Industrial Biography - Iron Workers and Tool Makers
by Samuel Smiles
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The living race is the inheritor of the industry and skill of all past times; and the civilization we enjoy is but the sum of the useful effects of labour during the past centuries. Nihil per saltum. By slow and often painful steps Nature's secrets have been mastered. Not an effort has been made but has had its influence. For no human labour is altogether lost; some remnant of useful effect surviving for the benefit of the race, if not of the individual. Even attempts apparently useless have not really been so, but have served in some way to advance man to higher knowledge, skill, or discipline. "The loss of a position gained," says Professor Thomson, "is an event unknown in the history of man's struggle with the forces of inanimate nature." A single step won gives a firmer foothold for further effort. The man may die, but the race survives and continues the work,—to use the poet's simile, mounting on stepping-stones of dead selves to higher selves.

Philarete Chasles, indeed, holds that it is the Human Race that is your true inventor: "As if to unite all generations," he says, "and to show that man can only act efficiently by association with others, it has been ordained that each inventor shall only interpret the first word of the problem he sets himself to solve, and that every great idea shall be the RESUME of the past at the same time that it is the germ of the future." And rarely does it happen that any discovery or invention of importance is made by one man alone. The threads of inquiry are taken up and traced, one labourer succeeding another, each tracing it a little further, often without apparent result. This goes on sometimes for centuries, until at length some man, greater perhaps than his fellows, seeking to fulfil the needs of his time, gathers the various threads together, treasures up the gain of past successes and failures, and uses them as the means for some solid achievement, Thus Newton discovered the law of gravitation, and thus James Watt invented the steam-engine. So also of the Locomotive, of which Robert Stephenson said, "It has not been the invention of any one man, but of a race of mechanical engineers." Or, as Joseph Bramah observed, in the preamble to his second Lock patent, "Among the number of patents granted there are comparatively few which can be called original so that it is difficult to say where the boundary of one ends and where that of another begins."

The arts are indeed reared but slowly; and it was a wise observation of Lord Bacon that we are too apt to pass those ladders by which they have been reared, and reflect the whole merit on the last new performer. Thus, what is hailed as an original invention is often found to be but the result of a long succession of trials and experiments gradually following each other, which ought rather to be considered as a continuous series of achievements of the human mind than as the conquest of any single individual. It has sometimes taken centuries of experience to ascertain the value of a single fact in its various bearings. Like man himself, experience is feeble and apparently purposeless in its infancy, but acquires maturity and strength with age. Experience, however, is not limited to a lifetime, but is the stored-up wealth and power of our race. Even amidst the death of successive generations it is constantly advancing and accumulating, exhibiting at the same time the weakness and the power, the littleness and the greatness of our common humanity. And not only do we who live succeed to the actual results of our predecessors' labours,—to their works of learning and of art, their inventions and discoveries, their tools and machines, their roads, bridges, canals, and railways,—but to the inborn aptitudes of blood and brain which they bequeath to us, to that "educability," so to speak, which has been won for us by the labours of many generations, and forms our richest natural heritage.

The beginning of most inventions is very remote. The first idea, born within some unknown brain, passes thence into others, and at last comes forth complete, after a parturition, it may be, of centuries. One starts the idea, another developes it, and so on progressively until at last it is elaborated and worked out in practice; but the first not less than the last is entitled to his share in the merit of the invention, were it only possible to measure and apportion it duly. Sometimes a great original mind strikes upon some new vein of hidden power, and gives a powerful impulse to the inventive faculties of man, which lasts through generations. More frequently, however, inventions are not entirely new, but modifications of contrivances previously known, though to a few, and not yet brought into practical use. Glancing back over the history of mechanism, we occasionally see an invention seemingly full born, when suddenly it drops out of sight, and we hear no more of it for centuries. It is taken up de novo by some inventor, stimulated by the needs of his time, and falling again upon the track, he recovers the old footmarks, follows them up, and completes the work.

There is also such a thing as inventions being born before their time—the advanced mind of one generation projecting that which cannot be executed for want of the requisite means; but in due process of time, when mechanism has got abreast of the original idea, it is at length carried out; and thus it is that modern inventors are enabled to effect many objects which their predecessors had tried in vain to accomplish. As Louis Napoleon has said, "Inventions born before their time must remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them." For this reason, misfortune is often the lot of the inventor before his time, though glory and profit may belong to his successors. Hence the gift of inventing not unfrequently involves a yoke of sorrow. Many of the greatest inventors have lived neglected and died unrequited, before their merits could be recognised and estimated. Even if they succeed, they often raise up hosts of enemies in the persons whose methods they propose to supersede. Envy, malice, and detraction meet them in all their forms; they are assailed by combinations of rich and unscrupulous persons to wrest from them the profits of their ingenuity; and last and worst of all, the successful inventor often finds his claims to originality decried, and himself branded as a copyist and a pirate.

Among the inventions born out of time, and before the world could make adequate use of them, we can only find space to allude to a few, though they are so many that one is almost disposed to accept the words of Chaucer as true, that "There is nothing new but what has once been old;" or, as another writer puts it, "There is nothing new but what has before been known and forgotten;" or, in the words of Solomon, "The thing that hath been is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun." One of the most important of these is the use of Steam, which was well known to the ancients; but though it was used to grind drugs, to turn a spit, and to excite the wonder and fear of the credulous, a long time elapsed before it became employed as a useful motive-power. The inquiries and experiments on the subject extended through many ages. Friar Bacon, who flourished in the thirteenth century, seems fully to have anticipated, in the following remarkable passage, nearly all that steam could accomplish, as well as the hydraulic engine and the diving-bell, though the flying machine yet remains to be invented:—

"I will now," says the Friar, "mention some of the wonderful works of art and nature in which there is nothing of magic, and which magic could not perform. Instruments may be made by which the largest ships, with only one man guiding them, will be carried with greater velocity than if they were full of sailors. Chariots may be constructed that will move with incredible rapidity, without the help of animals. Instruments of flying may be formed, in which a man, sitting at his ease and meditating on any subject, may beat the air with his artificial wings, after the manner of birds. A small instrument may be made to raise or depress the greatest weights. An instrument may be fabricated by which one man may draw a thousand men to him by force and against their will; as also machines which will enable men to walk at the bottom of seas or rivers without danger." It is possible that Friar Bacon derived his knowledge of the powers which he thus described from the traditions handed down of former inventions which had been neglected and allowed to fall into oblivion; for before the invention of printing, which enabled the results of investigation and experience to be treasured up in books, there was great risk of the inventions of one age being lost to the succeeding generations. Yet Disraeli the elder is of opinion that the Romans had invented printing without being aware of it; or perhaps the senate dreaded the inconveniences attending its use, and did not care to deprive a large body of scribes of their employment. They even used stereotypes, or immovable printing-types, to stamp impressions on their pottery, specimens of which still exist. In China the art of printing is of great antiquity. Lithography was well known in Germany, by the very name which it still bears, nearly three hundred years before Senefelder reinvented it; and specimens of the ancient art are yet to be seen in the Royal Museum at Munich.[5]

Steam-locomotion by sea and land, had long been dreamt of and attempted. Blasco de Garay made his experiment in the harbour of Barcelona as early as 1543; Denis Papin made a similar attempt at Cassel in 1707; but it was not until Watt had solved the problem of the steam-engine that the idea of the steam-boat could be developed in practice, which was done by Miller of Dalswinton in 1788. Sages and poets have frequently foreshadowed inventions of great social moment. Thus Dr. Darwin's anticipation of the locomotive, in his Botanic Garden, published in 1791, before any locomotive had been invented, might almost be regarded as prophetic:

Soon shall thy arm, unconquered Steam! afar Drag the slow barge, and drive the rapid car.

Denis Papin first threw out the idea of atmospheric locomotion; and Gauthey, another Frenchman, in 1782 projected a method of conveying parcels and merchandise by subterraneous tubes,[6] after the method recently patented and brought into operation by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company. The balloon was an ancient Italian invention, revived by Mongolfier long after the original had been forgotten. Even the reaping machine is an old invention revived. Thus Barnabe Googe, the translator of a book from the German entitled 'The whole Arte and Trade of Husbandrie,' published in 1577, in the reign of Elizabeth, speaks of the reaping-machine as a worn-out invention—a thing "which was woont to be used in France. The device was a lowe kinde of carre with a couple of wheeles, and the frunt armed with sharpe syckles, whiche, forced by the beaste through the corne, did cut down al before it. This tricke," says Googe, "might be used in levell and champion countreys; but with us it wolde make but ill-favoured woorke." [7] The Thames Tunnel was thought an entirely new manifestation of engineering genius; but the tunnel under the Euphrates at ancient Babylon, and that under the wide mouth of the harbour at Marseilles (a much more difficult work), show that the ancients were beforehand with us in the art of tunnelling. Macadamized roads are as old as the Roman empire; and suspension bridges, though comparatively new in Europe, have been known in China for centuries.

There is every reason to believe—indeed it seems clear that the Romans knew of gunpowder, though they only used it for purposes of fireworks; while the secret of the destructive Greek fire has been lost altogether. When gunpowder came to be used for purposes of war, invention busied itself upon instruments of destruction. When recently examining the Museum of the Arsenal at Venice, we were surprised to find numerous weapons of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries embodying the most recent English improvements in arms, such as revolving pistols, rifled muskets, and breech-loading cannon. The latter, embodying Sir William Armstrong's modern idea, though in a rude form, had been fished up from the bottom of the Adriatic, where the ship armed with them had been sunk hundreds of years ago. Even Perkins's steam-gun was an old invention revived by Leonardo da Vinci and by him attributed to Archimedes.[8] The Congreve rocket is said to have an Eastern origin, Sir William Congreve having observed its destructive effects when employed by the forces under Tippoo Saib in the Mahratta war, on which he adopted and improved the missile, and brought out the invention as his own.

Coal-gas was regularly used by the Chinese for lighting purposes long before it was known amongst us. Hydropathy was generally practised by the Romans, who established baths wherever they went. Even chloroform is no new thing. The use of ether as an anaesthetic was known to Albertus Magnus, who flourished in the thirteenth century; and in his works he gives a recipe for its preparation. In 1681 Denis Papin published his Traite des Operations sans Douleur, showing that he had discovered methods of deadening pain. But the use of anaesthetics is much older than Albertus Magnus or Papin; for the ancients had their nepenthe and mandragora; the Chinese their mayo, and the Egyptians their hachisch (both preparations of Cannabis Indica), the effects of which in a great measure resemble those of chloroform. What is perhaps still more surprising is the circumstance that one of the most elegant of recent inventions, that of sun-painting by the daguerreotype, was in the fifteenth century known to Leonardo da Vinci,[9] whose skill as an architect and engraver, and whose accomplishments as a chemist and natural philosopher, have been almost entirely overshadowed by his genius as a painter.[10] The idea, thus early born, lay in oblivion until 1760, when the daguerreotype was again clearly indicated in a book published in Paris, written by a certain Tiphanie de la Roche, under the anagrammatic title of Giphantie. Still later, at the beginning of the present century, we find Thomas Wedgwood, Sir Humphry Davy, and James Watt, making experiments on the action of light upon nitrate of silver; and only within the last few months a silvered copper-plate has been found amongst the old household lumber of Matthew Boulton (Watt's partner), having on it a representation of the old premises at Soho, apparently taken by some such process.[11]

In like manner the invention of the electric telegraph, supposed to be exclusively modern, was clearly indicated by Schwenter in his Delasements Physico-Mathematiques, published in 1636; and he there pointed out how two individuals could communicate with each other by means of the magnetic needle. A century later, in 1746, Le Monnier exhibited a series of experiments in the Royal Gardens at Paris, showing how electricity could be transmitted through iron wire 950 fathoms in length; and in 1753 we find one Charles Marshall publishing a remarkable description of the electric telegraph in the Scots Magazine, under the title of 'An expeditions Method of conveying Intelligence.' Again, in 1760, we find George Louis Lesage, professor of mathematics at Geneva, promulgating his invention of an electric telegraph, which he eventually completed and set to work in 1774. This instrument was composed of twenty-four metallic wires, separate from each other and enclosed in a non-conducting substance. Each wire ended in a stalk mounted with a little ball of elder-wood suspended by a silk thread. When a stream of electricity, no matter how slight., was sent through the wire, the elder-ball at the opposite end was repelled, such movement designating some letter of the alphabet. A few years later we find Arthur Young, in his Travels in France, describing a similar machine invented by a M. Lomond of Paris, the action of which he also describes.[12] In these and similar cases, though the idea was born and the model of the invention was actually made, it still waited the advent of the scientific mechanical inventor who should bring it to perfection, and embody it in a practical working form.

Some of the most valuable inventions have descended to us without the names of their authors having been preserved. We are the inheritors of an immense legacy of the results of labour and ingenuity, but we know not the names of our benefactors. Who invented the watch as a measurer of time? Who invented the fast and loose pulley? Who invented the eccentric? Who, asks a mechanical inquirer,[13] "invented the method of cutting screws with stocks and dies? Whoever he might be, he was certainly a great benefactor of his species. Yet (adds the writer) his name is not known, though the invention has been so recent." This is not, however, the case with most modern inventions, the greater number of which are more or less disputed. Who was entitled to the merit of inventing printing has never yet been determined. Weber and Senefelder both laid claim to the invention of lithography, though it was merely an old German art revived. Even the invention of the penny-postage system by Sir Rowland Hill is disputed; Dr. Gray of the British Museum claiming to be its inventor, and a French writer alleging it to be an old French invention.[14] The invention of the steamboat has been claimed on behalf of Blasco de Garay, a Spaniard, Papin, a Frenchman, Jonathan Hulls, an Englishman, and Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, a Scotchman. The invention of the spinning machine has been variously attributed to Paul, Wyatt, Hargreaves, Higley, and Arkwright. The invention of the balance-spring was claimed by Huyghens, a Dutchman, Hautefeuille, a Frenchman, and Hooke, an Englishman. There is scarcely a point of detail in the locomotive but is the subject of dispute. Thus the invention of the blast-pipe is claimed for Trevithick, George Stephenson, Goldsworthy Gurney, and Timothy Hackworth; that of the tubular boiler by Seguin, Stevens, Booth, and W. H. James; that of the link-motion by John Gray, Hugh Williams, and Robert Stephenson.

Indeed many inventions appear to be coincident. A number of minds are working at the same time in the same track, with the object of supplying some want generally felt; and, guided by the same experience, they not unfrequently arrive at like results. It has sometimes happened that the inventors have been separated by great distances, so that piracy on the part of either was impossible. Thus Hadley and Godfrey almost simultaneously invented the quadrant, the one in London, the other in Philadelphia; and the process of electrotyping was invented at the same time by Mr. Spencer, a working chemist at Liverpool, and by Professor Jacobi at St. Petersburg. The safety-lamp was a coincident invention, made about the same time by Sir Humphry Davy and George Stephenson; and perhaps a still more remarkable instance of a coincident discovery was that of the planet Neptune by Leverrier at Paris, and by Adams at Cambridge.

It is always difficult to apportion the due share of merit which belongs to mechanical inventors, who are accustomed to work upon each other's hints and suggestions, as well as by their own experience. Some idea of this difficulty may be formed from the fact that, in the course of our investigations as to the origin of the planing machine—one of the most useful of modern tools—we have found that it has been claimed on behalf of six inventors—Fox of Derby, Roberts of Manchester, Matthew Murray of Leeds, Spring of Aberdeen, Clement and George Rennie of London; and there may be other claimants of whom we have not yet heard. But most mechanical inventions are of a very composite character, and are led up to by the labour and the study of a long succession of workers. Thus Savary and Newcomen led up to Watt; Cugnot, Murdock, and Trevithick to the Stephensons; and Maudslay to Clement, Roberts, Nasmyth, Whitworth, and many more mechanical inventors. There is scarcely a process in the arts but has in like manner engaged mind after mind in bringing it to perfection. "There is nothing," says Mr. Hawkshaw, "really worth having that man has obtained, that has not been the result of a combined and gradual process of investigation. A gifted individual comes across some old footmark, stumbles on a chain of previous research and inquiry. He meets, for instance, with a machine, the result of much previous labour; he modifies it, pulls it to pieces, constructs and reconstructs it, and by further trial and experiment he arrives at the long sought-for result." [15]

But the making of the invention is not the sole difficulty. It is one thing to invent, said Sir Marc Brunel, and another thing to make the invention work. Thus when Watt, after long labour and study, had brought his invention to completion, he encountered an obstacle which has stood in the way of other inventors, and for a time prevented the introduction of their improvements, if not led to their being laid aside and abandoned. This was the circumstance that the machine projected was so much in advance of the mechanical capability of the age that it was with the greatest difficulty it could be executed. When labouring upon his invention at Glasgow, Watt was baffled and thrown into despair by the clumsiness and incompetency of his workmen. Writing to Dr. Roebuck on one occasion, he said, "You ask what is the principal hindrance in erecting engines? It is always the smith-work." His first cylinder was made by a whitesmith, of hammered iron soldered together, but having used quicksilver to keep the cylinder air-tight, it dropped through the inequalities into the interior, and "played the devil with the solder." Yet, inefficient though the whitesmith was, Watt could ill spare him, and we find him writing to Dr. Roebuck almost in despair, saying, "My old white-iron man is dead!" feeling his loss to be almost irreparable. His next cylinder was cast and bored at Carron, but it was so untrue that it proved next to useless. The piston could not be kept steam tight, notwithstanding the various expedients which were adopted of stuffing it with paper, cork, putty, pasteboard, and old hat. Even after Watt had removed to Birmingham, and he had the assistance of Boulton's best workmen, Smeaton expressed the opinion, when he saw the engine at work, that notwithstanding the excellence of the invention, it could never be brought into general use because of the difficulty of getting its various parts manufactured with sufficient precision. For a long time we find Watt, in his letters, complaining to his partner of the failure of his engines through "villainous bad workmanship." Sometimes the cylinders, when cast, were found to be more than an eighth of an inch wider at one end than the other; and under such circumstances it was impossible the engine could act with precision. Yet better work could not be had. First-rate workmen in machinery did not as yet exist; they were only in process of education. Nearly everything had to be done by hand. The tools used were of a very imperfect kind. A few ill-constructed lathes, with some drills and boring-machines of a rude sort, constituted the principal furniture of the workshop. Years after, when Brunel invented his block-machines, considerable time elapsed before he could find competent mechanics to construct them, and even after they had been constructed he had equal difficulty in finding competent hands to work them.[16]

Watt endeavoured to remedy the defect by keeping certain sets of workmen to special classes of work, allowing them to do nothing else. Fathers were induced to bring up their sons at the same bench with themselves, and initiate them in the dexterity which they had acquired by experience; and at Soho it was not unusual for the same precise line of work to be followed by members of the same family for three generations. In this way as great a degree of accuracy of a mechanical kind was arrived at was practicable under the circumstances. But notwithstanding all this care, accuracy of fitting could not be secured so long as the manufacture of steam-engines was conducted mainly by hand. There was usually a considerable waste of steam, which the expedients of chewed paper and greased hat packed outside the piston were insufficient to remedy; and it was not until the invention of automatic machine-tools by the mechanical engineers about to be mentioned, that the manufacture of the steam-engine became a matter of comparative ease and certainty. Watt was compelled to rest satisfied with imperfect results, arising from imperfect workmanship. Thus, writing to Dr. Small respecting a cylinder 18 inches in diameter, he said, "at the worst place the long diameter exceeded the short by only three-eighths of an inch." How different from the state of things at this day, when a cylinder five feet wide will be rejected as a piece of imperfect workmanship if it be found to vary in any part more than the 80th part of an inch in diameter!

Not fifty years since it was a matter of the utmost difficulty to set an engine to work, and sometimes of equal difficulty to keep it going. Though fitted by competent workmen, it often would not go at all. Then the foreman of the factory at which it was made was sent for, and he would almost live beside the engine for a month or more; and after easing her here and screwing her up there, putting in a new part and altering an old one, packing the piston and tightening the valves, the machine would at length begot to work.[17] Now the case is altogether different. The perfection of modern machine-tools is such that the utmost possible precision is secured, and the mechanical engineer can calculate on a degree of exactitude that does not admit of a deviation beyond the thousandth part of an inch. When the powerful oscillating engines of the 'Warrior' were put on board that ship, the parts, consisting of some five thousand separate pieces, were brought from the different workshops of the Messrs. Penn and Sons, where they had been made by workmen who knew not the places they were to occupy, and fitted together with such precision that so soon as the steam was raised and let into the cylinders, the immense machine began as if to breathe and move like a living creature, stretching its huge arms like a new-born giant, and then, after practising its strength a little and proving its soundness in body and limb, it started off with the power of above a thousand horses to try its strength in breasting the billows of the North Sea.

Such are among the triumphs of modern mechanical engineering, due in a great measure to the perfection of the tools by means of which all works in metal are now fashioned. These tools are themselves among the most striking results of the mechanical invention of the day. They are automata of the most perfect kind, rendering the engine and machine-maker in a great measure independent of inferior workmen. For the machine tools have no unsteady hand, are not careless nor clumsy, do not work by rule of thumb, and cannot make mistakes. They will repeat their operations a thousand times without tiring, or varying one hair's breadth in their action; and will turn out, without complaining, any quantity of work, all of like accuracy and finish. Exercising as they do so remarkable an influence on the development of modern industry, we now propose, so far as the materials at our disposal will admit, to give an account of their principal inventors, beginning with the school of Bramah.

[1] 1 Samuel, ch. xiii. v. 21.

[2] State Papers, Dom. 1621, Vol. 88, No. 112.

[3] Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 2nd Series, 117.

[4] Dr. Kirwan, late President of the Royal Irish Academy, who had travelled much on the continent of Europe, used to relate, when speaking of the difficulty of introducing improvements in the arts and manufactures, and of the prejudices entertained for old practices, that, in Normandy, the farmers had been so long accustomed to the use of plough's whose shares were made entirely of WOOD that they could not be prevailed on to make trial of those with IRON; that they considered them to be an idle and useless innovation on the long-established practices of their ancestors; and that they carried these prejudices so far as to force the government to issue an edict on the subject. And even to the last they were so obstinate in their attachment to ploughshares of wood that a tumultuous opposition was made to the enforcement of the edict, which for a short time threatened a rebellion in the province.—PARKES, Chemical Essays, 4th Ed. 473.

[5] EDOUARD FOURNIER, Vieux-Neuf, i. 339.

[6] Memoires de l' Academie des Sciences, 6 Feb. 1826.

[7] Farmer's Magazine, 1817, No. ixxi. 291.

[8] Vieux-Neuf, i. 228; Inventa Nova-Antiqua, 742.

[9] Vieux-Neuf, i. 19. See also Inventa Nova-Antiqua, 803.

[10] Mr. Hallam, in his Introduction to the History of Europe, pronounces the following remarkable eulogium on this extraordinary genius:—"If any doubt could be harboured, not only as to the right of Leonardo da Vinci to stand as 'the first name of the fifteenth century, which is beyond all doubt, but as to his originality in so many discoveries, which probably no one man, especially in such circumstances, has ever made, it must be on an hypothesis not very untenable, that some parts of physical science had already attained a height which mere books do not record." "Unpublished MSS. by Leonardo contain discoveries and anticipations of discoveries," says Mr. Hallam, "within the compass of a few pages, so as to strike us with something like the awe of preternatural knowledge."

[11] The plate is now to be seen at the Museum of Patents at South Kensington. In the account which has been published of the above discovery it is stated that "an old man of ninety (recently dead or still alive) recollected, or recollects, that Watt and others used to take portraits of people in a dark (?) room; and there is a letter extant of Sir William Beechey, begging the Lunar Society to desist from these experiments, as, were the process to succeed, it would ruin portrait-painting."

[12] "16th Oct. 1787. In the evening to M. Lomond, a very ingenious and inventive mechanic, who has made an improvement of the jenny for spinning cotton. Common machines are said to make too hard a thread for certain fabrics, but this forms it loose and spongy. In electricity he has made a remarkable discovery: you write two or three words on a paper; he takes it with him into a room, and turns a machine inclosed in a cylindrical case, at the top of which is an electrometer, a small fine pith ball; a wire connects with a similar cylinder and electrometer in a distant apartment; and his wife, by remarking the corresponding motions of the ball, writes down the words they indicate; from which it appears that he has formed an alphabet of motions. As the length of the wire makes no difference in the effect, a correspondence might be carried on at any distance: within and without a besieged town, for instance; or for a purpose much more worthy, and a thousand times more harmless, between two lovers prohibited or prevented from any better connexion. Whatever the use may be, the invention is beautiful."—Arthur Young's Travels in France in 1787-8-9. London, 1792, 4to. ed. p. 65.

[13] Mechanic's Magazine, 4th Feb. 1859.

[14] A writer in the Monde says:—"The invention of postage-stamps is far from being so modern as is generally supposed. A postal regulation in France of the year 1653, which has recently come to light, gives notice of the creation of pre-paid tickets to be used for Paris instead of money payments. These tickets were to be dated and attached to the letter or wrapped round it, in such a manner that the postman could remove and retain them on delivering the missive. These franks were to be sold by the porters of the convents, prisons, colleges, and other public institutions, at the price of one sou."

[15] Inaugural Address delivered before the Institution of Civil Engineers, 14th Jan. 1862.

[16] BEAMISH'S Memoir of Sir I. M. Brunel, 79, 80.

[17] There was the same clumsiness in all kinds of mill-work before the introduction of machine-tools. We have heard of a piece of machinery of the old school, the wheels of which, when set to work, made such a clatter that the owner feared the engine would fall to pieces. The foreman who set it agoing, after working at it until he was almost in despair, at last gave it up, saving, "I think we had better leave the cogs to settle their differences with one another: they will grind themselves right in time!"



"The great Inventor is one who has walked forth upon the industrial world, not from universities, but from hovels; not as clad in silks and decked with honours, but as clad in fustian and grimed with soot and oil."—ISAAC TAYLOR, Ultimate Civilization.

The inventive faculty is so strong in some men that it may be said to amount to a passion, and cannot be restrained. The saying that the poet is born, not made, applies with equal force to the inventor, who, though indebted like the other to culture and improved opportunities, nevertheless invents and goes on inventing mainly to gratify his own instinct. The inventor, however, is not a creator like the poet, but chiefly a finder-out. His power consists in a great measure in quick perception and accurate observation, and in seeing and foreseeing the effects of certain mechanical combinations. He must possess the gift of insight, as well as of manual dexterity, combined with the indispensable qualities of patience and perseverance,—for though baffled, as he often is, he must be ready to rise up again unconquered even in the moment of defeat. This is the stuff of which the greatest inventors have been made. The subject of the following memoir may not be entitled to take rank as a first-class inventor, though he was a most prolific one; but, as the founder of a school from which proceeded some of the most distinguished mechanics of our time, he is entitled to a prominent place in this series of memoirs.

Joseph Bramah was born in 1748 at the village of Stainborough, near Barnsley in Yorkshire, where his father rented a small farm under Lord Strafford. Joseph was the eldest of five children, and was early destined to follow the plough. After receiving a small amount of education at the village school, he was set to work upon the farm. From an early period he showed signs of constructive skill. When a mere boy, he occupied his leisure hours in making musical instruments, and he succeeded in executing some creditable pieces of work with very imperfect tools. A violin, which he made out of a solid block of wood, was long preserved as a curiosity. He was so fortunate as to make a friend of the village blacksmith, whose smithy he was in the practice of frequenting. The smith was an ingenious workman, and, having taken a liking for the boy, he made sundry tools for him out of old files and razor blades; and with these his fiddle and other pieces of work were mainly executed.

Joseph might have remained a ploughman for life, but for an accident which happened to his right ankle at the age of 16, which unfitted him for farm-work. While confined at home disabled he spent his time in carving and making things in wood; and then it occurred to him that, though he could not now be a ploughman, he might be a mechanic. When sufficiently recovered, he was accordingly put apprentice to one Allott, the village carpenter, under whom he soon became an expert workman. He could make ploughs, window-frames, or fiddles, with equal dexterity. He also made violoncellos, and was so fortunate as to sell one of his making for three guineas, which is still reckoned a good instrument. He doubtless felt within him the promptings of ambition, such as every good workman feels, and at all events entertained the desire of rising in his trade. When his time was out, he accordingly resolved to seek work in London, whither he made the journey on foot. He soon found work at a cabinet-maker's, and remained with him for some time, after which he set up business in a very small way on his own account. An accident which happened to him in the course of his daily work, again proved his helper, by affording him a degree of leisure which he at once proceeded to turn to some useful account. Part of his business consisted in putting up water-closets, after a method invented or improved by a Mr. Allen; but the article was still very imperfect; and Bramah had long resolved that if he could only secure some leisure for the purpose, he would contrive something that should supersede it altogether. A severe fall which occurred to him in the course of his business, and laid him up, though very much against his will, now afforded him the leisure which he desired, and he proceeded to make his proposed invention. He took out a patent for it in 1778, describing himself in the specification as "of Cross Court, Carnaby Market [Golden Square], Middlesex, Cabinet Maker." He afterwards removed to a shop in Denmark Street, St. Giles's, and while there he made a further improvement in his invention by the addition of a water cock, which he patented in 1783. The merits of the machine were generally recognised, and before long it came into extensive use, continuing to be employed, with but few alterations, until the present day. His circumstances improving with the increased use of his invention, Bramah proceeded to undertake the manufacture of the pumps, pipes, &c., required for its construction; and, remembering his friend the Yorkshire blacksmith, who had made his first tools for him out of the old files and razor-blades, he sent for him to London to take charge of his blacksmith's department, in which he proved a most useful assistant. As usual, the patent was attacked by pirates so soon as it became productive, and Bramah was under the necessity, on more than one occasion, of defending his property in the invention, in which he was completely successful.

We next find Bramah turning his attention to the invention of a lock that should surpass all others then known. The locks then in use were of a very imperfect character, easily picked by dexterous thieves, against whom they afforded little protection. Yet locks are a very ancient invention, though, as in many other cases, the art of making them seems in a great measure to have become lost, and accordingly had to be found out anew. Thus the tumbler lock—which consists in the use of moveable impediments acted on by the proper key only, as contradistinguished from the ordinary ward locks, where the impediments are fixed—appears to have been well known to the ancient Egyptians, the representation of such a lock being found sculptured among the bas-reliefs which decorate the great temple at Karnak. This kind of lock was revived, or at least greatly improved, by a Mr. Barron in 1774, and it was shortly after this time that Bramah directed his attention to the subject. After much study and many experiments, he contrived a lock more simple, more serviceable, as well as more secure, than Barron's, as is proved by the fact that it has stood the test of nearly eighty years' experience,[1] and still holds its ground. For a long time, indeed, Bramah's lock was regarded as absolutely inviolable, and it remained unpicked for sixty-seven years until Hobbs the American mastered it in 1851. A notice had long been exhibited in Bramah's shop-window in Piccadilly, offering 200L. to any one who should succeed in picking the patent lock. Many tried, and all failed, until Hobbs succeeded, after sixteen days' manipulation of it with various elaborate instruments. But the difficulty with which the lock was picked showed that, for all ordinary purposes, it might be pronounced impregnable.

The new locks were machines of the most delicate kind, the action of which depended in a great measure upon the precision with which the springs, sliders, levers, barrels, and other parts were finished. The merits of the invention being generally admitted, there was a considerable demand for the locks, and the necessity thus arose for inventing a series of original machine-tools to enable them to be manufactured in sufficient quantities to meet the demand. It is probable, indeed, that, but for the contrivance of such tools, the lock could never have come in to general use, as the skill of hand-workmen, no matter how experienced, could not have been relied upon for turning out the article with that degree of accuracy and finish in all the parts which was indispensable for its proper action. In conducting the manufacture throughout, Bramah was greatly assisted by Henry Maudslay, his foreman, to whom he was in no small degree indebted for the contrivance of those tool-machines which enabled him to carry on the business of lock-making with advantage and profit.

Bramah's indefatigable spirit of invention was only stimulated to fresh efforts by the success of his lock; and in the course of a few years we find him entering upon a more important and original line of action than he had yet ventured on. His patent of 1785 shows the direction of his studies. Watt had invented his steam-engine, which was coming into general use; and the creation of motive-power in various other forms became a favourite subject of inquiry with inventors. Bramah's first invention with this object was his Hydrostatic Machine, founded on the doctrine of the equilibrium of pressure in fluids, as exhibited in the well known 'hydrostatic paradox.' In his patent of 1785, in which he no longer describes himself as Cabinet maker, but 'Engine maker' of Piccadilly, he indicated many inventions, though none of them came into practical use,—such as a Hydrostatical Machine and Boiler, and the application of the power produced by them to the drawing of carriages, and the propelling of ships by a paddle-wheel fixed in the stern of the vessel, of which drawings are annexed to the specification; but it was not until 1795 that he patented his Hydrostatic or Hydraulic Press.

Though the principle on which the Hydraulic Press is founded had long been known, and formed the subject of much curious speculation, it remained unproductive of results until a comparatively recent period, when the idea occurred of applying it to mechanical purposes. A machine of the kind was indeed proposed by Pascal, the eminent philosopher, in 1664, but more than a century elapsed before the difficulties in the way of its construction were satisfactorily overcome. Bramah's machine consists of a large and massive cylinder, in which there works an accurately-fitted solid piston or plunger. A forcing-pump of very small bore communicates with the bottom of the cylinder, and by the action of the pump-handle or lever, exceeding small quantities of water are forced in succession beneath the piston in the large cylinder, thus gradually raising it up, and compressing bodies whose bulk or volume it is intended to reduce. Hence it is most commonly used as a packing-press, being superior to every other contrivance of the kind that has yet been invented; and though exercising a prodigious force, it is so easily managed that a boy can work it. The machine has been employed on many extraordinary occasions in preference to other methods of applying power. Thus Robert Stephenson used it to hoist the gigantic tubes of the Britannia Bridge into their bed,[2] and Brunel to launch the Great Eastern steamship from her cradles. It has also been used to cut bars of iron, to draw the piles driven in forming coffer dams, and to wrench up trees by the roots, all of which feats it accomplishes with comparative ease.

The principal difficulty experienced in constructing the hydraulic press before the time of Bramah arose from the tremendous pressure exercised by the pump, which forced the water through between the solid piston and the side of the cylinder in which it worked in such quantities as to render the press useless for practical purposes. Bramah himself was at first completely baffled by this difficulty. It will be observed that the problem was to secure a joint sufficiently free to let the piston slide up through it, and at the same time so water-tight as to withstand the internal force of the pump. These two conditions seemed so conflicting that Bramah was almost at his wit's end, and for a time despaired of being able to bring the machine to a state of practical efficiency. None but those who have occupied themselves in the laborious and often profitless task of helping the world to new and useful machines can have any idea of the tantalizing anxiety which arises from the apparently petty stumbling-blocks which for awhile impede the realization of a great idea in mechanical invention. Such was the case with the water-tight arrangement in the hydraulic press. In his early experiments, Bramah tried the expedient of the ordinary stuffing-box for the purpose of securing the required water tightness' That is, a coil of hemp on leather washers was placed in a recess, so as to fit tightly round the moving ram or piston, and it was further held in its place by means of a compressing collar forced hard down by strong screws. The defect of this arrangement was, that, even supposing the packing could be made sufficiently tight to resist the passage of the water urged by the tremendous pressure from beneath, such was the grip which the compressed material took of the ram of the press, that it could not be got to return down after the water pressure had been removed.

In this dilemma, Bramah's ever-ready workman, Henry Maudslay, came to his rescue. The happy idea occurred to him of employing the pressure of the water itself to give the requisite water-tightness to the collar. It was a flash of common-sense genius—beautiful through its very simplicity. The result was Maudslay's self-tightening collar, the action of which a few words of description will render easily intelligible. A collar of sound leather, the convex side upwards and the concave downwards, was fitted into the recess turned out in the neck of the press-cylinder, at the place formerly used as a stuffing-box. Immediately on the high pressure water being turned on, it forced its way into the leathern concavity and 'flapped out' the bent edges of the collar; and, in so doing, caused the leather to apply itself to the surface of the rising ram with a degree of closeness and tightness so as to seal up the joint the closer exactly in proportion to the pressure of the water in its tendency to escape. On the other hand, the moment the pressure was let off and the ram desired to return, the collar collapsed and the ram slid gently down, perfectly free and yet perfectly water-tight. Thus, the former tendency of the water to escape by the side of the piston was by this most simple and elegant self-adjusting contrivance made instrumental to the perfectly efficient action of the machine; and from the moment of its invention the hydraulic press took its place as one of the grandest agents for exercising power in a concentrated and tranquil form.

Bramah continued his useful labours as an inventor for many years. His study of the principles of hydraulics, in the course of his invention of the press, enabled him to introduce many valuable improvements in pumping-machinery. By varying the form of the piston and cylinder he was enabled to obtain a rotary motion,[3] which he advantageously applied to many purposes. Thus he adopted it in the well known fire-engine, the use of which has almost become universal. Another popular machine of his is the beer-pump, patented in 1797, by which the publican is enabled to raise from the casks in the cellar beneath, the various liquors sold by him over the counter. He also took out several patents for the improvement of the steam-engine, in which, however, Watt left little room for other inventors; and hence Bramah seems to have entertained a grudge against Watt, which broke out fiercely in the evidence given by him in the case of Boulton and Watt versus Hornblower and Maberly, tried in December 1796. On that occasion his temper seems to have got the better of his judgment, and he was cut short by the judge in the attempt which he then made to submit the contents of the pamphlet subsequently published by him in the form of a letter to the judge before whom the case was tried.[4] In that pamphlet he argued that Watt's specification had no definite meaning; that it was inconsistent and absurd, and could not possibly be understood; that the proposal to work steam-engines on the principle of condensation was entirely fallacious; that Watt's method of packing the piston was "monstrous stupidity;" that the engines of Newcomen (since entirely superseded) were infinitely superior, in all respects, to those of Watt;—conclusions which, we need scarcely say, have been refuted by the experience of nearly a century.

On the expiry of Boulton and Watt's patent, Bramah introduced several valuable improvements in the details of the condensing engine, which had by that time become an established power,—the most important of which was his "four-way cock," which he so arranged as to revolve continuously instead of alternately, thus insuring greater precision with considerably less wear of parts. In the same patent by which he secured this invention in 1801, he also proposed sundry improvements in the boilers, as well as modifications in various parts of the engine, with the object of effecting greater simplicity and directness of action.

In his patent of 1802, we find Bramah making another great stride in mechanical invention, in his tools "for producing straight, smooth, and parallel surfaces on wood and other materials requiring truth, in a manner much more expeditious and perfect than can be performed by the use of axes, saws, planes, and other cutting instruments used by hand in the ordinary way." The specification describes the object of the invention to be the saving of manual labour, the reduction in the cost of production, and the superior character of the work executed. The tools were fixed on frames driven by machinery, some moving in a rotary direction round an upright shaft, some with the shaft horizontal like an ordinary wood-turning lathe, while in others the tools were fixed on frames sliding in stationary grooves. A wood-planing machine[5] was constructed on the principle of this invention at Woolwich Arsenal, where it still continues in efficient use. The axis of the principal shaft was supported on a piston in a vessel of oil, which considerably diminished the friction, and it was so contrived as to be accurately regulated by means of a small forcing-pump. Although the machinery described in the patent was first applied to working on wood, it was equally applicable to working on metals; and in his own shops at Pimlico Bramah employed a machine with revolving cutters to plane metallic surfaces for his patent locks and other articles. He also introduced a method of turning spherical surfaces, either convex or concave, by a tool moveable on an axis perpendicular to that of the lathe; and of cutting out concentric shells by fixing in a similar manner a curved tool of nearly the same form as that employed by common turners for making bowls. "In fact," says Mr. Mallet, "Bramah not only anticipated, but carried out upon a tolerably large scale in his own works—for the construction of the patent hydraulic press, the water-closet, and his locks—a surprisingly large proportion of our modern tools." [6] His remarkable predilection in favour of the use of hydraulic arrangements is displayed in his specification of the surface-planing machinery, which includes a method of running pivots entirely on a fluid, and raising and depressing them at pleasure by means of a small forcing-pump and stop-cock,—though we are not aware that any practical use has ever been made of this part of the invention.

Bramah's inventive genius displayed itself alike in small things as in great—in a tap wherewith to draw a glass of beer, and in a hydraulic machine capable of tearing up a tree by the roots. His powers of contrivance seemed inexhaustible, and were exercised on the most various subjects. When any difficulty occurred which mechanical ingenuity was calculated to remove, recourse was usually had to Bramah, and he was rarely found at a loss for a contrivance to overcome it. Thus, when applied to by the Bank of England in 1806, to construct a machine for more accurately and expeditiously printing the numbers and date lines on Bank notes, he at once proceeded to invent the requisite model, which he completed in the course of a month. He subsequently brought it to great perfection the figures in numerical succession being changed by the action of the machine itself,—and it still continues in regular use. Its employment in the Bank of England alone saved the labour of a hundred clerks; but its chief value consisted in its greater accuracy, the perfect legibility of the figures printed by it, and the greatly improved check which it afforded.

We next find him occupying himself with inventions connected with the manufacture of pens and paper. His little pen-making machine for readily making quill pens long continued in use, until driven out by the invention of the steel pen; but his patent for making paper by machinery, though ingenious, like everything he did, does not seem to have been adopted, the inventions of Fourdrinier and Donkin in this direction having shortly superseded all others. Among his other minor inventions may be mentioned his improved method of constructing and sledging carriage-wheels, and his improved method of laying water-pipes. In his specification of the last-mentioned invention, he included the application of water-power to the driving of machinery of every description, and for hoisting and lowering goods in docks and warehouses,—since carried out in practice, though in a different manner, by Sir William Armstrong.[7] In this, as in many other matters, Bramah shot ahead of the mechanical necessities of his time; and hence many of his patents (of which he held at one time more than twenty) proved altogether profitless. His last patent, taken out in 1814, was for the application of Roman cement to timber for the purpose of preventing dry rot.

Besides his various mechanical pursuits, Bramah also followed to a certain extent the profession of a civil engineer, though his more urgent engagements rendered it necessary for him to refuse many advantageous offers of employment in this line. He was, however, led to carry out the new water-works at Norwich, between the years 1790 and 1793, in consequence of his having been called upon to give evidence in a dispute between the corporation of that city and the lessees, in the course of which he propounded plans which, it was alleged, could not be carried out. To prove that they could be carried out, and that his evidence was correct, he undertook the new works, and executed them with complete success; besides demonstrating in a spirited publication elicited by the controversy, the insufficiency and incongruity of the plans which had been submitted by the rival engineer.

For some time prior to his death Bramah had been employed in the erection of several large machines in his works at Pimlico for sawing stone and timber, to which he applied his hydraulic power with great success. New methods of building bridges and canal-locks, with a variety of other matters, were in an embryo state in his mind, but he did not live to complete them. He was occupied in superintending the action of his hydrostatic press at Holt Forest, in Hants—where upwards of 300 trees of the largest dimensions were in a very short time torn up by the roots,—when he caught a severe cold, which settled upon his lungs, and his life was suddenly brought to a close on the 9th of December, 1814, in his 66th year.

His friend, Dr. Cullen Brown,[8] has said of him, that Bramah was a man of excellent moral character, temperate in his habits, of a pious turn of mind,[9] and so cheerful in temperament, that he was the life of every company into which he entered. To much facility of expression he added the most perfect independence of opinion; he was a benevolent and affectionate man; neat and methodical in his habits, and knew well how to temper liberality with economy. Greatly to his honour, he often kept his workmen employed, solely for their sake, when stagnation of trade prevented him disposing of the products of their labour. As a manufacturer he was distinguished for his promptitude and probity, and he was celebrated for the exquisite finish which he gave to all his productions. In this excellence of workmanship, which he was the first to introduce, he continued while he lived to be unrivalled.

Bramah was deservedly honoured and admired as the first mechanical genius of his time, and as the founder of the art of tool-making in its highest branches. From his shops at Pimlico came Henry Maudslay, Joseph Clement, and many more first-class mechanics, who carried the mechanical arts to still higher perfection, and gave an impulse to mechanical engineering, the effects of which are still felt in every branch of industry.

The parish to which Bramah belonged was naturally proud of the distinction he had achieved in the world, and commemorated his life and career by a marble tablet erected by subscription to his memory, in the parish church of Silkstone. In the churchyard are found the tombstones of Joseph's father, brother, and other members of the family; and we are informed that their descendants still occupy the farm at Stainborough on which the great mechanician was born.

[1] The lock invented by Bramah was patented in 1784. Mr. Bramah himself fully set forth the specific merits of the invention in his Dissertation on the Construction of Locks. In a second patent, taken out by him in 1798, he amended his first with the object of preventing the counterfeiting of keys, and suspending the office of the lock until the key was again in the possession of the owner. This he effected by enabling the owner so to alter the sliders as to render the lock inaccessible to such key if applied by any other person but himself, or until the sliders had been rearranged so as to admit of its proper action. We may mention in passing that the security of Bramah's locks depends on the doctrine of combinations, or multiplication of numbers into each other, which is known to increase in the most rapid proportion. Thus, a lock of five slides admits of 3,000 variations, while one of eight will have no less than 1,935,360 changes; in other words, that number of attempts at making a key, or at picking it, may be made before it can be opened.

[2] The weight raised by a single press at the Britannia Bridge was 1144 tons.

[3] Dr. Thomas Young, in his article on Bramah in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, describes the "rotative principle" as consisting in making the part which acts immediately on the water in the form of a slider, "sweeping round a cylindrical cavity, and kept in its place by means of an eccentric groove; a contrivance which was probably Bramah's own invention, but which had been before described, in a form nearly similar, by Ramelli, Canalleri, Amontons, Prince Rupert, and Dr. Hooke.

[4] A Letter to the Right Hon. Sir James Eyre, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, on the subject of the cause Boulton and Watt v. Hornblower and Maberly, for Infringement on Mr. Watt's Patent for an Improvement of the Steam Engine. By Joseph Bramah, Engineer. London, 1797.

[5] Sir Samuel Bentham and Marc Isambard Brunel subsequently distinguished themselves by the invention of wood-working machinery, full accounts of which will be found in the Memoirs of the former by Lady Bentham, and in the Life of the latter by Mr. Beamish.

[6] "Record of the International Exhibition, 1862." Practical Mechanic's Journal, 293.

[7] In this, as in other methods of employing power, the moderns had been anticipated by the ancients; and though hydraulic machinery is a comparatively recent invention in England, it had long been in use abroad. Thus we find in Dr. Bright's Travels in Lower Hungary a full description of the powerful hydraulic machinery invented by M. Holl, Chief Engineer of the Imperial Mines, which had been in use since the year 1749, in pumping water from a depth of 1800 feet, from the silver and gold mines of Schemnitz and Kremnitz. A head of water was collected by forming a reservoir along the mountain side, from which it was conducted through water-tight cast-iron pipes erected perpendicularly in the mine-shaft. About forty-five fathoms down, the water descending through the pipe was forced by the weight of the column above it into the bottom of a perpendicular cylinder, in which it raised a water-tight piston. When forced up to a given point a self-acting stop-cock shut off the pressure of the descending column, while a self-acting valve enabled the water contained in the cylinder to be discharged, on which the piston again descended, and the process was repeated like the successive strokes of a steam-engine. Pump-rods were attached to this hydraulic apparatus, which were carried to the bottom of the shaft, and each worked a pump at different levels, raising the water stage by stage to the level of the main adit. The pumps of these three several stages each raised 1790 cubic feet of water from a depth of 600 feet in the hour. The regular working of the machinery was aided by the employment of a balance-beam connected by a chain with the head of the large piston and pump-rods; and the whole of these powerful machines by means of three of which as much as 789,840 gallons of water were pumped out of the mines every 24 hours—were set in operation and regulated merely by the turning of a stopcock. It will be observed that the arrangement thus briefly described was equally applicable to the working of machinery of all kinds, cranes, &c., as well as pumps; and it will be noted that, notwithstanding the ingenuity of Bramah, Armstrong, and other eminent English mechanics, the Austrian engineer Holl was thus decidedly beforehand with them in the practical application of the principles of hydrostatics.

[8] Dr. Brown published a brief memoir of his friend in the New Monthly Magazine for April, 1815, which has been the foundation of all the notices of Bramah's life that have heretofore appeared.

[9] Notwithstanding his well-known religious character, Bramah seems to have fallen under the grievous displeasure of William Huntington, S.S. (Sinner Saved), described by Macaulay in his youth as "a worthless ugly lad of the name of Hunter," and in his manhood as "that remarkable impostor" (Essays, 1 vol. ed. 529). It seems that Huntington sought the professional services of Bramah when re-edifying his chapel in 1793; and at the conclusion of the work, the engineer generously sent the preacher a cheque for 8L. towards defraying the necessary expenses. Whether the sum was less than Huntington expected, or from whatever cause, the S.S. contemptuously flung back the gift, as proceeding from an Arian whose religion was "unsavoury," at the same time hurling at the giver a number of texts conveying epithets of an offensive character. Bramah replied to the farrago of nonsense, which he characterised as "unmannerly, absurd, and illiterate that it must have been composed when the writer was intoxicated, mad, or under the influence of Lucifer," and he threatened that unless Huntington apologised for his gratuitous insults, he (Bramah) would assuredly expose him. The mechanician nevertheless proceeded gravely to explain and defend his "profession of faith," which was altogether unnecessary. On this Huntington returned to the charge, and directed against the mechanic a fresh volley of Scripture texts and phraseology, not without humour, if profanity be allowable in controversy, as where he says, "Poor man! he makes a good patent lock, but cuts a sad figure with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven!" "What Mr. Bramah is," says S.S., "In respect to his character or conduct in life, as a man, a tradesman, a neighbour, a gentleman, a husband, friend, master, or subject, I know not. In all these characters he may shine as a comet for aught I know; but he appears to me to be as far from any resemblance to a poor penitent or broken-hearted sinner as Jannes, Jambres, or Alexander the coppersmith!" Bramah rejoined by threatening to publish his assailant's letters, but Huntington anticipated him in A Feeble Dispute with a Wise and Learned Man, 8vo. London, 1793, in which, whether justly or not, Huntington makes Bramah appear to murder the king's English in the most barbarous manner.



"The successful construction of all machinery depends on the perfection of the tools employed; and whoever is a master in the arts of tool-making possesses the key to the construction of all machines..... The contrivance and construction of tools must therefore ever stand at the head of the industrial arts."—C. BABBAGE, Exposition of 1851.

Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich towards the end of last century, in a house standing in the court at the back of the Salutation Inn, the entrance to which is nearly opposite the Arsenal gates. His father was a native of Lancashire, descended from an old family of the same name, the head of which resided at Mawdsley Hall near Ormskirk at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The family were afterwards scattered, and several of its members became workmen. William Maudslay, the father of Henry, belonged to the neighbourhood of Bolton, where he was brought up to the trade of a joiner. His principal employment, while working at his trade in Lancashire, consisted in making the wood framing of cotton machinery, in the construction of which cast-iron had not yet been introduced. Having got into some trouble in his neighbourhood, through some alleged LIAISON, William enlisted in the Royal Artillery, and the corps to which he belonged was shortly after sent out to the West Indies. He was several times engaged in battle, and in his last action he was hit by a musket-bullet in the throat. The soldier's stock which he wore had a piece cut out of it by the ball, the direction of which was diverted, and though severely wounded, his life was saved. He brought home the stock and preserved it as a relic, afterwards leaving it to his son. Long after, the son would point to the stock, hung up against his wall, and say "But for that bit of leather there would have been no Henry Maudslay." The wounded artilleryman was invalided and sent home to Woolwich, the headquarters of his corps, where he was shortly after discharged. Being a handy workman, he sought and obtained employment at the Arsenal. He was afterwards appointed a storekeeper in the Dockyard. It was during the former stage of William Maudslay's employment at Woolwich, that the subject of this memoir was born in the house in the court above mentioned, on the 22nd of August, 1771.

The boy was early set to work. When twelve years old he was employed as a "powder-monkey," in making and filling cartridges. After two years, he was passed on to the carpenter's shop where his father worked, and there he became acquainted with tools and the art of working in wood and iron. From the first, the latter seems to have had by far the greatest charms for him. The blacksmiths' shop was close to the carpenters', and Harry seized every opportunity that offered of plying the hammer, the file, and the chisel, in preference to the saw and the plane. Many a cuff did the foreman of carpenters give him for absenting himself from his proper shop and stealing off to the smithy. His propensity was indeed so strong that, at the end of a year, it was thought better, as he was a handy, clever boy, to yield to his earnest desire to be placed in the smithy, and he was removed thither accordingly in his fifteenth year.

His heart being now in his work, he made rapid progress, and soon became an expert smith and metal worker. He displayed his skill especially in forging light ironwork; and a favourite job of his was the making of "Trivets" out of the solid, which only the "dab hands" of the shop could do, but which he threw off with great rapidity in first rate style. These "Trivets" were made out of Spanish iron bolts—rare stuff, which, though exceedingly tough, forged like wax under the hammer. Even at the close of his life, when he had acquired eminent distinction as an inventor, and was a large employer of skilled labour, he looked back with pride to the forging of his early days in Woolwich Arsenal. He used to describe with much gusto, how the old experienced hands, with whom he was a great favourite, would crowd about him when forging his "Trivets," some of which may to this day be in use among Woolwich housewives for supporting the toast-plate before the bright fire against tea time. This was, however, entirely contraband work, done "on the sly," and strictly prohibited by the superintending officer, who used kindly to signal his approach by blowing his nose in a peculiar manner, so that all forbidden jobs might be put out of the way by the time he entered the shop.

We have referred to Maudslay's early dexterity in trivet-making—a circumstance trifling enough in itself—for the purpose of illustrating the progress which he had made in a branch of his art of the greatest importance in tool and machine making. Nothing pleased him more in his after life than to be set to work upon an unusual piece of forging, and to overcome, as none could do so cleverly as he, the difficulties which it presented. The pride of art was as strong in him as it must have been in the mediaeval smiths, who turned out those beautiful pieces of workmanship still regarded as the pride of our cathedrals and old mansions. In Maudslay's case, his dexterity as a smith was eventually directed to machinery, rather than ornamental work; though, had the latter been his line of labour, we do not doubt that he would have reached the highest distinction.

The manual skill which our young blacksmith had acquired was such as to give him considerable reputation in his craft, and he was spoken of even in the London shops as one of the most dexterous hands in the trade. It was this circumstance that shortly after led to his removal from the smithy in Woolwich Arsenal to a sphere more suitable for the development of his mechanical ability.

We have already stated in the preceding memoir, that Joseph Bramah took out the first patent for his lock in 1784, and a second for its improvement several years later; but notwithstanding the acknowledged superiority of the new lock over all others, Bramah experienced the greatest difficulty in getting it manufactured with sufficient precision, and at such a price as to render it an article of extensive commerce. This arose from the generally inferior character of the workmanship of that day, as well as the clumsiness and uncertainty of the tools then in use. Bramah found that even the best manual dexterity was not to be trusted, and yet it seemed to be his only resource; for machine-tools of a superior kind had not yet been invented. In this dilemma he determined to consult an ingenious old German artisan, then working with William Moodie, a general blacksmith in Whitechapel. This German was reckoned one of the most ingenious workmen in London at the time. Bramah had several long interviews with him, with the object of endeavouring to solve the difficult problem of how to secure precise workmanship in lock-making. But they could not solve it; they saw that without better tools the difficulty was insuperable; and then Bramah began to fear that his lock would remain a mere mechanical curiosity, and be prevented from coming into general use.

He was indeed sorely puzzled what next to do, when one of the hammermen in Moodie's shop ventured to suggest that there was a young man in the Woolwich Arsenal smithy, named Maudslay, who was so ingenious in such matters that "nothing bet him," and he recommended that Mr. Bramah should have a talk with him upon the subject of his difficulty. Maudslay was at once sent for to Bramah's workshop, and appeared before the lock-maker, a tall, strong, comely young fellow, then only eighteen years old. Bramah was almost ashamed to lay his case before such a mere youth; but necessity constrained him to try all methods of accomplishing his object, and Maudslay's suggestions in reply to his statement of the case were so modest, so sensible, and as the result proved, so practical, that the master was constrained to admit that the lad before him had an old head though set on young shoulders. Bramah decided to adopt the youth's suggestions, made him a present on the spot, and offered to give him a job if he was willing to come and work in a town shop. Maudslay gladly accepted the offer, and in due time appeared before Bramah to enter upon his duties.

As Maudslay had served no regular apprenticeship, and was of a very youthful appearance, the foreman of the shop had considerable doubts as to his ability to take rank alongside his experienced hands. But Maudslay soon set his master's and the foreman's mind at rest. Pointing to a worn-out vice-bench, he said to Bramah, "Perhaps if I can make that as good as new by six o'clock to-night, it will satisfy your foreman that I am entitled to rank as a tradesman and take my place among your men, even though I have not served a seven years' apprenticeship." There was so much self-reliant ability in the proposal, which was moreover so reasonable, that it was at once acceded to. Off went Maudslay's coat, up went his shirt sleeves, and to work he set with a will upon the old bench. The vice-jaws were re-steeled "in no time," filed up, re-cut, all the parts cleaned and made trim, and set into form again. By six o'clock, the old vice was screwed up to its place, its jaws were hardened and "let down" to proper temper, and the old bench was made to look so smart and neat that it threw all the neighbouring benches into the shade! Bramah and his foreman came round to see it, while the men of the shop looked admiringly on. It was examined and pronounced "a first-rate job." This diploma piece of work secured Maudslay's footing, and next Monday morning he came on as one of the regular hands.

He soon took rank in the shop as a first-class workman. Loving his art, he aimed at excellence in it, and succeeded. For it must be understood that the handicraftsman whose heart is in his calling, feels as much honest pride in turning out a piece of thoroughly good workmanship, as the sculptor or the painter does in executing a statue or a picture. In course of time, the most difficult and delicate jobs came to be entrusted to Maudslay; and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to be set to work upon an entirely new piece of machinery. And thus he rose, naturally and steadily, from hand to head work. For his manual dexterity was the least of his gifts. He possessed an intuitive power of mechanical analysis and synthesis. He had a quick eye to perceive the arrangements requisite to effect given purposes; and whenever a difficulty arose, his inventive mind set to work to overcome it.

His fellow-workmen were not slow to recognise his many admirable qualities, of hand, mind, and heart; and he became not only the favourite, but the hero of the shop. Perhaps he owed something to his fine personal appearance. Hence on gala-days, when the men turned out in procession, "Harry" was usually selected to march at their head and carry the flag. His conduct as a son, also, was as admirable as his qualities as a workman. His father dying shortly after Maudslay entered Bramah's concern, he was accustomed to walk down to Woolwich every Saturday night, and hand over to his mother, for whom he had the tenderest regard, a considerable share of his week's wages, and this he continued to do as long as she lived.

Notwithstanding his youth, he was raised from one post to another, until he was appointed, by unanimous consent, the head foreman of the works; and was recognised by all who had occasion to do business there as "Bramah's right-hand man." He not only won the heart of his master, but—what proved of far greater importance to him—he also won the heart of his master's pretty housemaid, Sarah Tindel by name, whom he married, and she went hand-in-hand with him through life, an admirable "help meet," in every way worthy of the noble character of the great mechanic. Maudslay was found especially useful by his master in devising the tools for making his patent locks; and many were the beautiful contrivances which he invented for the purpose of ensuring their more accurate and speedy manufacture, with a minimum degree of labour, and without the need of any large amount of manual dexterity on the part of the workman. The lock was so delicate a machine, that the identity of the several parts of which it was composed was found to be an absolute necessity. Mere handicraft, however skilled, could not secure the requisite precision of workmanship; nor could the parts be turned out in sufficient quantity to meet any large demand. It was therefore requisite to devise machine-tools which should not blunder, nor turn out imperfect work;—machines, in short, which should be in a great measure independent of the want of dexterity of individual workmen, but which should unerringly labour in their prescribed track, and do the work set them, even in the minutest details, after the methods designed by their inventor. In this department Maudslay was eminently successful, and to his laborious ingenuity, as first displayed in Bramah's workshops, and afterwards in his own establishment, we unquestionably owe much of the power and accuracy of our present self-acting machines.

Bramah himself was not backward in admitting that to Henry Maudslay's practical skill in contriving the machines for manufacturing his locks on a large scale, the success of his invention was in a great degree attributable. In further proof of his manual dexterity, it may be mentioned that he constructed with his own hands the identical padlock which so severely tested the powers of Mr. Hobbs in 1851. And when it is considered that the lock had been made for more than half a century, and did not embody any of the modern improvements, it will perhaps be regarded not only as creditable to the principles on which it was constructed, but to the workmanship of its maker, that it should so long have withstood the various mechanical dexterity to which it was exposed.

Besides the invention of improved machine-tools for the manufacture of locks, Maudslay was of further service to Bramah in applying the expedient to his famous Hydraulic Press, without which it would probably have remained an impracticable though a highly ingenious machine. As in other instances of great inventions, the practical success of the whole is often found to depend upon the action of some apparently trifling detail. This was especially the case with the hydraulic press; to which Maudslay added the essential feature of the self-tightening collar, above described in the memoir of Bramah. Mr. James Nasmyth is our authority for ascribing this invention to Maudslay, who was certainly quite competent to have made it; and it is a matter of fact that Bramah's specification of the press says nothing of the hollow collar,[1] on which its efficient action mainly depends. Mr. Nasmyth says—"Maudslay himself told me, or led me to believe, that it was he who invented the self-tightening collar for the hydraulic press, without which it would never have been a serviceable machine. As the self-tightening collar is to the hydraulic press, so is the steamblast to the locomotive. It is the one thing needful that has made it effective in practice. If Maudslay was the inventor of the collar, that one contrivance ought to immortalize him. He used to tell me of it with great gusto, and I have no reason to doubt the correctness of his statement." Whoever really struck out the idea of the collar, displayed the instinct of the true inventor, who invariably seeks to accomplish his object by the adoption of the simplest possible means.

During the time that Maudslay held the important office of manager of Bramah's works, his highest wages were not more than thirty shillings a-week. He himself thought that he was worth more to his master—as indeed he was,—and he felt somewhat mortified that he should have to make an application for an advance; but the increasing expenses of his family compelled him in a measure to do so. His application was refused in such a manner as greatly to hurt his sensitive feelings; and the result was that he threw up his situation, and determined to begin working on his own account.

His first start in business was in the year 1797, in a small workshop and smithy situated in Wells Street, Oxford Street. It was in an awful state of dirt and dilapidation when he became its tenant. He entered the place on a Friday, but by the Saturday evening, with the help of his excellent wife, he had the shop thoroughly cleaned, whitewashed, and put in readiness for beginning work on the next Monday morning. He had then the pleasure of hearing the roar of his own forge-fire, and the cheering ring of the hammer on his own anvil; and great was the pride he felt in standing for the first time within his own smithy and executing orders for customers on his own account. His first customer was an artist, who gave him an order to execute the iron work of a large easel, embodying some new arrangements; and the work was punctually done to his employer's satisfaction. Other orders followed, and he soon became fully employed. His fame as a first-rate workman was almost as great as that of his former master; and many who had been accustomed to do business with him at Pimlico followed him to Wells Street. Long years after, the thought of these early days of self-dependence and hard work used to set him in a glow, and he would dilate to his intimate friends up on his early struggles and his first successes, which were much more highly prized by him than those of his maturer years.

With a true love of his craft, Maudslay continued to apply himself, as he had done whilst working as Bramah's foreman, to the best methods of ensuring accuracy and finish of work, so as in a measure to be independent of the carelessness or want of dexterity of the workman. With this object he aimed at the contrivance of improved machine-tools, which should be as much self-acting and self-regulating as possible; and it was while pursuing this study that he wrought out the important mechanical invention with which his name is usually identified—that of the Slide Rest. It continued to be his special delight, when engaged in the execution of any piece of work in which he took a personal interest, to introduce a system of identity of parts, and to adapt for the purpose some one or other of the mechanical contrivances with which his fertile brain was always teeming. Thus it was from his desire to leave nothing to the chance of mere individual dexterity of hand that he introduced the slide rest in the lathe, and rendered it one of the most important of machine-tools. The first device of this kind was contrived by him for Bramah, in whose shops it continued in practical use long after he had begun business for himself. "I have seen the slide rest," says Mr. James Nasmyth, "the first that Henry Maudslay made, in use at Messrs. Bramah's workshops, and in it were all those arrangements which are to be found in the most modern slide rest of our own day,[2] all of which are the legitimate offspring of Maudslay's original rest. If this tool be yet extant, it ought to be preserved with the greatest care, for it was the beginning of those mechanical triumphs which give to the days in which we live so much of their distinguishing character."

A very few words of explanation will serve to illustrate the importance of Maudslay's invention. Every person is familiar with the uses of the common turning-lathe. It is a favourite machine with amateur mechanics, and its employment is indispensable for the execution of all kinds of rounded work in wood and metal. Perhaps there is no contrivance by which the skill of the handicraftsman has been more effectually aided than by this machine. Its origin is lost in the shades of antiquity. Its most ancient form was probably the potter's wheel, from which it advanced, by successive improvements, to its present highly improved form. It was found that, by whatever means a substance capable of being cut could be made to revolve with a circular motion round a fixed right line as a centre, a cutting tool applied to its surface would remove the inequalities so that any part of such surface should be equidistant from that centre. Such is the fundamental idea of the ordinary turning-lathe. The ingenuity and experience of mechanics working such an instrument enabled them to add many improvements to it; until the skilful artisan at length produced not merely circular turning of the most beautiful and accurate description, but exquisite figure-work, and complicated geometrical designs, depending upon the cycloidal and eccentric movements which were from time to time added to the machine.

The artisans of the Middle Ages were very skilful in the use of the lathe, and turned out much beautiful screen and stall work, still to be seen in our cathedrals, as well as twisted and swash-work for the balusters of staircases and other ornamental purposes. English mechanics seem early to have distinguished themselves as improvers of the lathe; and in Moxon's 'Treatise on Turning,' published in 1680, we find Mr. Thomas Oldfield, at the sign of the Flower-de-Luce, near the Savoy in the Strand, named as an excellent maker of oval-engines and swash-engines, showing that such machines were then in some demand. The French writer Plumier[3] also mentions an ingenious modification of the lathe by means of which any kind of reticulated form could be given to the work; and, from it's being employed to ornament the handles of knives, it was called by him the "Machine a manche de Couteau d'Angleterre." But the French artisans were at that time much better skilled than the English in the use of tools, and it is most probable that we owe to the Flemish and French Protestant workmen who flocked into England in such large numbers during the religious persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the improvement, if not the introduction, of the art of turning, as well as many other arts hereafter to be referred to. It is certain that at the period to which we refer numerous treatises were published in France on the art of turning, some of them of a most elaborate character. Such were the works of De la Hire,[4] who described how every kind of polygon might be made by the lathe; De la Condamine,[5] who showed how a lathe could turn all sorts of irregular figures by means of tracers; and of Grand Jean, Morin,[6] Plumier, Bergeron, and many other writers.

The work of Plumier is especially elaborate, entering into the construction of the lathe in its various parts, the making of the tools and cutters, and the different motions to be given to the machine by means of wheels, eccentrics, and other expedients, amongst which may be mentioned one very much resembling the slide rest and planing-machine combined.[7] From this work it appears that turning had long been a favourite pursuit in France with amateurs of all ranks, who spared no expense in the contrivance and perfection of elaborate machinery for the production of complex figures.[8] There was at that time a great passion for automata in France, which gave rise to many highly ingenious devices, such as Camus's miniature carriage (made for Louis XIV. when a child), Degennes' mechanical peacock, Vancanson's duck, and Maillardet's conjuror. It had the effect of introducing among the higher order of artists habits of nice and accurate workmanship in executing delicate pieces of machinery; and the same combination of mechanical powers which made the steel spider crawl, the duck quack, or waved the tiny rod of the magician, contributed in future years to purposes of higher import,—the wheels and pinions, which in these automata almost eluded the human senses by their minuteness, reappearing in modern times in the stupendous mechanism of our self-acting lathes, spinning-mules, and steam-engines.

"In our own country," says Professor Willis, "the literature of this subject is so defective that it is very difficult to discover what progress we were making during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." [9] We believe the fact to be, that the progress made in England down to the end of last century had been very small indeed, and that the lathe had experienced little or no improvement until Maudslay took it in hand. Nothing seems to have been known of the slide rest until he re-invented it and applied it to the production of machinery of a far more elaborate character than had ever before been contemplated as possible. Professor Willis says that Bramah's, in other words Maudslay's, slide rest of 1794 is so different from that described in the French 'Encyclopedie in 1772, that the two could not have had a common origin. We are therefore led to the conclusion that Maudslay's invention was entirely independent of all that had gone before, and that he contrived it for the special purpose of overcoming the difficulties which he himself experienced in turning out duplicate parts in large numbers. At all events, he was so early and zealous a promoter of its use, that we think he may, in the eyes of all practical mechanics, stand as the parent of its introduction to the workshops of England.

It is unquestionable that at the time when Maudslay began the improvement of machine-tools, the methods of working in wood and metals were exceedingly imperfect. Mr. William Fairbairn has stated that when he first became acquainted with mechanical engineering, about sixty years ago, there were no self-acting tools; everything was executed by hand. There were neither planing, slotting, nor shaping machines; and the whole stock of an engineering or machine establishment might be summed up in a few ill-constructed lathes, and a few drills and boring machines of rude construction.[10] Our mechanics were equally backward in contrivances for working in wood. Thus, when Sir Samuel Bentham made a tour through the manufacturing districts of England in 1791, he was surprised to find how little had been done to substitute the invariable accuracy of machinery for the uncertain dexterity of the human hand. Steam-power was as yet only employed in driving spinning-machines, rolling metals, pumping water, and such like purposes. In the working of wood no machinery had been introduced beyond the common turning-lathe and some saws, and a few boring tools used in making blocks for the navy. Even saws worked by inanimate force for slitting timber, though in extensive use in foreign countries, were nowhere to be found in Great Britain.[11] As everything depended on the dexterity of hand and correctness of eye of the workmen, the work turned out was of very unequal merit, besides being exceedingly costly. Even in the construction of comparatively simple machines, the expense was so great as to present a formidable obstacle to their introduction and extensive use; and but for the invention of machine-making tools, the use of the steam-engine in the various forms in which it is now applied for the production of power could never have become general.

In turning a piece of work on the old-fashioned lathe, the workman applied and guided his tool by means of muscular strength. The work was made to revolve, and the turner, holding the cutting tool firmly upon the long, straight, guiding edge of the rest, along which he carried it, and pressing its point firmly against the article to be turned, was thus enabled to reduce its surface to the required size and shape. Some dexterous turners were able, with practice and carefulness, to execute very clever pieces of work by this simple means. But when the article to be turned was of considerable size, and especially when it was of metal, the expenditure of muscular strength was so great that the workman soon became exhausted. The slightest variation in the pressure of the tool led to an irregularity of surface; and with the utmost care on the workman's part, he could not avoid occasionally cutting a little too deep, in consequence of which he must necessarily go over the surface again, to reduce the whole to the level of that accidentally cut too deep; and thus possibly the job would be altogether spoiled by the diameter of the article under operation being made too small for its intended purpose.

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