The Age of Invention - A Chronicle of Mechanical Conquest, Book, 37 in The - Chronicles of America Series
by Holland Thompson
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* Prime, p. 311.

In February, 1838, Morse set out for Washington with his apparatus, and stopped at Philadelphia on the invitation of the Franklin Institute to give a demonstration to a committee of that body. Arrived at Washington, he presented to Congress a petition, asking for an appropriation to enable him to build an experimental line. The question of the appropriation was referred to the Committee on Commerce, who reported favorably, and Morse then returned to New York to prepare to go abroad, as it was necessary for his rights that his invention should be patented in European countries before publication in the United States.

Morse sailed in May, 1838, and returned to New York by the steamship Great Western in April, 1839. His journey had not been very successful. He had found London in the excitement of the ceremonies of the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the British Attorney-General had refused him a patent on the ground that American newspapers had published his invention, making it public property. In France he had done better. But the most interesting result of the journey was something not related to the telegraph at all. In Paris he had met Daguerre, the celebrated Frenchman who had discovered a process of making pictures by sunlight, and Daguerre had given Morse the secret. This led to the first pictures taken by sunlight in the United States and to the first photographs of the human face taken anywhere. Daguerre had never attempted to photograph living objects and did not think it could be done, as rigidity of position was required for a long exposure. Morse, however, and his associate, John W. Draper, were very soon taking portraits successfully.

Meanwhile the affairs of the telegraph at Washington had not prospered. Congress had done nothing towards the grant which Morse had requested, notwithstanding the favorable report of its committee, and Morse was in desperate straits for money even to live on. He appealed to the Vails to assist him further, but they could not, since the panic of 1837 had impaired their resources. He earned small sums from his daguerreotypes and his teaching.

By December, 1842, Morse was in funds again; sufficiently, at least, to enable him to go to Washington for another appeal to Congress. And at last, on February 23, 1843, a bill appropriating thirty thousand dollars to lay the wires between Washington and Baltimore passed the House by a majority of six. Trembling with anxiety, Morse sat in the gallery of the House while the vote was taken and listened to the irreverent badinage of Congressmen as they discussed his bill. One member proposed an amendment to set aside half the amount for experiments in mesmerism, another suggested that the Millerites should have a part of the money, and so on; however, they passed the bill. And that night Morse wrote: "The long agony is over."

But the agony was not over. The bill had yet to pass the Senate. The last day of the expiring session of Congress arrived, March 3, 1843, and the Senate had not reached the bill. Says Morse's biographer:

In the gallery of the Senate Professor Morse had sat all the last day and evening of the session. At midnight the session would close. Assured by his friends that there was no possibility of the bill being reached, he left the Capitol and retired to his room at the hotel, dispirited, and well-nigh broken-hearted. As he came down to breakfast the next morning, a young lady entered, and, coming toward him with a smile, exclaimed:

"I have come to congratulate you!"

"For what, my dear friend?" asked the professor, of the young lady, who was Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of his friend the Commissioner of Patents.

"On the passage of your bill."

The professor assured her it was not possible, as he remained in the Senate-Chamber until nearly midnight, and it was not reached. She then informed him that her father was present until the close, and, in the last moments of the session, the bill was passed without debate or revision. Professor Morse was overcome by the intelligence, so joyful and unexpected, and gave at the moment to his young friend, the bearer of these good tidings, the promise that she should send the first message over the first line of telegraph that was opened.*

*Prime, p. 465.

Morse and his partners* then proceeded to the construction of the forty-mile line of wire between Baltimore and Washington. At this point Ezra Cornell, afterwards a famous builder of telegraphs and founder of Cornell University, first appears in history as a young man of thirty-six. Cornell invented a machine to lay pipe underground to contain the wires and he was employed to carry out the work of construction. The work was commenced at Baltimore and was continued until experiment proved that the underground method would not do, and it was decided to string the wires on poles. Much time had been lost, but once the system of poles was adopted the work progressed rapidly, and by May, 1844, the line was completed. On the twenty-fourth of that month Morse sat before his instrument in the room of the Supreme Court at Washington. His friend Miss Ellsworth handed him the message which she had chosen: "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!" Morse flashed it to Vail forty miles away in Baltimore, and Vail instantly flashed back the same momentous words, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!"

* The property in the invention was divided into sixteen shares (the partnership having been formed in 1838) of which Morse held 9, Francis O. J. Smith 4, Alfred Vail 2, Leonard D. Gale 2. In patents to be obtained in foreign countries, Morse was to hold 8 shares, Smith 5, Vail 2, Gale 1. Smith had been a member of Congress and Chairman of the Committee on Commerce. He was admitted to the partnership in consideration of his assisting Morse to arouse the interest of European Governments.

Two days later the Democratic National Convention met in Baltimore to nominate a President and Vice-President. The leaders of the Convention desired to nominate Senator Silas Wright of New York, who was then in Washington, as running mate to James K. Polk, but they must know first whether Wright would consent to run as Vice-President. So they posted a messenger off to Washington but were persuaded at the same time to allow the new telegraph to try what it could do. The telegraph carried the offer to Wright and carried back to the Convention Wright's refusal of the honor. The delegates, however, would not believe the telegraph, until their own messenger, returning the next day, confirmed its message.

For a time the telegraph attracted little attention. But Cornell stretched the lines across the country, connecting city with city, and Morse and Vail improved the details of the mechanism and perfected the code. Others came after them and added further improvements. And it is gratifying to know that both Morse and Vail, as well as Cornell, lived to reap some return for their labor. Morse lived to see his telegraph span the continent, and link the New World with the Old, and died in 1872 full of honors.

Prompt communication of the written or spoken message is a demand even more insistent than prompt transportation of men and goods. By 1859 both the railroad and the telegraph had reached the old town of St. Joseph on the Missouri. Two thousand miles beyond, on the other side of plains and mountains and great rivers, lay prosperous California. The only transportation to California was by stage-coach, a sixty days' journey, or else across Panama, or else round the Horn, a choice of three evils. But to establish quicker communication, even though transportation might lag, the men of St. Joseph organized the Pony Express, to cover the great wild distance by riders on horseback, in ten or twelve days. Relay stations for the horses and men were set up at appropriate points all along the way, and a postboy dashed off from St. Joseph every twenty-four hours, on arrival of the train from the East. And for a time the Pony Express did its work and did it well. President Lincoln's First Inaugural was carried to California by the Pony Express; so was the news of the firing on Fort Sumter. But by 1869. the Pony Express was quietly superseded by the telegraph, which in that year had completed its circuits all the way to San Francisco, seven years ahead of the first transcontinental railroad. And in four more years Cyrus W. Field and Peter Cooper had carried to complete success the Atlantic Cable; and the Morse telegraph was sending intelligence across the sea, as well as from New York to the Golden Gate.

And today ships at sea and stations on land, separated by the sea, speak to one another in the language of the Morse Code, without the use of wires. Wireless, or radio, telegraphy was the invention of a nineteen-year-old boy, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian; but it has been greatly extended and developed at the hands of four Americans: Fessenden, Alexanderson, Langmuir, and Lee De Forest. It was De Forest's invention that made possible transcontinental and transatlantic telephone service, both with and without wires.

The story of the telegraph's younger brother, and great ally in communication, the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell, is another pregnant romance of American invention. But that is a story by itself, and it begins in a later period and so falls within the scope of another volume of these Chronicles.*

* "The Age of Big Business", by Burton J. Hendrick, "The Chronicle of America", vol. XXXIX.

Wise newspapermen stiffened to attention when the telegraph began ticking. The New York Herald, the Sun, and the Tribune had been founded only recently and they represented a new type of journalism, swift, fearless, and energetic. The proprietors of these newspapers saw that this new instrument was bound to affect all newspaperdom profoundly. How was the newspaper to cope with the situation and make use of the news that was coming in and would be coming in more and more over the wires?

For one thing, the newspapers needed better printing machinery. The application of steam, or any mechanical power, to printing in America was only begun. It had been introduced by Robert Hoe in the very years when Morse was struggling to perfect the telegraph. Before that time newspapers were printed in the United States, on presses operated as Franklin's press had been operated, by hand. The New York Sun, the pioneer of cheap modern newspapers, was printed by hand in 1833, and four hundred impressions an hour was the highest speed of one press. There had been, it is true, some improvements over Franklin's printing press. The Columbian press of George Clymer of Philadelphia, invented in 1816, was a step forward. The Washington press, patented in 1829 by Samuel Rust of New York, was another step forward. Then had come Robert Hoe's double-cylinder, steamdriven printing press. But a swifter machine was wanted. And so in 1845 Richard March Hoe, a son of Robert Hoe, invented the revolving or rotary press, on the principle of which larger and larger machines have been built—machines so complex and wonderful that they baffle description; which take in reels of white paper and turn out great newspapers complete, folded and counted, at the rate of a hundred thousand copies an hour. American printing machines are in use today the world over. The London Times is printed on American machines.

Hundreds of new inventions and improvements on old inventions followed hard on the growth of the newspaper, until it seemed that the last word had been spoken. The newspapers had the wonderful Hoe presses; they had cheap paper; they had excellent type, cast by machinery; they had a satisfactory process of multiplying forms of type by stereotyping; and at length came a new process of making pictures by photo-engraving, supplanting the old-fashioned process of engraving on wood. Meanwhile, however, in one important department of the work, the newspapers had made no advance whatever. The newspapers of New York in the year 1885, and later, set up their type by the same method that Benjamin Franklin used to set up the type for The Pennsylvania Gazette. The compositor stood or sat at his "case," with his "copy" before him, and picked the type up letter by letter until he had filled and correctly spaced a line. Then he would set another line, and so on, all with his hands. After the job was completed, the type had to be distributed again, letter by letter. Typesetting was slow and expensive.

This labor of typesetting was at last generally done away with by the invention of two intricate and ingenious machines. The linotype, the invention of Ottmar Mergenthaler of Baltimore, came first; then the monotype of Tolbert Lanston, a native of Ohio. The linotype is the favorite composing machine for newspapers and is also widely used in typesetting for books, though the monotype is preferred by book printers. One or other of these machines has today replaced, for the most part, the old hand compositors in every large printing establishment in the United States.

While the machinery of the great newspapers was being developed, another instrument of communication, more humble but hardly less important in modern life, was coming into existence. The typewriter is today in every business office and is another of America's gifts to the commercial world. One might attempt to trace the typewriter back to the early seals, or to the name plates of the Middle Ages, or to the records of the British Patent Office, for 1714, which mention a machine for embossing. But it would be difficult to establish the identity of these contrivances with the modern typewriter.

Two American devices, one of William Burt in 1829, for a "typographer," and another of Charles Thurber, of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1843, may also be passed over. Alfred Ely Beach made a model for a typewriter as early as 1847, but neglected it for other things, and his next effort in printing machines was a device for embossing letters for the blind. His typewriter had many of the features of the modern typewriter, but lacked a satisfactory method of inking the types. This was furnished by S. W. Francis of New York, whose machine, in 1857, bore a ribbon saturated with ink. None of these machines, however, was a commercial success. They were regarded merely as the toys of ingenious men.

The accredited father of the typewriter was a Wisconsin newspaperman, Christopher Latham Sholes, editor, politician, and anti-slavery agitator. A strike of his printers led him to unsuccessful attempts to invent a typesetting machine. He did succeed, however, in making, in collaboration with another printer, Samuel W. Soule, a numbering machine, and a friend, Carlos Glidden, to whom this ingenious contrivance was shown, suggested a machine to print letters.

The three friends decided to try. None had studied the efforts of previous experimenters, and they made many errors which might have been avoided. Gradually, however, the invention took form. Patents were obtained in June, 1868, and again in July of the same year, but the machine was neither strong nor trustworthy. Now appeared James Densmore and bought a share in the machine, while Soule and Glidden retired. Densmore furnished the funds to build about thirty models in succession, each a little better than the preceding. The improved machine was patented in 1871, and the partners felt that they were ready to begin manufacturing.

Wisely they determined, in 1873, to offer their machine to Eliphalet Remington and Sons, then manufacturing firearms, sewing machines, and the like, at Ilion, New York. Here, in well-equipped machine shops it was tested, strengthened, and improved. The Remingtons believed they saw a demand for the machine and offered to buy the patents, paying either a lump sum, or a royalty. It is said that Sholes preferred the ready cash and received twelve thousand dollars, while Densmore chose the royalty and received a million and a half.

The telegraph, the press, and the typewriter are agents of communication for the written word. The telephone is an agent for the spoken word. And there is another instrument for recording sound and reproducing it, which should not be forgotten. It was in 1877 that Thomas Alva Edison completed the first phonograph. The air vibrations set up by the human voice were utilized to make minute indentations on a sheet of tinfoil placed over a metallic cylinder, and the machine would then reproduce the sounds which had caused the indentations. The record wore out after a few reproductions, however, and Edison was too busy to develop his idea further for a time, though later he returned to it.

The phonograph today appears under various names, but by whatever name they are called, the best machines reproduce with wonderful fidelity the human voice, in speech or song, and the tones of either a single instrument or a whole orchestra. The most distinguished musicians are glad to do their best for the preservation and reproduction of their art, and through these machines, good music is brought to thousands to whom it could come in no other way.

The camera bears a large part in the diffusion of intelligence, and the last half century in the United States has seen a great development in photography and photoengraving. The earliest experiments in photography belong almost exclusively to Europe. Morse, as we have seen, introduced the secret to America and interested his friend John W. Draper, who had a part in the perfection of the dry plate and who was one of the first, if not the first, to take a portrait by photography.

The world's greatest inventor in photography is, however, George Eastman, of Rochester. It was in 1888 that Eastman introduced a new camera, which he called by the distinctive name Kodak, and with it the slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." This first kodak was loaded with a roll of sensitized paper long enough for a hundred exposures. Sent to the makers, the roll could itself be developed and pictures could be printed from it. Eastman had been an amateur photographer when the fancy was both expensive and tedious. Inventing a method of making dry plates, he began to manufacture them in a small way as early as 1880. After the first kodak, there came others filled with rolls of sensitized nitro-cellulose film. Priority in the invention of the cellulose film, instead of glass, which has revolutionized photography, has been decided by the courts to belong to the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin, but the honor none the less belongs to Eastman, who independently worked out his process and gave photography to the millions. The introduction by the Eastman Kodak Company of a film cartridge which could be inserted or removed without retiring to a dark room removed the chief difficulty in the way of amateurs, and a camera of some sort, varying in price from a dollar or two to as many hundreds, is today an indispensable part of a vacation equipment.

In the development of the animated pictures Thomas Alva Edison has played a large part. Many were the efforts to give the appearance of movement to pictures before the first real entertainment was staged by Henry Heyl of Philadelphia. Heyl's pictures were on glass plates fixed in the circumference of a wheel, and each was brought and held for a part of a second before the lens. This method was obviously too slow and too expensive. Edison with his keen mind approached the difficulty and after a prolonged series of experiments arrived at the decision that a continuous tape-like film would be necessary. He invented the first practical "taking" camera and evoked the enthusiastic cooperation of George Eastman in the production of this tape-like film, and the modern motion picture was born. The projecting machine was substantially like the "taking" camera and was so used. Other inventors, such as Paul in England and Lumiere in France, produced other types of projecting machines, which differed only in mechanical details.

When the motion picture was taken up in earnest in the United States, the world stared in astonishment at the apparent recklessness of the early managers. The public responded, however, and there is hardly a hamlet in the nation where there is not at least one moving-picture house. The most popular actors have been drawn from the speaking stage into the "movies," and many new actors have been developed. In the small town, the picture theater is often a converted storeroom, but in the cities, some of the largest and most attractive theaters have been given over to the pictures, and others even more luxurious have been specially built. The Eastman Company alone manufactures about ten thousand miles of film every month.

Besides affording amusement to millions, the moving picture has been turned to instruction. Important news events are shown on the screen, and historical events are preserved for posterity by depositing the films in a vault. What would the historical student not give for a film faithfully portraying the inauguration of George Washington! The motion picture has become an important factor in instruction in history and science in the schools and this development is still in its infancy.


One day in 1852, at Trenton, New Jersey, there appeared in the Circuit Court of the United States two men, the legal giants of their day, to argue the case of Goodyear vs. Day for infringement of patent. Rufus Choate represented the defendant and Daniel Webster the plaintiff. Webster, in the course of his plea, one of the most brilliant and moving ever uttered by him, paused for a moment, drew from himself the attention of those who were hanging upon his words, and pointed to his client. He would have them look at the man whose cause he pleaded: a man of fifty-two, who looked fifteen years older, sallow, emaciated from disease, due to long privations, bitter disappointments, and wrongs. This was Charles Goodyear, inventor of the process which put rubber into the service of the world. Said Webster:

"And now is Charles Goodyear the discoverer of this invention of vulcanized rubber? Is he the first man upon whose mind the idea ever flashed, or to whose intelligence the fact ever was disclosed, that by carrying heat to a certain height it would cease to render plastic the India Rubber and begin to harden and metallize it? Is there a man in the world who found out that fact before Charles Goodyear? Who is he? Where is he? On what continent does he live? Who has heard of him? What books treat of him? What man among all the men on earth has seen him, known him, or named him? Yet it is certain that this discovery has been made. It is certain that it exists. It is certain that it is now a matter of common knowledge all over the civilized world. It is certain that ten or twelve years ago it was not knowledge. It is certain that this curious result has grown into knowledge by somebody's discovery and invention. And who is that somebody? The question was put to my learned opponent by my learned associate. If Charles Goodyear did not make this discovery, who did make it? Who did make it? Why, if our learned opponent had said he should endeavor to prove that some one other than Mr. Goodyear had made this discovery, that would have been very fair. I think the learned gentleman was very wise in not doing so. For I have thought often, in the course of my practice in law, that it was not very advisable to raise a spirit that one could not conveniently lay again. Now who made this discovery? And would it not be proper? I am sure it would. And would it not be manly? I am sure it would. Would not my learned friend and his coadjutor have acted a more noble part, if they had stood up and said that this invention was not Goodyear's, but it was an invention of such and such a man, in this or that country? On the contrary they do not meet Goodyear's claim by setting up a distinct claim of anybody else. They attempt to prove that he was not the inventor by little shreds and patches of testimony. Here a little bit of sulphur, and there a little parcel of lead; here a little degree of heat, a little hotter than would warm a man's hands, and in which a man could live for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour; and yet they never seem to come to the point. I think it is because their materials did not allow them to come to the manly assertion that somebody else did make this invention, giving to that somebody a local habitation and a name. We want to know the name, and the habitation, and the location of the man upon the face of this globe, who invented vulcanized rubber, if it be not he, who now sits before us.

"Well there are birds which fly in the air, seldom lighting, but often hovering. Now I think this is a question not to be hovered over, not to be brooded over, and not to be dealt with as an infinitesimal quantity of small things. It is a case calling for a manly admission and a manly defense. I ask again, if there is anybody else than Goodyear who made this invention, who is he? Is the discovery so plain that it might have come about by accident? It is likely to work important changes in the arts everywhere. IT INTRODUCES QUITE A NEW MATERIAL INTO THE MANUFACTURE OF THE ARTS, THAT MATERIAL BEING NOTHING LESS THAN ELASTIC METAL. It is hard like metal and as elastic as pure original gum elastic. Why, that is as great and momentous a phenomenon occurring to men in the progress of their knowledge, as it would be for a man to show that iron and gold could remain iron and gold and yet become elastic like India Rubber. It would be just such another result. Now, this fact cannot be denied; it cannot be secreted; it cannot be kept out of sight; somebody has made this invention. That is certain. Who is he? Mr. Hancock has been referred to. But he expressly acknowledges Goodyear to be the first inventor. I say that there is not in the world a human being that can stand up and say that it is his invention, except the man who is sitting at that table."

The court found for the plaintiff, and this decision established for all time the claim of the American, Charles Goodyear, to be the sole inventor of vulcanized rubber.

This trial may be said to be the dramatic climax in the story of rubber. It celebrated the hour when the science of invention turned a raw product—which had tantalized by its promise and wrought ruin by its treachery—into a manufacture adaptable to a thousand uses, adding to man's ease and health and to the locomotion, construction, and communication of modern life.

When Columbus revisited Hayti on his second voyage, he observed some natives playing with a ball. Now, ball games are the oldest sport known. From the beginning of his history man, like the kitten and the puppy, has delighted to play with the round thing that rolls. The men who came with Columbus to conquer the Indies had brought their Castilian wind-balls to play with in idle hours. But at once they found that the balls of Hayti were incomparably superior toys; they bounced better. These high bouncing balls were made, so they learned, from a milky fluid of the consistency of honey which the natives procured by tapping certain trees and then cured over the smoke of palm nuts. A discovery which improved the delights of ball games was noteworthy.

The old Spanish historian, Herrera, gravely transcribed in his pages all that the governors of Hayti reported about the bouncing balls. Some fifty years later another Spanish historian related that the natives of the Amazon valley made shoes of this gum; and that Spanish soldiers spread their cloaks with it to keep out the rain. Many years later still, in 1736, a French astronomer, who was sent by his government to Peru to measure an arc of the meridian, brought home samples of the gum and reported that the natives make lights of it, "which burn without a wick and are very bright," and "shoes of it which are waterproof, and when smoked they have the appearance of leather. They also make pear-shaped bottles on the necks of which they fasten wooden tubes. Pressure on the bottle sends the liquid squirting out of the tube, so they resemble syringes." Their name for the fluid, he added, was "cachuchu"—caoutchouc, we now write it. Evidently the samples filled no important need at the time, for we hear no more of the gum until thirty-four years afterward. Then, so an English writer tells us, a use was found for the gum—and a name. A stationer accidentally discovered that it would erase pencil marks, And, as it came from the Indies and rubbed, of course it was "India rubber."

About the year 1820 American merchantmen, plying between Brazil and New England, sometimes carried rubber as ballast on the home voyage and dumped it on the wharves at Boston. One of the shipmasters exhibited to his friends a pair of native shoes fancifully gilded. Another, with more foresight, brought home five hundred pairs, ungilded, and offered them for sale. They were thick, clumsily shaped, and heavy, but they sold. There was a demand for more. In a few years half a million pairs were being imported annually. New England manufacturers bid against one another along the wharves for the gum which had been used as ballast and began to make rubber shoes.

European vessels had also carried rubber home; and experiments were being made with it in France and Britain. A Frenchman manufactured suspenders by cutting a native bottle into fine threads and running them through a narrow cloth web. And Macintosh, a chemist of Glasgow, inserted rubber treated with naphtha between thin pieces of cloth and evolved the garment that still bears his name.

At first the new business in rubber yielded profits. The cost of the raw material was infinitesimal; and there was a demand for the finished articles. In Roxbury, Massachusetts, a firm manufacturing patent leather treated raw rubber with turpentine and lampblack and spread it on cloth, in an effort to produce a waterproof leather. The process appeared to be a complete success, and a large capital was employed to make handsome shoes and clothing out of the new product and in opening shops in the large cities for their sale. Merchants throughout the country placed orders for these goods, which, as it happened, were made and shipped in winter.

But, when summer came, the huge profits of the manufacturers literally melted away, for the beautiful garments decomposed in the heat; and loads of them, melting and running together, were being returned to the factory. And they filled Roxbury with such noisome odors that they had to be taken out at dead of night and buried deep in the earth.

And not only did these rubber garments melt in the heat. It presently transpired that severe frost stiffened them to the rigidity of granite. Daniel Webster had had some experience in this matter himself. "A friend in New York," he said, "sent me a very fine cloak of India Rubber, and a hat of the same material. I did not succeed very well with them. I took the cloak one day and set it out in the cold. It stood very well by itself. I surmounted it with the hat, and many persons passing by supposed they saw, standing by the porch, the Farmer of Marshfield."

It was in the year 1834, shortly after the Roxbury manufacturers had come to realize that their process was worthless and that their great fortune was only a mirage, and just before these facts became generally known, that Charles Goodyear made his entrance on the scene. He appeared first as a customer in the company's store in New York and bought a rubber life-preserver. When he returned some weeks later with a plan for improving the tube, the manager confided to him the sad tragedy of rubber, pointing out that no improvement in the manufactured articles would meet the difficulty, but that fame and fortune awaited the inventor of a process that would keep rubber dry and firm and flexible in all weathers.

Goodyear felt that he had a call from God. "He who directs the operations of the mind," he wrote at a later date, "can turn it to the development of the properties of Nature in his own way, and at the time when they are specially needed. The creature imagines he is executing some plan of his own, while he is simply an instrument in the hands of his Maker for executing the divine purposes of beneficence to the race." It was in the spirit of a crusader, consecrated to a particular service, that this man took up the problem of rubber. The words quoted are a fitting preface for the story of the years that followed, which is a tale of endurance and persistent activity under sufferings and disappointments such as are scarcely paralleled even in the pages of invention, darkened as they often are by poverty and defeat.

Charles Goodyear was born at New Haven, December 29, 1800, the son of Amasa Goodyear and descendant of Stephen Goodyear who was associated with Theophilus Eaton, the first governor of the Puritan colony of New Haven. It was natural that Charles should turn his mind to invention, as he did even when a boy; for his father, a pioneer in the manufacture of American hardware, was the inventor of a steel hayfork which replaced the heavy iron fork of prior days and lightened and expedited the labor of the fields. When Charles was seven his father moved to Naugatuck and manufactured the first pearl buttons made in America; during the War of 1812 the Goodyear factory supplied metal buttons to the Government. Charles, a studious, serious boy, was the close companion of his father. His deeply religious nature manifested itself early, and he joined the Congregational Church when he was sixteen. It was at first his intention to enter the ministry, which seemed to him to offer the most useful career of service, but, changing his mind, he went to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business and on coming of age was admitted to partnership in a firm established there by his father. The firm prospered for a time, but an injudicious extension of credit led to its suspension. So it happened that Goodyear in 1834, when he became interested in rubber, was an insolvent debtor, liable, under the laws of the time, to imprisonment. Soon afterward, indeed, he was lodged in the Debtor's Prison in Philadelphia.

It would seem an inauspicious hour to begin a search which might lead him on in poverty for years and end nowhere. But, having seen the need for perfect rubber, the thought had come to him, with the force of a religious conviction, that "an object so desirable and so important, and so necessary to man's comfort, as the making of gum-elastic available to his use, was most certainly placed within his reach." Thereafter he never doubted that God had called him to this task and that his efforts would be crowned with success. Concerning his prison experiences, of which the first was not to be the last, he says that "notwithstanding the mortification attending such a trial," if the prisoner has a real aim "for which to live and hope over he may add firmness to hope, and derive lasting advantage by having proved to himself that, with a clear conscience and a high purpose, a man may be as happy within prison walls as in any other (even the most fortunate) circumstances in life." With this spirit he met every reverse throughout the ten hard years that followed.

Luckily, as he says, his first experiments required no expensive equipment. Fingers were the best tools for working the gum. The prison officials allowed him a bench and a marble slab, a friend procured him a few dollars' worth of gum, which sold then at five cents a pound, and his wife contributed her rolling pin. That was the beginning.

For a time he believed that, by mixing the raw gum with magnesia and boiling it in lime, he had overcome the stickiness which was the inherent difficulty. He made some sheets of white rubber which were exhibited, and also some articles for sale. His hopes were dashed when he found that weak acid, such as apple juice or vinegar, destroyed his new product. Then in 1836 he found that the application of aqua fortis, or nitric acid, produced a "curing" effect on the rubber and thought that he had discovered the secret. Finding a partner with capital, he leased an abandoned rubber factory on Staten Island. But his partner's fortune was swept away in the panic of 1837, leaving Goodyear again an insolvent debtor. Later he found another partner and went to manufacturing in the deserted plant at Roxbury, with an order from the Government for a large number of mail bags. This order was given wide publicity and it aroused the interest of manufacturers throughout the country. But by the time the goods were ready for delivery the first bags made had rotted from their handles. Only the surface of the rubber had been "cured."

This failure was the last straw, as far as Goodyear's friends were concerned. Only his patient and devoted wife stood by him; she had labored, known want, seen her children go hungry to school, but she seems never to have reproached her husband nor to have doubted his ultimate success. The gentleness and tenderness of his deportment in the home made his family cling to him with deep affection and bear willingly any sacrifice for his sake; though his successive failures generally meant a return of the inventor to the debtor's prison and the casting of his family upon charity.

The nitric acid process had not solved the problem but it had been a real step forward. It was in the year 1839, by an accident, that he discovered the true process of vulcanization which cured not the surface alone but the whole mass. He was trying to harden the gum by boiling it with sulphur on his wife's cookstove when he let fall a lump of it on the red hot iron top. It vulcanized instantly. This was an accident which only Goodyear could have interpreted. And it was the last. The strange substance from the jungles of the tropics had been mastered. It remained, however, to perfect the process, to ascertain the accurate formula and the exact degree of heat. The Goodyears were so poor during these years that they received at any time a barrel of flour from a neighbor thankfully. There is a tradition that on one occasion, when Goodyear desired to cross between Staten Island and New York, he had to give his umbrella to the ferry master as security for his fare, and that the name of the ferry master was Cornelius Vanderbilt, "a man who made much money because he took few chances." The incident may easily have occurred, though the ferry master could hardly have been Vanderbilt himself, unless it had been at an earlier date. Another tradition says that one of Goodyear's neighbors described him to an inquisitive stranger thus: "You will know him when you see him; he has on an India rubber cap, stock, coat, vest, and shoes, and an India rubber purse WITHOUT A CENT IN IT!"

Goodyear's trials were only beginning. He had the secret at last, but nobody would believe him. He had worn out even the most sanguine of his friends. "That such indifference to this discovery, and many incidents attending it, could have existed in an intelligent and benevolent community," wrote Goodyear later, "can only be accounted for by existing circumstances in that community The great losses that had been sustained in the manufacture of gum-elastic: the length of time the inventor had spent in what appeared to them to be entirely fruitless efforts to accomplish anything with it; added to his recent misfortunes and disappointments, all conspired, with his utter destitution, to produce a state of things as unfavorable to the promulgation of the discovery as can well be imagined. He, however, felt in duty bound to beg in earnest, if need be, sooner than that the discovery should be lost to the world and to himself.... How he subsisted at this period charity alone can tell, for it is as well to call things by their right names; and it is little else than charity when the lender looks upon what he parts with as a gift. The pawning or selling some relic of better days or some article of necessity was a frequent expedient. His library had long since disappeared, but shortly after the discovery of this process, he collected and sold at auction the schoolbooks of his children, which brought him the trifling sum of five dollars; small as the amount was, it enabled him to proceed. At this step he did not hesitate. The occasion, and the certainty of success, warranted the measure which, in other circumstances, would have been sacrilege."

His itinerary during those years is eloquent. Wherever there was a man, who had either a grain of faith in rubber or a little charity for a frail and penniless monomaniac, thither Goodyear made his way. The goal might be an attic room or shed to live in rent free, or a few dollars for a barrel of flour for the family and a barrel of rubber for himself, or permission to use a factory's ovens after hours and to hang his rubber over the steam valves while work went on. From Woburn in 1839, the year of his great discovery, he went to Lynn, from Lynn back to the deserted factory at Roxbury. Again to Woburn, to Boston, to Northampton, to Springfield, to Naugatuck; in five years as many removes. When he lacked boat or railway fare, and he generally did, he walked through winds and rains and drifting snow, begging shelter at some cottage or farm where a window lamp gleamed kindly.

Goodyear took out his patent in 1844. The process he invented has been changed little, if at all, from that day to this. He also invented the perfect India rubber cloth by mixing fiber with the gum a discovery he considered rightly as secondary in importance only to vulcanization. When he died in 1860 he had taken out sixty patents on rubber manufactures. He had seen his invention applied to several hundred uses, giving employment to sixty thousand persons, producing annually eight million dollars' worth of merchandise—numbers which would form but a fraction of the rubber statistics of today.

Everybody, the whole civilized world round, uses rubber in one form or another. And rubber makes a belt around the world in its natural as well as in its manufactured form. The rubber-bearing zone winds north and south of the equator through both hemispheres. In South America rubber is the latex of certain trees, in Africa of trees and vines. The best "wild" rubber still comes from Para in Brazil. It is gathered and prepared for shipment there today by the same methods the natives used four hundred years ago. The natives in their canoes follow the watercourses into the jungles. They cut V-shaped or spiral incisions in the trunks of the trees that grow sheer to sixty feet before spreading their shade. At the base of the incisions they affix small clay cups, like swallows' nests. Over the route they return later with large gourds in which they collect the fluid from the clay cups. The filled gourds they carry to their village of grass huts and there they build their smoky fires of oily palm nuts. Dipping paddles into the fluid gum they turn and harden it, a coating at a time, in the smoke. The rubber "biscuit" is cut from the paddle with a wet knife when the desired thickness has been attained.

Goodyear lived for sixteen years after his discovery of the vulcanization process. During the last six he was unable to walk without crutches. He was indifferent to money. To make his discoveries of still greater service to mankind was his whole aim. It was others who made fortunes out of his inventions. Goodyear died a poor man.

In his book, a copy of which was printed on gumelastic sheets and bound in hard rubber carved, he summed up his philosophy in this statement: "The writer is not disposed to repine and say that he has planted and others have gathered the fruits. The advantages of a career in life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents, as it is too often done. Man has just cause for regret when he sows and no one reaps."


There is a tinge of melancholy about the life of such a pioneer as Oliver Evans, that early American mechanic of great genius, whose story is briefly outlined in a preceding chapter. Here was a man of imagination and sensibility, as well as practical power; conferring great benefits on his countrymen, yet in chronic poverty; derided by his neighbors, robbed by his beneficiaries; his property, the fruit of his brain and toil, in the end malevolently destroyed. The lot of the man who sees far ahead of his time, and endeavors to lead his fellows in ways for which they are not prepared, has always been hard.

John Stevens, too, as we have seen, met defeat when he tried to thrust a steam railroad on a country that was not yet ready for it. His mechanical conceptions were not marked by genius equal to that of Evans, but they were still too far advanced to be popular. The career of Stevens, however, presents a remarkable contrast to that of Evans in other respects. Evans was born poor (in Delaware, 1755) and remained poor all his life. Stevens was born rich (in New York City, 1749) and remained rich all his life. Of the family of Evans nothing is known either before or after him. Stevens, on the contrary, belonged to one of the best known and most powerful families in America. His grandfather, John Stevens I, came from England in 1699 and made himself a lawyer and a great landowner. His father, John Stevens II, was a member from New Jersey of the Continental Congress and presided at the New Jersey Convention which ratified the Constitution.

John Stevens III was graduated at King's College (Columbia) in 1768. He held public offices during the Revolution. To him, perhaps more than to any other man, is due the Patent Act of 1790, for the protection of American inventors, for that law was the result of a petition which he made to Congress and which, being referred to a committee, was favorably reported. Thus we may regard John Stevens as the father of the American patent law.

John Stevens owned the old Dutch farm on the Hudson on which the city of Hoboken now stands. The place had been in possession of the Bayard family, but William Bayard, who lived there at the time of the Revolution, was a Loyalist, and his house on Castle Point was burned down and his estate confiscated. After the Revolution Stevens acquired the property. He laid it out as a town in 1804, made it his summer residence, and established there the machine shops in which he and his sons carried on their mechanical experiments.

These shops were easily the largest and bestequipped in the Union when in 1838 John Stevens died at the age of ninety. The four brothers, John Cox, Robert Livingston, James Alexander, and Edwin Augustus, worked harmoniously together. "No one ever heard of any quarrel or dissension in the Stevens family. They were workmen themselves, and they were superior to their subordinates because they were better engineers and better men of business than any other folk who up to that time had undertaken the business of transportation in the United States."*

* Abram S. Hewitt. Quoted in Iles, "Leading American Inventors", p. 37.

The youngest of these brothers, Edwin Augustus Stevens, dying in 1868, left a large part of his fortune to found the Stevens Institute of Technology, afterwards erected at Hoboken not far from the old family homestead on Castle Point. The mechanical star of the family, however, was the second brother, Robert Livingston Stevens, whose many inventions made for the great improvement of transportation both by land and water. For a quarter of a century, from 1815 to 1840, he was the foremost builder of steamboats in America, and under his hand the steamboat increased amazingly in speed and efficiency. He made great contributions to the railway. The first locomotives ran upon wooden stringers plated with strap iron. A loose end—"a snakehead" it was called—sometimes curled up and pierced through the floor of a car, causing a wreck. The solid metal T-rail, now in universal use, was designed by Stevens and was first used on the Camden and Amboy Railroad, of which he was president and his brother Edwin treasurer and manager. The swivel truck and the cow-catcher, the modern method of attaching rails to ties, the vestibule car, and many improvements in the locomotive were also first introduced on the Stevens road.

The Stevens brothers exerted their influence also on naval construction. A double invention of Robert and Edwin, the forced draft, to augment steam power and save coal, and the air-tight fireroom, which they applied to their own vessels, was afterwards adopted by all navies. Robert designed and projected an ironclad battleship, the first one in the world. This vessel, called the Stevens Battery, was begun by authority of the Government in 1842; but, owing to changes in the design and inadequate appropriations by Congress, it was never launched. It lay for many years in the basin at Hoboken an unfinished hulk. Robert died in 1856. On the outbreak of the Civil War, Edwin tried to revive the interest of the Government, but by that time the design of the Stevens Battery was obsolete, and Edwin Stevens was an old man. So the honors for the construction of the first ironclad man-of-war to fight and win a battle went to John Ericsson, that other great inventor, who built the famous Monitor for the Union Government.

Carlyle's oft-quoted term, "Captains of Industry," may fittingly be applied to the Stevens family. Strong, masterful, and farseeing, they used ideas, their own and those of others, in a large way, and were able to succeed where more timorous inventors failed. Without the stimulus of poverty they achieved success, making in their shops that combination of men and material which not only added to their own fortunes but also served the world.

We left Eli Whitney defeated in his efforts to divert to himself some adequate share of the untold riches arising from his great invention of the cotton gin. Whitney, however, had other sources of profit in his own character and mechanical ability. As early as 1798 he had turned his talents to the manufacture of firearms. He had established his shops at Whitneyville, near New Haven; and it was there that he worked out another achievement quite as important economically as the cotton gin, even though the immediate consequences were less spectacular: namely, the principle of standardization or interchangeability in manufacture.

This principle is the very foundation today of all American large-scale production. The manufacturer produces separately thousands of copies of every part of a complicated machine, confident that an equal number of the complete machine will be assembled and set in motion. The owner of a motor car, a reaper, a tractor, or a sewing machine, orders, perhaps by telegraph or telephone, a broken or lost part, taking it for granted that the new part can be fitted easily and precisely into the place of the old.

Though it is probable that this idea of standardization, or interchangeability, originated independently in Whitney's mind, and though it is certain that he and one of his neighbors, who will be mentioned presently, were the first manufacturers in the world to carry it out successfully in practice, yet it must be noted that the idea was not entirely new. We are told that the system was already in operation in England in the manufacture of ship's blocks. From no less an authority than Thomas Jefferson we learn that a French mechanic had previously conceived the same idea.* But, as no general result whatever came from the idea in either France or England, the honors go to Whitney and North, since they carried it to such complete success that it spread to other branches of manufacturing. And in the face of opposition. When Whitney wrote that his leading object was "to substitute correct and effective operations of machinery for that skill of the artist which is acquired only by long practice and experience," in order to make the same parts of different guns "as much like each other as the successive impressions of a copper-plate engraving," he was laughed to scorn by the ordnance officers of France and England. "Even the Washington officials," says Roe, "were sceptical and became uneasy at advancing so much money without a single gun having been completed, and Whitney went to Washington, taking with him ten pieces of each part of a musket. He exhibited these to the Secretary of War and the army officers interested, as a succession of piles of different parts. Selecting indiscriminately from each of the piles, he put together ten muskets, an achievement which was looked on with amazement."**

* See the letter from Jefferson to John Jay, of April 30, 1785, cited in Roe, "English and American Tool Builders", p. 129.

** Roe, "English and American Tool Builders", p. 133.

While Whitney worked out his plans at Whitneyville, Simeon North, another Connecticut mechanic and a gunmaker by trade, adopted the same system. North's first shop was at Berlin. He afterwards moved to Middletown. Like Whitney, he used methods far in advance of the time. Both Whitney and North helped to establish the United States Arsenals at Springfield, Massachusetts, and at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in which their methods were adopted. Both the Whitney and North plants survived their founders. Just before the Mexican War the Whitney plant began to use steel for gun barrels, and Jefferson Davis, Colonel of the Mississippi Rifles, declared that the new guns were "the best rifles which had ever been issued to any regiment in the world." Later, when Davis became Secretary of War, he issued to the regular army the same weapon.

The perfection of Whitney's tools and machines made it possible to employ workmen of little skill or experience. "Indeed so easy did Mr. Whitney find it to instruct new and inexperienced workmen, that he uniformly preferred to do so, rather than to combat the prejudices of those who had learned the business under a different system."* This reliance upon the machine for precision and speed has been a distinguishing mark of American manufacture. A man or a woman of little actual mechanical skill may make an excellent machine tender, learning to perform a few simple motions with great rapidity.

* Denison Olmstead, "Memoir", cited by Roe, p. 159.

Whitney married in 1817 Miss Henrietta Edwards, daughter of Judge Pierpont Edwards, of New Haven, and granddaughter of Jonathan Edwards. His business prospered, and his high character, agreeable manners, and sound judgment won. for him the highest regard of all who knew him; and he had a wide circle of friends. It is said that he was on intimate terms with every President of the United States from George Washington to John Quincy Adams. But his health had been impaired by hardships endured in the South, in the long struggle over the cotton gin, and he died in 1825, at the age of fifty-nine. The business which he founded remained in his family for ninety years. It was carried on after his death by two of his nephews and then by his son, until 1888, when it was sold to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company of New Haven.

Here then, in these early New England gunshops, was born the American system of interchangeable manufacture. Its growth depended upon the machine tool, that is, the machine for making machines. Machine tools, of course, did not originate in America. English mechanics were making machines for cutting metal at least a generation before Whitney. One of the earliest of these English pioneers was John Wilkinson, inventor and maker of the boring machine which enabled Boulton and Watt in 1776 to bring their steam engine to the point of practicability. Without this machine Watt found it impossible to bore his cylinders with the necessary degree of accuracy.* From this one fact, that the success of the steam engine depended upon the invention of a new tool, we may judge of what a great part the inventors of machine tools, of whom thousands are unnamed and unknown, have played in the industrial world.

* Roe, "English and American Tool Builders", p. 1 et seq.

So it was in the shops of the New England gunmakers that machine tools were first made of such variety and adaptability that they could be applied generally to other branches of manufacturing; and so it was that the system of interchangeable manufacture arose as a distinctively American development. We have already seen how England's policy of keeping at home the secrets of her machinery led to the independent development of the spindles and looms of New England. The same policy affected the tool industry in America in the same way and bred in the new country a race of original and resourceful mechanics.

One of these pioneers was Thomas Blanchard, born in 1788 on a farm in Worcester County, Massachusetts, the home also of Eli Whitney and Elias Howe. Tom began his mechanical career at the age of thirteen by inventing a device to pare apples. At the age of eighteen he went to work in his brother's shop, where tacks were made by hand, and one day took to his brother a mechanical device for counting the tacks to go into a single packet. The invention was adopted and was found to save the labor of one workman. Tom's next achievement was a machine to make tacks, on which he spent six years and the rights of which he sold for five thousand dollars. It was worth far more, for it revolutionized the tack industry, but such a sum was to young Blanchard a great fortune.

The tack-making machine gave Blanchard a reputation, and he was presently sought out by a gun manufacturer, to see whether he could improve the lathe for turning the barrels of the guns. Blanchard could; and did. His next problem was to invent a lathe for turning the irregular wooden stocks. Here he also succeeded and produced a lathe that would copy precisely and rapidly any pattern. It is from this invention that the name of Blanchard is best known. The original machine is preserved in the United States Armory at Springfield, to which Blanchard was attached for many years, and where scores of the descendants of his copying lathe may be seen in action today.

Turning gunstocks was, of course, only one of the many uses of Blanchard's copying lathe. Its chief use, in fact, was in the production of wooden lasts for the shoemakers of New England, but it was applied to many branches of wood manufacture, and later on the same principle was applied to the shaping of metal.

Blanchard was a man of many ideas. He built a steam vehicle for ordinary roads and was an early advocate of railroads; he built steamboats to ply upon the Connecticut and incidentally produced in connection with these his most profitable invention, a machine to bend ship's timbers without splintering them. The later years of his life were spent in Boston, and he often served as a patent expert in the courts, where his wide knowledge, hard common sense, incisive speech, and homely wit made him a welcome witness.

We now glance at another New England inventor, Samuel Colt, the man who carried Whitney's conceptions to transcendent heights, the most dashing and adventurous of all the pioneers of the machine shop in America. If "the American frontier was Elizabethan in quality," there was surely a touch of the Elizabethan spirit on the man whose invention so greatly affected the character of that frontier. Samuel Colt was born at Hartford in 1814 and died there in 1862 at the age of forty-eight, leaving behind him a famous name and a colossal industry of his own creation. His father was a small manufacturer of silk and woolens at Hartford, and the boy entered the factory at a very early age. At school in Amherst a little later, he fell under the displeasure of his teachers. At thirteen he took to sea, as a boy before the mast, on the East India voyage to Calcutta. It was on this voyage that he conceived the idea of the revolver and whittled out a wooden model. On his return he went into his father's works and gained a superficial knowledge of chemistry from the manager of the bleaching and dyeing department. Then he took to the road for three years and traveled from Quebec to New Orleans lecturing on chemistry under the name of "Dr. Coult." The main feature of his lecture was the administration of nitrous oxide gas to volunteers from the audience, whose antics and the amusing showman's patter made the entertainment very popular.

Colt's ambition, however, soared beyond the occupation of itinerant showman, and he never forgot his revolver. As soon as he had money enough, he made models of the new arm and took out his patents; and, having enlisted the interest of capital, he set up the Patent Arms Company at Paterson, New Jersey, to manufacture the revolver. He did not succeed in having the revolver adopted by the Government, for the army officers for a long time objected to the percussion cap (an invention, by the way, then some twenty years old, which was just coming into use and without which Colt's revolver would not have been practicable) and thought that the new weapon might fail in an emergency. Colt found a market in Texas and among the frontiersmen who were fighting the Seminole War in Florida, but the sales were insufficient, and in 1842 the company was obliged to confess insolvency and close down the plant. Colt bought from the company the patent of the revolver, which was supposed to be worthless.

Nothing more happened until after the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846. Then came a loud call from General Zachary Taylor for a supply of Colt's revolvers. Colt had none. He had sold the last one to a Texas ranger. He had not even a model. Yet he took an order from the Government for a thousand and proceeded to construct a model. For the manufacture of the revolvers he arranged with the Whitney plant at Whitneyville. There he saw and scrutinized every detail of the factory system that Eli Whitney had established forty years earlier. He resolved to have a plant of his own on the same system and one that would far surpass Whitney's. Next year (1848) he rented premises in Hartford. His business prospered and increased. At last the Government demanded his revolvers. Within five years he had procured a site of two hundred and fifty acres fronting the Connecticut River at Hartford, and had there begun the erection of the greatest arms factory in the world.

Colt was a captain of captains. The ablest mechanic and industrial organizer in New England at that time was Elisha K. Root. Colt went after him, outbidding every other bidder for his services, and brought him to Hartford to supervise the erection of the new factory and set up its machinery. Root was a great superintendent, and the phenomenal success of the Colt factory was due in a marked degree to him. He became president of the company after Colt's death in 1862, and under him were trained a large number of mechanics and inventors of new machine tools, who afterwards became celebrated leaders and officers in the industrial armies of the country.

The spectacular rise of the Colt factory at Hartford drew the attention of the British Government, and in 1854 Colt was invited to appear in London before a Parliamentary Committee on Small Arms. He lectured the members of the committee as if they had been school boys, telling them that the regular British gun was so bad that he would be ashamed to have it come from his shop. Speaking of a plant which he had opened in London the year before he criticized the supposedly skilled British mechanic, saying: "I began here by employing the highest-priced men that I could find to do difficult things, but I had to remove the whole of these high-priced men. Then I tried the cheapest I could find, and the more ignorant a man was, the more brains he had for my purpose; and the result was this: I had men now in my employ that I started with at two shillings a day, and in one short year I can not spare them at eight shillings a day."* Colt's audacity, however, did not offend the members of the committee and they decided to visit his American factory at Hartford. They did; and were so impressed that the British Government purchased in America a full set of machines for the manufacture of arms in the Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield, England, and took across the sea American workmen and foremen to set up and run these machines. A demand sprang up in Europe for Blanchard copying lathes and a hundred other American tools, and from this time on the manufacture of tools and appliances for other manufacturers, both at home and abroad, became an increasingly important industry of New England.

* Henry Barnard, "Armsmear", p. 371.

The system which the gunmakers worked out and developed to meet their own requirements was capable of indefinite expansion. It was easily adapted to other kinds of manufacture. So it was that as new inventions came in the manufacturers of these found many of the needed tools ready for them, and any special modifications could be quickly made. A manufacturer, of machine tools will produce on demand a device to perform any operation, however difficult or intricate. Some of the machines are so versatile that specially designed sets of cutting edges will adapt them to almost any work.

Standardization, due to the machine tool, is one of the chief glories of American manufacturing. Accurate watches and clocks, bicycles and motor cars, innumerable devices to save labor in the home, the office, the shop, or on the farm, are within the reach of all, because the machine tool, tended by labor comparatively unskilled, does the greater part of the work of production. In the crisis of the World War, American manufacturers, turning from the arts of peace, promptly adapted their plants to the manufacture of the most complicated engines of destruction, which were produced in Europe only by skilled machinists of the highest class.


It may startle some reader to be told that the foundations of modern electrical science were definitely established in the Elizabethan Age. The England of Elizabeth, of Shakespeare, of Drake and the sea-dogs, is seldom thought of as the cradle of the science of electricity. Nevertheless, it was; just as surely as it was the birthplace of the Shakespearian drama, of the Authorized Version of the Bible, or of that maritime adventure and colonial enterprise which finally grew and blossomed into the United States of America.

The accredited father of the science of electricity and magnetism is William Gilbert, who was a physician and man of learning at the court of Elizabeth. Prior to him, all that was known of these phenomena was what the ancients knew, that the lodestone possessed magnetic properties and that amber and jet, when rubbed, would attract bits of paper or other substances of small specific gravity. Gilbert's great treatise "On the Magnet", printed in Latin in 1600, containing the fruits of his researches and experiments for many years, indeed provided the basis for a new science.

On foundations well and truly laid by Gilbert several Europeans, like Otto von Guericke of Germany, Du Fay of France, and Stephen Gray of England, worked before Benjamin Franklin and added to the structure of electrical knowledge. The Leyden jar, in which the mysterious force could be stored, was invented in Holland in 1745 and in Germany almost simultaneously.

Franklin's important discoveries are outlined in the first chapter of this book. He found out, as we have seen, that electricity and lightning are one and the same, and in the lightning rod he made the first practical application of electricity. Afterwards Cavendish of England, Coulomb of France, Galvani of Italy, all brought new bricks to the pile. Following them came a group of master builders, among whom may be mentioned: Volta of Italy, Oersted of Denmark, Ampere of France, Ohm of Germany, Faraday of England, and Joseph Henry of America.

Among these men, who were, it should be noted, theoretical investigators, rather than practical inventors like Morse, or Bell, or Edison, the American Joseph Henry ranks high. Henry was born at Albany in 1799 and was educated at the Albany Academy. Intending to practice medicine, he studied the natural sciences. He was poor and earned his daily bread by private tutoring. He was an industrious and brilliant student and soon gave evidence of being endowed with a powerful mind. He was appointed in 1824 an assistant engineer for the survey of a route for a State road, three hundred miles long, between the Hudson River and Lake Erie. The experience he gained in this work changed the course of his career; he decided to follow civil and mechanical engineering instead of medicine. Then in 1826 he became teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy in the Albany Academy.

It was in the Albany Academy that he began that wide series of experiments and investigations which touched so many phases of the great problem of electricity. His first discovery was that a magnet could be immensely strengthened by winding it with insulated wire. He was the first to employ insulated wire wound as on a spool and was able finally to make a magnet which would lift thirty-five hundred pounds. He first showed the difference between "quantity" magnets composed of short lengths of wire connected in parallel, excited by a few large cells, and "intensity" magnets wound with a single long wire and excited by a battery composed of cells in series. This was an original discovery, greatly increasing both the immediate usefulness of the magnet and its possibilities for future experiments.

The learned men of Europe, Faraday, Sturgeon, and the rest, were quick to recognize the value of the discoveries of the young Albany schoolmaster. Sturgeon magnanimously said: "Professor Henry has been enabled to produce a magnetic force which totally eclipses every other in the whole annals of magnetism; and no parallel is to be found since the miraculous suspension of the celebrated Oriental imposter in his iron coffin."*

* Philosophical Magazine, vol. XI, p. 199 (March, 1832).

Henry also discovered the phenomena of self induction and mutual induction. A current sent through a wire in the second story of the building induced currents through a similar wire in the cellar two floors below. In this discovery Henry anticipated Faraday though his results as to mutual induction were not published until he had heard rumors of Faraday's discovery, which he thought to be something different.

The attempt to send signals by electricity had been made many times before Henry became interested in the problem. On the invention of Sturgeon's magnet there had been hopes in England of a successful solution, but in the experiments that followed the current became so weak after a few hundred feet that the idea was pronounced impracticable. Henry strung a mile of fine wire in the Academy, placed an "intensity" battery at one end, and made the armature strike a bell at the other. Thus he discovered the essential principle of the electric telegraph. This discovery was made in 1831, the year before the idea of a working electric telegraph flashed on the mind of Morse. There was no occasion for the controversy which took place later as to who invented the telegraph. That was Morse's achievement, but the discovery of the great fact, which startled Morse into activity, was Henry's achievement. In Henry's own words: "This was the first discovery of the fact that a galvanic current could be transmitted to a great distance with so little a diminution of force as to produce mechanical effects, and of the means by which the transmission could be accomplished. I saw that the electric telegraph was now practicable." He says further, however: "I had not in mind any particular form of telegraph, but referred only to the general fact that it was now demonstrated that a galvanic current could be transmitted to great distances, with sufficient power to produce mechanical effects adequate to the desired object."*

* Deposition of Joseph Henry, September 7, 1849, printed in Morse, "The Electra-Magnetic Telegraph", p. 91.

Henry next turned to the possibility of a magnetic engine for the production of power and succeeded in making a reciprocating-bar motor, on which he installed the first automatic pole changer, or commutator, ever used with an electric battery. He did not succeed in producing direct rotary motion. His bar oscillated like the walking beam of a steamboat.

Henry was appointed in 1839. Professor of Natural Philosophy in the College of New Jersey, better known today as Princeton University. There he repeated his old experiments on a larger scale, confirmed Steinheil's experiment of using the earth as return conductor, showed how a feeble current would be strengthened, and how a small magnet could be used as a circuit maker and breaker. Here were the principles of the telegraph relay and the dynamo.

Why, then, if the work of Henry was so important, is his name almost forgotten, except by men of science, and not given to any one of the practical applications of electricity? The answer is plain. Henry was an investigator, not an inventor. He states his position very clearly: "I never myself attempted to reduce the principles to practice, or to apply any of my discoveries to processes in the arts. My whole attention exclusive of my duties to the College, was devoted to original scientific investigations, and I left to others what I considered in a scientific view of subordinate importance—the application of my discoveries to useful purposes in the arts. Besides this I partook of the feeling common to men of science, which disinclines them to secure to themselves the advantages of their discoveries by a patent."

Then, too, his talents were soon turned to a wider field. The bequest of James Smithson, that farsighted Englishman, who left his fortune to the United States to found "the Smithsonian Institution, for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," was responsible for the diffusion of Henry's activities. The Smithsonian Institution was founded at Washington in 1846, and Henry was fittingly chosen its Secretary, that is, its chief executive officer. And from that time until his death in 1878, over thirty years, he devoted himself to science in general.

He studied terrestrial magnetism and building materials. He reduced meteorology to a science, collecting reports by telegraph, made the first weather map, and issued forecasts of the weather based upon definite knowledge rather than upon signs. He became a member of the Lighthouse Board in 1852 and was the head after 1871. The excellence of marine illuminants and fog signals today is largely due to his efforts. Though he was later drawn into a controversy with Morse over the credit for the invention of the telegraph, he used his influence to procure the renewal of Morse's patent. He listened with attention to Alexander Graham Bell, who had the idea that electric wires might be made to carry the human voice, and encouraged him to proceed with his experiments. "He said," Bell writes, "that he thought it was the germ of a great invention and advised me to work at it without publishing. I said that I recognized the fact that there were mechanical difficulties in the way that rendered the plan impracticable at the present time. I added that I felt that I had not the electrical knowledge necessary to overcome the difficulties. His laconic answer was, 'GET IT!' I cannot tell you how much these two words have encouraged me."

Henry had blazed the way for others to work out the principles of the electric motor, and a few experimenters attempted to follow his lead. Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith of Brandon, Vermont, built an electric car in 1835, which he was able to drive on the road, and so made himself the pioneer of the automobile in America. Twelve years later Moses G. Farmer exhibited at various places in New England an electric-driven locomotive, and in 1851 Charles Grafton Page drove an electric car, on the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, from Washington to Bladensburg, at the rate of nineteen miles an hour. But the cost of batteries was too great and the use of the electric motor in transportation not yet practicable.

The great principle of the dynamo, or electric generator, was discovered by Faraday and Henry but the process of its development into an agency of practical power consumed many years; and without the dynamo for the generation of power the electric motor had to stand still and there could be no practicable application of electricity to transportation, or manufacturing, or lighting. So it was that, except for the telegraph, whose story is told in another chapter, there was little more American achievement in electricity until after the Civil War.

The arc light as a practical illuminating device came in 1878. It was introduced by Charles F. Brush, a young Ohio engineer and graduate of the University of Michigan. Others before him had attacked the problem of electric lighting, but lack of suitable carbons stood in the way of their success. Brush overcame the chief difficulties and made several lamps to burn in series from one dynamo. The first Brush lights used for street illumination were erected in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon the use of arc lights became general. Other inventors improved the apparatus, but still there were drawbacks. For outdoor lighting and for large halls they served the purpose, but they could not be used in small rooms. Besides, they were in series, that is, the current passed through every lamp in turn, and an accident to one threw the whole series out of action. The whole problem of indoor lighting was to be solved by one of America's most famous inventors.

The antecedents of Thomas Alva Edison in America may be traced back to the time when Franklin was beginning his career as a printer in Philadelphia. The first American Edisons appear to have come from Holland about 1730 and settled on the Passaic River in New Jersey. Edison's grandfather, John Edison, was a Loyalist in the Revolution who found refuge in Nova Scotia and subsequently moved to Upper Canada. His son, Samuel Edison, thought he saw a moral in the old man's exile. His father had taken the King's side and had lost his home; Samuel would make no such error. So, when the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 broke out, Samuel Edison, aged thirty-three, arrayed himself on the side of the insurgents. This time, however, the insurgents lost, and Samuel was obliged to flee to the United States, just as his father had fled to Canada. He finally settled at Milan, Ohio, and there, in 1847, in a little brick house, which is still standing, Thomas Alva Edison was born.

When the boy was seven the family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. The fact that he attended school only three months and soon became self-supporting was not due to poverty. His mother, an educated woman of Scotch extraction, taught him at home after the schoolmaster reported that he was "addled." His desire for money to spend on chemicals for a laboratory which he had fitted up in the cellar led to his first venture in business. "By a great amount of persistence," he says, "I got permission to go on the local train as newsboy. The local train from Port Huron to Detroit, a distance of sixty-three miles, left at 7 A.M. and arrived again at 9.30 P.M. After being on the train for several months I started two stores in Port Huron—one for periodicals, and the other for vegetables, butter, and berries in the season. They were attended by two boys who shared in the profits." Moreover, young Edison bought produce from the farmers' wives along the line which he sold at a profit. He had several newsboys working for him on other trains; he spent hours in the Public Library in Detroit; he fitted up a laboratory in an unused compartment of one of the coaches, and then bought a small printing press which he installed in the car and began to issue a newspaper which he printed on the train. All before he was fifteen years old.

But one day Edison's career as a traveling newsboy came to a sudden end. He was at work in his moving laboratory when a lurch of the train jarred a stick of burning phosphorus to the floor and set the car on fire. The irate conductor ejected him at the next station, giving him a violent box on the ear, which permanently injured his hearing, and dumped his chemicals and printing apparatus on the platform.

Having lost his position, young Edison soon began to dabble in telegraphy, in which he had already become interested, "probably," as he says, "from visiting telegraph offices with a chum who had tastes similar to mine." He and this chum strung a line between their houses and learned the rudiments of writing by wire. Then a station master on the railroad, whose child Edison had saved from danger, took Edison under his wing and taught him the mysteries of railway telegraphy. The boy of sixteen held positions with small stations near home for a few months and then began a period of five years of apparently purposeless wandering as a tramp telegrapher. Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Memphis, Louisville, Detroit, were some of the cities in which he worked, studied, experimented, and played practical jokes on his associates. He was eager to learn something of the principles of electricity but found few from whom he could learn.

Edison arrived in Boston in 1868, practically penniless, and applied for a position as night operator. "The manager asked me when I was ready to go to work. 'Now,' I replied." In Boston he found men who knew something of electricity, and, as he worked at night and cut short his sleeping hours, he found time for study. He bought and studied Faraday's works. Presently came the first of his multitudinous inventions, an automatic vote recorder, for which he received a patent in 1868. This necessitated a trip to Washington, which he made on borrowed money, but he was unable to arouse any interest in the device. "After the vote recorder," he says, "I invented a stock ticker, and started a ticker service in Boston; had thirty or forty subscribers and operated from a room over the Gold Exchange." This machine Edison attempted to sell in New York, but he returned to Boston without having succeeded. He then invented a duplex telegraph by which two messages might be sent simultaneously, but at a test the machine failed because of the stupidity of the assistant.

Penniless and in debt, Edison arrived again in New York in 1869. But now fortune favored him. The Gold Indicator Company was a concern furnishing to its subscribers by telegraph the Stock Exchange prices of gold. The company's instrument was out of order. By a lucky chance Edison was on the spot to repair it, which he did successfully, and this led to his appointment as superintendent at a salary of three hundred dollars a month. When a change in the ownership of the company threw him out of the position he formed, with Franklin L. Pope, the partnership of Pope, Edison, and Company, the first firm of electrical engineers in the United States.

Not long afterwards Edison brought out the invention which set him on the high road to great achievement. This was the improved stock ticker, for which the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company paid him forty thousand dollars. It was much more than he had expected. "I had made up my mind," he says, "that, taking into consideration the time and killing pace I was working at, I should be entitled to $5000, but could get along with $3000." The money, of course, was paid by check. Edison had never received a check before and he had to be told how to cash it.

Edison immediately set up a shop in Newark and threw himself into many and various activities. He remade the prevailing system of automatic telegraphy and introduced it into England. He experimented with submarine cables and worked out a system of quadruplex telegraphy by which one wire was made to do the work of four. These two inventions were bought by Jay Gould for his Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. Gould paid for the quadruplex system thirty thousand dollars, but for the automatic telegraph he paid nothing. Gould presently acquired control of the Western Union; and, having thus removed competition from his path, "he then," says Edison, "repudiated his contract with the automatic telegraph people and they never received a cent for their wires or patents, and I lost three years of very hard labor. But I never had any grudge against him because he was so able in his line, and as long as my part was successful the money with me was a secondary consideration. When Gould got the Western Union I knew no further progress in telegraphy was possible, and I went into other lines."*

* Quoted in Dyer and Martin. "Edison", vol. 1, p. 164.

In fact, however, the need of money forced Edison later on to resume his work for the Western Union Telegraph Company, both in telegraphy and telephony. His connection with the telephone is told in another volume of this series.* He invented a carbon transmitter and sold it to the Western Union for one hundred thousand dollars, payable in seventeen annual installments of six thousand dollars. He made a similar agreement for the same sum offered him for the patent of the electro-motograph. He did not realize that these installments were only simple interest upon the sums due him. These agreements are typical of Edison's commercial sense in the early years of his career as an inventor. He worked only upon inventions for which there was a possible commercial demand and sold them for a trifle to get the money to meet the pay rolls of his different shops. Later the inventor learned wisdom and associated with himself keen business men to their common profit.

* Hendrick, "The Age of Big Business".

Edison set up his laboratories and factories at Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876, and it was there that he invented the phonograph, for which he received the first patent in 1878. It was there, too, that he began that wonderful series of experiments which gave to the world the incandescent lamp. He had noticed the growing importance of open arc lighting, but was convinced that his mission was to produce an electric lamp for use within doors. Forsaking for the moment his newborn phonograph, Edison applied himself in earnest to the problem of the lamp. His first search was for a durable filament which would burn in a vacuum. A series of experiments with platinum wire and with various refractory metals led to no satisfactory results. Many other substances were tried, even human hair. Edison concluded that carbon of some sort was the solution rather than a metal. Almost coincidently, Swan, an Englishman, who had also been wrestling with this problem, came to the same conclusion. Finally, one day in October, 1879, after fourteen months of hard work and the expenditure of forty thousand dollars, a carbonized cotton thread sealed in one of Edison's globes lasted forty hours. "If it will burn forty hours now," said Edison, "I know I can make it burn a hundred." And so he did. A better filament was needed. Edison found it in carbonized strips of bamboo.

Edison developed his own type of dynamo, the largest ever made up to that time, and, along with the Edison incandescent lamps, it was one of the wonders of the Paris Electrical Exposition of 1881. The installation in Europe and America of plants for service followed. Edison's first great central station, supplying power for three thousand lamps, was erected at Holborn Viaduct, London, in 1882, and in September of that year the Pearl Street Station in New York City, the first central station in America, was put into operation.

The incandescent lamp and the central power station, considered together, may be regarded as one of the most fruitful conceptions in the history of applied electricity. It comprised a complete generating, distributing, and utilizing system, from the dynamo to the very lamp at the fixture, ready for use. It even included a meter to determine the current actually consumed. The success of the system was complete, and as fast as lamps and generators could be produced they were installed to give a service at once recognized as superior to any other form of lighting. By 1885 the Edison lighting system was commercially developed in all its essentials, though still subject to many improvements and capable of great enlargement, and soon Edison sold out his interests in it and turned his great mind to other inventions.

The inventive ingenuity of others brought in time better and more economical incandescent lamps. From the filaments of bamboo fiber the next step was to filaments of cellulose in the form of cotton, duly prepared and carbonized. Later (1905) came the metalized carbon filament and finally the employment of tantalum or tungsten. The tungsten lamps first made were very delicate, and it was not until W. D. Coolidge, in the research laboratories of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, invented a process for producing ductile tungsten that they became available for general use.

The dynamo and the central power station brought the electric motor into action. The dynamo and the motor do precisely opposite things. The dynamo converts mechanical energy into electric energy. The motor transforms electric energy into mechanical energy. But the two work in partnership and without the dynamo to manufacture the power the motor could not thrive. Moreover, the central station was needed to distribute the power for transportation as well as for lighting.

The first motors to use Edison station current were designed by Frank J. Sprague, a graduate of the Naval Academy, who had worked with Edison, as have many of the foremost electrical engineers of America and Europe. These small motors possessed several advantages over the big steam engine. They ran smoothly and noiselessly on account of the absence of reciprocating parts. They consumed current only when in use. They could be installed and connected with a minimum of trouble and expense. They emitted neither smell nor smoke. Edison built an experimental electric railway line at Menlo Park in 1880 and proved its practicability. Meanwhile, however, as he worked on his motors and dynamos, he was anticipated by others in some of his inventions. It would not be fair to say that Edison and Sprague alone developed the electric railway, for there were several others who made important contributions. Stephen D. Field of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, had a patent which the Edison interests found it necessary to acquire; C. J. Van Depoele and Leo Daft made important contributions to the trolley system. In Cleveland in 1884 an electric railway on a small scale was opened to the public. But Sprague's first electric railway, built at Richmond, Virginia, in 1887, as a complete system, is generally hailed as the true pioneer of electric transportation in the United States. Thereafter the electric railway spread quickly over the land, obliterating the old horsecars and greatly enlarging the circumference of the city. Moreover, on the steam roads, at all the great terminals, and wherever there were tunnels to be passed through, the old giant steam engine in time yielded place to the electric motor.

The application of the electric motor to the "vertical railway," or elevator, made possible the steel skyscraper. The elevator, of course, is an old device. It was improved and developed in America by Elisha Graves Otis, an inventor who lived and died before the Civil War and whose sons afterward erected a great business on foundations laid by him. The first Otis elevators were moved by steam or hydraulic power. They were slow, noisy, and difficult of control. After the electric motor came in; the elevator soon changed its character and adapted itself to the imperative demands of the towering, skeleton-framed buildings which were rising in every city.

Edison, already famous as "the Wizard of Menlo Park," established his factories and laboratories at West Orange, New Jersey, in 1887, whence he has since sent forth a constant stream of inventions, some new and startling, others improvements on old devices. The achievements of several other inventors in the electrical field have been only less noteworthy than his. The new profession of electrical engineering called to its service great numbers of able men. Manufacturers of electrical machinery established research departments and employed inventors. The times had indeed changed since the day when Morse, as a student at Yale College, chose art instead of electricity as his calling, because electricity afforded him no means of livelihood.

From Edison's plant in 1903 came a new type of the storage battery, which he afterwards improved. The storage battery, as every one knows, is used in the propulsion of electric vehicles and boats, in the operation of block-signals, in the lighting of trains, and in the ignition and starting of gasoline engines. As an adjunct of the gas-driven automobile, it renders the starting of the engine independent of muscle and so makes possible the general use of the automobile by women as well as men.

The dynamo brought into service not only light and power but heat; and the electric furnace in turn gave rise to several great metallurgical and chemical industries. Elihu Thomson's process of welding by means of the arc furnace found wide and varied applications. The commercial production of aluminum is due to the electric furnace and dates from 1886. It was in that year that H. Y. Castner of New York and C. M. Hall of Pittsburgh both invented the methods of manufacture which gave to the world the new metal, malleable and ductile, exceedingly light, and capable of a thousand uses. Carborundum is another product of the electric furnace. It was the invention of Edward B. Acheson, a graduate of the Edison laboratories. Acheson, in 1891, was trying to make artificial diamonds and produced instead the more useful carborundum, as well as the Acheson graphite, which at once found its place in industry. Another valuable product of the electric furnace was the calcium carbide first produced in 1892 by Thomas L. Wilson of Spray, North Carolina. This calcium carbide is the basis of acetylene gas, a powerful illuminant, and it is widely used in metallurgy, for welding and other purposes.

At the same time with these developments the value of the alternating current came to be recognized. The transformer, an instrument developed on foundations laid by Henry and Faraday, made it possible to transmit electrical energy over great distances with little loss of power. Alternating currents were transformed by means of this instrument at the source, and were again converted at the point of use to a lower and convenient potential for local distribution and consumption. The first extensive use of the alternating current was in arc lighting, where the higher potentials could be employed on series lamps. Perhaps the chief American inventor in the domain of the alternating current is Elihu Thomson, who began his useful career as Professor of Chemistry and Mechanics in the Central High School of Philadelphia. Another great protagonist of the alternating current was George Westinghouse, who was quite as much an improver and inventor as a manufacturer of machinery. Two other inventors, at least, should not be forgotten in this connection: Nicola Tesla and Charles S. Bradley. Both of them had worked for Edison.

The turbine (from the Latin turbo, meaning a whirlwind) is the name of the motor which drives the great dynamos for the generation of electric energy. It may be either a steam turbine or a water turbine. The steam turbine of Curtis or Parsons is today the prevailing engine. But the development of hydro-electric power has already gone far. It is estimated that the electric energy produced in the United States by the utilization of water powers every year equals the power product of forty million tons of coal, or about one-tenth of the coal which is consumed in the production of steam. Yet hydro-electricity is said to be only in its beginnings, for not more than a tenth of the readily available water power of the country is actually in use.

The first commercial hydro-station for the transmission of power in America was established in 1891 at Telluride, Colorado. It was practically duplicated in the following year at Brodie, Colorado. The motors and generators for these stations came from the Westinghouse plant in Pittsburgh, and Westinghouse also supplied the turbo-generators which inaugurated, in 1895, the delivery of power from Niagara Falls.


The most popular man in Europe in the year 1783 was still the United States Minister to France. The figure of plain Benjamin Franklin, his broad head, with the calm, shrewd eyes peering through the bifocals of his own invention, invested with a halo of great learning and fame, entirely captivated the people's imagination.

As one of the American Commissioners busy with the extraordinary problems of the Peace, Franklin might have been supposed too occupied for excursions into the paths of science and philosophy. But the spaciousness and orderly furnishing of his mind provided that no pursuit of knowledge should be a digression for him. So we find him, naturally, leaving his desk on several days of that summer and autumn and posting off to watch the trials of a new invention; nothing less indeed than a ship to ride the air. He found time also to describe the new invention in letters to his friends in different parts of the world.

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