The mighty influence of the steamboat in the development of inland America is told elsewhere in this Series.* The steamboat has long since grown to greatness, but it is well to remember that the true ancestor of the magnificent leviathan of our own day is the Clermont of Robert Fulton.
* Archer B. Hulbert, "The Paths of Inland Commerce".
The world today is on the eve of another great development in transportation, quite as revolutionary as any that have preceded. How soon will it take place? How long before Kipling's vision in "The Night Mail" becomes a full reality? How long before the air craft comes to play a great role in the world's transportation? We cannot tell. But, after looking at the nearest parallel in the facts of history, each of us may make his own guess. The airship appears now to be much farther advanced than the steamboat was for many years after Robert Fulton died. Already we have seen men ride the wind above the sea from the New World to the Old. Already United States mails are regularly carried through the air from the Atlantic to the Golden Gate. It was twelve years after the birth of Fulton's Clermont, and four years after the inventor's death, before any vessel tried to cross the Atlantic under steam. This was in 1819, when the sailing packet Savannah, equipped with a ninety horsepower horizontal engine and paddle-wheels, crossed from Savannah to Liverpool in twenty-five days, during eighteen of which she used steam power. The following year, however, the engine was taken out of the craft. And it was not until 1833 that a real steamship crossed the Atlantic. This time it was the Royal William, which made a successful passage from Quebec to London. Four years more passed before the Great Western was launched at Bristol, the first steamship to be especially designed for transatlantic service, and the era of great steam liners began.
If steam could be made to drive a boat on the water, why not a wagon on the land?
History, seeking origins, often has difficulty when it attempts to discover the precise origin of an idea. "It frequently happens," said Oliver Evans, "that two persons, reasoning right on a mechanical subject, think alike and invent the same thing without any communication with each other."* It is certain, however, that one of the first, if not the first, protagonist of the locomotive in America was the same Oliver Evans, a truly great inventor for whom the world was not quite ready. The world has forgotten him. But he was the first engine builder in America, and one of the best of his day. He gave to his countrymen the high-pressure steam engine and new machinery for manufacturing flour that was not superseded for a hundred years.
* Coleman Sellers, "Oliver Evans and His Inventions," "Journal of the Franklin Institute", July, 1886: vol. CXXII, p. 16.
"Evans was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a wheelwright. He was a thoughtful, studious boy, who devoured eagerly the few books to which he had access, even by the light of a fire of shavings, when denied a candle by his parsimonious master. He says that in 1779, when only seventeen years old, he began to contrive some method of propelling land carriages by other means than animal power; and that he thought of a variety of devices, such as using the force of the wind and treadles worked by men; but as they were evidently inadequate, was about to give up the problem as unsolvable for want of a suitable source of power, when he heard that some neighboring blacksmith's boys had stopped up the touch-hole of a gun barrel, put in some water, rammed down a tight wad, and, putting the breech into the smith's fire, the gun had discharged itself with a report like that of gunpowder. This immediately suggested to his fertile mind a new source of power, and he labored long to apply it, but without success, until there fell into his hands a book describing the old atmospheric steam engine of Newcomen, and he was at once struck with the fact that steam was only used to produce a vacuum while to him it seemed clear that the elastic power of the steam if applied directly to moving the piston, would be far more efficient. He soon satisfied himself that he could make steam wagons, but could convince no one else of this possibility."*
* Coleman Sellers, "Oliver Evans and His Inventions," "Journal of the Franklin Institute", July, 1886: vol. CXXII, p. 3.
Evans was then living in Delaware, where he was born, and where he later worked out his inventions in flour-milling machinery and invented and put into service the high-pressure steam engine. He appears to have moved to Philadelphia about 1790, the year of Franklin's death and of the Federal Patent Act; and, as we have seen, the third patent issued by the Government at Philadelphia was granted to him. About this time he became absorbed in the hard work of writing a book, the "Millwright and Miller's Guide", which he published in 1795, but at a heavy sacrifice to himself in time and money. A few years later he had an established engine works in Philadelphia and was making steam engines of his own type that performed their work satisfactorily.
The Oruktor Amphibolos, or Amphibious Digger, which came out of his shop in 1804, was a steamdriven machine made to the order of the Philadelphia Board of Health for dredging and cleaning the docks of the city. It was designed, as its name suggests, for service either in water or on shore. It propelled itself across the city to the river front, puffing and throwing off clouds of steam and making quite a sensation on the streets.
Evans had never forgotten his dream of the "steam wagon." His Oruktor had no sooner begun puffing than he offered to make for the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company steamdriven carriages to take the place of their six-horse Conestoga wagons, promising to treble their profits. But the directors of the road were conservative men and his arguments fell on deaf ears.
In the same year Evans petitioned Congress for an extension of the patent on his flour-milling machinery, which was about to expire. He had derived little profit from this important invention, as the new machinery made its way very slowly, but every year more and more millers were using it and Evans received royalties from them. He felt sure that Congress would renew his patent, and, with great expectations for the future, he announced a new book in preparation by himself to be called "The Young Engineer's Guide". It was to give the most thorough treatment to the subject of the steam engine, with a profusion of drawings to illustrate the text. But Evans reckoned without the millers who were opposing his petition. Though they were profiting by his invention, they were unwilling to pay him anything, and they succeeded in having his bill in Congress defeated. It was a hard blow for the struggling author and inventor. His income cut off, he was obliged to reduce the scale of his book "and to omit many of the illustrations he had promised." He wrote the sad story into the name of the book. It came out under the title of "The Abortion of the Young Engineer's Guide".
Four years later, when Congress restored and extended his patent, Evans felt that better days were ahead, but, as said already, he was too far ahead of his time to be understood and appreciated. Incredulity, prejudice, and opposition were his portion as long as he lived. Nevertheless, he went on building good engines and had the satisfaction of seeing them in extensive use. His life came to an end as the result of what to him was the greatest possible tragedy. He was visiting New York City in 1819, when news came to him of the destruction by an incendiary of his beloved shops in Philadelphia. The shock was greater than he could bear. A stroke of apoplexy followed, from which he died.
The following prophecy, written by Oliver Evans and published in 1812, seventeen years before the practical use of the locomotive began, tells us something of the vision of this early American inventor:
"The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines from one city to another almost as fast as birds fly—fifteen to twenty miles an hour. Passing through the air with such velocity—changing the scenes in such rapid succession—will be the most exhilarating, delightful exercise. A carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, and the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine in Philadelphia, and sup at New York the same day.
"To accomplish this, two sets of railways will be laid so nearly level as not in any place to deviate more than two degrees from a horizontal line, made of wood or iron, on smooth paths of broken stone or gravel, with a rail to guide the carriages so that they may pass each other in different directions and travel by night as well as by day; and the passengers will sleep in these stages as comfortably as they do now in steam stage-boats."*
*Cited by Coleman Sellers, Ibid., p. 13.
Another early advocate of steam carriages and railways was John Stevens, the rich inventor of Hoboken, who figures in the story of the steamboat. In February, 1812, Stevens addressed to the commissioners appointed by the State of New York to explore a route for the Erie Canal an elaborate memoir calculated to prove that railways would be much more in the public interest than the proposed canal. He wrote at the same time to Robert R. Livingston (who, as well as Robert Fulton, his partner in the steamboat, was one of the commissioners) requesting his influence in favor of railways. Livingston, having committed himself to the steamboat and holding a monopoly of navigation on the waters of New York State, could hardly be expected to give a willing ear to a rival scheme, and no one then seems to have dreamed that both canal and railway would ultimately be needed. Livingston, however, was an enlightened statesman, one of the ablest men of his day. He had played a prominent part in the affairs of the Revolution and in the ratification of the Constitution; had known Franklin and Washington and had negotiated with Napoleon the Louisiana Purchase. His reply to Stevens is a good statement of the objections to the railway, as seen at the time, and of the public attitude towards it.
Robert R. Livingston to John Stevens
"Albany, 11th March, 1812.
"I did not, till yesterday, receive yours of the 5th of February; where it has loitered on the road I am at a loss to say. I had before read your very ingenious propositions as to the rail-way communication. I fear, however, on mature reflection, that they will be liable to serious objections, and ultimately more expensive than a canal. They must be double, so as to prevent the danger of two such heavy bodies meeting. The walls on which they are placed must at least be four feet below the surface, and three above, and must be clamped with iron, and even then, would hardly sustain so heavy a weight as you propose moving at the rate of four miles an hour on wheels. As to wood, it would not last a week; they must be covered with iron, and that too very thick and strong. The means of stopping these heavy carriages without a great shock, and of preventing them from running upon each other (for there would be many on the road at once) would be very difficult. In case of accidental stops, or the necessary stops to take wood and water &c many accidents would happen. The carriage of condensed water would be very troublesome. Upon the whole, I fear the expense would be much greater than that of canals, without being so convenient."*
* John Stevens, "Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Rail-Ways and Steam-Carriages over Canal Navigation" (1819). Reprinted in "The Magazine of History with Notes and Queries", Extra Number 54 (1917).
Stevens, of course, could not convince the commissioners. "The Communication from John Stevens, Esq.," was referred to a committee, who reported in March: "That they have considered the said communication with the attention due to a gentleman whose scientific researches and knowledge of mechanical powers entitle his opinions to great respect, and are sorry not to concur in them."
Stevens, however, kept up the fight. He published all the correspondence, hoping to get aid from Congress for his design, and spread his propaganda far and wide. But the War of 1812 soon absorbed the attention of the country. Then came the Erie Canal, completed in 1825, and the extension into the Northwest of the great Cumberland Road. From St. Louis steamboats churned their way up the Missouri, connecting with the Santa Fe Trail to the Southwest and the Oregon Trail to the far Northwest. Horses, mules, and oxen carried the overland travelers, and none yet dreamed of being carried on the land by steam.
Back East, however, and across the sea in England, there were a few dreamers. Railways of wooden rails, sometimes covered with iron, on which wagons were drawn by horses, were common in Great Britain; some were in use very early in America. And on these railways, or tramways, men were now experimenting with steam, trying to harness it to do the work of horses. In England, Trevithick, Blenkinsop, Ericsson, Stephenson, and others; in America, John Stevens, now an old man but persistent in his plans as ever and with able sons to help him, had erected a circular railway at Hoboken as early as 1826, on which he ran a locomotive at the rate of twelve miles an hour. Then in 1828 Horatio Allen, of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, went over to England and brought back with him the Stourbridge Lion. This locomotive, though it was not a success in practice, appears to have been the first to turn a wheel on a regular railway within the United States. It was a seven days' wonder in New York when it arrived in May, 1829. Then Allen shipped it to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company had a tramway to bring down coal from the mountains to the terminal of the canal. On the crude wooden rails of this tramway Allen placed the Stourbridge Lion and ran it successfully at the rate of ten miles an hour. But in actual service the Stourbridge Lion failed and was soon dismantled.
Pass now to Rainhill, England, and witness the birth of the modern locomotive, after all these years of labor. In the same year of 1829, on the morning of the 6th of October, a great crowd had assembled to see an extraordinary race—a race, in fact, without any parallel or precedent whatsoever. There were four entries but one dropped out, leaving three: The Novelty, John Braithwaite and John Ericsson; The Sanspareil, Timothy Hackworth; The Rocket, George and Robert Stephenson. These were not horses; they were locomotives. The directors of the London and Manchester Railway had offered a prize of five hundred pounds for the best locomotive, and here they were to try the issue.
The contest resulted in the triumph of Stephenson's Rocket. The others fell early out of the race. The Rocket alone met all the requirements and won the prize. So it happened that George Stephenson came into fame and has ever since lived in popular memory as the father of the locomotive. There was nothing new in his Rocket, except his own workmanship. Like Robert Fulton, he appears to have succeeded where others failed because he was a sounder engineer, or a better combiner of sound principles into a working, whole, than any of his rivals.
Across the Atlantic came the news of Stephenson's remarkable success. And by this time railroads were beginning in various parts of the United States: the Mohawk and Hudson, from Albany to Schenectady; the Baltimore and Ohio; the Charleston and Hamburg in South Carolina; the Camden and Amboy, across New Jersey. Horses, mules, and even sails, furnished the power for these early railroads. It can be imagined with what interest the owners of these roads heard that at last a practicable locomotive was running in England.
This news stimulated the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio to try the locomotive. They had not far to go for an experiment, for Peter Cooper, proprietor of the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore, had already designed a small locomotive, the Tom Thumb. This was placed on trial in August, 1830, and is supposed to have been the first American-built locomotive to do work on rails, though nearly coincident with it was the Best Friend of Charleston, built by the West Point Foundry, New York, for the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad. It is often difficult, as we have seen, to say which of two or several things was first. It appears as though the little Tom Thumb was the first engine built in America, which actually pulled weight on a regular railway, while the much larger Best Friend was the first to haul cars in regular daily service.
The West Point Foundry followed its first success with the West Point, which also went into service on the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad, and then built for the newly finished Mohawk and Hudson (the first link in the New York Central Lines) the historic De Witt Clinton. This primitive locomotive and the cars it drew may be seen today in the Grand Central Station in New York.
Meanwhile, the Stevens brothers, sons of John Stevens, were engaged in the construction of the Camden and Amboy Railroad. The first locomotive to operate on this road was built in England by George Stephenson. This was the John Bull, which arrived in the summer of 1831 and at once went to work. The John Bull was a complete success and had a distinguished career. Sixty-two years old, in 1893, it went to Chicago, to the Columbian Exposition, under its own steam. The John Bull occupies a place today in the National Museum at Washington.
With the locomotive definitely accepted, men began to turn their minds towards its improvement and development, and locomotive building soon became a leading industry in America. At first the British types and patterns were followed, but it was not long before American designers began to depart from the British models and to evolve a distinctively American type. In the development of this type great names have been written into the industrial history of America, among which the name of Matthias Baldwin of Philadelphia probably ranks first. But there have been hundreds of great workers in this field. From Stephenson's Rocket and the little Tom Thumb of Peter Cooper, to the powerful "Mallets" of today, is a long distance—not spanned in ninety years save by the genius and restless toil of countless brains and hands.
If the locomotive could not remain as it was left by Stephenson and Cooper, neither could the stationary steam engine remain as it was left by James Watt and Oliver Evans. Demands increasing and again increasing, year after year, forced the steam engine to grow in order to meet its responsibilities. There were men living in Philadelphia in 1876, who had known Oliver Evans personally; at least one old man at the Centennial Exhibition had himself seen the Oruktor Amphibolos and recalled the consternation it had caused on the streets of the city in 1804. It seemed a far cry back to the Oruktor from the great and beautiful engine, designed by George Henry Corliss, which was then moving all the vast machinery of the Centennial Exhibition. But since then achievements in steam have dwarfed even the great work of Corliss. And to do a kind of herculean task that was hardly dreamed of in 1876 another type of engine has made its entrance: the steam turbine, which sends its awful energy, transformed into electric current, to light a million lamps or to turn ten thousand wheels on distant streets and highways.
CHAPTER IV. SPINDLE, LOOM, AND NEEDLE IN NEW ENGLAND
The major steps in the manufacture of clothes are four: first to harvest and clean the fiber or wool; second, to card it and spin it into threads; third, to weave the threads into cloth; and, finally to fashion and sew the cloth into clothes. We have already seen the influence of Eli Whitney's cotton gin on the first process, and the series of inventions for spinning and weaving, which so profoundly changed the textile industry in Great Britain, has been mentioned. It will be the business of this chapter to tell how spinning and weaving machinery was introduced into the United States and how a Yankee inventor laid the keystone of the arch of clothing machinery by his invention of the sewing machine.
Great Britain was determined to keep to herself the industrial secrets she had gained. According to the economic beliefs of the eighteenth century, which gave place but slowly to the doctrines of Adam Smith, monopoly rather than cheap production was the road to success. The laws therefore forbade the export of English machinery or drawings and specifications by which machines might be constructed in other countries. Some men saw a vast prosperity for Great Britain, if only the mystery might be preserved.
Meanwhile the stories of what these machines could do excited envy in other countries, where men desired to share in the industrial gains. And, even before Eli Whitney's cotton gin came to provide an abundant supply of raw material, some Americans were struggling to improve the old hand loom, found in every house, and to make some sort of a spinning machine to replace the spinning wheel by which one thread at a time was laboriously spun.
East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, was the scene of one of the earliest of these experiments. There in 1786 two Scotchmen, who claimed to understand Arkwright's mechanism, were employed to make spinning machines, and about the same time another attempt was made at Beverly. In both instances the experiments were encouraged by the State and assisted with grants of money. The machines, operated by horse power, were crude, and the product was irregular and unsatisfactory. Then three men at Providence, Rhode Island, using drawings of the Beverly machinery, made machines having thirty-two spindles which worked indifferently. The attempt to run them by water power failed, and they were sold to Moses Brown of Pawtucket, who with his partner, William Almy, had mustered an army of hand-loom weavers in 1790, large enough to produce nearly eight thousand yards of cloth in that year. Brown's need of spinning machinery, to provide his weavers with yarn, was very great; but these machines he had bought would not run, and in 1790 there was not a single successful power-spinner in the United States.
Meanwhile Benjamin Franklin had come home, and the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and Useful Arts was offering prizes for inventions to improve the textile industry. And in Milford, England, was a young man named Samuel Slater, who, on hearing that inventive genius was munificently rewarded in America, decided to migrate to that country. Slater at the age of fourteen had been apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of Arkwright. He had served both in the counting-house and the mill and had had every opportunity to learn the whole business.
Soon after attaining his majority, he landed in New York, November, 1789, and found employment. From New York he wrote to Moses Brown of Pawtucket, offering his services, and that old Quaker, though not giving him much encouragement, invited him to Pawtucket to see whether he could run the spindles which Brown had bought from the men of Providence. "If thou canst do what thou sayest," wrote Brown, "I invite thee to come to Rhode Island."
Arriving in Pawtucket in January, 1790, Slater pronounced the machines worthless, but convinced Almy and Brown that he knew his business, and they took him into partnership. He had no drawings or models of the English machinery, except such as were in his head, but he proceeded to build machines, doing much of the work himself. On December 20, 1790, he had ready carding, drawing, and roving machines and seventy-two spindles in two frames. The water-wheel of an old fulling mill furnished the power—and the machinery ran.
Here then was the birth of the spinning industry in the United States. The "Old Factory," as it was to be called for nearly a hundred years, was built at Pawtucket in 1793. Five years later Slater and others built a second mill, and in 1806, after Slater had brought out his brother to share his prosperity, he built another. Workmen came to work for him solely to learn his machines, and then left him to set up for themselves. The knowledge he had brought soon became widespread. Mills were built not only in New England but in other States. In 1809 there were sixty-two spinning mills in operation in the country, with thirty-one thousand spindles; twenty-five more mills were building or projected, and the industry was firmly established in the United States. The yarn was sold to housewives for domestic use or else to professional weavers who made cloth for sale. This practice was continued for years, not only in New England, but also in those other parts of the country where spinning machinery had been introduced.
By 1810, however, commerce and the fisheries had produced considerable fluid capital in New England which was seeking profitable employment, especially as the Napoleonic Wars interfered with American shipping; and since Whitney's gins in the South were now piling up mountains of raw cotton, and Slater's machines in New England were making this cotton into yarn, it was inevitable that the next step should be the power loom, to convert the yarn into cloth. So Francis Cabot Lowell, scion of the New England family of that name, an importing merchant of Boston, conceived the idea of establishing weaving mills in Massachusetts. On a visit to Great Britain in 1811, Lowell met at Edinburgh Nathan Appleton, a fellow merchant of Boston, to whom he disclosed his plans and announced his intention of going to Manchester to gain all possible information concerning the new industry. Two years afterwards, according to Appleton's account, Lowell and his brother-in-law, Patrick T. Jackson, conferred with Appleton at the Stock Exchange in Boston. They had decided, they said, to set up a cotton factory at Waltham and invited Appleton to join them in the adventure, to which he readily consented. Lowell had not been able to obtain either drawings or model in Great Britain, but he had nevertheless designed a loom and had completed a model which seemed to work.
The partners took in with them Paul Moody of Amesbury, an expert machinist, and by the autumn of 1814 looms were built and set up at Waltham. Carding, drawing, and roving machines were also built and installed in the mill, these machines gaining greatly, at Moody's expert hands, over their American rivals. This was the first mill in the United States, and one of the first in the world, to combine under one roof all the operations necessary to convert raw fiber into cloth, and it proved a success. Lowell, says his partner Appleton, "is entitled to the credit for having introduced the new system in the cotton manufacture." Jackson and Moody "were men of unsurpassed talent," but Lowell "was the informing soul, which gave direction and form to the whole proceeding."
The new enterprise was needed, for the War of 1812 had cut off imports. The beginnings of the protective principle in the United States tariff are now to be observed. When the peace came and Great Britain began to dump goods in the United States, Congress, in 1816, laid a minimum duty of six and a quarter cents a yard on imported cottons; the rate was raised in 1824 and again in 1828. It is said that Lowell was influential in winning the support of John C. Calhoun for the impost of 1816.
Lowell died in 1817, at the early age of forty-two, but his work did not die with him. The mills he had founded at Waltham grew exceedingly prosperous under the management of Jackson; and it was not long before Jackson and his partners Appleton and Moody were seeking wider opportunities. By 1820 they were looking for a suitable site on which to build new mills, and their attention was directed to the Pawtucket Falls, on the Merrimac River. The land about this great water power was owned by the Pawtucket Canal Company, whose canal, built to improve the navigation of the Merrimac, was not paying satisfactory profits. The partners proceeded to acquire the stock of this company and with it the land necessary for their purpose, and in December, 1821, they executed Articles of Association for the Merrimac Manufacturing Company, admitting some additional partners, among them Kirk Boott who was to act as resident agent and manager of the new enterprise, since Jackson could not leave his duties at Waltham.
The story of the enterprise thus begun forms one of the brightest pages in the industrial history of America; for these partners had the wisdom and foresight to make provision at the outset for the comfort and well-being of their operatives. Their mill hands were to be chiefly girls drawn from the rural population of New England, strong and intelligent young women, of whom there were at that time great numbers seeking employment, since household manufactures had come to be largely superseded by factory goods. And one of the first questions which the partners considered was whether the change from farm to factory life would effect for the worse the character of these girls. This, says Appleton, "was a matter of deep interest. The operatives in the manufacturing cities of Europe were notoriously of the lowest character for intelligence and morals. The question therefore arose, and was deeply considered, whether this degradation was the result of the peculiar occupation or of other and distinct causes. We could not perceive why this peculiar description of labor should vary in its effects upon character from all other occupations." And so we find the partners voting money, not only for factory buildings and machinery, but for comfortable boardinghouses for the girls, and planning that these boardinghouses should have "the most efficient guards," that they should be in "charge of respectable women, with every provision for religious worship." They voted nine thousand dollars for a church building and further sums later for a library and a hospital.
The wheels of the first mill were started in September, 1823. Next year the partners petitioned the Legislature to have their part of the township set off to form a new town. One year later still they erected three new mills; and in another year (1826) the town of Lowell was incorporated.
The year 1829 found the Lowell mills in straits for lack of capital, from which, however, they were promptly relieved by two great merchants of Boston, Amos and Abbott Lawrence, who now became partners in the business and who afterwards founded the city named for them farther down on the Merrimac River.
The story of the Lowell cotton factories, for twenty years, more or less, until the American girls operating the machines came to be supplanted by French Canadians and Irish, is appropriately summed up in the title of a book which describes the factory life in Lowell during those years. The title of this book is "An Idyl of Work" and it was written by Lucy Larcom, who was herself one of the operatives and whose mother kept one of the corporation boarding-houses. And Lucy Larcom was not the only one of the Lowell "factory girls" who took to writing and lecturing. There were many others, notably, Harriet Hanson (later Mrs. W. S. Robinson), Harriot Curtis ("Mina Myrtle"), and Harriet Farley; and many of the "factory girls" married men who became prominent in the world. There was no thought among them that there was anything degrading in factory work. Most of the girls came from the surrounding farms, to earn money for a trousseau, to send a brother through college, to raise a mortgage, or to enjoy the society of their fellow workers, and have a good time in a quiet, serious way, discussing the sermons and lectures they heard and the books they read in their leisure hours. They had numerous "improvement circles" at which contributions of the members in both prose and verse were read and discussed. And for several years they printed a magazine, "The Lowell Offering", which was entirely written and edited by girls in the mills.
Charles Dickens visited Lowell in the winter of 1842 and recorded his impressions of what he saw there in the fourth chapter of his "American Notes". He says that he went over several of the factories, "examined them in every part; and saw them in their ordinary working aspect, with no preparation of any kind, or departure from their ordinary every-day proceedings"; that the girls "were all well dressed: and that phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness. They had serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls.... Moreover, there were places in the mill in which they could deposit these things without injury; and there were conveniences for washing. They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment of young women; not of degraded brutes of burden." Dickens continues: "The rooms in which they worked were as well ordered as themselves. In the windows of some there were green plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was as much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort as the nature of the occupation would possibly admit of." Again: "They reside in various boarding-houses near at hand. The owners of the mills are particularly careful to allow no persons to enter upon the possession of these houses, whose characters have not undergone the most searching and thorough enquiry." Finally, the author announces that he will state three facts which he thinks will startle his English readers: "Firstly, there is a joint-stock piano in a great many of the boarding-houses. Secondly, nearly all these young ladies subscribe to circulating libraries. Thirdly, they have got up among themselves a periodical called 'The Lowell Offering'... whereof I brought away from Lowell four hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginning to end." And: "Of the merits of the 'Lowell Offering' as a literary production, I will only observe, putting entirely out of sight the fact of the articles having been written by these girls after the arduous labors of the day, that it will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals."
The efficiency of the New England mills was extraordinary. James Montgomery, an English cotton manufacturer, visited the Lowell mills two years before Dickens and wrote after his inspection of them that they produced "a greater quantity of yarn and cloth from each spindle and loom (in a given time) than was produced by any other factories, without exception in the world." Long before that time, of course, the basic type of loom had changed from that originally introduced, and many New England inventors had been busy devising improved machinery of all kinds.
Such were the beginnings of the great textile mills of New England. The scene today is vastly changed. Productivity has been multiplied by invention after invention, by the erection of mill after mill, and by the employment of thousands of hands in place of hundreds. Lowell as a textile center has long been surpassed by other cities. The scene in Lowell itself is vastly changed. If Charles Dickens could visit Lowell today, he would hardly recognize in that city of modern factories, of more than a hundred thousand people, nearly half of them foreigners, the Utopia of 1842 which he saw and described.
The cotton plantations in the South were flourishing, and Whitney's gins were cleaning more and more cotton; the sheep of a thousand hills were giving wool; Arkwright's machines in England, introduced by Slater into New England, were spinning the cotton and wool into yarn; Cartwright's looms in England and Lowell's improvements in New England were weaving the yarn into cloth; but as yet no practical machine had been invented to sew the cloth into clothes.
There were in the United States numerous small workshops where a few tailors or seamstresses, gathered under one roof, laboriously sewed garments together, but the great bulk of the work, until the invention of the sewing machine, was done by the wives and daughters of farmers and sailors in the villages around Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. In these cities the garments were cut and sent out to the dwellings of the poor to be sewn. The wages of the laborers were notoriously inadequate, though probably better than in England. Thomas Hood's ballad The Song of the Shirt, published in 1843, depicts the hardships of the English woman who strove to keep body and soul together by means of the needle:
With fingers weary and worn, With eyelids heavy and red, A woman sat in unwomanly rags, Plying her needle and thread.
Meanwhile, as Hood wrote and as the whole English people learned by heart his vivid lines, as great ladies wept over them and street singers sang them in the darkest slums of London, a man, hungry and ill-clad, in an attic in faraway Cambridge, Massachusetts, was struggling to put into metal an idea to lighten the toil of those who lived by the needle. His name was Elias Howe and he hailed from Eli Whitney's old home, Worcester County, Massachusetts. There Howe was born in 1819. His father was an unsuccessful farmer, who also had some small mills, but seems to have succeeded in nothing he undertook.
Young Howe led the ordinary life of a New England country boy, going to school in winter and working about the farm until the age of sixteen, handling tools every day, like any farmer's boy of the time. Hearing of high wages and interesting work in Lowell, that growing town on the Merrimac, he went there in 1835 and found employment; but two years later, when the panic of 1837 came on, he left Lowell and went to work in a machine shop in Cambridge. It is said that, for a time, he occupied a room with his cousin, Nathaniel P. Banks, who rose from bobbin boy in a cotton mill to Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Major-General in the Civil War.
Next we hear of Howe in Boston, working in the shop of Ari Davis, an eccentric maker and repairer of fine machinery. Here the young mechanic heard of the desirability of a sewing machine and began to puzzle over the problem. Many an inventor before him had attempted to make sewing machines and some had just fallen short of success. Thomas Saint, an Englishman, had patented one fifty years earlier; and about this very time a Frenchman named Thimmonier was working eighty sewing machines making army uniforms, when needle workers of Paris, fearing that the bread was to be taken from them, broke into his workroom and destroyed the machines. Thimmonier tried again, but his machine never came into general use. Several patents had been issued on sewing machines in the United States, but without any practical result. An inventor named Walter Hunt had discovered the principle of the lock-stitch and had built a machine but had wearied of his work and abandoned his invention, just as success was in sight. But Howe knew nothing of any of these inventors. There is no evidence that he had ever seen the work of another.
The idea obsessed him to such an extent that he could do no other work, and yet he must live. By this time he was married and had children, and his wages were only nine dollars a week. Just then an old schoolmate, George Fisher, agreed to support his family and furnish him with five hundred dollars for materials and tools. The attic in Fisher's house in Cambridge was Howe's workroom. His first efforts were failures, but all at once the idea of the lock-stitch came to him. Previously all machines (except Hunt's, which was unknown, not having even been patented) had used the chainstitch, wasteful of thread and easily unraveled. The two threads of the lockstitch cross in the materials joined together, and the lines of stitches show the same on both sides. In short, the chainstitch is a crochet or knitting stitch, while the lockstitch is a weaving stitch. Howe had been working at night and was on his way home, gloomy and despondent, when this idea dawned on his mind, probably rising out of his experience in the cotton mill. The shuttle would be driven back and forth as in a loom, as he had seen it thousands of times, and passed through a loop of thread which the curved needle would throw out on the other side of the cloth; and the cloth would be fastened to the machine vertically by pins. A curved arm would ply the needle with the motion of a pick-axe. A handle attached to the fly-wheel would furnish the power.
On that design Howe made a machine which, crude as it was, sewed more rapidly than five of the swiftest needle workers. But apparently to no purpose. His machine was too expensive, it could sew only a straight seam, and it might easily get out of order. The needle workers were opposed, as they have generally been, to any sort of laborsaving machinery, and there was no manufacturer willing to buy even one machine at the price Howe asked, three hundred dollars.
Howe's second model was an improvement on the first. It was more compact and it ran more smoothly. He had no money even to pay the fees necessary to get it patented. Again Fisher came to the rescue and took Howe and his machine to Washington, paying all the expenses, and the patent was issued in September, 1846. But, as the machine still failed to find buyers, Fisher gave up hope. He had invested about two thousand dollars which seemed gone forever, and he could not, or would not, invest more. Howe returned temporarily to his father's farm, hoping for better times.
Meanwhile Howe had sent one of his brothers to London with a machine to see if a foothold could be found there, and in due time an encouraging report came to the destitute inventor. A corsetmaker named Thomas had paid two hundred and fifty pounds for the English rights and had promised to pay a royalty of three pounds on each machine sold. Moreover, Thomas invited the inventor to London to construct a machine especially for making corsets. Howe went to London and later sent for his family. But after working eight months on small wages, he was as badly off as ever, for, though he had produced the desired machine, he quarrelled with Thomas and their relations came to an end.
An acquaintance, Charles Inglis, advanced Howe a little money while he worked on another model. This enabled Howe to send his family home to America, and then, by selling his last model and pawning his patent rights, he raised enough money to take passage himself in the steerage in 1848, accompanied by Inglis, who came to try his fortune in the United States.
Howe landed in New York with a few cents in his pocket and immediately found work. But his wife was dying from the hardships she had suffered, due to stark poverty. At her funeral, Howe wore borrowed clothes, for his only suit was the one he wore in the shop.
Then, soon after his wife had died, Howe's invention came into its own. It transpired presently that sewing machines were being made and sold and that these machines were using the principles covered by Howe's patent. Howe found an ally in George W. Bliss, a man of means, who had faith in the machine and who bought out Fisher's interest and proceeded to prosecute infringers. Meanwhile Howe went on making machines—he produced fourteen in New York during 1850—and never lost an opportunity to show the merits of the invention which was being advertised and brought to notice by the activities of some of the infringers, particularly by Isaac M. Singer, the best business man of them all. Singer had joined hands with Walter Hunt and Hunt had tried to patent the machine which he had abandoned nearly twenty years before.
The suits dragged on until 1854, when the case was decisively settled in Howe's favor. His patent was declared basic, and all the makers of sewing machines must pay him a royalty of twenty-five dollars on every machine. So Howe woke one morning to find himself enjoying a large income, which in time rose as high as four thousand dollars a week, and he died in 1867 a rich man.
Though the basic nature of Howe's patent was recognized, his machine was only a rough beginning. Improvements followed, one after another, until the sewing machine bore little resemblance to Howe's original. John Bachelder introduced the horizontal table upon which to lay the work. Through an opening in the table, tiny spikes in an endless belt projected and pushed the work for ward continuously. Allan B. Wilson devised a rotary hook carrying a bobbin to do the work of the shuttle, and also the small serrated bar which pops up through the table near the needle, moves forward a tiny space, carrying the cloth with it, drops down just below the upper surface of the table, and returns to its starting point, to repeat over and over again this series of motions. This simple device brought its owner a fortune. Isaac M. Singer, destined to be the dominant figure of the industry, patented in 1851 a machine stronger than any of the others and with several valuable features, notably the vertical presser foot held down by a spring; and Singer was the first to adopt the treadle, leaving both hands of the operator free to manage the work. His machine was good, but, rather than its surpassing merits, it was his wonderful business ability that made the name of Singer a household word.
By 1856 there were several manufacturers in the field, threatening war on each other. All men were paying tribute to Howe, for his patent was basic, and all could join in fighting him, but there were several other devices almost equally fundamental, and even if Howe's patents had been declared void it is probable that his competitors would have fought quite as fiercely among themselves. At the suggestion of George Gifford, a New York attorney, the leading inventors and manufacturers agreed to pool their inventions and to establish a fixed license fee for the use of each. This "combination" was composed of Elias Howe, Wheeler and Wilson, Grover and Baker, and I. M. Singer, and dominated the field until after 1877, when the majority of the basic patents expired. The members manufactured sewing machines and sold them in America and Europe. Singer introduced the installment plan of sale, to bring the machine within reach of the poor, and the sewing machine agent, with a machine or two on his wagon, drove through every small town and country district, demonstrating and selling. Meanwhile the price of the machines steadily fell, until it seemed that Singer's slogan, "A machine in every home!" was in a fair way to be realized, had not another development of the sewing machine intervened.
This was the development of the ready-made clothing industry. In the earlier days of the nation, though nearly all the clothing was of domestic manufacture, there were tailors and seamstresses in all the towns and many of the villages, who made clothing to order. Sailors coming ashore sometimes needed clothes at once, and apparently a merchant of New Bedford was the first to keep a stock on hand. About 1831, George Opdyke, later Mayor of New York, began the manufacture of clothing on Hudson Street, which he sold largely through a store in New Orleans. Other firms began to reach out for this Southern trade, and it became important. Southern planters bought clothes not only for their slaves but for their families. The development of California furnished another large market. A shirt factory was established, in 1832, on Cherry and Market Streets, New York. But not until the coming of the power-driven sewing machine could there be any factory production of clothes on a large scale. Since then the clothing industry has become one of the most important in the country. The factories have steadily improved their models and materials, and at the present day only a negligible fraction of the people of the United States wear clothes made to their order.
The sewing machine today does many things besides sewing a seam. There are attachments which make buttonholes, darn, embroider, make ruffles or hems, and dozens of other things. There are special machines for every trade, some of which deal successfully with refractory materials.
The Singer machine of 1851 was strong enough to sew leather and was almost at once adopted by the shoemakers. These craftsmen flourished chiefly in Massachusetts, and they had traditions reaching back at least to Philip Kertland, who came to Lynn in 1636 and taught many apprentices. Even in the early days before machinery, division of labor was the rule in the shops of Massachusetts. One workman cut the leather, often tanned on the premises; another sewed the uppers together, while another sewed on the soles. Wooden pegs were invented in 1811 and came into common use about 1815 for the cheaper grades of shoes: Soon the practice of sending out the uppers to be done by women in their own homes became common. These women were wretchedly paid, and when the sewing machine came to do the work better than it could be done by hand, the practice of "putting out" work gradually declined.
That variation of the sewing machine which was to do the more difficult work of sewing the sole to the upper was the invention of a mere boy, Lyman R. Blake. The first model, completed in 1858, was imperfect, but Blake was able to interest Gordon McKay, of Boston, and three years of patient experimentation and large expenditure followed. The McKay sole-sewing machine, which they produced, came into use, and for twenty-one years was used almost universally both in the United States and Great Britain. But this, like all the other useful inventions, was in time enlarged and greatly improved, and hundreds of other inventions have been made in the shoe industry. There are machines to split leather, to make the thickness absolutely uniform, to sew the uppers, to insert eyelets, to cut out heel tops, and many more. In fact, division of labor has been carried farther in the making of shoes than in most industries, for there are said to be about three hundred separate operations in making a pair of shoes.
From small beginnings great industries have grown. It is a far cry from the slow, clumsy machine of Elias Howe, less than three-quarters of a century ago, to the great factories of today, filled with special models, run at terrific speed by electric current, and performing tasks which would seem to require more than human intelligence and skill.
CHAPTER V. THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION
The Census of 1920 shows that hardly thirty per cent of the people are today engaged in agriculture, the basic industry of the United States, as compared with perhaps ninety per cent when the nation began. Yet American farmers, though constantly diminishing in proportion to the whole population, have always been, and still are, able to feed themselves and all their fellow Americans and a large part of the outside world as well. They bring forth also not merely foodstuffs, but vast quantities of raw material for manufacture, such as cotton, wool, and hides. This immense productivity is due to the use of farm machinery on a scale seen nowhere else in the world. There is still, and always will be, a good deal of hard labor on the farm. But invention has reduced the labor and has made possible the carrying on of this vast industry by a relatively small number of hands.
The farmers of Washington's day had no better tools than had the farmers of Julius Caesar's day; in fact, the Roman ploughs were probably superior to those in general use in America eighteen centuries later. "The machinery of production," says Henry Adams, "showed no radical difference from that familiar in ages long past. The Saxon farmer of the eighth century enjoyed most of the comforts known to Saxon farmers of the eighteenth."* One type of plough in the United States was little more than a crooked stick with an iron point attached, sometimes with rawhide, which simply scratched the ground. Ploughs of this sort were in use in Illinois as late as 1812. There were a few ploughs designed to turn a furrow, often simply heavy chunks of tough wood, rudely hewn into shape, with a wrought-iron point clumsily attached. The moldboard was rough and the curves of no two were alike. Country blacksmiths made ploughs only on order and few had patterns. Such ploughs could turn a furrow in soft ground if the oxen were strong enough—but the friction was so great that three men and four or six oxen were required to turn a furrow where the sod was tough.
* "History of the United States", vol. I, p. 16.
Thomas Jefferson had worked out very elaborately the proper curves of the moldboard, and several models had been constructed for him. He was, however, interested in too many things ever to follow any one to the end, and his work seems to have had little publicity. The first real inventor of a practicable plough was Charles Newbold, of Burlington County, New Jersey, to whom a patent for a cast-iron plough was issued in June, 1797. But the farmers would have none of it. They said it "poisoned the soil" and fostered the growth of weeds. One David Peacock received a patent in 1807, and two others later. Newbold sued Peacock for infringement and recovered damages. Pieces of Newbold's original plough are in the museum of the New York Agricultural Society at Albany.
Another inventor of ploughs was Jethro Wood, a blacksmith of Scipio, New York, who received two patents, one in 1814 and the other in 1819. His plough was of cast iron, but in three parts, so that a broken part might be renewed without purchasing an entire plough. This principle of standardization marked a great advance. The farmers by this time were forgetting their former prejudices, and many ploughs were sold. Though Wood's original patent was extended, infringements were frequent, and he is said to have spent his entire property in prosecuting them.
In clay soils these ploughs did not work well, as the more tenacious soil stuck to the iron moldboard instead of curling gracefully away. In 1833, John Lane, a Chicago blacksmith, faced a wooden moldboard with an old steel saw. It worked like magic, and other blacksmiths followed suit to such an extent that the demand for old saws became brisk. Then came John Deere, a native of Vermont, who settled first in Grand Detour, and then in Moline, Illinois. Deere made wooden ploughs faced with steel, like other blacksmiths, but was not satisfied with them and studied and experimented to find the best curves and angles for a plough to be used in the soils around him. His ploughs were much in demand, and his need for steel led him to have larger and larger quantities produced for him, and the establishment which still bears his name grew to large proportions.
Another skilled blacksmith, William Parlin, at Canton, Illinois, began making ploughs about 1842, which he loaded upon a wagon and peddled through the country. Later his establishment grew large. Another John Lane, a son of the first, patented in 1868 a "soft-center" steel plough. The hard but brittle surface was backed by softer and more tenacious metal, to reduce the breakage. The same year James Oliver, a Scotch immigrant who had settled at South Bend, Indiana, received a patent for the "chilled plough." By an ingenious method the wearing surfaces of the casting were cooled more quickly than the back. The surfaces which came in contact with the soil had a hard, glassy surface, while the body of the plough was of tough iron. From small beginnings Oliver's establishment grew great, and the Oliver Chilled Plow Works at South Bend is today one of the largest and most favorably known privately owned industries in the United States.
From the single plough it was only a step to two or more ploughs fastened together, doing more work with approximately the same man power. The sulky plough, on which the ploughman rode, made his work easier, and gave him great control. Such ploughs were certainly in use as early as 1844, perhaps earlier. The next step forward was to substitute for horses a traction engine. Today one may see on thousands of farms a tractor pulling six, eight, ten, or more ploughs, doing the work better than it could be done by an individual ploughman. On the "Bonanza" farms of the West a fifty horsepower engine draws sixteen ploughs, followed by harrows and a grain drill, and performs the three operations of ploughing, harrowing, and planting at the same time and covers fifty acres or more in a day.
The basic ideas in drills for small grains were successfully developed in Great Britain, and many British drills were sold in the United States before one was manufactured here. American manufacture of these drills began about 1840. Planters for corn came somewhat later. Machines to plant wheat successfully were unsuited to corn, which must be planted less profusely than wheat.
The American pioneers had only a sickle or a scythe with which to cut their grain. The addition to the scythe of wooden fingers, against which the grain might lie until the end of the swing, was a natural step, and seems to have been taken quite independently in several places, perhaps as early as 1803. Grain cradles are still used in hilly regions and in those parts of the country where little grain is grown.
The first attempts to build a machine to cut grain were made in England and Scotland, several of them in the eighteenth century; and in 1822 Henry Ogle, a schoolmaster in Rennington, made a mechanical reaper, but the opposition of the laborers of the vicinity, who feared loss of employment, prevented further development. In 1826, Patrick Bell, a young Scotch student, afterward a Presbyterian minister, who had been moved by the fatigue of the harvesters upon his father's farm in Argyllshire, made an attempt to lighten their labor. His reaper was pushed by horses; a reel brought the grain against blades which opened and closed like scissors, and a traveling canvas apron deposited the grain at one side. The inventor received a prize from the Highland and Agricultural Society of Edinburgh, and pictures and full descriptions of his invention were published. Several models of this reaper were built in Great Britain, and it is said that four came to the United States; however this may be, Bell's machine was never generally adopted.
Soon afterward three men patented reapers in the United States: William Manning, Plainfield, New Jersey, 1831; Obed Hussey, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1833; and Cyrus Hall McCormick, Staunton, Virginia, 1834. Just how much they owed to Patrick Bell cannot be known, but it is probable that all had heard of his design if they had not seen his drawings or the machine itself. The first of these inventors, Manning of New Jersey, drops out of the story, for it is not known whether he ever made a machine other than his model. More persistent was Obed Hussey of Cincinnati, who soon moved to Baltimore to fight out the issue with McCormick. Hussey was an excellent mechanic. He patented several improvements to his machine and received high praise for the efficiency of the work. But he was soon outstripped in the race because he was weak in the essential qualities which made McCormick the greatest figure in the world of agricultural machinery. McCormick was more than a mechanic; he was a man of vision; and he had the enthusiasm of a crusader and superb genius for business organization and advertisement. His story has been told in another volume of this series.*
* "The Age of Big Business", by Burton J. Hendrick.
Though McCormick offered reapers for sale in 1834, he seems to have sold none in that year, nor any for six years afterwards. He sold two in 1840, seven in 1842, fifty in 1844. The machine was not really adapted to the hills of the Valley of Virginia, and farmers hesitated to buy a contrivance which needed the attention of a skilled mechanic. McCormick made a trip through the Middle West. In the rolling prairies, mile after mile of rich soil without a tree or a stone, he saw his future dominion. Hussey had moved East. McCormick did the opposite; he moved West, to Chicago, in 1847.
Chicago was then a town of hardly ten thousand, but McCormick foresaw its future, built a factory there, and manufactured five hundred machines for the harvest of 1848. From this time he went on from triumph to triumph. He formulated an elaborate business system. His machines were to be sold at a fixed price, payable in installments if desired, with a guarantee of satisfaction. He set up a system of agencies to give instruction or to supply spare parts. Advertising, chiefly by exhibitions and contests at fairs and other public gatherings, was another item of his programme. All would have failed, of course, if he had not built good machines, but he did build good machines, and was not daunted by the Government's refusal in 1848 to renew his original patent. He decided to make profits as a manufacturer rather than accept royalties as an inventor.
McCormick had many competitors, and some of them were in the field with improved devices ahead of him, but he always held his own, either by buying up the patent for a real improvement, or else by requiring his staff to invent something to do the same work. Numerous new devices to improve the harvester were patented, but the most important was an automatic attachment to bind the sheaves with wire. This was patented in 1872, and McCormick soon made it his own. The harvester seemed complete. One man drove the team, and the machine cut the grain, bound it in sheaves, and deposited them upon the ground.
Presently, however, complaints were heard of the wire tie. When the wheat was threshed, bits of wire got into the straw, and were swallowed by the cattle; or else the bits of metal got among the wheat itself and gave out sparks in grinding, setting some mills on fire. Two inventors, almost simultaneously, produced the remedy. Marquis L. Gorham, working for McCormick, and John F. Appleby, whose invention was purchased by William Deering, one of McCormick's chief competitors, invented binders which used twine. By 1880 the self-binding harvester was complete. No distinctive improvement has been made since, except to add strength and simplification. The machine now needed the services of only two men, one to drive and the other to shock the bundles, and could reap twenty acres or more a day, tie the grain into bundles of uniform size, and dump them in piles of five ready to be shocked.
Grain must be separated from the straw and chaff. The Biblical threshing floor, on which oxen or horses trampled out the grain, was still common in Washington's time, though it had been largely succeeded by the flail. In Great Britain several threshing machines were devised in the eighteenth century, but none was particularly successful. They were stationary, and it was necessary to bring the sheaves to them. The seventh patent issued by the United States, to Samuel Mulliken of Philadelphia, was for a threshing machine. The portable horse-power treadmill, invented in 1830 by Hiram A. and John A. Pitts of Winthrop, Maine, was presently coupled with a thresher, or "separator," and this outfit, with its men and horses, moving from farm to farm, soon became an autumn feature of every neighborhood. The treadmill was later on succeeded—by the traction engine, and the apparatus now in common use is an engine which draws the greatly improved threshing machine from farm to farm, and when the destination is reached, furnishes the power to drive the thresher. Many of these engines are adapted to the use of straw as fuel.
Another development was the combination harvester and thresher used on the larger farms of the West. This machine does not cut the wheat close to the ground, but the cutter-bar, over twenty-five feet in length, takes off the heads. The wheat is separated from the chaff and automatically weighed into sacks, which are dumped as fast as two expert sewers can work. The motive power is a traction engine or else twenty to thirty horses, and seventy-five acres a day can be reaped and threshed. Often another tractor pulling a dozen wagons follows and the sacks are picked up and hauled to the granary or elevator.
Haying was once the hardest work on the farm, and in no crop has machinery been more efficient. The basic idea in the reaper, the cutter-bar, is the whole of the mower, and the machine developed with the reaper. Previously Jeremiah Bailey, of Chester County, Pennsylvania, had patented in 1822 a machine drawn by horses carrying a revolving wheel with six scythes, which was widely used. The inventions of Manning, Hussey, and McCormick made the mower practicable. Hazard Knowles, an employee of the Patent Office, invented the hinged cutter-bar, which could be lifted over an obstruction, but never patented the invention. William F. Ketchum of Buffalo, New York, in 1844, patented the first machine intended to cut hay only, and dozens of others followed. The modern mowing machine was practically developed in the patent of Lewis Miller of Canton, Ohio, in 1858. Several times as many mowers as harvesters are sold, and for that matter, reapers without binding attachments are still manufactured.
Hayrakes and tedders seem to have developed almost of themselves. Diligent research has failed to discover any reliable information on the invention of the hayrake, though a horserake was patented as early as 1818. Joab Center of Hudson, New York, patented a machine for turning and spreading hay in 1834. Mechanical hayloaders have greatly reduced the amount of human labor. The hay-press makes storage and transportation easier and cheaper.
There are binders which cut and bind corn. An addition shocks the corn and deposits it upon the ground. The shredder and husker removes the ears, husks them, and shreds shucks, stalks, and fodder. Power shellers separate grain and cobs more than a hundred times as rapidly as a pair of human hands could do. One student of agriculture has estimated that it would require the whole agricultural population of the United States one hundred days to shell the average corn crop by hand, but this is an exaggeration.
The list of labor-saving machinery in agriculture is by no means exhausted. There are clover hullers, bean and pea threshers, ensilage cutters, manure spreaders, and dozens of others. On the dairy farm the cream separator both increases the quantity and improves the quality of the butter and saves time. Power also drives the churns. On many farms cows are milked and sheep are sheared by machines and eggs are hatched without hens.
There are, of course, thousands of farms in the country where machinery cannot be used to advantage and where the work is still done entirely or in part in the old ways.
Historians once were fond of marking off the story of the earth and of men upon the earth into distinct periods fixed by definite dates. One who attempts to look beneath the surface cannot accept this easy method of treatment. Beneath the surface new tendencies develop long before they demand recognition; an institution may be decaying long before its weakness is apparent. The American Revolution began not with the Stamp Act but at least a century earlier, as soon as the settlers realized that there were three thousand miles of sea between England and the rude country in which they found themselves; the Civil War began, if not in early Virginia, with the "Dutch Man of Warre that sold us twenty Negars," at least with Eli Whitney and his cotton gin.
Nevertheless, certain dates or short periods seem to be flowering times. Apparently all at once a flood of invention, a change of methods, a difference in organization, or a new psychology manifests itself. And the decade of the Civil War does serve as a landmark to mark the passing of one period in American life and the beginning of another; especially in agriculture; and as agriculture is the basic industry of the country it follows that with its mutations the whole superstructure is also changed.
The United States which fought the Civil War was vastly different from the United States which fronted the world at the close of the Revolution. The scant four million people of 1790 had grown to thirty-one and a half million. This growth had come chiefly by natural increase, but also by immigration, conquest, and annexation. Settlement had reached the Pacific Ocean, though there were great stretches of almost uninhabited territory between the settlements on the Pacific and those just beyond the Mississippi.
The cotton gin had turned the whole South toward the cultivation of cotton, though some States were better fitted for mixed farming, and their devotion to cotton meant loss in the end as subsequent events have proved. The South was not manufacturing any considerable proportion of the cotton it grew, but the textile industry was flourishing in New England. A whole series of machines similar to those used in Great Britain, but not identical, had been invented in America. American mills paid higher wages than British and in quantity production were far ahead of the British mills, in proportion to hands employed, which meant being ahead of the rest of the world.
Wages in America, measured by the world standard, were high, though as expressed in money, they seem low now. They were conditioned by the supply of free land, or land that was practically free. The wages paid were necessarily high enough to attract laborers from the soil which they might easily own if they chose. There was no fixed laboring class. The boy or girl in a textile mill often worked only a few years to save money, buy a farm, or to enter some business or profession.
The steamboat now, wherever there was navigable water, and the railroad, for a large part of the way, offered transportation to the boundless West. Steamboats traversed all the larger rivers and the lakes. The railroad was growing rapidly. Its lines had extended to more than thirty thousand miles. Construction went on during the war, and the transcontinental railway was in sight. The locomotive had approached standardization, and the American railway car was in form similar to that of the present day, though not so large, so comfortable, or so strong. The Pullman car, from which has developed the chair car, the dining car, and the whole list of special cars, was in process of development, and the automatic air brake of George Westinghouse was soon to follow.
Thus far had the nation progressed in invention and industry along the lines of peaceful development. But with the Civil War came a sudden and tremendous advance. No result of the Civil War, political or social, has more profoundly affected American life than the application to the farm, as a war necessity, of machinery on a great scale. So long as labor was plentiful and cheap, only a comparatively few farmers could be interested in expensive machinery, but when the war called the young men away the worried farmers gladly turned to the new machines and found that they were able not only to feed the Union, but also to export immense quantities of wheat to Europe, even during the war. Suddenly the West leaped into great prosperity. And long centuries of economic and social development were spanned within a few decades.
CHAPTER VI. AGENTS OF COMMUNICATION
Communication is one of man's primal needs. There was indeed a time when no formula of language existed, when men communicated with each other by means of gestures, grimaces, guttural sounds, or rude images of things seen; but it is impossible to conceive of a time when men had no means of communication at all. And at last, after long ages, men evolved in sound the names of the things they knew and the forms of speech; ages later, the alphabet and the art of writing; ages later still, those wonderful instruments of extension for the written and spoken word: the telegraph, the telephone, the modern printing press, the phonograph, the typewriter, and the camera.
The word "telegraph" is derived from Greek and means "to write far"; so it is a very exact word, for to write far is precisely what we do when we send a telegram. The word today, used as a noun, denotes the system of wires with stations and operators and messengers, girdling the earth and reaching into every civilized community, whereby news is carried swiftly by electricity. But the word was coined long before it was discovered that intelligence could be communicated by electricity. It denoted at first a system of semaphores, or tall poles with movable arms, and other signaling apparatus, set within sight of one another. There was such a telegraph line between Dover and London at the time of Waterloo; and this telegraph began relating the news of the battle, which had come to Dover by ship, to anxious London, when a fog set in and the Londoners had to wait until a courier on horseback arrived. And, in the very years when the real telegraph was coming into being, the United States Government, without a thought of electricity, was considering the advisability of setting up such a system of telegraphs in the United States.
The telegraph is one of America's gifts to the world. The honor for this invention falls to Samuel Finley Breese Morse, a New Englander of old Puritan stock. Nor is the glory that belongs to Morse in any way dimmed by the fact that he made use of the discoveries of other men who had been trying to unlock the secrets of electricity ever since Franklin's experiments. If Morse discovered no new principle, he is nevertheless the man of all the workers in electricity between his own day and Franklin's whom the world most delights to honor; and rightly so, for it is to such as Morse that the world is most indebted. Others knew; Morse saw and acted. Others had found out the facts, but Morse was the first to perceive the practical significance of those facts; the first to take steps to make them of service to his fellows; the first man of them all with the pluck and persistence to remain steadfast to his great design, through twelve long years of toil and privation, until his countrymen accepted his work and found it well done.
Morse was happy in his birth and early training. He was born in 1791, at Charlestown, Massachusetts. His father was a Congregational minister and a scholar of high standing, who, by careful management, was able to send his three sons to Yale College. Thither went young Samuel (or Finley, as he was called by his family) at the age of fourteen and came under the influence of Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry, and of Jeremiah Day, Professor of Natural Philosophy, afterwards President of Yale College, whose teaching gave him impulses which in later years led to the invention of the telegraph. "Mr. Day's lectures are very interesting," the young student wrote home in 1809; "they are upon electricity; he has given us some very fine experiments, the whole class taking hold of hands form the circuit of communication and we all receive the shock apparently at the same moment." Electricity, however, was only an alluring study. It afforded no means of livelihood, and Morse had gifts as an artist; in fact, he earned a part of his college expenses painting miniatures at five dollars apiece. He decided, therefore, that art should be his vocation.
A letter written years afterwards by Joseph M. Dulles of Philadelphia, who was at New Haven preparing for Yale when Morse was in his senior year, is worth reading here:
"I first became acquainted with him at New Haven, when about to graduate with the class of 1810, and had such an association as a boy preparing for college might have with a senior who was just finishing his course. Having come to New Haven under the care of Rev. Jedidiah Morse, the venerable father of the three Morses, all distinguished men, I was commended to the protection of Finley, as he was then commonly designated, and therefore saw him frequently during the brief period we were together. The father I regard as the gravest man I ever knew. He was a fine exemplar of the gentler type of the Puritan, courteous in manner, but stern in conduct and in aspect. He was a man of conflict, and a leader in the theological contests in New England in the early part of this century. Finley, on the contrary, bore the expression of gentleness entirely. In person rather above the ordinary height, well formed, graceful in demeanor, with a complexion, if I remember right, slightly ruddy, features duly proportioned, and often lightened with a genial and expressive smile. He was, altogether, a handsome young man, with manners unusually bland. It is needless to add that with intelligence, high culture, and general information, and with a strong bent to the fine arts, Mr. Morse was in 1810 an attractive young man. During the last year of his college life he occupied his leisure hours, with a view to his self-support, in taking the likenesses of his fellow-students on ivory, and no doubt with success, as he obtained afterward a very respectable rank as a portrait-painter. Many pieces of his skill were afterward executed in Charleston, South Carolina."*
* Prime, "The Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, LL.D.", p. 26.
That Morse was destined to be a painter seemed certain, and when, soon after graduating from Yale, he made the acquaintance of Washington Allston, an American artist of high standing, any doubts that may have existed in his mind as to his vocation were set at rest. Allston was then living in Boston, but was planning to return to England, where his name was well known, and it was arranged that young Morse should accompany him as his pupil. So in 1811 Morse went to England with Allston and returned to America four years later an accredited portrait painter, having studied not only under Allston but under the famous master, Benjamin West, and having met on intimate terms some of the great Englishmen of the time. He opened a studio in Boston, but as sitters were few, he made a trip through New England, taking commissions for portraits, and also visited Charleston, South Carolina, where some of his paintings may be seen today.
At Concord, New Hampshire, Morse met Miss Lucretia Walker, a beautiful and cultivated young woman, and they were married in 1818. Morse then settled in New York. His reputation as a painter increased steadily, though he gained little money, and in 1825 he was in Washington painting a portrait of the Marquis La Fayette, for the city of New York, when he heard from his father the bitter news of his wife's death in New Haven, then a journey of seven days from Washington. Leaving the portrait of La Fayette unfinished, the heartbroken artist made his way home.
Two years afterwards Morse was again obsessed with the marvels of electricity, as he had been in college. The occasion this time was a series of lectures on that subject given by James Freeman Dana before the New York Athenaeum in the chapel of Columbia College. Morse attended these lectures and formed with Dana an intimate acquaintance. Dana was in the habit of going to Morse's studio, where the two men would talk earnestly for long hours. But Morse was still devoted to his art; besides, he had himself and three children to support, and painting was his only source of income.
Back to Europe went Morse in 1829 to pursue his profession and perfect himself in it by three years' further study. Then came the crisis. Homeward bound on the ship Sully in the autumn of 1832, Morse fell into conversation with some scientific men who were on board. One of the passengers asked this question: "Is the velocity of electricity reduced by the length of its conducting wire?" To which his neighbor replied that electricity passes instantly over any known length of wire and referred to Franklin's experiments with several miles of wire, in which no appreciable time elapsed between a touch at one end and a spark at the other.
Here was a fact already well known. Morse must have known it himself. But the tremendous significance of that fact had never before occurred to him nor, so far as he knew, to any man. A recording telegraph! Why not? Intelligence delivered at one end of a wire instantly recorded at the other end, no matter how long the wire! It might reach across the continent or even round the earth. The idea set his mind on fire.
Home again in November, 1832, Morse found himself on the horns of a dilemma. To give up his profession meant that he would have no income; on the other hand, how could he continue wholeheartedly painting pictures while consumed with the idea of the telegraph? The idea would not down; yet he must live; and there were his three motherless children in New Haven. He would have to go on painting as well as he could and develop his telegraph in what time he could spare. His brothers, Richard and Sidney, were both living in New York and they did what they could for him, giving him a room in a building they had erected at Nassau and Beekman Streets. Morse's lot at this time was made all the harder by hopes raised and dashed to earth again. Congress had voted money for mural paintings for the rotunda of the Capitol. The artists were to be selected by a committee of which John Quincy Adams was chairman. Morse expected a commission for a part of the work, for his standing at that time was second to that of no American artist, save Allston, and Allston he knew had declined to paint any of the pictures and had spoken in his favor. Adams, however, as chairman of the committee was of the opinion that the pictures should be done by foreign artists, there being no Americans available, he thought, of sufficiently high standing to execute the work with fitting distinction. This opinion, publicly expressed, infuriated James Fenimore Cooper, Morse's friend, and Cooper wrote an attack on Adams in the New York Evening Post, but without signing it. Supposing Morse to be the author of this article, Adams summarily struck his name from the list of artists who were to be employed.
How very poor Morse was about this time is indicated by a story afterwards told by General Strother of Virginia, who was one of his pupils:
I engaged to become Morse's pupil and subsequently went to New York and found him in a room in University Place. He had three or four other pupils and I soon found that our professor had very little patronage.
I paid my fifty dollars for one-quarter's instruction. Morse was a faithful teacher and took as much interest in our progress as—more indeed than—we did ourselves. But he was very poor. I remember that, when my second quarter's pay was due, my remittance did not come as expected, and one day the professor came in and said, courteously: "Well Strother, my boy, how are we off for money?"
"Why professor," I answered, "I am sorry to say that I have been disappointed, but I expect a remittance next week."
"Next week," he repeated sadly, "I shall be dead by that time."
"Yes, dead by starvation."
I was distressed and astonished. I said hurriedly:
"Would ten dollars be of any service?"
"Ten dollars would save my life. That is all it would do."
I paid the money, all that I had, and we dined together. It was a modest meal, but good, and after he had finished, he said:
"This is my first meal for twenty-four hours. Strother, don't be an artist. It means beggary. Your life depends upon people who know nothing of your art and care nothing for you. A house dog lives better, and the very sensitiveness that stimulates an artist to work keeps him alive to suffering."*
* Prime, p. 424.
In 1835 Morse received an appointment to the teaching staff of New York University and moved his workshop to a room in the University building in Washington Square. "There," says his biographer*, "he wrought through the year 1836, probably the darkest and longest year of his life, giving lessons to pupils in the art of painting while his mind was in the throes of the great invention." In that year he took into his confidence one of his colleagues in the University, Leonard D. Gale, who assisted him greatly, in improving the apparatus, while the inventor himself formulated the rudiments of the telegraphic alphabet, or Morse Code, as it is known today. At length all was ready for a test and the message flashed from transmitter to receiver. The telegraph was born, though only an infant as yet. "Yes, that room of the University was the birthplace of the Recording Telegraph," said Morse years later. On September 2, 1837, a successful experiment was made with seventeen hundred feet of copper wire coiled around the room, in the presence of Alfred Vail, a student, whose family owned the Speedwell Iron Works, at Morristown, New Jersey, and who at once took an interest in the invention and persuaded his father, Judge Stephen Vail, to advance money for experiments. Morse filed a petition for a patent in October and admitted his colleague Gale; as well as Alfred Vail, to partnership. Experiments followed at the Vail shops, all the partners working day and night in their enthusiasm. The apparatus was then brought to New York and gentlemen of the city were invited to the University to see it work before it left for Washington. The visitors were requested to write dispatches, and the words were sent round a three-mile coil of wire and read at the other end of the room by one who had no prior knowledge of the message.