Citations and Annotations from Waterpower

Hunter, Louis C. (1979). A history of industrial power in the United States, 1780-1930. Volume one: Waterpower in the century of the steam engine. Published for the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation by the University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. X.

  • Click here to return to the Industrial Revolution bibliography or to see annotations for Volume two or three.
  • "The industrial power with which this study is concerned is stationary power as employed in industrial production in mills, mines, and factories.  Stationary power is to be distinguished from power in its mobile applications... whose principal use has been in transportation, as on railways and in steam navigation during the nineteenth century and in automobiles and aircraft in the twentieth century." (pg. xix).
  • "This History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780-1930, is divided into three parts to appear in successive volumes.  The first will deal with waterpower in its varied aspects.  ...Consideration will be given in this first volume to the development in Great Britain and the United States of the mechanical methods of power transmission and distribution characteristic of the first [italics added] Industrial Revolution." (pg. xxiii).
  • "Volume two will cover in similar fashion the introduction and development of steam power in this country during the same period, or from the general adoption of the Boulton and Watt engine at the threshold of the new century to the introduction of the steam turbine as the nineteenth century was drawing to a close." (pg. xxiii).
  • "The third and final volume will cover developments between 1850 and 1930 and will be directed ...'the [electric power] transmission revolution.'" (pg. xxiii).
  • "For two and a half centuries the country water mill was the chief instrument for generation and use of mechanical power in colonial and independent America. ...The reliance of most American communities upon water mills for certain basic tasks continued well into the late nineteenth century, but from the 1860s their position was progressively undercut by the extension of the market economy and the replacement of local by factory-made products" (pg. 1).
  • "Throughout rural America... country mills, driven in most instances by water, nearly ever[y]where followed closely on the heels of settlement and persisted long after the days of pioneering had passed.  They rank with the plow, ax, and oxen as basic equipment of a pioneering people; they played an essential role in the subsistence phase of agricultural development; and they contributed to the transition to a market economy.  Gristmills and sawmills were among the first community facilities obtained in frontier areas, in most regions taking precedence over schools, churches, and stores and coming well in advance of wagon roads." (pg. 3).
  • "From the blast furnaces and foundries came the hollowware -- pots, kettles, pans -- and other cast-iron ware for household or farm use and the mill irons and sundry equipment used by the mills themselves.  The forges supplied wrought iron of different shapes and dimensions, especially the merchant bar, which, in the hands of the country or village blacksmith or occasionally the farmer himself, was shaped into the wide variety of hardware, edge tools, and nails so important in an agricultural economy." (pg. 5).
  • "Much less common than gristmills and sawmills, but for home manufactures hardly less useful, were the fulling mills and carding and clothdressing establishments.  Fulling was the traditional finishing process in making woolen cloth.  In a prolonged operation combining pounding with washing, fulling freed the rough-woven cloth from the natural grease in the fibers and the oil used in carding and spinning wool.  The pounding action of heavy wooden stocks or beaters in soapy water had the even more important effect of compacting the cloth, increasing its strength and durability, a process accompanied by a reduction in dimensions." (pg. 21 - 22).
  • "Falling water was the chief source of stationary power at all levels, in most branches of industry, and throughout the greater part of the United States before the 1860s. ...The traditional view of the revolutionary role of steam power, while not without a certain validity, has been accepted by historians almost without challenge and with little qualification until recent years. ...Melvin Kranzberg and Carroll W. Purcell, Jr., opens a chapter on 'The prerequisites of Industrialization' (which makes no reference to waterwheels) with this statement: 'When we think of the Industrial Revolution we usually think of the steam engine, the railway locomotive and the factory system'" (pg. 159).
  • "The first reaction wheel to secure more than local acceptance was that of Calvin Wing of Gardiner, Maine.  It was patented in 1830 and was described explicitly in the patent as an improvement on Barker's mill, designed to obtain greater economy and efficiency in operation compared with ordinary wheels." (pg. 303).
  • "The turbine was the eventual outcome of the efforts of many generations of men working upon a common problem related to a widespread need.  Two fairly distinct lines of influence and development can be traced in the history of the turbine in the United States, one springing from native sources, the other from Europe largely, principally France.  On the native side, apart from the tub wheel, the turbine was advanced chiefly by improvements in the reaction wheel, devised by such men as James Rumsey, Calvin Wing, Zebulon Parker, and Samuel B. Howd." (pg. 307).
  • "The European influences centered in the experimental and inventive activities carried on principally in France during the 1820s and 1830s by Jean Victor Poncelet, Claude Burdin, Arthur Morin, and Benoît Fourneyron, and was developed further in practical application, by Feu Jonval.  Turbines of French design were introduced in this country in the 1840s by Ellwood Morris and Emile Geyelin in the Middle Atlantic states and by George Kilburn, Uriah A. Boyden, and James B. Francis in New England, with the last two making significant innovations of their own." (pg. 307).
  • "The native development was almost wholly pragmatic and empirical, largely ignorant of and indifferent to theoretical considerations.  The foreign one was scientific in its environment, stimulation, and methodology, and practical in its objectives." (pg. 307).
  • "Ironworks ranged widely in size and power needs.  From the opening decades of the nineteenth century the trend in the scale of operations and power needs was progressively upward.  The small, rural charcoal blast furnace of the early 1800s with its daily output of one or two tons of pig iron used no more waterpower -- say, 2 to 4 horsepower -- than the common gristmill.  By 1850 coke and anthracite blast furnaces averaged 50 horsepower, a figure that had increased to 200 horsepower by 1880.  Then came the extraordinary upsurge in coke blast furnace size and capacity that in 1900 had led to blowing engines of 2,000 horsepower and more for a single stack." (pg. 438).
  • "Similar though less spectacular developments took place in the forging of iron by trip-hammers and roll trains.  At one extreme were the small water-powered rural bloomeries and forges, requiring typically several horsepower to supply the blast and drive the forge hammer.  At the other were the heavy forge shops and rolling mills.  Pittsburgh's first rolling mill, 1812, had a 70-horsepower engine; one erected in 1818 had two engines of 120 horsepower each.  Increase in engine size here and elsewhere proceeded slowly until merchant bar gave way as the chief product to rails, structural shapes, and the like in the 1850s and 1860s.  By 1870 rolling-mill engines had reached 600 horsepower." (pg. 438).
Hunter, Louis C. (1985). A history of industrial power in the United States, 1780-1930. Volume two: Steam power. Published for the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation by the University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
  • Click here to return to the Industrial Revolution bibliography or to see annotations for Volume one or three.
  • "The removal of water from mines was not only the first industrial application of steam power, in the United States as in Britain, but it was an application that continued to play a vital role in industrialization, although increasingly overshadowed by a widening circle of other industrial uses." (pg. 2).
  • "The single-acting piston -- power on the downstroke only -- was joined by a piston rod and chain linkage to one end of a great oscillating beam from whose outer end the pump rod extended downward to the pump at the bottom of the mine shaft or well." (pg. 5).
  • "With important exceptions, notably Oliver Evans with his high-pressure engine, attention was directed almost entirely to the steam navigation of inland waterways, especially upon the river systems of the Atlantic seaboard and the trans-Appalachian West." (pg. 8).
  • "In making his important contribution to steam navigation, Robert Fulton added little to the existing technology and understanding of the steam engine.  He successfully harnessed the low-pressure condensing engine built to his specifications by Boulton and Watt to the propulsion of a vessel...  The high-pressure noncondensing steam engine, so early and so widely adopted in the United States was virtually the creation of one man, Oliver Evans (1755 - 1819).  A contemporary of Fulton (1755 - 1825)" (pg. 33-34).
  • "Depressed by the rejection in Washington of his petition for the renewal of his milling patents and lacking the funds to complete the steam engine guide to which he had given much work, the frustrated Evans published in Philadelphia in 1805 his Abortion of the Young Steam Engineer's Guide, an appropriate companion piece to his Young Mill-wright and Miller's Guide." (pg. 39).
  • "Evans made the Abortion the vehicle of an appeal to potential customers, naming the industrial operations to which his engine could be applied to great advantage, even pointing out the manner of connecting the engine to the machine or machinery driven.  Beginning with the innumerable grist- and sawmills, he went on to list the basic industries of the day: working blast furnaces, forges, and rolling mills; grinding rags; crushing sugar cane; pumping water; hoisting coal; and so on." (pg. 39).
  • "Not until the Civil War decade did steam power obtain parity and then superiority to waterpower in the manufacturing industries.  The subordinate role of steam power was only in part owing to such obvious limitations as high first cost, problems of maintenance and repair, and high costs of fuel and attendance.  Other and often more important considerations were the relation of power expense to total production costs, opportunities, and economies... In short, the role of motive power is best understood with reference to the larger processes of production, not only within the framework of the economy but especially in relation to the course of industrialization." (pg. 67).
  • Chapter 3, "Development of the American High-pressure Mill Engine, 1800 - 1850" contains an excellent bibliography of 19th century publications on the history of the steam engine, see pg. 118 - 122.
  • "Firearms apart, the steam engine was the first practical heat engine.  With supporting furnace and boiler, its function was both to generate heat energy from fuel in the form of steam under pressure and to convert that energy into forceful motion by which machinery could be driven and work performed." (pg. 119).
  • "For convenience in understanding, the course of mill-engine development in the United States may be arranged in several broad and overlapping periods, or stages.
    1. The transfer from England to America, 1750 - 1815, with minor modifications, of steam power in the forms given the steam engine by Newcomen and Watt, with application chiefly to pumping in mine drainage and urban water supply and, in the later years, in rapidly increasing numbers, to steam navigation.
    2. The adaptation, 1800 - 1825, of the stationary engine to the industrial conditions and needs of this country, chiefly through the ingenuity and enterprise of Oliver Evans, who developed, introduced, and publicized the high-pressure noncondensing engine.  Low-pressure condensing engines, deriving a certain impetus from their successful use in steam navigation, played a secondary and diminishing role.
    3. The improvement of the high-pressure engine, 1825 - 50, at the hands of numerous and for the most part anonymous mechanics and small engine builders.  Mill engines were commonly one of a variety of simple machines and millwork produced in local foundries or machine shops as demand in the market area required.  The mill engine in its eventual form used a horizontal cylinder of small diameter and long stroke.  The beam action employed by both Newcomen and Watt because of its ready adaptation to pumping and the simpler half beam, or 'grasshopper,' arrangement of Oliver Evans eventually were replaced by the simpler and more convenient direct connection between crosshead and crank by means of a connecting rod.  The simple eccentric-operated slide valve was well adapted to a limited use of expansive working with a cutoff at half stroke or later.
    4. The development and wide introduction among the larger industrial establishments, in the period 1850 - 80, of two engines that carry their inventors' names.  The first was the automatic variable cutoff engine, with superior efficiency, fuel economy, and close-regulating capability.  It was pioneered, if only in part invented, by George H. Corliss and adopted in variant forms by many other engine builders.  Second was the high-speed engine, peculiarly the achievement of Charles T. Porter, a gifted outsider, and John F. Allen, a mechanic whose idea for an ingenious valve gear resulted in the Porter-Allen engine.
    5. From 1870 to 1900, advances in the scale, efficiency, and economy of steam-power plants to meet, at low unit costs, large power requirements of heavy industry, mining, large urban water-supply systems, and, from the 1880s, electric generating stations.  Power development in this period was marked by the growing adoption of multicylinder expansion engines and sectional watertube boilers." (pg. 123-124).
  • "Historically there have been three principal ways of shaping iron and other metals: (1) heat to a fluid and pour into a hollow sand mold created by using a wooden pattern; (2) soften in a forge fire by bringing to a red-to-white heat and shape with hammers and a whole kit of forging tools, with or without the aid of power; and (3) attack the metal cold with cutting tools such as files, chisels, and cutting bits that take off chips, shavings, or small fragments of metal. ...for many years the hand file and chipping chisel with hammer were much the most important." (pg. 183).
  • "From about 1850 new metalworking equipment, principally power-driven automatic precision machine tools, increasingly dominated the machinery-building or engineering industries." (pg. 186).
  • "Two articles from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., 'Founding' and 'Iron and Steel,' give brief historical accounts of these subjects.  Quoting from 'Founding': 'To enable the founder to prepare a mould for the casting, he must receive a pattern similar to the casting required.' ...'Cast iron,' states 'Iron and Steel,' 'is, generically, iron containing so much carbon ... that it is not usefully malleable at any temperature.' To be malleable, iron must be capable of being shaped, heated or cold, by hammering or bending, etc., without breaking." (footnote, pg. 186).
  • "From a reported 88 blast furnaces and 32 foundries in 1810, the number of foundries identified by the census in 1840 rose to 804." (pg. 188).
  • "The blacksmithy, blacksmith shop, trip-hammer, or forge shop was in its way much more versatile and far more widely distributed than the foundry." (pg. 193).
  • "The smith's basic raw material was wrought iron in the form of bars, rods, sheets, and plates of varying dimensions, obtained from forges and rolling mills.  The refining and physical manipulation of iron ore in the bloomery forge and of pig iron in the puddling furnace of the rolling mill eliminated certain impurities detrimental to fabrication." (pg. 194).
  • "The development of... 'drop-forging' provided a low cost method of duplicating small wrought-iron parts with a degree of precision that may be likened to that obtained with small casting. ...small, irregular parts [are] obtained at a single blow by forging the hot iron rod or bar between dies." (footnote, pg. 197).
  • The "...slide-rest lathe, slotting machine, gear cutters, vertical spindle drilling machines, milling machines, ...By 1850 the full range of these precision-built and precision-working self-acting power tools was available in essentially their modern form to those shops large enough to afford them." (pg. 206).
  • "Remarking upon the essential role of files, the Scientific American in 1858 referred to the vast quantities required in almost every industry 'in the fabrication of the most delicate watchwork, mathematical instruments, steam engines, printing presses, houses, and ships.'  There is hardly a branch of industry, 'ran a description published in 1872, 'in which the file does not directly or indirectly enter -- since in most operations of smoothing or polishing the file is used.'" (pg. 208).
  • "The first milling machines made for sale rather than for private use were reportedly made in 1848 for the Robbins and Lawrence Company of Windsor, Vt." (footnote, pg. 211).
  • "The 1830s and 1840s were the years of transition between what Victor S. Clark has called the preindustrial stage, with mill and furnace enterprises serving local markets, and the early industrial stage, when production was carried on increasingly for the wider regional and, eventually, national markets." (pg. 223-224).
  • The following table is reprinted from pg. 230.
  • Table 23. Steam engines operating in the United States, 1838, for which are available data on name of builder, place, and date of building
    Number Horse-
    Number Horse-
    Number Horse-
    Before 1825
    Source: Treasury Department, Steam-Engines
  • "The use of steam power took a sharp upward surge in America in the 1850s.  Within thirty years of the Steam Engine Report of 1838, stationary steam power moved from the fringes to the center of the industrial scene.  Within another thirty years, by 1900, steam power had reduced direct-drive waterpower to a minor and steadily declining part in American manufacturing, persisting chiefly in the small-scale, traditional mill industries.  Before 1860 steam power had been identified chiefly with transportation, and it was through steam navigation and railways that it helped effect the conversion of a pioneer subsistence economy to one in which regional specialization and commercial interchange were the dynamic elements.  Beginning in the 1850s, however, steam power became a central factor in the industrialization of the American economy in what was in effect a sequel to the transportation revolution of the preceding decades." (pg. 251).
  • "It was in response to the needs of the small but growing segment of large-scale industry that a significant innovation in stationary engines, the automatic variable cutoff engine, made an appearance about mid-century.  This engine marked the first major advance in stationary steam engineering since the general adoption of the high-pressure noncondensing engine and the beginnings of expansive working some forty years earlier. ...Yet credit for the practical development and commercial introduction of the type is traditionally and properly assigned to George H. Corliss of Providence. ...He brought together a number of mechanical elements -- some old and familiar, some novel but little used conceptions of others, some ingenious contrivances of his own devising -- and combined them into a highly effective working whole." (pg. 253-254).
  • "The 1890s marked a great divide in the history of industrial power, with consequences as far-reaching as those attending the introduction of steam power in the first Industrial Revolution a century earlier.  On the one side lay the old-style direct-drive prime movers, steam engines and waterwheels, in their various forms, served by power-transmission equipment of similar vintage: lines of shafting and countershafting, pulleys, and belting... The new methods of power transmission and distribution were to have as great an impact upon industrial production as the introduction of steam power more than a half century earlier.  These new methods of power transmission eventually came to be based upon a major institutional innovation: central stations, urban power plants of great generating capacity serving through networks of transmission lines and local systems of distribution ever-growing numbers of power consumers, industrial, commercial, and, in time, domestic.  Under the central station system, power was to be generated, sold, and delivered to factory, mill, mine, and workshop like any other material or service required." (pg. 433-434).
Hunter, Louis C. (1991). A history of industrial power in the United States, 1780-1930. Volume three: The transmission of power. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Click here to return to the Industrial Revolution bibliography or to see annotations for Volume one or two.
  • "...for electrical transmission at least, that the economy of large-scale generation of power in a central station is more than enough to compensate for the cost of energy transmission.  Furthermore, the energy in electrical form is convenient for many purposes in addition to industrial power, so that the heavy fixed costs of generation and transmission can be shared by many different uses of the energy.  The demand for energy in this remarkably versatile form rose steadily for the next century, apparently without limit." (pg. xxiii).
  • "The power carried in these electrical networks was still waterpower and steam power.  In this country it was -- and still is -- about one-third waterpower and two-thirds steam power.  (The fuel may change from wood to coal to oil to uranium, but the working fluid usually remains steam.)  The waterpower has come mostly from very large hydroelectric plants, ten or a hundred times the size of the typical water mill described in the first volume, and almost all the steam power has come through the steam turbine, successor to the classic steam engine of the second volume." (pg. xxiii).
  • "The steam turbine, when it came, was thermodynamically quite different from the steam engine, reciprocating or rotary, in which the pressure of a volume of steam forces a piston or wheel to move.  In the turbine it is mostly the kinetic energy of the steam that is converted into work.  The heat energy in the steam is used to give the steam itself a high velocity, and it is the mass of steam, moving at a very high velocity, that drives the blades of the rotor." (pg. 332).