocal
Physiology,” which paid him well. Most of his remarkable skill in
teaching the deaf and dumb to understand spoken words and in a manner
to speak themselves was due to his father’s system, which he had
carefully followed, and had in some respects improved upon.

At this time a resident of Salem, Thomas Sanders, engaged the young
teacher to train his small deaf-mute son, and asked him to make his
home at Sanders’ house in Salem. As he could easily reach Boston from
there Bell consented, and in the cellar of Mr. Sanders’ house he set
up a workshop, where for three years he experimented with tuning-forks
and electric batteries along the line of his early studies in London.

At nearly the same time Miss Mabel Hubbard came to him to be taught
his system of speech. He became engaged to her, and some years later
they were married.

His future wife’s father was a well-known Boston lawyer, Gardiner G.
Hubbard. It is related that one evening as Bell sat at the piano in
Mr. Hubbard’s home in Cambridge, he said, “Do you know that if I sing
the note G close to the strings of the piano, the G-string will answer
me?” “What of it?” asked Mr. Hubbard. “Why, it means that some day we
ought to have a musical telegraph, that will send as many messages
simultaneously over one wire as there are notes on the piano.”

Bell knew the field of his work in a general way, but he had not yet
decided which path to choose of several that looked as if they might
lead across it. His far-distant goal was to construct a machine that
would carry, not the dots and dashes of the telegraph, but the complex
vibrations of the human voice. This would be much more difficult to
attain than a musical telegraph, and for some time he wavered between
the two ideas. His work with his deaf and dumb pupils was all in the
line of making sound vibrations visible to the eye. He knew that with
what was called the phonautograph he could get tracings of such sound
vibrations upon blackened paper by means of a pencil or marker
attached to a vibrating cord or membrane, and furthermore that he
could obtain tracings of certain vowel sound vibrations upon smoked
glass. He studied the effect of vibrations upon the bones of the ear,
and this led him to experiment with vibrating a thin piece of iron
before an electro-magnet.

His study of the effect of vibrations on the human eardrum showed Bell
what path he should follow. Sound waves striking the delicate ear-drum
could send thrills through the heavier bones inside the ear. He
thought that if he could construct two iron discs, which should be
similar to the ear-drums, and connect them by an electrified wire, he
might be able to make the disc at one end vibrate with sound waves,
send those vibrations through the wire to the other disc, and have
that give out the vibrations again in the form of sounds. That now
became his working idea, and it was the principle on which the
telephone was ultimately to be built.

But Bell had been giving so much time and attention to this absorbing
project that his teaching had suffered. His “School of Vocal
Physiology” had had to be abandoned, and he found that his only pupils
were Miss Hubbard and small George Sanders. Both Mr. Sanders and Mr.
Hubbard, who had been helping him with the cost of his experiments,
refused to do so any longer unless he would devote himself to working
out his musical telegraph, in which both had a great deal of faith as
a successful business proposition.

While he was struggling with these distracting calls of duty and
science he was obliged to go to Washington to see his patent attorney.
There he determined to call upon Professor Joseph Henry, who was the
greatest American authority on electrical science, and who had
experimented with the telegraph in the early years of the century.
Bell, aged twenty-eight, explained his new idea to Henry, then aged
seventy-eight. The theory was new to Henry, but he saw at once that it
had tremendous possibilities. He told Bell so. “But,” said Bell, “I
have not the expert knowledge of electricity that is needed.” “You can
get it,” answered Henry. “You must, for you are in possession of the
germ of a great invention.”

Those few words, coming from such a man, were of the greatest possible
encouragement to Bell. He returned home, determined to get the
knowledge of electricity he needed, and to carry on his work with the

He rented a room at 109 Court Street, Boston, for a workshop, and took
a bedroom in the neighborhood. He studied electricity night and day,
and he gave equal time to the musical telegraph that his friends
favored and to the invention that now claimed his real interest.

The man from whom Bell rented his workshop was Charles Williams,
himself a manufacturer of electrical supplies. Bell had for his
assistant Thomas A. Watson, who helped him construct the two
armatures, or vibrating discs, at the end of an electrified wire that
stretched from the workshop to an adjoining room. Watson was working
with Bell on an afternoon in June, 1875. Bell was in the workshop, and
Watson in the next room. Bell was stooping down over the instrument at
his end of the wire. Suddenly he gave an exclamation. He had heard a
faint twang come from the disc in front of him.

He dashed into the next room. “Snap that reed again, Watson,” he
commanded. Back at his own end of the wire he waited. In a minute he
caught the light twang again. It was only what he had been expecting
to hear at any time during the months of his work, but nevertheless he
was amazed when he did catch the sound. It proved that a sound could
be carried over a wire, and accurately reproduced at the farther end.
And that meant that the vibrations of the human voice could ultimately
be sent in the same way.

Bell’s enthusiasm had already converted his assistant, Watson; it now
won over Hubbard and Sanders. They began to believe that there might
be something of real value in his strange scheme, and offered to help
him finance it. He went on with his studies in electricity, and
gradually began to learn how he could make it serve him best.

But it was a far cry from that first faint sound to the actual
transmission of words. For a long time his receiving instruments would
only give out vague rumbling noises. In November, 1875, his
experiments showed him that the vibrations created in a reed by the
human voice could be transmitted in such a way as to reproduce words
and sounds. Then, in January, 1876, he showed a few of the pupils at
Monroe’s School of Oratory in Boston an apparatus by which singing
could be carried more or less satisfactorily from the cellar of the
building to a room on the fourth floor. But on March 10, 1876, the new
instrument actually talked. Watson, who was at the basement end of the
wire, heard the disc say, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” He
dashed up the three flights of stairs to the room in which Bell was.
“I can _hear_ you!” he cried. “I can _hear the words_!”

“Had I known more about electricity, and less about sound,” Bell is
reported to have said, “I would never have invented the telephone.” He
had come upon his discovery by the right path, but it was a path that
very few men could ever have picked out. Other inventors had tried to
make a machine that would carry the voice, but they had all worked
from the standpoint of the telegraph. Bell, inheriting unusual
knowledge of the laws of speech and sound, came from the other
direction. He started with the laws of sound transmission rather than
with the laws of the telegraph. The result was that he had created
something altogether new, basically different from all the other
inventions that made use of electricity, for which there was as yet no
common name even, and which he described in his application for a
patent, as “an improvement in telegraphy.”

Only two months after the day on which the telephone had actually
talked for the first time the Centennial Exposition opened in
Philadelphia. Mr. Hubbard was one of the Commissioners, and he
obtained permission to have Bell’s first telephone placed on a small
table in the Department of Education. Bell himself was too poor to be
able to go to Philadelphia, and intended to stay in Boston, and try to
find new deaf-mute pupils. But when Miss Hubbard left for the
Centennial, and begged him to go with her, he could not resist. He
stayed on the train, without a ticket, without baggage, and reached
Philadelphia with the Hubbards.

    Reproduced by permission
    From “The History of the Telephone”
    By Herbert N. Casson
    Published by A. C. McClurg & Co.]

The new instrument had been at the Exposition for six weeks without
attracting serious attention. But Mr. Hubbard arranged that the judges
should examine it for a few minutes on the Sunday afternoon following
Bell’s arrival. The afternoon, however, was very warm, and there were
a great many exhibits for the judges to inspect. There was the first
grain-binder, and the earliest crude electric light, and Elisha Gray’s
musical telegraph, and exhibits of printing telegraphs. It was seven
o’clock when the judges reached Bell’s table, and they were tired and
hungry. One of the judges picked up the receiver, looked at it, and
put it back on the table. The others laughed and joked as they started
to go by. Then they stopped short. A man had come up to the table,
with a crowd of attendants at his heels. He said to the young man at
the table, “Professor Bell, I am delighted to see you again.” The new
arrival was the Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil, who had once visited
Bell’s school for deaf-mutes in Boston. The Emperor said he would
like to test Bell’s new machine.

With the judges, a group of famous scientific men, and the Emperor’s
suite for audience, Bell went to the transmitter at the other end of
the wire, while Dom Pedro put the receiver to his ear. There was a
moment’s pause, and then the Emperor threw back his head, exclaiming,
“_My God--it talks!_”

The Emperor put down the receiver. Joseph Henry, who had encouraged
Bell in Washington, picked it up. He too heard Bell’s own words coming
from the disc. He too showed his amazement. “This comes nearer to
overthrowing the doctrine of the conservation of energy,” said he,
“than anything I ever saw.” After him came Sir William Thomson, later
known as Lord Kelvin. He had been the engineer of the first Atlantic
Cable. He listened intently. “Yes,” said he at last, “it does speak.
It is the most wonderful thing I have seen in America!”

Until ten o’clock that night the judges spoke into the transmitter and
listened at the receiver of Bell’s instrument. Next morning it was
given a place of honor, and every one begged for a chance to examine
it. It became the most wonderful exhibit of the Centennial, and the
judges gave Bell their Certificate of Award. Nothing more opportune
could possibly have happened for the inventor.

But in spite of this launching at the hands of the most eminent
scientists, business men could see little future for the new machine.
It was very ingenious, they admitted, but it could only be a toy. And
Bell himself was not sufficiently well versed in business affairs to
know how to make the most of his invention. Fortunately Mr. Hubbard
was much better acquainted with business methods. He determined to
promote the telephone, and he did. He talked about it to all his
friends until they could think of nothing else. He began a campaign of
publicity, with the object of making the name of the new instrument a
household word. He had it written up for the newspapers, and
advertised public demonstrations of its powers, and arranged that Bell
should lecture on it in different cities. Bell was a good lecturer,
and his talks became popular. Then news was sent to the _Boston Globe_
by telephone, and people began to wonder if there were not new
possibilities in its use.

In May, 1877, a man named Emery called at Hubbard’s office, and leased
two telephones for twenty dollars. That encouraged the promoters, and
they issued a little circular describing the business. Then another
man, who ran a burglar-alarm company, obtained permission to hang up
the telephone in a few banks. They proved of use, and the same man
started a service among the express companies. Before long several
other small exchanges were opened, and by August, 1877, it was
estimated that there were 778 telephones in use. Hubbard was very much
encouraged, and he, together with Bell, Sanders, and Watson formed the
“Bell Telephone Association.”

The Western Union Telegraph Company was a great corporation,
controlling the telegraph business of the country. Hubbard hoped that
it would purchase the Bell patents, as it had already bought many
patents taken out on allied inventions. They offered them to President
Orton for $100,000, but he refused to buy them, saying, “What use
could this company make of an electrical toy?”

But the Western Union had many little subsidiary companies, supplying
customers with printing-telegraphs and dial telegraphs and various
other modifications of the usual telegraph, and one day one of these
companies reported that some of their customers were preferring to use
the new telephone. The Western Union bestirred itself at this sign of
competition, and had shortly formed the “American Speaking-Telephone
Company,” with a staff of inventors that included Edison. The war was
on in earnest, for the new company not only claimed to have the best
instrument on the market, but advertised that it had “the only
original telephone.”

That war was actually a good thing for Bell, and Hubbard, and Sanders.
With the Western Union pushing this new invention, and not only
pushing it, but fighting for its claim to it, the public realized that
the telephone was neither a toy nor a scientific oddity, but an
instrument of great commercial value. Sanders’ relatives came to the
aid of the Bell Company, and put money into its treasury, and soon
Hubbard was leasing out telephones at the rate of a thousand a month.

But none of these partners was exactly the man to organize and build
up such a business as this of the telephone should be, and each of
them knew it. Then Hubbard discovered a young man in Washington who
impressed him as having remarkable executive ability. Watson met him,
and his opinion coincided with that of Hubbard. The upshot of the
matter was that the partners offered the post of General Manager at a
salary of thirty-five hundred dollars a year to this man, Theodore N.
Vail, and Vail accepted the offer. Vail himself knew little about the
telephone, but his cousin, Alfred Vail, had been the friend and
assistant of Morse when he was working on his first telegraph.

Hubbard had advertised Bell’s telephone, Sanders had financed it, and
now Vail pushed it on the market. He faced the powerful Western Union
and fought them. He sent copies of Bell’s original patent to each of
his agents, with the message, “We have the only original telephone
patents, we have organized and introduced the business, and we do not
propose to have it taken from us by any corporation.”

His plan was to create a national telephone system, and so he confined
each of his agents to one place, and reserved all rights to connect
one city with another. He made short-term contracts, and tried in
every way to keep control of the whole system in the hands of the
parent company. Then the Western Union came out with Edison’s new
telephone transmitter, which increased the value of the telephone
tenfold, and which in fact made it almost a new instrument. The Bell
Company was panic-stricken, for their customers demanded a telephone
as good as Edison’s.

Those were hard times for Vail and the partners back of him. The
telephone war had cut the price of service to a point where neither
company could show a profit. Bell, now married, returned from England
with word that he had been unable to establish the telephone business
there, and that he must have a thousand dollars at once to pay his
most pressing debts. He was ill, and he wrote from the Massachusetts
General Hospital, “Thousands of telephones are now in operation in all
parts of the country, yet I have not yet received one cent from my
invention. On the contrary, I am largely out of pocket by my
researches, as the mere value of the profession that I have sacrificed
during my three years’ work amounts to twelve thousand dollars.”

At this juncture a young Bostonian named Francis Blake wrote to Vail,
announcing that he had invented a transmitter that was the equal of
Edison’s, and offering to sell it for stock in the company. The
purchase was made, and the claim of the inventor proved true. The Bell
telephone was again as good as that of the Western Union Company. A
new company, called the National Bell Telephone Company, was
organized, with a capital of $850,000, and Colonel Forbes of Boston
became its first president.

There have been few patent struggles to compare with that which was
waged over the telephone. McCormick fought for years to uphold his
rights to the invention of the reaper, but he fought a host of
competitors, and the warfare was of the guerrilla order. The Bell
Company fought alone against the Western Union, and it was a struggle
of giants. The Western Union was certain that it could find patents
antedating Bell’s, and it went on that assumption, even after its own
expert had reported, “I am entirely unable to discover any apparatus
or method anticipating the invention of Bell as a whole, and I
conclude that his patent is valid.” It claimed that Gray was the
original inventor, and instructed its lawyers to bring suits against
the Bell Company for infringing on Gray’s patents.

The legal battle began in the autumn of 1878, and continued for a
year. Then George Gifford, the leading counsel for the Western Union,
told his clients that their claim was baseless, and advised that they
come to a settlement. The Western Union saw the wisdom of this course,
and went to the Bell Company with an offer of compromise. An agreement
was finally reached, to remain in force for seventeen years, and the
terms were that the Western Union should admit that Bell was the
original inventor, that his patents were valid, and should retire from
the telephone business. On the other side, the Bell Company agreed to
buy the Western Union telephone system, to pay them a royalty of
twenty per cent. on all their telephone rentals, and to keep out of
the telegraph business.

That ended the great war. It converted a powerful rival into an ally,
it gave the Bell Company fifty-six thousand new telephones in
fifty-five cities, and it made that company the national system of the
United States. In 1881 there was another reorganization; the American
Bell Telephone Company was created, with a capital of six million
dollars. The following year there was such a telephone boom that the
Bell Company’s system was doubled, and the gross earnings reached more
than a million dollars.

The four men who had taken hold of Bell’s invention in its infancy and
brought it to maturity were ready to surrender its care into the hands
of the able business men who headed the Bell Company. Sanders sold his
stock in the company for a little less than a million dollars, Watson,
when he resigned his interest, found himself sufficiently rich to
build a ship-building plant near Boston and employ four thousand
workmen to build battle-ships. Gardiner G. Hubbard retired from active
business life, and transferred his remarkable energy to the affairs of
the National Geographical Society. Bell had presented his stock in the
company to his wife on their wedding-day, and he now took up afresh
the work of his boyhood and youth, the teaching of deaf-mutes. But he
was no longer unheeded nor unrewarded. In 1880 the government of
France awarded him the Volta prize of fifty thousand francs and the
Cross of the Legion of Honor. With the Volta prize he founded the
Volta Laboratory in Washington for the use of students. In Washington
he has made his home, and there scientists of all lands call to pay
their respects to the patriarch of American inventors.

Shortly after the first appearance of the telephone at the Centennial
Exposition men were accustomed to laugh at the new invention, and call
it a freak, a scientific toy. Its mechanism was so incomprehensible to
most people that they refused to regard it seriously. A Boston
mechanic expressed the general ignorance when he stoutly maintained
that in his opinion there must be “a hole through the middle of the
wire.” And the telephone is still to most people a mystery, far more
so than the telegraph or the incandescent light or the other uses to
which electricity has been put. It is one thing to send a message by
the mechanical process of dots and dashes made by breaking and joining
a current. It is quite another to reproduce in one place the exact
inflection, tone, and quality of a voice that is speaking hundreds of
miles away, across rivers and mountains. There is real magic in that,
the wonder that might be found in a Genii’s spell in the Arabian
Nights. How can people be blamed for laughing at such pretensions, and
believing that even if such a thing were true it was more fit for an
exposition than for public use?

Yet this thing of magic has outdistanced every other mode of
communication. It is estimated that in the United States as many
messages are sent by telephone as the combined total of telegrams,
letters, and railroad passengers. The telephone wires are eight times
greater than the telegraph wires, and their earnings six times as
great. It is true that the telephone is vastly more used in America
than in other parts of the world, and yet it is figured that in the
world at large almost as many messages are now telephoned as are sent
by post.

And the mystery of the telephone grows no less the more one studies
it. You speak against a tiny disc of sheet-iron, and the disc
trembles. It has millions and millions of varieties of trembles, as
many as there are sounds in the universe. A piece of copper wire,
connected with an electric battery, stretches from the disc against
which you have spoken to another disc miles and miles away. The
tremble of your disc sends an electric thrill along the wire to that
other disc and makes it tremble exactly as yours did. And that
trembling sounds the very note you spoke, the very note in millions of
possible notes, and as accurately as if the sound wave had only
traveled three feet through clear air. That is what happens when you
telephone, but when you realize it the mystery gains rather than

Scores of men claimed to have invented telephones before Bell did, but
none ever proved their claims. Men who were studying improvements on
the telegraph had glimpses of the ultimate possibility of transmitting
speech by wire, and Elisha Gray filed a caveat on that point later on
the very day that Bell filed his application for a patent. But Gray’s
was a caveat, or a declaration that the applicant believes he can
invent a certain device, and Bell’s was the statement that he had
already perfected his invention. Bell’s claim stood against the world,
and men now recognize that the telephone was born on that afternoon in
June, 1875, when the young teacher of deaf-mutes first caught the
faint twang of a snapping reed sent across a few yards of wire.




To some men the material world is always presenting itself in the form
of a series of fascinating puzzles, to be solved as one might work out
a game of chess. The astronomer is given certain figures, and from
those he intends to derive certain laws; the scientist knows the
properties of certain materials and from those he is to reach some new
combination that will produce a new result. He is not an inventor as
much as he is a detective; he picks up the clews to certain happenings
and constructs a working theory to fit them. In mechanics this theory
that he constructs usually takes the form of a machine. And this
machine is not so much a new discovery as it is the practical
working-out of certain carefully-selected laws of nature.

Perhaps there has never been a man whose thoughts were so continually
asking the question why as Thomas Alva Edison. Certainly there has
never been one who has found the answer to that question in so many
lines of scientific study. He has not merely happened on his
discoveries. He has not been as much interested in the result as in
the reasons for it. He belongs to the experimenting age. Once on a
time men took the facts of nature for granted. But if they had always
done so there would have been no telegraph, no telephone, no electric
light, no phonograph. Each of these were achieved by working on a
definite problem, and in no haphazard way. The inventor has become a
scientist and a mechanic, and no longer an amateur discoverer. Chance
has much less to do with the winning of new knowledge than it once

A visitor to Edison’s laboratory tells how he found him holding a vial
of some liquid to the light. After a long look at it he put the vial
down on the table, and resting his head in his hands, stared intently
at it, as if he expected the vial to make some answer. Then he picked
it up, shook it, and held it again to the light. The visitor
introduced himself. Edison nodded toward the bottle. “Take a look at
those filings,” said he. “See how curiously they settle when I shake
the bottle. 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?” Again he shook the vial. “What I want
to know is what they mean by it; and I’m going to find out.” There is
the man, he wants to know “what they mean by it,” he continually asks
the question why, he is the great experimenter among great inventors.

Edison has shown the calibre of his mind in a score of different ways.
He has been showing it ever since the days when he was a newsboy on
the trains of the Canadian Grand Trunk Railroad and the Michigan
Central. Then he fitted up a corner of the baggage-car of his train as
a miniature laboratory, and filled it with the bottles and retorts
that had been discarded at the railroad workshops. Among his treasures
was a copy of Fresenius’s “Qualitative Analysis,” engaging reading for
a boy only twelve years old. But he was not only a chemist. When he
was not working on the train he would be hanging about machine shops,
listening and watching and considering. One day the manager of the
_Detroit Free Press_ told him he might have some three hundred pounds
of old type that had been used up. The newsboy found an old hand-press
and began to print a paper himself, called the _Grand Trunk Herald_,
and sold it to the employees and regular passengers on his line.
Usually he would set the type before the train started, and print it
in the spare moments of his trip. Sometimes one of the station-masters
on the run, who was also a telegraph operator, would get a piece of
important news, write it down, and hand the paper to Edison as the
train stopped. Then the boy would go to his shop in the caboose, set
up the item, print it, and sell it, beating the daily newspapers that
might be awaiting the passengers at the end of the ride.

The new invention of the telegraph, and the great possibilities of its
use, early caught his attention. About the time the Civil War began
the newsboy adopted a new idea in his business. He had always found it
difficult to know how many newspapers to carry on each trip. If he had
too large a stock some would be left on his hands, if he carried too
few he would be sold out early and lose a good profit. He made a
friend of one of the compositors of the _Detroit Free Press_, and got
him to show him the proofs of the paper. That gave him some idea of
the news of the day, and he could judge how many papers he would
probably need. One day the proof-slip told him that there had been a
terrific battle at Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh, and that sixty
thousand men had been killed and wounded. He knew that this would sell
the paper. All he needed was to let people get an inkling of what the
news was.

Edison dashed to the telegraph-operator and asked if he would wire a
message to each of the large stations on the railroad line requesting
the station-masters to chalk up a notice on their train
bulletin-board, giving the fact that there had been a great battle,
and that papers telling about it would reach the station at such an
hour. In return he offered the operator newspaper service for six
months free. The bargain was made, and the boy hurried to the
newspaper office.

He did not have enough money to buy as many papers as he wanted. He
asked the superintendent to let him have one thousand copies of the
_Press_ on credit. The request was instantly refused. Thereupon he
marched up the stairs to the office of the paper’s owner, and asked if
he would give him fifteen hundred copies on trust. The owner looked at
the boy for a moment, and then wrote out an order. “Take that
down-stairs,” said he, “and you will get what you want.” As Edison
said in telling the story afterward, “Then I felt happier than I have
ever felt since.”

He took his fifteen hundred copies to his storehouse on the train. At
the station where the first stop was made he usually sold two papers.
That day as they ran in to the platform it looked as if a riot had
occurred. All the town was clamoring for papers. He sold a couple of
hundred at five cents each. Another crowd met him at the next stop,
and he raised his price to ten cents a copy. The same thing happened
at each place where they stopped. When he reached Port Huron he put
what was left of his stock in a wagon, and drove through the main
streets. He sold his papers at a quarter of a dollar and more apiece.
He went by a church, and called out the news of the battle. In ten
seconds the minister and all his congregation were clamoring about the
wagon, bidding against each other for copies of the precious issue. He
had made a small fortune for a boy, and felt that he owed it largely
to his use of the telegraph. Quick-witted he was, beyond a doubt, of
an inventive turn, but a shrewd business man on top of all.

He wanted to be a telegraph-operator. Electricity fascinated him, and
he could watch the machines and listen to the music of their clicking
by the hour. He set up a line of his own in his father’s basement at
Port Huron, making his batteries of bottles, old stovepipe wire, nails
and zinc that he could pick up for a trifle. He studied the subject in
his shop in the corner of the baggage-car, during the scant moments
when he was neither printer nor newsboy. Once a bottle of phosphorus
upset and started a fire. The boy was thrashed and his bottles and
wires thrown out. But he was too doggedly persistent to mind any
mishap. He saved the small son of the station-master at Port Clements
from being run down by a train, and in return the father offered to
teach him telegraphy. So little by little he learned his chosen work.

He obtained a position as night operator at Port Huron. That kept him
busy at night, but he refused to sleep during the daytime as other
night operators did, and used that time to work on his own schemes. To
catch some sleep he kept a loud alarm-clock at his office, and set it
so that he would be waked when trains were due and he was needed. But
sometimes trains were off schedule, and again and again he would
oversleep. At last the train despatcher ordered Edison to signal him
the letter “A” in the Morse alphabet every half hour. The boy
willingly agreed. A few nights later he brought an invention of his
own to the office, and connected it by wires with the clock and the
telegraph. Then he watched it work. Exactly on the half hour a little
lever fell, sending an excellent copy of the Morse “A” to the key of
the telegraph. Another lever closed the circuit. He kept his eyes on
this instrument of his making until he had seen it act faultlessly
again at the next half hour. Then he went to sleep. Night after night
the signal was sent without a mistake, and the despatcher began to
regain some of the confidence he had lost in the young operator. Then
one night the despatcher chanced to be at the next station to
Edison’s, and it occurred to him to call the latter up and have a chat
with him. He signaled for fifteen minutes, and received no answer.
Then he jumped on a hand-car and rode to Edison’s station. Looking
through the window he saw the youth sound asleep. His eyes took in the
strange instrument upon the table. It was near the half hour, and as
the man watched he saw one lever of the instrument throw open the key
and the other send the signal over the wire. The operator was still
sleeping soundly. The despatcher recognized the young man’s ingenuity,
but he also realized that he had been fooled, and so he woke Edison
none too gently, and told him that his services were no longer in
demand on that road.

Ingenuity, mechanical short-cuts, new devices for doing old work, were
what beset his mind. He was not interested in doing the simple routine
service of a telegrapher, he wanted to see what improvements on it he
could make. Often this keenness for new ideas led him into trouble
with his employers; occasionally it was of real service. At one time
an ice-jam had broken the cable-line between Port Huron, in Michigan,
and Sarnia, over the Canadian line. The river there was a mile and a
half wide. The officers were wondering how they could get their
messages across when they saw Edison jump upon a locomotive standing
in the train-yard. He seized the valve that controlled the whistle. He
opened and closed it so that the locomotive’s whistles resembled the
dots and dashes of the telegraph code. He called Sarnia again and
again. “Do you hear this? Do you get this?” he sent by the whistle.
Four and five times he sent the message, and finally the whistle of a
locomotive across the river answered him. In that way communication
was again established.

A little later, when Edison was employed as operator in the railroad
office at Indianapolis, he practiced receiving newspaper reports in
his spare hours at night. He and a friend named Parmley would take the
place of the regular man, who was glad to have them do it. “I would
sit down,” said 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 it.

“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.”

His fortunes rose and fell, for, although he was now becoming a very
expert operator, taking messages with greater and greater speed, he
would continue to stray into new fields of experiment. When he started
to work in the Western Union office in Memphis, which was soon after
the end of the Civil War, he found that all messages that were sent
from New Orleans to New York had to be received at Memphis, sent on
from there to Louisville, taken again, and so forwarded by half a
dozen relays to New York. Many errors might creep in by such a system.
To cure this he devised an automatic repeater, which could be attached
to the line at Memphis, and would of its own accord send the message
on. In this way the signals could go directly from New Orleans to New
York. The device worked, and was highly praised in the local
newspapers. But it happened that the manager of the office had a
relative who was just completing a similar instrument, and Edison had
forestalled him. Consequently he found himself discharged. He got a
railroad pass as far as Decatur, and walked a hundred and fifty miles
from there to Nashville. So by alternate riding and walking he finally
reached Louisville. A little later he was offered a place in the
Boston office.

He had plenty of nerve, and was not at all put out at the amusement of
the other men when he walked into the Boston office, clad in an old
and shapeless linen duster. “Here I am,” he announced to the
superintendent. “And who are you?” he was asked. “Tom Edison. I was
told to report here.”

The superintendent sent him to the operating-room. Shortly after a New
York telegrapher, famed for his speed, called up. Every one else was
busy, and Edison was told to take his message. He sat down, and for
four and a half hours wrote the messages, numbering the pages and
throwing them on the floor for the office boy to gather up. As time
went on the messages came with such lightning speed that the whole
force gathered about to see the new man work. They had never seen such
quickness. At the end of the last message came the words, “Who the
devil are you?” “Tom Edison,” the operator ticked back. “You are the
first man in the country,” wired the man in New York, “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.”

This story may be legendary, but it is known to be a fact that Edison
was at this time the fastest operator in the employ of the Western
Union, and that he could take the messages sent him with a careless
ease which amounted almost to indifference. He had also cultivated an
unusually clear handwriting, which was of great help in writing out
the messages.

As soon as he was settled at the Boston office he opened a small
workshop, where he might try to complete some of the many devices he
had in mind. He took out his first patent in 1868, when he was
twenty-one years old, and it was obtained for what he called an
electrical vote recorder. This was intended for use in Congress and
the State Legislatures, and to take the place of the slow process of
calling the roll on any vote. It was worked somewhat on the plan of
the hotel indicator. The voter, sitting at his desk, would press one
button if he wanted to vote “aye,” and another if he wanted to vote
“no.” His vote was then recorded on a dial by the Speaker’s desk, and
as soon as each member had pressed one or the other button the total
votes on each side could be known. The machine worked perfectly, and
Edison took it to Washington in high hopes of having it adopted by
Congress. The chairman to whom he was referred examined it carefully.
Then he said, “Young man, it works all right and couldn’t be better.
With an instrument like that it would be difficult to monkey with the
vote if you wanted to. But it won’t do. In fact, it’s the last thing
on earth that we want here. Filibustering and delay in the counting of
the votes are often the only means we have of defeating bad
legislation. So, though I admire your genius and the spirit which
prompted you to invent so excellent a machine, we shan’t require it
here. Take the thing away.”

“Of course I was very sorry,” said Edison, in speaking of this
interview later, “for I had banked on that machine bringing me in
money. But it was a lesson to me. There and then I made a vow that I
would never invent anything which was not wanted, or which was not
necessary to the community at large. And so far I believe I have kept
that vow.”

It was very evident there was a keen-witted man at work in the Boston
office. The operators there had been much annoyed by an army of
cockroaches that used to march across the table where they put their
lunches and make a raid on the sandwiches and pies. One day Edison
appeared with some tin-foil and four or five yards of fine wire. He
unrolled the tin-foil, and, cutting two narrow strips from the long
sheet, he stretched them around the table, keeping them near together,
but not touching, and fastening them with small tacks. Then he
connected the ribbons of foil with two batteries.

The leaders of the cockroach army arrived. The advance guard got his
fore-creepers over the first ribbon safely, but as soon as they
touched the parallel ribbon over he fell. In a very short time the
invading army had met its Waterloo, and the lunches were safe from any
further attack.

At another time the tin dipper that hung by the tank of drinking-water
temporarily disappeared. When it was returned Edison put up a sign,
reading, “Please return this dipper.” He also connected the nail on
which the dipper hung with a wire attached to an electric battery.
After that the dipper stayed in its place under penalty of a wrenched
arm for moving it without first disconnecting the battery.

Edison had now determined to become an inventor, and as soon as he was
able gave up his position in the Boston telegraph office, where his
routine work took too much of his time, and went to New York to look
for other opportunities. It happened that one day soon after his
arrival he was walking through Wall Street and was attracted to the
office of the Law Gold Indicator. The indicators or stock-tickers of
this company were a new device, and were distributed through most of
the large brokerage houses of the city. On the morning when Edison
casually looked in, the machines had stopped work, no one could find
out what was the matter, and the brokers were much disturbed. Edison
watched Mr. Law and his workmen searching for the trouble. Then he
said that he thought he could fix the machines. Mr. Law told him to
try. He removed a loose contact spring that had fallen between the
wheels, and immediately the tickers began to work again. The other
workmen looked foolish, and Mr. Law asked the newcomer to step into
his private office. At the end of the interview the owner had offered
Edison the position of manager at a salary of three hundred dollars a
month, and Edison had accepted.

He determined to improve this stock-indicator, and set to work at
once. Soon he had evolved a number of important additions. The
president of the company sent for him and asked how much he would take
for these improvements. The inventor said that he would leave that to
the president. Forty thousand dollars was named and accepted. Edison
opened a bank account, and gave more time to working in his own
laboratory. He had got well started up the rungs of the ladder he
planned to climb.

His work lay along the lines of the telegraph, and he was anxious to
win the support of the Western Union for his new ideas. His chance
came when there was a breakdown of the lines between New York and
Albany. He went to the Western Union president, who had already heard
of him, and said, “If I locate this trouble within two or three hours,
will you take up my inventions and give them honest consideration?”
The president answered, “I’ll consider your inventions if you get us
out of this fix within two days.” Edison rushed forthwith to the main
office. There he called up Pittsburg and asked for their best
operator. When he had him he told him to call up the best man at
Albany, and get him to telegraph down the line to New York as far as
he could, and report back to him. Inside of an hour he received the
message, “I can telegraph all right down to within two miles of
Poughkeepsie, and there is trouble with the wire there.” Edison went
back to the president and told him that if he would send a repair
train to Poughkeepsie they would find a break two miles the other side
of the city and could have it repaired that afternoon. They followed
his directions, and communication was restored before night. After
that the Western Union officials gave the most careful consideration
to every new invention that Edison brought them.

As soon as he had money in bank Edison carried out a plan he had long
had in mind. He gave up his workshop in New York and opened a factory
and experimenting shop in Newark, New Jersey, where he would have
plenty of room for himself and his assistants. He began by
manufacturing his improved “stock-tickers,” and he met with very
considerable success. But he felt that manufacturing was not his
forte. He said of this venture later, “I was a poor manufacturer,
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 manufacturer.”

In his Newark shop Edison now turned his attention to improvements on
the telegraph. His first important invention was the duplex, by which
two messages could be sent over the same wire in opposite directions
at the same time without any confusion or obstruction to each other.
This doubled the capacity of the single wire. Later he decided to
carry this system farther, and perfected the quadruplex device. By
this two messages could be sent simultaneously in each direction, and
two sending and two receiving operators were employed at each end of a
single wire. The principle involved was that of working with two
electric currents that differ from each other in strength or nature,
and which only affect receiving instruments specially adapted to take
such currents, and no others. This invention changed a hundred
thousand miles of wire into four hundred thousand, and saved the
Western Union untold millions of dollars which would otherwise have
had to be expended for new wires and repairs to the old ones.

Along somewhat similar lines Edison perfected an automatic telegraph,
an harmonic multiplex telegraph, and an autographic telegraph. The
harmonic multiplex used tuning-forks to separate the several different
messages sent at the same time, and the autographic telegraph allowed
of the transmission of an exact reproduction of a message written by
the sender in one place and received in another. And in addition to
all these leading inventions he was continually improving on the main
system, and his improvements were rapidly bought and taken over by the
Western Union Company.

In almost as many diverse ways Edison improved upon the telephone. He
had left his factory in Newark in charge of a capable superintendent,
and moved his own laboratories to Menlo Park, a quiet place about
twenty-five miles from Newark. His striking discoveries soon earned
for him the nickname of “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” Here he
experimented with the new apparatus known as the telephone. He said of
his own connection with it, “When I struck the telephone business the
Bell people had no transmitter, but were talking into the magneto
receiver. You never heard such a noise and buzzing as there was in
that old machine! I went to work and monkeyed around, and finally
struck the notion of the lampblack button. The Western Union Telegraph
Company thought this was a first-rate scheme, and bought the thing
out, but afterward they consolidated, and I quit the telephone
business.” As a matter of fact Edison has done a great deal of other
work besides inventing his carbon transmitter in the telephone field,
and the Patent Office is well stocked with applications he has sent
them for receivers and transmitters of different designs.

Edison has himself told of the main incidents in his perfection of the
electric light. In the _Electrical Review_ he said, “In 1878 I went
down to see Professor Barker, at Philadelphia, and he showed me an arc
lamp--the first I had seen. Then a little later I saw another--I think
it was one of Brush’s make--and the whole outfit, engine, dynamo, and
one or two lamps, was traveling around the country with a circus. At
that time Wallace and Moses G. Farmer had succeeded in getting ten or
fifteen lamps to burn together in a series, which was considered a
very wonderful thing. It happened that at the time I was more or less
at leisure, because I had just finished working on the carbon-button
telephone, and this electric-light idea took possession of me. It was
easy to see what the thing needed: it wanted to be subdivided. The
light was too bright and too big. What we wished for was little
lights, and a distribution of them to people’s houses in a manner
similar to gas. Grovernor P. Lowry thought that perhaps I could
succeed in solving the problem, and he raised a little money and
formed the Edison Electric Light Company. The way we worked was that I
got a certain sum of money a week and employed a certain number of
men, and we went ahead to see what we could do.

“We soon saw that the subdivision never could be accomplished unless
each light was independent of every other. Now it was plain enough
that they could not burn in series. Hence they must burn in multiple
arc. It was with this conviction that I started. I was fired with the
idea of the incandescent lamp as opposed to the arc lamp, so I went to
work and got some very fine platinum wire drawn. Experiment with this,
however, resulted in failure, and then we tried mixing in with the
platinum about ten per cent. of iridium, but we could not force that
high enough without melting it. After that came a lot of
experimenting--covering the wire with oxide of cerium and a number of
other things.

“Then I got a great idea. I took a cylinder of zirconia and wound
about a hundred feet of the fine platinum wire on it coated with
magnesia from the syrupy acetate. What I was after was getting a
high-resistance lamp, and I made one that way that worked up to forty
ohms. But the oxide developed the phenomena now familiar to
electricians, and the lamp short-circuited itself. After that we went
fishing around and trying all sorts of shapes and things to make a
filament that would stand. We tried silicon and boron, and a lot of
things that I have forgotten now. The funny part of it was that I
never thought in those days that a carbon filament would answer,
because a fine hair of carbon was so sensitive to oxidation. Finally,
I thought I would try it because we had got very high vacua and good
conditions for it.

“Well, we sent out and bought some cotton thread, carbonized it, and
made the first filament. We had already managed to get pretty high
vacua, and we thought, maybe, the filament would be stable. We built
the lamp and turned on the current. It lit up, and in the first few
breathless minutes we measured its resistance quickly and found it was
275 ohms--all we wanted. Then we sat down and looked at that lamp. We
wanted to see how long it would burn. The problem was solved--if the
filament would last. The day was--let me see--October 21, 1879. We sat
and looked, and the lamp continued to burn, and the longer it burned
the more fascinated we were. None of us could go to bed, and there was
no sleep for any of us for forty hours. We sat and just watched it
with anxiety growing into elation. It lasted about forty-five hours,
and then I said, If it will burn that number of hours now, I know I
can make it burn a hundred.’ We saw that carbon was what we wanted,
and the next question was what kind of carbon. I began to try various
things, and finally I carbonized a strip of bamboo from a Japanese
fan, and saw that I was on the right track. But we had a rare hunt
finding the real thing. I sent a schoolmaster to Sumatra and another
fellow up the Amazon, while William H. Moore, one of my associates,
went to Japan and got what we wanted there. We made a contract with an
old Jap to supply us with the proper fibre, and that man went to work
and cultivated and cross-fertilized bamboo until he got exactly the
quality we required.”

This is the inventor’s own statement, but it gives a very meagre
notion of the many months’ experimenting in his workshop while he
hunted for a suitable filament for his electric light.

As he said, after he had first seen the Brush light, and studied it,
he decided that the main problem was one of distribution, and
thereupon considered whether he should use the incandescent or the
voltaic arc in the system he was planning. At last he decided in favor
of the incandescent light.

Then began the long months of testing platinum wire. He wanted to find
some way of preventing this hardest of all metals from melting when
the full force of the electric current was turned into it. He worked
out several devices to keep the platinum from fusing, an automatic
lever to regulate the electric current when the platinum was near the
melting-point, and a diaphragm with the same object; but all of them
had to be discarded. Although he was still searching for the right
clue he seems to have had no doubt of his final success. He said at
this time, “There is no difficulty about dividing up the current and
using small quantities at different points. The trouble is in finding
a candle that will give a pleasant light, not too intense, which can
be turned off and on as easily as gas. Such a candle cannot be made
from carbon points, which waste away, and must be regulated constantly
while they do last. Some composition must be discovered which will be
luminous when charged with electricity and that will not wear away.
Platinum wire gives a good light when a certain quantity of
electricity is passed through it. If the current is made too strong,
however, the wire will melt. I want to get something better.”

It was generally known that Edison was working along this line. An
English paper, commenting on the matter, said, “The weak point of the
lamp is this, that in order to be luminous, platinum must be heated
almost to the point of melting. With a slight increase in the current,
the lamp melts in the twinkling of an eye, and in practice the
regulator is found to short-circuit the current too late to prevent
the damage. It is this difficulty which must be overcome. Can it be

After long study Edison concluded that pure platinum was not suited to
successful electric lighting. Then he incorporated with it another
material of a non-conducting nature, with the result that when the
electric current was turned on one material became incandescent and
the other luminous. This gave a clear, but not a permanent, light. He
tried many different combinations, and experimented month after month,
but none of his trials produced the result he wanted, and at last he
concluded that he was on the wrong track, and that neither platinum
nor any other metal would give the right light.

There is something very dramatic about his real discovery. He was
sitting in his laboratory one evening, when his right hand happened to
touch a small pile of lampblack and tar that his assistants had been
using in working on a telephone transmitter. He picked up a little of
it, and began to roll it between his finger and thumb. He was thinking
of other things, and he rolled the mixture absent-mindedly for some
time, until he had formed a thin thread that looked something like a
piece of wire. Glancing at it, he fell to wondering how it would serve
as a filament for his light. It was carbon, and might be able to stand
a stronger current than platinum. He rolled some more of the mixture,
and decided to try it.

His experiments had already resulted in the production of an almost
absolute vacuum, only one-millionth part of an atmosphere being left
in the tube. Such a vacuum had never been obtained before. With his
assistant, Charles Bachelor, he put a thread of the lampblack and tar
in a bulb, exhausted the air, and turned on the current. There was an
intense glow of light; but it did not last, the carbon soon burned
out. Therefore he started to study the reason why the carbon had
failed to withstand the electric current. His conclusion was that it
was impossible to get the air out of the lampblack. Besides that the
thread became so brittle that the slightest shock to the lamp broke
it. But he felt certain now that a carbon filament, made of something
other than tar and lampblack, was what he wanted.

He next sent a boy to buy a reel of cotton, and told his assistants he
was going to see what a carbonized thread would do. They looked
doubtful, but began the experiment. A short piece of the thread was
bent in the form of a hairpin, laid in a nickel mould and securely
clamped, and then put in a muffle furnace, where it was kept for five
hours. Then it was taken out and allowed to cool. The mould was opened
and the carbonized thread removed. It instantly broke. Another thread
was put through the same process. As soon as it was taken from the
mould it broke. Then a battle began that lasted for two days and two
nights, the object of which was to get a carbonized thread that would
not break. Edison wanted that thread because it contained no air, and
might stand a greater current than the lampblack. Finally they took
from the mould an unbroken thread, but as they tried to fasten it to
the conducting wire it broke into pieces. Only on the night of the
third day of their work, in all which time they had taken no rest, did
they get a thread safely into the lamp, exhaust the air, and turn on
the current. A clear, soft light resulted, and they knew that they had
solved the problem of the incandescent light.

Edison and Bachelor watched that light for hours. They had turned on a
small current at the start, to test the strength of the filament, but
as it stood it, they turned on a greater and greater current until the
thread was bearing a heat that would have instantly melted the
platinum wire. The cotton thread glowed for forty-five hours, and then
suddenly went out. The two watchers ended their long vigil, exhausted,
but very happy. They knew that they had found the light that was to be
the main illumination for the world.

But Edison realized that he had not yet found the ideal filament. The
cotton thread had only lasted forty-five hours, and he wanted one that
would burn for a hundred hours or longer. He wanted a more homogeneous
material than thread, and he began to try carbonizing everything he
could lay his hands on, straw, paper, cardboard, splinters of wood. He
found that the cardboard stood the current better than the cotton
thread, but even that did not burn long enough. Then he happened upon
a bamboo fan, tore off the rim, and tried that. It made a filament
that gave better results than any of the others.

Now he began his exhaustive study of bamboo. He learned that there
were more than twelve hundred known varieties of bamboo. He wanted to
find the most homogeneous variety. He sent out a number of men to hunt
this bamboo, and it is said that the search cost nearly $100,000. Six
thousand specimens of bamboo were carbonized, and he found three kinds
of bamboo and one of cane that gave almost the result he wanted. All
of these grew in a region near the Amazon, and were hard to get on
account of malarial conditions. But at last he discovered the bamboo
species that suited him, and he was ready to give his new light to the

The world was waiting for it. Scientists and the press reported his
invention everywhere. He hung a row of lamps from the trees at Menlo
Park, and the thousands who came to see them wondered when they found
they could burn day and night for longer than a week. The lamps were
small and finely made, they could be lighted or extinguished by simply
pressing a button, and the cost of making them was slight. The last
doubters surrendered, and admitted that Edison had given the world a
new light, and one which was not simply a scientific marvel, but was
eminently practical and useful.

But Edison is never satisfied with what he has done in any line; he
must try to increase the service each invention gives. Therefore he
now conceived the idea of having a central station from which every
one might obtain electric light as they had formerly obtained gas.
There were gigantic difficulties in the way of such an undertaking.
Hardly any one outside of Edison’s own laboratory knew anything about
electric lighting, and there were only a few of them who could be
trusted to put a carbon filament in an exhausted globe.

He went about this new development in the most methodical way. He got
an insurance map of New York City, and studied the business section
from Wall to Canal Streets and from Broadway over to the East River.
He knew where every elevator shaft and boiler and fire-wall was, and
also how much gas each resident used and what he paid for it. This
last he learned by hiring men to walk through the district at two
o’clock in the afternoon and note how many gas lights were burning,
then to make the rounds again at three, and again at four, and so on
into the hours of the next morning.

With the field carefully examined he formed the New York Edison
Illuminating Company, and had his assistants take charge of factories
for making lamps, dynamos, sockets, and the other parts necessary for
his lights. It was very difficult to get the land he wanted for his
central station, but he finally bought two old buildings on Pearl
Street for $150,000. He had little room space and he wanted to get a
big output of electricity. So he decided to get a high-speed engine.
They were practically unknown then, and when he went to an engine
builder and said that he wanted a 150 horse-power engine that would
run 700 revolutions per minute he was told it was impossible. But he
found a man to build one for him, and set it up in the shop at Menlo
Park. The shop was built on a shale hill, and when the engine was
started the whole hill shook with the high speed revolutions. After
some experimenting and changing they got the power that Edison wanted,
and he ordered six more engines like the first.

In the meantime workmen had been busy digging ditches and laying mains
through the district that Edison intended to light. The engines were
set up in the central station and tried out. Then the troubles began.
The engines would not run evenly, one would stop and another go
dashing on at a tremendous speed. Edison tried a dozen different plans
before he brought anything like order out of that engine chaos.
Finally he had some engines built to run at 350 revolutions and give
175 horse-power, and these proved what was required. September 4,
1882, he turned the current on to the mains for the needed light
service, and it stayed on with only one short stoppage for eight

In this way Edison invented the electric light and evolved the central
station that should provide the current wherever it was needed. At the
same time he had worked out countless adjuncts to it, the use of
the fine copper thread to serve as a fuse wire and prevent
short-circuiting, the meter, consisting of a small glass cell,
containing a solution in which two plates of zinc are placed, and
which shows how much current is supplied, the weighing voltameter, and
other instruments for estimating the current, and improvements on the
motors and engines. There was no field remotely connected with
electric lighting that he did not enter. Yet as soon as the invention
was actually before the world business competitors sprang up on
every hand. There was more litigation over this than over any other of
Edison’s inventions. “I fought for the lamp for fourteen years,” he
said, “and when I finally won my rights there were but three years of
the allotted seventeen left for my patent to live. Now it has become
the property of anybody and everybody.”


Edison had always wanted a model laboratory, one that should be fitted
with the most perfect instruments obtainable, and supplied with all
the materials he could possibly require in any of his extraordinary
experiments. In 1886 he bought a house in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey,
and near the house ten acres of land, on which he built the laboratory
of his dreams. Here he had a large force of skilled workmen constantly
engaged in developing his ideas, and the expenses were paid by the
many commercial companies in which he was interested, and which
profited by the improvements he was continually making in their

Many volumes might be written to tell of the “Wizard’s” achievements.
There has been no inventor who has covered such a field, and each step
he takes opens new and fascinating vistas to his ever-inquiring eyes.
Electricity is always his main study, and electricity he expects in
time will revolutionize modern life by making heat, power, and light
practically as cheap as air. But other subjects have concerned him
almost as much. He ranges from new processes for making guns to the
supplying of ready-made houses built of cement. Everything interests
him, every object tempts him to try his hand at improving on it.

The phonograph is his achievement, and the practical development of
the kinetoscope. He has built electric locomotives and run them, he
has made many discoveries in regard to platinum. His better known
patents include developments of the electric lamp, the telephone,
storage-batteries, ore-milling machinery, typewriters, electric pens,
vocal engines, addressing machines, cast-iron furniture, wire-drawing,
methods of preserving fruit, moving-picture machines, compressed-air
machines, and the manufacture of plate glass. He took out a patent
covering wireless telegraphy in 1891, but other matters were then
absorbing his attention, and he was quite willing to yield that field
to the brilliant Italian, Marconi. He feels no jealousy for other
inventors. He knows how vast the field is, and how many paths
constantly beckon him.

It is doubtless true that the great inventors are born and not made,
but many of them seem, nevertheless, to have drifted into the work
that gave them fame, or to have hit by chance on their compelling
idea. It was not so with Edison. He was beyond any doubt born an
inventor. With him to see was to ask the question why, and to ask that
question was to start his thoughts on the train that was to bring him
to the answer.




At first sight the wireless telegraph seems the most wonderful of all
inventions and discoveries, the one that is least easy to understand,
and that most nearly approaches that magic which is above all nature’s
laws. Even if we do come to understand it it loses nothing of its
wonder, and the last impression is very like the first. We can
understand how an electric current travels through a wire, even if we
cannot understand electricity, but how that current can travel through
limitless space and yet reach its destination strains the imagination.
Yet wireless telegraphy is not a matter of the imagination, but of
exact, demonstrable science.

On December 12, 1901, a quiet, dark-skinned young man sat, about
noontime, in a room of the old barracks building on Signal Hill, near
St. John’s, Newfoundland. On the table in front of him was a
mechanical apparatus, with an ordinary telephone receiver at its side.
The window was partly open, and a wire led from the machine on the
table through the window to a gigantic kite that a high wind kept
flying fully 400 feet above the room. The young man picked up the
receiver, and held it to his ear for a long time. His face showed no
sign of excitement, though an assistant, standing near him, could
barely keep still. Then, suddenly, came the sharp click of the
“tapper” as it struck the “coherer.” That meant that something was
coming. The young man listened a few minutes, and then handed the
receiver to his assistant. “See if you can hear anything, Mr. Kemp,”
said he. The other man took the receiver, and a moment later his ear
caught the sound of three little clicks, faint, but distinct and
unmistakable, the three dots of the letter S in the Morse Code. Those
clicks had been sent from Poldhu, on the Cornish coast of England, and
they had traveled through air across the Atlantic Ocean without any
wire to guide them. That was one of the great moments of history. The
young man at the table was Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian.

We know that it is no injustice to a great inventor to say that other
men had imagined what he achieved, and had earlier tried to prove
their theories. It takes nothing from the glory of that other great
Italian, Columbus, to recall that other sailors had planned to cross
the sea to the west of Europe and that some had tried it. So James
Clerk-Maxwell had proved by mathematics the electro-magnetic theory of
light in 1864, and Heinrich Hertz had demonstrated in 1888 by actual
experiment that electric waves exist in the free ether, and Edison had
for a time worked on the problem of a wireless telegraph. Marconi
devised the last link that made the wonder possible, and caught the
first click that came across the sea, and to him belong the palms.
Judge Townsend, in deciding a suit in a United States court in 1905,
declared, “It would seem, therefore, to be a sufficient answer to the
attempts to belittle Marconi’s great invention that, with the whole
scientific world awakened by the disclosures of Hertz in 1887 to the
new and undeveloped possibilities of electric waves, nine years
elapsed without a single practical or commercially successful result,
and Marconi was the first to describe and the first to achieve the
transmission of definite intelligible signals by means of these
Hertzian waves.”

Marconi was born at Villa Griffone, near Bologna, in 1874, so that he
was under thirty when he caught that first transatlantic message. He
studied at Leghorn under Professor Rosa, and later at the University
of Bologna with Professor Righi. He was always absorbed in science,
and experimented, holiday after holiday, on his father’s estate. He
was precocious to an extraordinary degree, for in 1895, when only
twenty-one, he had produced a wireless transmitting apparatus that he
patented in Italy. Within a year he had taken out patents in England
and in other European countries, and had proposed a wireless telegraph
system to the English Post-Office Department. That Department, through
Sir William Henry Preece, Engineer-in-Chief of Telegraphs, took up the
subject, and reported very favorably on the Marconi System. Marconi
himself, at the House of Commons, telegraphed by wireless across the
Thames, a distance of 250 yards. In June, 1897, he sent a message nine
miles, in July twelve miles, and in 1898 he succeeded in sending one
across the English Channel to France, thirty-two miles. In 1901 he
covered a space of 3,000 miles.

Let us now see what it was that Marconi had actually done.

Wireless signals are in reality wave motions in the magnetic forces of
the earth, or, in other words, disturbances of those forces. They are
sent out through this magnetic field, and follow the earth’s
curvature, in the same way that tidal waves follow the ocean’s
surface. Everywhere about us there is a sea of what science calls the
ether, and the ether is constantly in a state of turmoil, because it
is the medium through which energy, radiating from the sun, is carried
to the earth and other planets. This energy is transmitted through the
free ether in waves, which are known as electromagnetic waves. It was
this fact that Professor Hertz discovered, and the waves are sometimes
called the Hertzian waves. Light is one variety of wave motion, and
heat another. The ether must be distinguished from the air, for
science means by it a medium which exists everywhere and is to be
regarded as permeating all space and all matter. The ether exists in a
vacuum, for, although all the air may have been withdrawn, an object
placed in a vacuum can still be seen from outside, and hence the wave
motions of light are traveling through a space devoid of air.

Professor Hertz proved in 1888 that a spark, or disruptive discharge
of electricity, caused electro-magnetic waves to radiate away in all
directions through the ether. The waves acted exactly like ripples
that radiate from a stone when it strikes the water. These Hertzian
waves were found to travel with the same velocity as light, and would
circle the world eight times in a second. As soon as the existence of
these waves was known many scientists began to consider whether they
could not be used for telegraphy. But the problem was a very difficult
one. The questions were how to transmit the energy to a distance, and
how to make a receiver that should be sensitive enough to be affected
by it.

Let us picture a body of still water with a twig floating upon its
surface. If a stone is thrown into the water ripples radiate in all
directions, these waves becoming weaker as the circles they form
become larger, or in other words as they grow more distant from the
point where the stone struck the water. When the waves reach the
floating twig they will move it, and when they cease the twig will be
motionless again. Should there be grasses or rocks protruding up from
the water the motion given to the twig by the waves would be lessened,
or distorted, or changed in many ways, depending on the intervening
object. Whether the waves will actually impart motion to the twig will
depend on the force by which these waves were started and upon the
lightness of the twig, or its sensitiveness to the ripples as they
radiate. If the water were disturbed by some other force than the
stone the twig would be moved by that other force, and the observer
could not tell from what direction the motion had come, or how it had
been caused. Applying this to wireless telegraphy one may say that a
device must be used that will send out waves of a certain length, and
that the receiver must be constructed so that it will respond only to
waves of the length sent by that transmitter.

There must therefore be accurate tuning of the two instruments. Let a
weight be fastened at the end of a spiral spring and then be struck.
The weight will oscillate at a uniform rate, or so many times a
minute. If this be held so that it strikes the water the movement of
the spring will create a certain number of waves a minute. If now a
second weight, attached to a second spring, be hung down into the
water, the waves caused by the first will reach the second, and if the
springs be alike the movements or oscillations will correspond. But if
the springs were not alike, or if, in other words, the two instruments
were not in tune, the wave motions would not be received and copied
accurately. Therefore in wireless telegraphy the instrument that is to
impart the motion to the electro-magnetic waves that fill the ether
must be tuned in accord with the instrument that is to receive the
motion of those waves.

The sending of the wireless message requires a source of production of
the electro-magnetic waves. This is obtained by what is known as
capacity, or in other words, the power that is possessed by any metal
surface to retain a charge of electricity, and by inductance, procured
when a constantly changing current is sent through a coil of wire.
This capacity and inductance must be adjusted to give exactly the same
frequency of motion to the waves, or the same oscillations, if the
receiver that is tuned to vibrate to those waves is to receive that
message accurately. The receiving station must have the means to
intercept the waves, and then transform them again into electrical
oscillations that shall correspond to those sent out from the
transmitting station.

As early as 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse had succeeded in telegraphing
without wires under the Susquehanna River, and in 1854 James Bowman
Lindsay, a Scotchman, had sent a message a distance of two miles
through water without wires. Sir William Henry Preece, by using an
induced current, had telegraphed several miles without a connecting
wire. But the discoveries made in regard to the Hertzian waves placed
the subject on a different footing, and the possibility of an actual
usable wireless telegraph was now looked at from a new view-point.

Professor Hertz had used a simple form of apparatus to obtain his free
ether waves. A loop of wire, with the ends almost touching each other,
had been his receiver, or detector. When he set his generator, or
instrument to create the oscillations, in operation, and held the
detector near it, he could see very minute electric sparks passing
between the ends of the loop of wire. This proved the existence of the
electro-magnetic waves.

In 1890 Professor Eduard Branly found that loose metallic filings
became good conductors of electricity when there were electric
oscillations at hand. He demonstrated this by placing the filings
between metal plugs in a glass tube, and connecting this in circuit
with a battery and electric indicator. Professor Oliver Lodge named
this device of Branly’s a “coherer,” and when he found that it was
more sensitive than the Hertz detector he combined it with the Hertz
oscillator. This was in 1894, and the combination of oscillator and
coherer actually formed the first real wireless set.

Wireless stations on shore are marked by very tall masts, which
support a single wire, or a set of wires, which are known as the
_antenna_. The antenna has electrical capacity, and when it is
connected with the other apparatus needful to produce the oscillations
it disturbs the earth’s magnetic field. For temporary service, as in
the case of military operations, the antenna is frequently attached to
captive balloons or kites, and so suspended high in air. On ships the
antenna is fastened to the masts. The step that led to this addition
was taken by Count Popoff in 1895, when he attached a vertical wire to
one side of the coherer of the receiver of Professor Lodge, and
connected the other side with the ground. He used this to learn the
approach of thunder-storms.

With a knowledge of electro-magnetic waves, with a high-power
oscillator, and a sensitive coherer, it remained for Marconi to
connect an antenna to the transmitter, and thus secure a wide and
practicable working field for the sending and receiving of his
messages. This he did in 1896, and it was this addition that made the
wireless telegraph of real use to men. Improvements in the transmitter
and receiver have constantly increased the power of the invention, and
have gradually allowed him to employ it over greater and greater

With Marconi’s successful demonstrations of wireless in England its
use at once began. The Trinity House installed a station at the
East Goodwin Lighthouse, which communicated with shore and proved of
the greatest value in preventing shipwrecks. The Marconi Wireless
Telegraph Company was organized in 1897, and made agreements to erect
coast stations for the Italian, Canadian, and Newfoundland
governments, and for Lloyd’s. The great shipping lines established
wireless stations on their vessels, and the antenna were soon to be
seen on points of vantage along every coast. On December 12, 1901,
Marconi in Newfoundland caught the message sent from Cornwall; on
January 19, 1903, President Roosevelt sent the first “official”
wireless message across the Atlantic to Edward VII, and in October,
1905, a message was sent from England across the mountains, valleys
and cities of Europe to the battle-ship _Renown_, stationed at the
entrance to the Suez Canal.


The system of operating wireless telegraphy is in some respects
similar to that of the ordinary telegraph. The Morse Code is largely
used in America, and a modification of it, called the Continental
Code, in Europe. When the wireless operator wishes to send a message
to another station he “listens in,” as it is called, by connecting his
receiving apparatus with the adjacent antenna and the ground. He has
the telephone receiver attached to his ears. Next he adjusts his
receiving circuits for a number of wave lengths. If he catches no
signals in his telephone receiver he understands that no messages are
being sent within his area. Then he “throws in” the transmitting
apparatus, which automatically disconnects the receiving end. He
gives the letters that stand for the station with which he wants to
communicate, and adds the letters of his own station. He does this a
number of times, to insure the other station picking up the call. Then
he “listens in,” and if he receives the clicks that show that the
other station has heard him he is ready to establish regular
telegraphic communication.

A number of distant stations may be sending messages simultaneously.
In that case the operator tunes his instrument, or in other words
adjusts his apparatus to suit the wave length of the station with
which he wishes to communicate. In this way he “tunes out” the other
messages, and receives only the one he wants. If, however, the
stations that are sending simultaneously happen to be situated near
together, as in the case of several vessels near a shore station, the
operator is often unable to do this “tuning out,” and must try to
catch the message he wishes by the sound of the “spark” of the
transmitting station, if he can in any way distinguish it from the
“sparks” of the other messages.

There are several ways of determining when the two circuits are in
tune. One is to insert a hot-wire current meter between the antenna
and the inductance, which indicates the strength of the oscillatory
current that has been established. A maximum reading can then be made
by manipulating the flexible connections, and this will show whether
the two circuits are in accord. The other method is by using a device
that indicates the wave length. This measures the frequency of one
circuit, and then the other circuit can be adjusted to give a
corresponding wave length. The larger the antenna the longer will be
the wave length and the greater the power of the apparatus. It is
usual to employ a short wave length for low-power, short-distance
equipments, and a long wave length for the high-power, long-distance

Wireless telegraphy has already proved itself of the greatest value on
the ocean. It has sent news of storms and wrecks across tossing seas
and brought rescue to scores of voyagers. Ships may now keep in
constant communication with their offices on shore. The great lines
send Marconigrams to each other in mid-ocean, and publish daily papers
giving the latest news of the whole world. Greater distances have so
far been covered over water than over land, but this branch of the
service is being rapidly developed, and it must prove in time of the
greatest value across deserts and wild countries, where a regular
telegraph service would be impracticable. In such a country as Alaska,
where there are constant heavy sleet and snow storms, the wireless
should prove invaluable.

The telegraph and cable companies did their best to ignore the claims
of the wireless systems, but they have been compelled to acknowledge
them at last. Rival companies have sprung up, using slightly different
varieties of apparatus. Each of the big companies that were ready to
compete with the Marconi Company by 1906, the German Telefunken
Company, the American National Electric Signaling Company, the
American De Forest Company, and the British Lodge-Muirhead Wireless
Syndicate, had certain peculiar advantages over the others. The laws
relating to the uses of wireless, and especially the rights of
governments to the sole use of the systems in case of war, are in a
confused condition, but eventually order must come from this chaos as
it did in the history of the telephone and telegraph.

Wireless has brought the possibility of communication between any two
individuals, no matter where they may be situated, within the realm of
fact. A severing of communication with any part of the world will be
impossible. Storms and earthquakes that destroy telegraph systems,
enemies that cut submarine cables, cannot prevent the sending of
Marconigrams. The African explorer and the Polar adventurer can each
talk with his countrymen. The use of this agency is still in its
earliest youth, but it has already done so much that it is impossible
to say to what a stature it may grow. It should cut down the rates for
using wire and cable systems, and ultimately place the means of
communicating directly with any one on land or sea within the reach of
every man. All the world’s information will be at the instant disposal
of whomsoever needs it, and all this is due to those electro-magnetic
waves that permeate the ether, waiting to be put into service at the
touch of man.



Wilbur Wright 1867-

Orville Wright 1871-

Men have always wanted to be able to fly. So long as there have been
birds to watch, so long have men of speculative minds wondered at the
secret of their flight. Early in recorded history men built ships to
sail across the seas, but the problem of air navigation has always
baffled them. The balloon came into being, but the balloon for years
was only a toy, dependent on the wind’s whim, and of the least
possible service to men. The problem of aerial navigation was to
master the currents of the air as the sailing-vessel and the steamship
had overcome the waves and tides at sea.

The history of invention often shows that some great thinker, or
school of thinkers, has stated a scientific conclusion that
generations of later men have never dared to question. The laws of
Aristotle in regard to falling bodies were never doubted until Galileo
began to wonder if they could be true. Sir Isaac Newton had stated,
and mathematical computations had proved his words, that a mechanical
flying-machine was an impossibility. Any such machine must be heavier
than the air it flew in. The weight of Newton’s authority and the
weight of figures were compelling facts, such as scientists had no
mind to doubt. But in spite of these facts men could see that birds
flew, although they were often a thousand times heavier than the air
they went through. And that sight kept men speculating, in spite of
all the figures and scientific dicta of the ages.

It was known for centuries that if a kite was held in position by a
string reaching to the ground the wind blowing against it would keep
it supported in the air. Now if the kite, instead of being stationary
in moving air, were to be moved constantly through quiet air it would
also stay up. The motive power might be supplied by a motor and
propellers, but in order to do away with the string which holds the
kite in position the aeroplane, which is only a big kite in principle,
must have some way of balancing itself so that it will stay in the
proper position in the air.

A German engineer, Otto Lilienthal, made a study of the mechanics of
birds’ flights, and determined to learn their secret by actual trial.
He built wings that were similar to those of the hawk and buzzard, the
great soaring birds, and in 1891 he began to throw himself from the
tops of hills, supported by these wings, and glided through the air
into the valleys. In this way he learned new laws of flight,
contradicting many theories of the scientists, and opening a new world
of speculation. But in August, 1896, his wings broke in a sudden gust
of wind, he fell fifty feet, and died of a broken back.

It was this problem of balancing that had cost Lilienthal his life. He
had tried to balance himself by throwing his weight quickly from side
to side as he held to his “gliding machine.” His pupil, Percy S.
Pilcher, an Englishman, continued his experiments, trying the same
method of balancing, but in September, 1899, his wings broke, and he
met the same fate as his teacher. It seemed that men could not shift
their weight quickly enough to meet the gusts of wind.

Meantime new theories of flight were being worked out in the United
States. Professor S. P. Langley, of the Smithsonian Institution, had
made experiments with plates of metal moved through the air at various
rates of speed and at different angles, and had published his new
conclusions in regard to the support the air would furnish
flying-planes in 1891. In 1896 he built a small steam-aeroplane that
flew a distance of three-quarters of a mile down the Potomac River.
And in the same year Octave Chanute, of Chicago, with the aid of A. M.
Herring, built a multiple-wing machine and tried it successfully on
the banks of Lake Michigan. But the problem of balancing was not yet
solved, and here Wilbur and Orville Wright entered upon the scene.

The Wrights’ home was in Dayton, Ohio, and there they had spent their
boyhood, in no way distinguished from their neighbors. Their father
had been a teacher, an editor, and a bishop of the United Brethren
Church. He had traveled a great deal, and was an unusually
well-educated man. Their mother had been to college. Their two older
brothers and their sister were college graduates, and the younger boys
would have had the same education had their mother not died and they
decided to stay at home and look after affairs for their father, who
was often away. In telling the story of their invention in _The
Century_ for September, 1908, they said, “Late in the autumn of 1878
our father came into the house one evening with some object concealed
in his hands and, before we could see what it was, tossed it into the
air. Instead of falling to the floor, as we expected, it flew across
the room and struck the ceiling, where it fluttered a while and
finally sank to the floor. It was a little toy known to scientists as
a helicoptere, but which we, with sublime disregard for science,
dubbed a ‘bat.’ ... It lasted only a short time, but its memory was
abiding.” At that time Wilbur was eleven and Orville seven years old.

These two brothers, scientifically minded, started a bicycle shop, and
bade fair to become ordinarily prosperous citizens of Dayton, much
like their neighbors. They were, however, deeply interested in news
from the world of science and invention, and when they read in 1896
that Lilienthal had been killed by a fall from his glider they began
to wonder what were the real difficulties that must be overcome in
flying. Further reading awakened a deep interest in the problem of the
airship, and they worked upon it, at first as a scientific pastime,
but soon in all seriousness. They built models in their workshop, and
experimented with them. Then, in 1900, Wilbur wrote to his father that
he was going on a holiday to a place in North Carolina called Kitty
Hawk, to try a glider.

The Wrights realized in 1900 that the only problem to be solved was
that of equilibrium. Men had made aeroplanes that would support them
in motion, and also engines that were light enough to drive the planes
and carry their own weight and that of the aviator. But when the wind
blew the aeroplane was as likely as not to capsize. Their study was
how to keep the machine from turning over.

The air does not blow in regular currents. Instead, near the earth, it
is continually tossing up and down, and often whirling about in rotary
masses. There is constant atmospheric turmoil, and the question is how
to maintain a balance in these currents that bear the machine. Put in
technical form it is how to make the centre of gravity coincide with
the centre of air-pressure.

The shifting of the air-currents means that the centre of air-pressure
moves. The aeroplane is sailed at a slight angle to the direction in
which it is heading, and the centre of air-pressure is on the forward
surfaces of the machine. The wind strikes the front, but rarely
touches the back of the plane, and so gains a great leverage that adds
materially to its power to overturn the machine. As the wind veers
continually it is easy to see the aviator’s difficulty in keeping
track of this centre of pressure.

Both Lilienthal and Chanute had tried to balance by shifting their
weight, but this was extremely exhausting, and often could not be done
in time to meet the changing currents. The Wrights realized that a
more automatic method of meeting these changes must be found, and they
worked it out by shifting the rudder and the surfaces of the airship
as it met the air-currents.

The earlier aviators had found that two planes, or “double-deckers,”
gave the best results. The Wrights adopted this type, believing that
it was the strongest form, and could be made more compact and be more
easily managed than the single plane, or the many-winged type. They
built their gliding-machine of cloth and spruce and steel wire. But
instead of the aviator hanging below the wings, as in the other
planes, he lay flat across the centre of the lower wing. A horizontal
rudder extended in front of the plane instead of behind it. This not
only guided the flight of the machine, but counterbalanced the changes
of the centre of air-pressure. To steer, the wings were moved by cords
controlled by the aviator’s body. They considered that the shiftings
of the air were too rapid to be followed by conscious thought, and so
their plan was to have a plane that would balance automatically, or by
reflex action, as a bicycle is balanced.

Langley had adopted wings that slanted upward from the point at which
they joined, copying the wings of a soaring buzzard. The Wrights
doubted whether this was the best form for shifting weather, and built
theirs more on the pattern of the gull’s wings, curving slightly at
the tips. They were made of cloth, arched over ribs to imitate the
curved surfaces of bird’s wings, and were fastened to two rectangular
wooden frames, fixed one above the other by braces of wood and wire.

Their next step was to try to find some method by which they might
keep their gliding-machine continuously in the air, so that they might
gain an automatic balance. The old method of launching the plane from
a hill gave little chance for a real test. Study taught them that
birds are really aeroplanes, and that buzzards and hawks and gulls
stay in the air by balancing on or sliding down rising currents of
air. They looked for a place where there should be winds of proper
strength to balance their machine for a considerable time as it slid
downward, and decided to make their experiments at Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina, on the stretch of sand-dunes that divided Albemarle Sound
from the Atlantic Ocean. They calculated that their gliding-machine,
with 165 square feet of surface, should be held up by a wind blowing
twenty-one miles an hour. The machine was to be raised like a kite,
with men holding ropes fastened to the end of each wing. When the
ropes were freed the aviator would glide slowly to the ground, having
time to test the principle of equilibrium. This plan would also do
away with the former need of carrying the plane up to the top of a
hill before each flight.

They found in practice that their plan of raising the plane like a
kite was impracticable, and that the wind was not strong enough to
support it at a proper angle. They had to glide from hills as others
had done, but they discovered that their theory of steering and
balancing by automatically shifting surfaces worked very much better
than the old method of shifting the aviator’s weight.

In 1901 and 1902 the Wrights continued their gliding experiments at
Kitty Hawk. Their new machines were much larger, and they added a
vertical tail in order to secure better lateral balance. Sometimes the
wind was strong enough to lift the aviator above the point from which
he had started and hold him motionless in the air for half a minute.
They made new tables of calculation for aerial flight, and found that
a wind of eighteen miles an hour would keep their plane and its
operator in the air.

Their next step was to place a gas-engine on their aeroplane and
attempt actual mechanical flight. After many experiments they
succeeded, and on December 17, 1903, the first airship made four
flights at Kitty Hawk. In the longest flight it stayed in the air
fifty-nine seconds, and flew against a twenty-mile wind. It weighed,
with the aviator, about 745 pounds, and was propelled by a gas-engine
weighing 240 pounds, and having twelve or thirteen horse-power. That
test assured them that mechanical flight was possible.

The Wrights had now solved the real problem of aviation, equilibrium.
They were ready to try mechanical flights in places where the
wind-conditions were less favorable than at Kitty Hawk. They secured a
swampy meadow eight miles east of Dayton, and, using that secrecy
which they have always believed was necessary to the protection of
their interests, began to fly there. Their airship flew well in a
straight course, but there was difficulty in turning corners.
Sometimes it could be done, but occasionally the plane would lose its
balance as it turned, and have to be brought to the ground. In time
they remedied this, and on September 20, 1904, they were able to make
a complete circle. Later in that same year they made two flights of
three miles each around a circular course.

The Wrights’ system of balance, the great original feature of their
invention, is attained by what is called the warping of the
wings. When they are flying, and some cause, such as a change in their
position, or a sudden gust of wind, makes the airship tip, a lever is
moved, and the two planes warp down on the end that is canting toward
the earth. Simultaneously the two opposite ends of the planes warp up.
The lower ends at once gain greater lifting power, the upper ends
less. Therefore the airship stops tilting and comes back to an even
flight. The lever is instantly moved to keep the machine from tipping
to the other side.




    1127 W. THIRD STREET

    July 22, 1911.

    George W. Jacobs & Co.,



    Replying to yours of June 26th we are herewith enclosing a
    photograph of our first flight made at Kitty Hawk, North
    Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

    Yours truly,

    [Signature: Wright Brothers.]


When the airship came to turn a corner it was apt to “skid.” It slid
from its balance, owing to the change in its course against the
currents of air. The Wrights overcame this by having the planes of
their machine warp at the same instant that the rudder shifts the
course, by this raising one wing and lowering the other, so that the
aeroplane cants over and makes the circle leaning against the wind, on
the same principle that a bicycler takes a curve on an angle instead
of riding upright. The problems of balance and of turning corners were
therefore both met and solved by warping the planes to meet the
conditions of the airship’s contact with the wind.

One of the chief reasons for the Wrights’ success was that they had
studied their subject long and faithfully before they tried to fly.
They had worked with their gliders several years, and had made new
calculations of the changing angles and currents of air. They had been
in no hurry, and when they built their first real airship they made
use of all the principles of aerodynamics that they had discovered.
They knew that their machine would fly before they tried it, because
they knew exactly what its various surfaces would do in the air. The
propeller was the only part of their airship they had not studied when
they began to build. When they found that they could not use the
figures that had governed the construction of marine propellers they
set to work to solve this problem in the same thoroughgoing way. They
mastered it, and their success with their propeller is the feature of
their airship in which they take the greatest pride.

The first official statement of their progress in flying was made in
letters of the Wrights in the _Aerophile_ in 1905, and to the Aero
Club of America in 1906. These declared that they had begun actual
flight with a motor-driven aeroplane on December 17, 1903, had then
spent the year 1904 in experimenting with flights in circular courses,
and had so learned the proper methods of control of the planes by 1905
that they had at last made continuous flights of eleven, twelve,
fifteen, twenty, twenty-one, and twenty-four miles, at a speed of
about thirty-eight miles an hour, and had been able to alight safely
in each instance, ready to fly again as soon as their fuel was

Until that date the inventors had been singularly successful in
keeping their experiments from public knowledge. They had reached
agreements with the farmers who lived near their field outside Dayton,
and with the local newspapers, that no notice should be taken of their
flights. But finally one of their flights attracted so much attention
that a score of men appeared with cameras, and the Wrights decided
that it was time to stop their experiments. They dismantled their
machines, made public statements of what they had accomplished, and
started to negotiate with various governments for the purchase of
their aeroplanes for use in war.

In December, 1907, the Signal Corps of the United States army invited
proposals for furnishing a “heavier than air flying machine.” The
Wrights submitted a bid, proposing to deliver a machine that would
meet the specifications for $25,000. Their offer, with those of two
others, was accepted. By now their names and something of what they
had accomplished were very generally known, and when they began the
preliminary tests of their machines at their old grounds at Kitty
Hawk, near Kill Devil Hills, a legion of reporters was on hand. The
Wrights still tried to preserve as much secrecy as possible, and the
newspaper men to furnish as much publicity. The flights could not be
concealed and the trials were announced as thoroughly satisfactory. On
May 10, 1908, ten ascensions in the government airship were made, the
longest being over a mile and a half. On succeeding days longer
flights were made, one of two miles at a speed of forty-six miles an
hour. Orville Wright made a flight with a passenger on board, and a
little later Wilbur flew eight miles, at a rate of forty-five miles an
hour. The reporters assured the world that the Wrights had proved the
success of the “heavier than air” machine. As one of them wrote,
“Then, bedraggled and very sunburned they tramped up to the little
weather bureau and informed the world, waiting on the other side of
various sounds and continents and oceans, that it was all right, the
rumors true, and there was no doubt that a man could fly.”

Kitty Hawk, the place the Wrights had chosen because the Weather
Bureau had told them the winds were strongest and steadiest there, now
became one of the chief foci of the world’s attention. The Wrights,
still quiet and unassuming, suddenly jumped into fame. The public
could not understand how these two men, bicycle-makers of Dayton, had
learned so much about airships. They did not appreciate that the
brothers had mastered every detail of flight long before, that they
had learned the fundamental principles of soaring and floating, diving
and rising, circling and gliding, before they attached the first motor
to their planes. They had been far more thorough and more resourceful
than those Europeans who had for some time experimented with aviation.
Henri Farman, who had caused a sensation in Europe by flying a
kilometer (five-eighths of a mile) over a circular course on January
13, 1908, came to this country, and heard what the United States
government was requiring in the tests. “I have done some flying,” said
he, “but I do not try to do what your inventors must do at Fort Myer.
I never fly in winds. Once I had a spill in France when I attempted

The government trials were held at Fort Myer, outside Washington. Here
the Wrights took their machines when they were satisfied that they
were in shape for the tests. Mr. Augustus Post, secretary of the Aero
Club of America, has graphically described in _The World’s Work_ for
October, 1909, his impression of Orville Wright’s flying in 1908. He
says that Mr. Wright and he left Washington about six o’clock on a
clear, still morning, bound for the flying field. “The conditions for
flight were perfect,” he continues. “Mr. Taylor, Mr. Wright’s
mechanic, got out the machine and it was placed on the starting-rail.
The weights were raised, and Mr. Wright took his place. None of us
expected anything more than a short flight down the field, with
possibly a circle. The machine was released, and away he went, rising
higher and higher, circling when he came to the end of the field and
continuing round. I had taken the time of starting and marked on the
back of an envelope each circle of the field. From a position of
strained attention and fixed gaze, Mr. Wright gradually became more
confident and comfortable; round and round he went for fully twenty
minutes, and then we began to realize that something wonderful was
taking place. Thirty minutes passed; we could hardly believe it. Mr.
Taylor came up and said: ‘Don’t make a motion; if you do, he’ll come
down’; and we all stood like statues, watching the flying man, every
nerve as tense in our bodies as though we were running the machine
ourselves. Mark after mark I made on the back of the old envelope--so
many that I had lost track of the number; it seemed an age since the
machine started, and it appeared to be fixed in the sky. We were
impressed that it could circle on forever, or sail like a bird over
the country, so positive and assuring and complete was this
demonstration. We knew that the problem of flight by an aeroplane had
been solved.”

An accident caused the flights to be suspended for a time, but a year
later the Wrights were ready for the official endurance test, a flight
of one hour, carrying a passenger. President Taft and a great audience
were present. Lieutenant Lahm was the passenger. Signal Corps men
raised the weight and fastened the end of the starting rope to the
aeroplane. Wilbur Wright, at the rear, turned the propellers and
started the motor. Orville Wright adjusted the spark, and took his
seat. He grasped the levers, spoke a few words of instruction to his
passenger, seated beside him, and gave the word to release the
machine. It glided down the track, gathering speed until it left the
rails. Then the forward planes rose, and the plane soared into the
air, flying swiftly. It circled around and around, each circle taking
about one minute. For the first ten minutes the motor did not move
smoothly, but after that it settled to perfection. The great audience,
watches in hand, kept their eyes on the airship. The hour mark was
passed, and there were wild shouts of applause and encouragement. Then
the plane broke the world’s record of one hour, nine minutes, and
forty seconds, that Wilbur Wright had made earlier in the year. Wilbur
Wright led in a cheer to those circling above. Then the airship began
to descend, taking the circles easily, and finally skimming down to
the ground. The motor was shut off, and the test was ended, the
machine having flown for one hour, twelve minutes, and forty seconds.
President Taft crossed the field and shook Orville Wright’s hand. “I
am glad to congratulate you on your achievement,” said he; “you came
down as gracefully and as much like a bird as you went up. I hope your
passenger behaved himself and did not talk to the motorman. It was a
wonderful performance; I would not have missed it.” Then he turned to
shake hands with Wilbur Wright. “Your brother has broken your record.”
“Yes,” said the other, smiling, “but it’s all in the family.”

Lieutenant Lahm said, “The machine was under perfect control at all
times. He apparently had given no conscious thought either to his
hands or to the levers. His actions all seemed involuntary. It had
hardly started on one of its dips before his hands were moved in the
proper direction to restore the balance. It seemed impossible for
anything to go wrong. I never knew an hour to pass so quickly as that
one up in the air. The first half seemed like ten minutes, and the
second scarcely longer. I hardly felt the vibrations of the engine,
but at first the rising and dipping were hard to get used to. The only
disagreeable sensation I experienced was a deafness from the whirring
motor. Sometimes the undulating movement was noticeable, but that was
all. The sensation of riding the air in an aeroplane is

The speed test came on the day following the endurance flight. This
was to be made over a measured course of five miles from Fort Myer to
Alexandria, and back, making a total flight of ten miles over trees,
railroads, and rough country. Aviators declared this a more difficult
course than the crossing of the English Channel, owing to the great
rises and drops of the land, which made it almost impossible to
maintain a level course. Speed was a very important factor in the
government’s specifications for a successful airship, and the price to
be paid depended on this, which had been calculated to be forty miles
an hour. The government was to pay the Wrights $25,000 for the
airship, and a bonus of ten per cent., or $2,500, for every mile made
above the forty. For every mile less, to the minimum limit of
thirty-six miles an hour, the government was to deduct the same

The machine that was making these tests was very similar to the one
that had been used at Fort Myer the year before. The amount of
supporting surface had been reduced by about eighty square feet, and a
change had been made in the lever that turned the rudder and
controlled the equilibrating device. This had originally consisted of
two levers, placed side by side. Now the top of one lever was jointed,
so that a sideways movement of the wrist was sufficient to move the
rudder for steering in the horizontal plane. Simultaneously the lever
could be pushed forward and pulled back to lift or lower the opposite
tips of the wings. In this way one hand could control both the
steering and the balancing of the planes.

In spite of the fact that the wind conditions were not exactly as he
wished Orville Wright decided to make the flight for speed on that
day. He made a good ascension, carrying Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois
with him as passenger. Twice he circled the field in order to get up
speed and reach sufficient elevation. Then, amid cheers of
encouragement from the immense throng that was watching, he turned
sharply past the starting-tower and flew between the flags that marked
the starting-line. Two captive balloons had been floated to show the
course and also to give an indication of the proper altitude to
maintain. The wind tended to carry the aeroplane to the east, but
Orville Wright was able to hold it on a fairly even course, and to
reach the balloon at Shuter’s Hill that marked the turning point. Here
the official time was taken by officers of the Signal Corps. On the
return the airship met with strong downward currents of air that bore
it groundward until it was hidden by the tops of trees. Mr. Wright
said afterward, “I had to climb like forty all the way back.” But he
managed to send his aeroplane higher and higher, and to bring it back
over the heads of the crowds at the finish line. There it swept about
in a circle, and landed easily near the aeroplane shed. What
aeronautical authorities declared to be the greatest feat in the
history of aviation had been successfully accomplished. The elapsed
time of the flight was fourteen minutes and forty-two seconds, which
meant that the airship had attained a speed of a little more than
forty-two miles an hour. The conditions of the Wrights’ contract with
the government had been in every respect more than fulfilled.

The Wrights carried Europe by storm, being received there with even
greater acclamations than in America. The French, as a nation, had for
some time been more interested in aviation than any other people.
France was the home of Montgolfier, Santos-Dumont, and Farman. At
first France looked with incredulity and suspicion on the Wrights’
claims. The French papers accused them of playing _le bluff_, and said
that “they argued a great deal and experimented very little,” which,
as a matter of fact, was exactly the opposite of the Wrights’ whole
history. But as soon as Wilbur Wright showed what he could actually
do, all this changed, and the French could not say enough that was
good about him. Delagrange, his nearest competitor, acknowledged
frankly that Wilbur Wright was his superior as an aviator. But he
could not understand the American’s quiet methods, and plan of
pursuing his own way regardless of public opinion. He found that
Wilbur Wright actually preferred to fly without an audience, and
thought nothing of disappointing the crowds that gathered to watch
him. On one such occasion, when Wilbur Wright found the weather
conditions unsatisfactory, he declined to fly. “If it had been I,”
said Delagrange, “I would have made a flight if I had been likely to
smash up at three hundred meters rather than disappoint those ten
thousand people.”

This novel charm of simplicity caught the French fancy. The Wrights
wanted to do everything for themselves. At Kitty Hawk they had lived
in a small shack, and cooked their own meals. Wilbur Wright had a
similar shack built on his flying-field in France, and planned to do
his own cooking. But this was too extreme for the French mind. When he
went to his shack he found a native cook installed there, and had to
submit to the hospitality of his hosts.

The Wrights were organizing companies in the different countries of
Europe, and wanted to attend strictly to their business. But wherever
they went they were fêted. They met the French President, the Kaiser,
the King of England, and the King of Spain, and they were dined and
publicly honored in all the great capitals. Germany turned from its
native hero, Count Zeppelin, to admire them. But everywhere they kept
that same quiet tone. They showed that they cared nothing to perform
hazardous feats simply because of the hazard, nor to establish
records. Wilbur Wright was asked if he would not try for the prize
offered to the first man to fly across the English Channel. He said he
would not at that time, because it “would be risky and would not prove
anything more than a journey over land.” And the public knew that this
was sensible caution, and not lack of courage.

Daring aviators sprang into fame at once. Most of these built their
machines according to their individual ideas, and there was a great
trying-out of different patterns. Blériot, a Frenchman, flew across
the English Channel in a monoplane in thirty-eight minutes. Instantly
he became the French idol. When he reached Paris at five in the
morning an enormous crowd welcomed him, and the cries of “Vive
Blériot!” could be heard for squares. He was dined at the Hôtel de
Ville, given the Legion of Honor, and money was subscribed for a
monument to mark the place near Calais where he commenced his flight.
Shortly after Roger Sommer rose in the country outside Paris on a
moonlight night, and flew for two hours, twenty-seven minutes, and
fifteen seconds, the longest flight made to that time. The world
recognized that the actual invention of the airship was one of the
greatest achievements of the ages. Said the _London Times_, “It is no
wonder that there should be great enthusiasm in France over the
cross-Channel flight of M. Blériot, and that the French papers should
talk of nothing else. Further enthusiasm will doubtless greet the
gallant attempt, which was all but successful, of M. Latham yesterday,
to repeat the achievement. Since the discovery of the New World no
material event has happened on this earth so impressive to the
imagination as the conquest of the air which is now half achieved.
Indeed, the conquest of the air is likely to be more vast and
bewildering in its results than even the discovery of the New World,
and one is inclined to wonder that men should take it as calmly as
they do.”

A great aviation week was held at Rheims, and almost all the world’s
famous aviators, except the Wrights, were there. Control of the
airships was shown to a remarkable degree. On one of the preparatory
days three heavier than air machines were manœuvring in the great
aerodrome at the same time. They were flying at high speed, when
suddenly Glenn H. Curtiss, an American, saw an Antoinette aeroplane
approaching him at right angles, and flying upon the same level.
Instantly he elevated the planes of his machine, and his aeroplane
obeyed his touch, shot upward, and flew over the Antoinette. There was
great applause from those who had been watching him. The manœuvre
showed how easily the airships were controlled.

Germany meantime was intensely interested in Count Zeppelin’s
dirigible balloons, which, although as long as a battle-ship, had
flown with great success. The German government paid $1,250,000 into
the Zeppelin fund for experiments, and contributed a large sum in
addition to the maintenance of a balloon corps. The German people
showed themselves as proud of Count Zeppelin as the French were of
Blériot, and the Americans of the Wrights.

The aviation week at Rheims was followed by other great airship meets
in other countries. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York in the
autumn of 1909 was the occasion of new records in flying, and served
to awaken Americans to a more intense interest in navigation of the
air. That meeting was followed by others in all parts of the United
States, and competitions for height and city-to-city flights became
matters of weekly occurrence. Yet America has not so far reached the
intense enthusiasm over flying that fills the lands of Europe.

The airship is on the market, ready to be purchased by whomsoever will
pay the price. The London daily papers advertise an agency that will
supply buyers with either the Blériot monoplane of the type
Calais-Dover, the Latham or Antoinette monoplane, or the Wright and
Voisin biplanes. Moreover the art of handling the aeroplane does not
seem unusually difficult to master, provided one has the taste for it.
Roger Sommer first sat in an airship on July 3d, yet on August 7th
following he made a world’s record flight outside Paris. “It is easier
to learn to fly than it is to walk,” Wilbur Wright has said.

The only American machines besides the Wrights’ biplanes which have
made a name for themselves are the Curtiss biplanes. Mr. Curtiss is
one of the most daring aviators in the world, and his flight down the
Hudson River attracted the widest attention. But there are questions
as to whether his aeroplanes do not infringe on certain patent claims
of the Wrights, and his flight was made under a bond that should
protect the Wrights in case it proved later that his biplane did
infringe on their title. Here it should be said that the Wrights are
as excellent business men as they are inventors, and intend to receive
due compensation for their years of work. At one time they offered to
sell their invention outright for $100,000, but since then their
patents have been upheld by the courts, and those patents cover a very
large area of the field of airship manufacture. The American market is
largely in their hands.

Every year lighter and lighter gas-engines are being made, and this
means that the surplus carrying power of the aeroplane can be
increased. Fuel can be carried for flights of greater and greater
distances, and rapid increases of speed can be attained. With
improvements in safety there seems no limit to the possibilities of
flight. So far a long train of casualties has marked the airship’s
progress. This was inevitable when men came to imitate the birds, and
trust themselves to the fickle currents of the air. But many aviators
have been drawn from a reckless class, and many accidents have been
due to a desire to thrill an audience rather than to learn more about
the laws of flight. The Wrights have held to the wise course. They
care nothing for spectacular performances or establishing new records
for their own glory. Their work is in the shops, devising improvements
that will make the airship safer and better fitted for commercial
uses. They are men of remarkable balance, and it was their quality of
unremitting care that made them the wonder of Europe, used above all
things else to the dramatic in men’s flights through air.

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