Friday, March 17, 2017

April 20, 1849, Washington D.C., Description and Specification,

April 20, 1849, Washington D.C., Description and Specification, Of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two Wing Buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent Office Building, agreeably to the original design, and which are further explained by Drawings made for that purpose. Robert Mills, Architect and Superintendent







Tariff of Prices,




DESCRIPTION AND SPECIFICATION,

Of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two Wing Buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent Office Building, agreeably to the original design, and which are further explained by Drawings made for that purpose.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION.

Each wing building will extend from each end of the present building east and west, 70 feet, with an entire depth or length of 290 feet. The architectural order in the exterior of these buildings will be the same with that in the present building, which is the Greek Doric, composed of a series of antæ (pilasters), raised on a high basement, running the whole circuit of the exposed walls, and surmounted by their regular entablature, corresponding in its details with that of the celebrated Parthenon. For particulars, reference can be had to the facades of the present building. The whole height of the order, from the foot of the pilasters to the top of the cornice of the entablature, is 46 feet; the height of the base is 13 feet, the blocking over cornice 3 feet, making the total height 62 feet. The interior arrangement of these wings will be—on the east, the height into three stories above the basement, divided into large office rooms, spacious corridors, and stair-cases, all groin arched and made fire-proof in every part; the windows in each story are to correspond with those in the present building. The wing to the west, being for the special accommodation of the Patent Office, will, in the two stories above the basement, be disposed in one entire room, or divided into large halls, for the reception of models, &c., all groin arched, springing from pillars, and made fire-proof. In the upper story, a gallery will extend round the entire room, supported by columns, and the walls prepared for the reception of works of art, to be lighted from above. With both of these wings, on every floor, a communication will be opened with the present building, so as to constitute it one for the transaction of the business of the Department which shall occupy it. The basement story of the west wing, from the sudden fall of the ground or street here, will be about three feet higher in the pitch of the rooms, and the windows will be higher than those in the present building on this floor.

The facing of the exterior walls of these wings will be white marble, and the roof covered with copper, as in the present building.

EXCAVATIONS, AND MASONRY OF FOUNDATIONS.

Dig out so much of the area of the wings as may be directed by the architect, to a depth which will be designated by him, and level off the same. Dig out for the footings and piers perfectly level at such depth as may be designated by the architect, not exceeding one foot, and before any masonry is laid, ram or pound the earth in the trenches very compact. Cart away all the earth, so excavated, not required to fill up irregularities within the square.

Construct the footings of the external walls with large stone from the Potomac quarries, having level beds, not less than 9 inches thick, and from 3 to 5 feet long—the first course or footing of said walls to be 5 feet thick, the second course 4 feet thick, and the residue of the wall, to the height of the basement story, 3 feet thick, including the thickness of the cut stone facing. Great care must be taken to bond the stones composing these walls in the strongest manner, every layer being well bedded in cement mortar, composed of stone lime, compounded with coarse and sharp river sand, in proportions of four of the latter to one of the former, in an unslacked state, or in such proportion as the architect may direct, and after the mixing of the mortar, and before using, one-fourth of the hydraulic cement (1 barrel of cement to 4 of lime) to be thoroughly mixed with the mortar: care must be taken that no more cement is mixed with the mortar than can be used within an hour or two. The joints of the stone masonry must be flushed and well bedded in mortar, and settled down with large wooden mallets.

The interior walls and piers for the arches within, must be built in the same careful manner, of the thickness and heights designated on plans. Where openings occur and piers intervene, the jambs of the same may be formed of blocks of hard free stone, and the arches of good red brick.

For the disposition of these walls and piers, see the Drawings.

BRICKLAYER.

Construct all the walls, behind the cut-stone work above the basement, of brick, laid and well settled down in cement mortar, compounded on stone lime, and sharp river sand, with a portion of hydraulic cement as may be directed by the architect—the latter to be mixed in as the mortar is required, as noticed under the head of masonry. The thickness of these walls not to exceed, with

TARIFF OF PRICES
Of the different kinds of work proposed in erecting the Wings of the Patent Office Building; to determine the value of the same by measurement of the work when finished and in its place.TARIFF OF THE PRICES, For the Cut Stone work, measured in the wall, marble included. 
P. S. Reference to be had to the same kind of work in the present building.


Image 1 of Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two wing buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent-Office building, agreeable to the original design, and which are further explained by drawings made f, Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two Wing Buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent Office Building, agreeably to the original design, and which are further explained by Drawings made for that purpose. GENERAL DESCRIPTION. Each wing building will extend from each end of the present building east and west, 70 feet, with an entire depth or length of 290 feet.
Contributor: Mills, Robert Date: 1849


Image 2 of Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two wing buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent-Office building, agreeable to the original ...2 the cut-stone work, 2 feet. Construct all the partition walls 2 brick in thickness, with 1½ brick piers, in angles, to all the large rooms from which the groin arches will spring. Construct 9 inch groin and other arches, in all the rooms and passages, from the basement to the roof, according to drawings, with the best quality red brick, laid in the ...
Contributor: Mills, Robert
Date: 1849

Image 3 of Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two wing buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent-Office building, agreeable to the original ...3 the framing of these roofs suitable openings for sky lights, in such positions as the architect may direct. Construct also lantern lights around and over the same as may be directed by the architect. Construct over the arches of all the rooms a flooring of ⅝ yellow-pine plank, laid on heart-pine sleepers, resting on the arches, &c., free from knots and shakes, the ...
Contributor: Mills, Robert
Date: 1849

Image 4 of Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two wing buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent-Office building, agreeable to the original design, and which are further explained by drawings made f


About this Item
Title Description and specification of the manner of executing and finishing the work of the two wing buildings proposed to be attached to the Patent-Office building, agreeable to the original design, and which are further explained by drawings made f
Contributor Names Mills, Robert
Created / Published Washington, 1849.
Subject Headings - United States--District of Columbia--Washington
Genre Leaflets--District of Columbia--Washington
Notes - U. S.- Patent office.-
Page Order: Leaflet- Available also through the Library of Congress web site in two forms: as facsimile page images and as full text in SGML.- 2 duplicate copies- Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 199, Folder 21.- Copy scanned: 1 Medium 4 p.; 23.5 x 20 cm.Call Number/Physical Location Portfolio 199, Folder 21
Source Collection Broadsides, leaflets, and pamphlets from America and Europe
Digital Id http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.19902100









Monday, March 06, 2017

September 25, 1877, The Daily Chicago Tribune, page 5, Scorched and Soaked; The National Capital a Scene of Great Excitement Yesterday, A Fire Discovered In the Roof of the Patent-Office Building


September 25, 1877, The Daily Chicago Tribune, page 5, Scorched and Soaked; The National Capital a Scene of Great Excitement Yesterday, A Fire Discovered In the Roof of the Patent-Office Building; It Increases In Magnitude Until the Top Story Is Enveloped; Making Serious Havoc Among the Models deposited There; Several Thousand Of Which Are Licked Up By the Flames; The Other Floors of the Edifice Badly Drenched By Water; Land-Office Documents Suffer Simeon From the Latter Element; In Washington, The Patent-Office Burned,




....and before those who lived within a square or two could reach the place the tongues of fire were breaking the glass in the windows of the two upper stories, and the flames were bursting from the roof.

The roof of the west wing fell in before the Fire Department was fairly at work. The windows were long gone before, and inside of this fiery furnace could be seen the models, cases of records, and tons of paper struggling with the flames.

Before these precautions were taken it is said that there were a few people mean enough to steal some valuable papers.

The act of that year appropriated $108,000 to begin the building, which, in the language of the act, was to be fire-proof

The long recess has enabled the Department to get its routine work well in hand, and the absence of Congress for three weeks to come will make it possible to recover from most of the derangement of the fire before the rush arr ending the assembling of Congress begins.

In addition to the models mentioned as destroyed, the following classes of models are lost: All agriculture implements, metal-working and wood-working; all models in every department of mechanics; all engines and mills; all carriages and wagons; all hydro license and pneumatic, and many other minority classes. Among them was The Original COTTON COTTON-GIN INVENTION, which has made the cordon product of the South valuable as an industry. The models of sewing machines and lamps were much damaged by water, and the very valuable model of the original Howe sewing-machine was saved just as it was being carried off by some parties who entered to steal it as a relic.


















Sunday, March 05, 2017

February 1958, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 2, Unwanted Treasures of the Patent Office, by Donald W. Hogan,


February 1958, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 2, Unwanted Treasures of the Patent Office; Thousands of products of Yankee genius, in miniature models, have survived a British invasion, three jires, and a sale at Gimbels, by Donald W. Hogan, Archived,

While the British were busily engaged in putting the torch to Washington on the evening of August 24, 1814, Dr. William Thornton, superintendent of the Patent Office, stood aghast by a window in Georgetown watching the Capitol, of which he was the chief designer, go up in flames. But the next morning, when he learned that the Patent Office too was threatened with fire, he mounted a horse and dashed back into the city, one of the first Americans to return.

Quickly he approached a Colonel Jones, who had been assigned to burn that part of the city, and begged that Blodgett’s Hotel, which a few years before had become the Patent Office and museum for its models, be spared from the flames. According to his own report, he stood amid the smoldering ruins of the city and successfully overwhelmed the Britisher by charging that the destruction of “the building … which contained … hundreds of models of the arts … would be as barbarous as formerly to burn the Alexandrian Library for which the Turks have since been condemned by all enlightened nations.” Blodgett’s Hotel was the only government building spared in the razing of Washington.

This seems to have been the high point of the federal government’s concern for its collection of patent models, which since that time has been decimated by three other fires, two federal economy waves, three auctions, a bankruptcy, and a sale at Gimbels.

Seven weeks before the last of the thirteen original states ratified the Constitution, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph became the Patent Commission. When they opened for business on April 10, 1790, they immediately established the requirement that a working model of each invention, clone in miniature, be submitted as part of the application.

This requirement was kept in force until 1870, when a change in the law was made necessary by quarters so bulging with models that there was no room for examiners, and the submission of a model was made discretionary with the commissioner of patents. By 1880 the requirement was dropped altogether with the wry exception of flying machines—for which the requirement was also dropped after 1903 and Kitty Hawk. (But the Patent Office still demands physical proof of the pudding before it will issue a patent lor a perpetual motion machine.)

From the very start the models—the idea for which sounds like a Jeffersonian notion—became a tail that wagged the dog. Their number and bulk dictated the division’s move in 1810 from an office in the Department of State to Blodgett’s Hotel. Congress had appropriated $10,000 to purchase the hotel and $3,000 to renovate it, insisting that the two larger of four rooms assigned to the Patent Office be devoted to displaying the models. The rest of the building, except for two smaller rooms, was given over to the General Post Office.

Congress would brook no untidiness in the exhibition. A committee reported within three months of the appropriation that “although many models have already been deposited in their new quarters, the manner in which they are placed tends to confusion and to sink the establishment into contempt. It is hoped that habit will not operate to make this perpetual.”

The chiding was effective, and Blodgett’s Hotel, which had originally housed the United States Theater, the first in Washington, regained and even surpassed its earlier fame as a point of interest for travelers to the capital. Foreign visitors were shown the models as a proud demonstration of American inventiveness, and on Sundays it became a local custom to stroll through the rooms and see what was new.

But, even though the models were the focal point of interest in the Patent Office, no record of their kind or number appears to have been made until January 21, 1823, when, for no apparent reason, a clerk at least attempted a listing.

His catalogue showed a nation still more concerned with agriculture and building pursuits than with industrial development. It listed 95 nail cutters, 66 pumps, and 65 plows as against 45 looms, 28 spinning machines, and 3 boring machines. Of “propelling boats” there were 38; of carding machines, 8; of threshing machines, 20; and of winnowing machines, 25. There were 13 bridges, 26 sawmills, 17 water mills, 7 windmills, 14 steam mills, 26 water wheels, 56 presses, 3 stocking looms, 10 fire engines, 1 machine for making barrels. 6 flax-dressing machines, 6 file-cutting machines, 16 cloth-shearing machines, 10 straw cutters, 12 locks, and 2 guns. The specific listings came to 635 and evidently so exhausted the cataloguer that he lumped the remaining 1,184 models as for “various other purposes” and gave a total of 1,819 models in all.

This was the only listing of the models ever made—with the exception of one which was paid for in 1908 but which, when it was sorely needed in 1925, could not be found.

After 1823 the number of patent models at Blodgett’s Hotel increased until by 1836 there were about 7,000 of them, lodged against more than 10,000 patents issued. A committee of Congress reporting on the need for a new building declared that “a great number of them, supposed to be 500, from want of room, have been stowed away in a dark garret.” (It was an ominous precedent.) In July, 1836, a law was passed allowing for construction of the new building. Ground had hardly been broken, six months later, when at three o’clock on the morning of December 15 fire was discovered in the Post Office section of Blodgett’s Hotel. Within a matter of hours the building was burned to the ground, and with it went every record and every model owned by the Patent Office.

Describing the calamity, a Senate investigating committee spoke ruefully of “a pride which must now stand rebuked by the improvidence which exposed so many memorials and evidences of the superiority of American genius to the destruction which has overtaken them.” And Congress, perhaps impressed by this rhetoric, promptly appropriated $100,000 for restoration of “3,000 of the most important [models] … which will form a very interesting and valuable collection.”

At first Patent Commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth worked diligently both at having the burned models restored or rebuilt and at outfitting the showrooms of the new Patent Office. Shortly, however, he complained to the secretary of state, under whose department his office came, that many inventors had failed to co-operate and that it was impossible to remake the models without their help. This was particularly true of such inventions as the plow with cannon for handles to fight oft sudden Indian attack—of which the burnt model was the only one ever made.

But if Ellsworth was thwarted by the apathy of inventors when it came to restoring models, he was overcome by their enthusiasm for submitting new ones. The new Patent Office building at Seventh to Ninth between F and G was only partially completed by 1844, but already the Commissioner was forced to complain that unless the job were hurried the collection of models would force the working stalf out onto the street. “The increase of models renders daily the transaction of business more difficult,” Ellsworth wrote in his annual report. (In fact, he was so discouraged by the influx of new models that he managed to spend only $25,588.91 of the $100,000 appropriated for restoration of the old ones.)

By 1856, however, three wings of the new building were completed. Its great halls, the east and west wings, were fitted out as showrooms, and the building again became a tourist attraction, a display of national ingenuity.

Then came the Civil War. Invention was fantastically stimulated. Models, which had been coming in by the hundreds every year, now arrived by the thousands. Several of them came each day to each of the twenty examiners and were thrown on shelves until papers were completed and issued. Then, just as quickly, the models were tagged with basic information and carted to the galleries, unclassified, where higgledy-piggledy they were tossed’ into a case or onto another shelf. An army shoe would land next to a drill; a corset beside a sword.

By 1876, William H. Doolittle, acting commissioner of patents, reported that the building was so clogged with models that the public had been barred from seeing them for lack of room.

He estimated that 175,000 models had been crowded into the galleries and that they were increasing by 10,000 to 14,000 a year. “Immediate relief,” he said, “is necessary.” Even though a law of 1870 had made the submission of models discretionary, it appeared the Commissioner had not wanted to take upon himself the responsibility for rejecting them. But neither could he function in their midst.

Temporary relief came on September 24, 1877, when fire again broke out in the Patent Office. Although the blaze was confined to the west and north wings, and neither of them was destroyed, 160 cases of models, estimated to contain 76,000 in all, were ruined.

Some of these were replaced through a $45,000 appropriation, and still new ones poured in. Finally the law had to be changed again, this time to prohibit the sending of a model unless demanded by the Patent Commissioner.

But still no record was made of how many models had been restored or even how many were in the Patent Office, and estimates varied by as many as 25,000, depending on whether the guesser was a patent examiner tripping over them while trying to do a day’s work or a congressman looking to save the price of renting some place to put them. It is known, however, that 246,094 patents had been issued by 1880 and that perhaps 200,000 of them were represented by models. Added to these were thousands of models which had accompanied applications that were never completed.

By 1893 the Patent Office estimate appears to have won out, for that year Congress allowed the renting of the Union Building at G Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, N.W. No attempt was made to arrange the models for display in the Union Building. They were simply stored in fantastic disarray throughout the building, even though Congress was under the impression it was paying for an exhibition hall.

This folly was not discovered until 1907, when the owners of the Union Building attempted to raise the rent and thus precipitated a congressional investigation. The annual number of visitors, it came out, was none. In retaliation, without thought as to why there were no visitors, Congress in 1908 decided to sell all the models, first giving the Smithsonian Institution six months to pick out those it wanted. The Smithsonian managed to find only 1,061 worth keeping. At a public auction, 3,000 models of inventions that had failed to receive patents were sold for $62.18.

During the next two decades those remaining unsold, amounting to 155,939, were carted about repeatedly—back to the Patent Office, to a leaky basement under the House of Representatives, to the basement of the District of Columbia’s Male Work House, and at last to an abandoned livery stable. Finally, in a congressional economy wave in 1925, it was found that more than $200,000 had been spent for storage and moving since 1884; rather than squander any more money on museums, Congress again elected to sell. An act was passed on February 13, 1925, appropriating $10,000 for the sale and creating a three-member commission to again select important models for the Smithsonian and other recognized museums.

By late November, the Smithsonian had selected about 2,500, and 2,600 more were taken either by other museums or by inventors. Another 50,000, which had been unpacked, so crammed the floor space that an immediate auction was ordered, and on December 3, 1925, they went for $1,550. Thomas E. Robertson, patent commissioner, reported to Congress that “this was thought to be a good figure.”

The buyer of the 50,000 models was never officially identified; the General Supply Committee kept scanty records. Circumstances, however, point to Sir Henry Wellcome, who in 1926 came back to acquire the remaining 125,000, cases and all, unopened, without even the formality of a public auction. He paid $6,540.

Sir Henry began life in Wisconsin in frontier days—his earliest memories were of holding the basin while his doctor-uncle dressed the wounds of pioneers who had been battling Indians—but he had become a British subject during World War I. He founded Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., a large and successful drug house, and was knighted by George V for his services to medicine and pharmaceutics. Given to offbeat causes (he once endowed a trust to provide translations of textbooks for Chinese medical students), Sir Henry decided to start a patent-model museum and to store his new acquisitions at the Burroughs, Wellcome plant in Tuckahoe, New York, until he could get around to building it.

When Sir Henry died ten years later, at the age of 82, the models were still there, packed in their original cases, unopened. The trustees of his estate, after lengthy consideration of what to do with them, finally decided to sell. It took them two years, but they got their price—$50,000.

Their customer was Crosby Gaige, Broadway producer and gourmet, whose collections to date had been limited to books on eating and cooking and to laboratory equipment for making his own tooth paste.

Gaige brought the models to Rockefeller Center with the kind of fanfare usually reserved for the circus. Without delay he cracked open the first few cases. Then, on August 8, 1938, he managed to entice several representatives of the press into being present while an expert locksmith twirled the dial of a model crystallized-iron safe.

The tumblers clicked; the door swung open. Inside was a paper. The writing was faint, but the signature was legible—A. Lincoln. The paper was a petition for a patent on a flatboat with air chambers for floating it over shoals, invented by Lincoln in 1849. Flash bulbs popped and the models were page one news.

Within a few more days, Gaige plucked from the cases the original model of the Gatling gun, the first dentist’s chair, and the first egg beater (Timothy Earle, 1866). He also had a long list of bedazzled customers, and by early October, 1938, he and his silent partner, Douglas G. Hertz (fight manager, movie actor, mule trader, survivor of the Lusitania, and former owner of the New York Yankees football team), had retired with a neat profit from speculation in Americana by selling out to a group of businessmen for $75,000. The Lincoln paper, its purpose served, disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.

The new owners also had money-making ideas but lacked Gaige’s theatrical imagination. They incorporated under the name of American Patent Models and unpacked 25,000 models, a tiny part of the collection, amid mutterings to the press that it was an outrage the government had ever sold them. The vast remainder, about 2,600 full cases, was shipped to the Neptune Storage Warehouse in New Rochelle, New York. Some 500 of the unpacked models were then fitted into special crates and sent out in three separate caravans across the country, to be displayed in department stores and other showrooms for a fee. The rest were kept at Rockefeller Center.

Between 1939 and 1941 the models, uncatalogued, unclassified, and on public display, proved to be no more of an attraction than they had been years before. Neptune Storage filed a lien of $7,954 for warehousing the unopened crates. Rockefeller Center wanted its rent. American Patent Models, in a desperate effort to raise money, reduced prices on all models to $1 each and for quick cash sold a collection of Civil War ordnance to an unnamed buyer. An unlisted number of other models went in the same manner. Then came bankruptcy. In 1942 a court ordered the company dissolved and the models auctioned for whatever they would fetch over and above Neptune’s bill (which had grown to $10,814) and another $800 to warehouses in Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Oakland, California, where the traveling exhibits were stranded.

At this point O. Runclle Gilbert, an auctioneer, learned of the models. Gilbert brought in several partners and shortly, in exchange for $2,100 plus the storage charges, they were the owners of about 200,000 patent models. Seventy-five huge trailer truckloads later, the models were in Gilbert’s barns at Garrison, New York, but their adventures were far from finished. Gilbert’s partners, eager for profit, insisted on a new auction, and when more than 3,000 persons came to see a display of 2,000 models which opened at the Architectural League in New York City on April 14, 1943, they were confident of success. But despite great spectator interest only three actual bidders showed up on the day of the sale. Among them they bought 400 models. Back to Garrison went the remaining 1,600; the round trip, display, and other costs had exceeded the gross by $3,000.

Gilbert then began systematic unpacking. Soon, with the help of his wife and three hired hands, Gilbert was delving into boxes which presumably had not been opened since 1908 and which the Smithsonian Commission of 1925 had not had a chance to examine.

Slowly, as the models were unpacked, identified, and classified—for the Gilberts believed they would sell best in groups describing the complete development of a particular item—they were moved into a stucco house on the estate, where they filled fourteen rooms. The rest of the house was rented to a young couple and their children.

Identification was easy in the case of models which bore labels; some of them were stamped with dates prior to 1836 and evidently were among those reconstructed after the fire of that year. But many of the models were without any identification at all and these were set aside for further research.

One group of models, including farm equipment and an early baseball mask, was sold to the Farmer’s Museum and the Baseball Museum at Cooperstown, New York. By Spring, 1945, several other groups, including one which traced the entire history of the sewing machine, were also ready for sale. There were perhaps 20,000 models in the stucco house at Garrison—close to 3,000 of them various forms of bolts and nuts—when fire broke out. The young couple and their children were saved, but nothing else.

Stunned, the Gilberts decided to leave the remaining 2,000 unopened cases in the barns until they felt better. Then, some four years later, the idea of a museum of their own began to intrigue them. As a start they purchased a vast barn in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire, and moved in about 1,000 models chosen at random. They started charging 25 cents, 50 cents, then $1, and found that, no matter what the price, Center Sandwich was good for 75 visitors a day. They also found that sometimes people who stopped could help them decide what some of the objects were. One man told them they had the model of the first rotary press; another found the first Mergenthaler typesetting machine, which he promptly took apart but never returned to put back together again.

Others guessed that some of the models, with their fine tooling and hand workmanship, must have cost more than $1,000 to make. When word of this reached Gilbert’s partners in 1950, the pressure was on again for another sale.

This time the idea was to invade Gimbels, a proposition which the department store welcomed with open arms. “Gimbels is nuts over patent models. You’ll be nuts over them too,” cried their advertisements.

Hastily, without time for classification, the Gilberts ripped open 200 or 300 more cases in the Garrison barns and shipped the contents to Gimbels in New York and Philadelphia. Among them were the “Bretzel bending machine” invented by a Mr. Bretzel, who formed his crackers in the shape of a B (the public quickly decided a pretzel was easier to pronounce), and such novelties as a hen house which, when the chicken went out for scratching, dropped down a sign saying, “I am out. You may have my egg.” There were also an 1825 plug of navy chewing tobacco and an 1869 parlor bathtub. In one lot was some powdered milk patented in 1863; Mr. Gilbert added water, tasted it, and pronounced it “sweet as ever.” The prices ran from $1 to $1,000, the latter tag attached to the Gatling gun.

Again there were thousands of spectators but few buyers, with the exception of Gilbert, who took advantage of his partners’ disappointment to buy them out at cost. He shipped the 5,000 or so models which had been stranded at the two Gimbels stores (about 600 had been sold) to his museum at Center Sandwich, where they remained until 1952, when he purchased as a new museum an abandoned hospital at Plymouth, New Hampshire, and moved the entire display there. But in his barns at Garrison, still unopened, unseen since 1908, there are cases which contain anywhere from 100,000 to 120,000 more models.

Gilbert calculates that with the new museum he has put well over $85,000 into the models since acquiring them fifteen years ago, and he does not intend to invest any more. Those that are still packed will stay that way until he sees a good reason to open them. Sometimes he wishes the government would buy the collection back and put it someplace—Ellis Island, for instance. In the meantime he operates the Plymouth museum every summer. And when he and Mrs. Gilbert are at their home in Garrison, they occasionally go over to the barns and look at those rows on rows of boxes.

Donald W. Hogan is assistant city editor of the New York Herald Tribune. A free-lance writer whose major interest is American history, he has contributed articles to several national magazines.

Oft-Encountered Inquiries Into a Hidden History Behind the Development of the Steamboat

My God! Can Eli Whitney be far behind?





n.d. [1st web capture July 12, 2012] The Rumseian Society, Oft-encountered Inquiries,

Devoted to the History and Inventions of James Rumsey

The steamboat is so pretty, why don’t you run it? And while you’re at it , take me for a ride?

Most people who went for a ride with us spent a lot of time waiting for us to go…

Bill Hunley gave us a great design for the hull, and it really does look like it should be on the water, chugging around. But even launching the boat is a major undertaking, and the engine is too unreliable, too under-powered, and too exhausting to run for fun. Since we couldn’t change it into something else, after 20 years we had to stop. We were tired!

We are trying to come up with a Rumsey steamboat that’s more fun, using his rotary engine design. He never built it, so we have more flexibility with the details of this project.

Why do we hear about Robert Fulton, but not James Rumsey?

Fulton was successful with his steamboat, Rumsey was not. It wasn’t just because Fulton’s boat was better; with a bit of development Rumsey’s would have worked well enough, and his was not the only one. There were at least eight steamboats proposed before Fulton’s 1807 debut. Some were built, a couple worked quite well , and none were a financial success. Fulton could indeed import a state-of-the-art Boulton & Watt engine from England for his boat, which saved him much time and trouble. But his most significant advantages over the previous inventors were not technological; he was well-connected politically and socially, had a good amount of his own money and had the strong financial backing of the richest man in New York, Robert Livingston. He also knew that a steamboat didn’t just have to fill a need; it needed to have a good market, and he chose to set up operations on the Hudson, a very good river on which to run a passenger boat, where sheer banks and hilly terrain hindered competition from coaches.

Think of Fulton as being a little like Henry Ford; Ford really brought the automobile into the world as a standard form of transportation, Fulton did the same for the steamboat.

Did Fulton ever meet Rumsey?

They were both in England around the same time and were both friends of Benjamin West, so they likely knew of each other. Fulton was indeed quick to take other people’s ideas when it suited him, and before building his own, he doubtless researched Rumsey’ s as well as John Fitch’s and William Symington’s boats, perhaps also Jouffroy d’Abbans’ in France. But there’s no evidence that Fulton worked for Rumsey. Fulton’s steamboat, once built, had really none of Rumsey’s steamboat in it, either. With Symington, though, it’s another matter. Symington’s 1788 steamboat had both a paddlewheel and a modern steam engine, and ran quite successfully, and was well-known ( even Rumsey commented on it – negatively- he thought jet propulsion was better). Fulton’s boat also had a modern steam engine and a paddlewheel, like Symington’s, and even Matthew Boulton noted that the engine Fulton had ordered from his company was identical to Symington’s in the important dimensions.

Still, by the 1830’s, the legend in Shepherdstown was that Fulton had gotten his ideas from Rumsey. In the three decades after Rumsey’s death, Shepherdstown changed his story from one of simple tragedy ( an inventor dying early , before his ideas are brought to fruition)- to one of tragedy and injustice- ( an inventor dying early, his work successful but unnoticed, and his profitable steamboat idea stolen by others). It was only Ella May Turner’s biography of him that dispensed with the folklore.

Was Rumsey’s the first steamboat?

There are so many words that have been wasted over this seemingly simple sentence! It was not just Shepherdstown’s oral tradition that made steamboat history a partisan matter , the steamboat itself really began that way. Rumsey had a rival, John Fitch. The affair is complex, but it does not really fit the popular plot of hero vs. villain. Telling it could fill a book: we’ll try limit it to three careful paragraphs, here.

Fitch said later that he’d thought of making steam power a boat in the spring of 1785. He then began fundraising for a company to build his steamboat the following summer, began building sometime the following winter , demonstrated his steamboat in Philadelphia, in August of 1787. Rumsey wrote George Washington to say he’d completed his plan for his steam- and poleboat in the spring of 1785, and began building that fall. His first public demonstration was December 3rd, 1787 in Shepherdstown, three months after Fitch’s. Rumsey advocates have often claimed he had a working steamboat earlier than this, by interpreting his 1786 river trials in a very hopeful way. Rumsey also cast those trials in a somewhat hopeful light, but he himself never claimed his steamboat actually worked before Dec.3rd ( his pamphlet detailing those claims even included affidavits from witnesses who said the steamboat machinery was “incomplete” on Dec. 3rd). So, if you wish to think of it as a race and want to know who crossed the finish line first, Rumsey himself would have said, John Fitch.

Rumsey would have also said, however, that the dispute was not about a race; it was about owning his ideas. Fitch had obtained broad monopoly patents from several states that gave him rights to his own and any other steamboat, once he had a working steamboat of his own . A monopoly offered investors a safer bet, and it was not unheard of for a government to grant one to boost a project: but usually it was for something completely new. Rumsey’s claim was that , since he’d started building before Fitch, and because his design was completely his own and unlike Fitch’s , it was unfair to give Fitch the rights to it, just because Fitch had built his own boat. But though George Washington had told Fitch of Rumsey quite early on, in the fall of 1785 (and had told Rumsey of Fitch, as well), Fitch claimed Rumsey was a spoiler, who labored in secret and emerged late to upset Fitch’s project just when he was about to reap the monopoly he deserved--and to which some states had already agreed. Because Fitch felt he had the law firmly on his side to do what he liked with Rumsey’s ideas, and Rumsey valued all his intellectual property very highly , arbitration efforts by Philadelphia businessmen to create a joint venture failed. The dispute was finally adjudicated a few years later, in 1791, when a patent system was created for the entire ( and recently formed) United States. New and inexperienced, and perhaps distracted by other worries ( one member, Thomas Jefferson , was serving as Secretary of State) the patent commission awarded both inventors ill-defined and overlapping design patents that clarified little about their rights. Fitch felt the Commission had been stacked with Virginians, who sided with the Virginian Rumsey, and there could have been a bias ( all the records of the Commission burned in the great Patent Office fire of 1839, so it is hard to say). But Rumsey himself was equally furious with the result, so both inventors felt they’d lost. He had gone overseas to England early in the dispute; the patent decision contributed to his decision to stay there, where he died in December 1792. After being denied both his monopoly and a real patent, Fitch abandoned his steamboat work in Philadelphia, and eventually died , destitute, in Kentucky about five years after Rumsey. Historian Brooke Hindle has said the botched patent ruling was instrumental in halting steamboat development in the US for the next twenty years.

A great difficulty with this, is the sources are partial, biases, or missing. Fitch, for example, left a detailed and captivating memoir, which is the sole surviving source for some important events, like the Patent Commission Hearing. With his very complete story, Fitch is easier to write about. But this complete narrative is also biased, written in part to settle scores with the many people Fitch felt had treated him unfairly. Whatever similar papers Rumsey might have written vanished with his death, and his few letters contain little or no biographical information. With much less of Rumsey’s side of the story to use, Fitch has gotten more attention from authors, Rumsey less.

What ever happened to Rumsey’s steamboat, after 1787?
After two demonstrations in public in December, Rumsey pulled the machinery off the boat and in March of 1788 sent it to Philadelphia, to begin his dispute with Fitch. Fitch visited Shepherdstown in May of 1789, and found the hull of the boat upside down in a pond, abandoned ( this visit by Fitch would, in later years, be recast by Shepherdstown as happening five years earlier, with Fitch actually spying on Rumsey’s work). The boat engine almost certainly stayed with the Rumseian Society in Philadelphia, but very likely sometime after Rumsey’s death in December of 1792, it was disposed of, likely sold for scrap…though some smaller pieces might have been kept as souvenirs. Of these, the sole possible survivor is a length of machine chain, quite well-forged and finished, acquired by Alexander Boteler likely sometime in the 1850’s and donated to the Smithsonian in 1866 . It is too good for mundane purposes, could well have connected a working beam to an air pump or steam cylinder. Boteler also had a fragment of iron pot, which supposedly Rumsey used in his 1785 engine boiler , the boiler which Rumsey quickly discarded as inadequate. Boteler donated the scrap to the Franklin Institute, but has now disappeared. Admittedly, it didn’t much look like an artifact a museum would want to keep.

Did Rumsey build another steamboat?

Yes, in England. It was called The Columbian Maid, another jet boat. We don’t know too much about it, but if it had the engine pump shown in Rumsey’s 1790 patent, it would have been complicated and difficult to make, and Rumsey died in December of 1792, before it could be finished. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that it ran on the Thames the following February, and made four knots. But nothing more is known of what became of it; likely it was simply sold off by Rumsey’s partners and creditors, perhaps just for scrap metal.



Botelers Drawing of the fragment of the “pot” boiler

Possibly the engine for the Columbian Maid. Rather than having a working beam operating all the pumps of a steam engine, Rumsey made them nest within each other, as hollow pistons. Very compact and light, but difficult to build and still not thermally efficient

9 responses to “Oft-encountered Inquiries”

Steam at Harper's Ferry
July 8th, 2012 at 1:29 PM

I was just reading about the tugboat “Rumsey” which was “accoutred for running the Rebel batteries at Vicksburg” in Harper’s Weekly, May 30, 1863. I found references to a stern wheel steamboat named “John Rumsey” built in 1859 captained by Nathaniel Harris and Joseph Biggs (in 1863). Is this tug related at all to James Rumsey? http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/vicksburg-blockade-runner.htm

jamesrumsey
July 11th, 2012 at 8:52 PM

I don’t have any knowledge of a John Rumsey. James Rumsey’s two daughters, his deaf-mute son, and at least one of his brothers, Edward, moved to Kentucky after James’ death, and they and their families got to see steamboats become the most important commercial transport in the South. A grandson, James Rumsey Skiles, did a lot to develop Hopkinsville, and even founded a town, which he named Rumsey, in honor of James. The family tried to get material compensation for James’ work from Congress, submitting a memorial in 1839--which was rejected in 1848 ( like many memorials). But, anyway, there were a fair number of Kentuckians , if not others on the Mississippi, who would still know the story and like the name put on a steamboat in the 1860’s. Any notion where the tug was from?

That it was a Union boat is interesting. By the 1830’s, there was a belief in Shepherdstown that James had had a working boat sometime in 1785, if not earlier, and that both Fulton and Fitch had stolen the idea of a steamboat from him. As stated elsewhere in this blog, neither Fulton’s or Fitch’s designs owed anything to Rumsey’s, so really the most that could be claimed is they heard something about him. But the political strife of the next few decades added a patriotic edge to the question. When A.R. Boteler ( later Confederate colonel and congressman) began to write about Rumsey, in the 1850’s, he had an evident pride in Rumsey being a Virginian ( “to Virginia belongs the honor…”). Fulton and Fitch were both Yankees. Putting the name Rumsey on a steamboat in the war, you might think, could have been thought to be a Southern poke in the Northern eye. But apparently not here.


Steam at Harper's Ferry
July 12th, 2012 at 1:48 PM

Thank you! You make some very interesting points. I will do a little more digging around. What I thought was interesting was that there was so little additional information about the tug in the article. Almost as if everyone knew about this steamboat. It may require more investigation …
Thanks again!


Karen
September 29th, 2012 at 4:48 PM

My maiden name is Rumsey and I grew up hearing that we are related to James Rumsey. My father, John Rumsey, grew up in West Virginia before his family moved to Washington DC. at some point during the first half of the 20th century. I’ve tried tracing my lineage through Ancestry.com to see if my family is indeed related to James Rumsey, but have been unsuccessful. Does anyone know how I might find out, once and for all, if I am a descendant of James Rumsey? Thanks for any and all help!

jamesrumsey
October 2nd, 2012 at 2:16 PM

James Rumsey himself had no male descendants, his brother Edward had quite a few and moved to Kentucky. We have not worked up a geneology of the Rumsey family, and consider it a low priority. However, we do have a file that we keep on the family, welcome additions to it. If you can track your family back to a Rumsey circa 1850, we might have something. But most of the file is earlier than that.
Nick B.


Charles Dawson
January 6th, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Has it never been known at which shipbuilder in Dover, Kent, England, COLUMBIA MAID was built?


jamesrumsey
January 13th, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Rumsey wrote his brother Edward in March 1789 and said, “a gentleman here has undertaken to furnish me with a vessel to try my experiment upon. She is now building at Dover, 72 miles from London. She is large enough to go to the East Indies. The engine is making for her and I expect to make the trial in May”. In a later letter from London he described the ship as being “burthen 101 and 45/95 tons”, but though another letter, to Th. Jefferson, was posted from Dover no shipbuilder’s name in either of these is mentioned, nor does it appear elsewhere in Rumsey’s few surviving letters.


Mike McGinness
August 31st, 2016 at 3:35 PM

I’m related to him as well. My great grandfather was named James Rumsey Crenshaw. It’s complicated to try to explain, but I’ve traced it back via ancestry.com and it checks out.


jamesrumsey
October 29th, 2016 at 9:12 AM

Howdy,
Sorry for the late response.
We don’t concentrate on geneology, unlike many historical societies, but we do get inquiries and so have a file on the Rumsey family and welcome additions to it. There’s fairly little on family members past 1850, especially those not descended from James’ brother Edward, who had many children. If you have a spare moment and would like to send us what you’ve found, we’d be grateful. You can email it here, or post it to The Rumseian Society PO Box 1787 Shepherdstown, WV 25443.
many thanks
Nick Blanton