Daniel Treadwell, Inventor
THE name at the head of this paper is that of a man who probably has had less popular recognition than any other great inventor ; yet to this comparatively unknown man the country owes the first prosperity of its railroad system ; on printing-presses originating from his invention nearly all our books are printed; machines of his device revolutionized the art of ropemaking as completely as those of Arkwright revolutionized cotton-spinning, and now supply the world with the best cordage ; the most effective artillery of modern warfare is made upon principles which he first discovered and applied ; a number of his minor inventions modify modern industry, and add to the wealth, greatness, and honor of the nation. He has fully earned the right to be associated hereafter with the other great discoverers in the mechanic arts who have given lustre to the American name.
Daniel Treadwell, born October 10, 1791, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was a descendant from one of the earliest settlers of the town, who emigrated thither in 1638 from Oxford in England. His predecessors were hardworking and respectable farmers. His mother, Elizabeth Dodge, was a descendant of Mayor Isaac Appleton of Ipswich, and Priscilla Baker, granddaughter of Lieutenant-Governor Samuel Symonds, “ a gentleman of an ancient and worshipped family from Gildham in Essex, England.” She was the second wife of his father, and died when Daniel was two years of age. “ My early years were therefore,” he says, “no doubt much neglected, as my father’s housekeeper, however well disposed, had neither the education nor the affection required to make the most of a child, and my father, who was fifty-two years old at the time of my birth, was much occupied in the care of his farm.”
On the death of his father, Daniel was placed under the guardianship and lived in the family of Colonel Nathan Wade, an old Revolutionary soldier, who was much esteemed in Ipswich, and whose care and kindness were always held in grateful remembrance. In 1800, he began his grammar-school studies at Newburyport, ten miles distant. The school, like most of the schools of that time supported by the town, does not seem to have been of a very high order ; but here he received all the instruction that he enjoyed till he was twenty-five, when he began the study of French, under a teacher in Boston.
It is always interesting to observe the first indications of a genius like that of young Treadwell for any particular branch of knowledge or calling. “ In 1803 the town of Ipswich,” writes his friend, Mr. S. N. Baker, “ purchased a fire engine, which soon attracted the attention of the schoolboys and of Daniel Treadwell in particular, who resolved to make one, which he did. When finished he announced to the boys that he would exhibit and try it during the vacation. “At the time appointed the boys assembled, and we drew it to a two-story building; we then went to work, forced the water on to the roof, and with a shout of joy pronounced it a success.” Mr. Baker says of Treadwell, “ He was a pleasant boy, though rather sedate, and a favorite among his schoolmates.”
In 1805, when nearly fifteen, he began an apprenticeship in Newburyport to his brother Isaac, who had just gone into business as a goldsmith and jeweller. Here he remained nearly two years, when his brother failed in business, and went to New York, and afterward to Caraccas, where he became director of the mint and of the department of mining, and perished in the great earthquake of 1812.
Daniel came to Boston, and there worked with Mr. Jesse Churchill, No. 83 Newbury Street, for four years, first as an apprentice, and then as a partner in the shop and trade. During this period, as might have been expected, he applied himself to the improvement of the implements of his trade. In making silver-ware the important tool was the hammer, and with this, by a tedious process, the various articles were gradually fashioned without much certainty of the exact resemblance of any two articles intended to be similar. Treadwell, by means of swages, between which the rolled plate of silver-ware was laid, was able, with a few heavy blows or a strong pressure, to give the plate the desired form with great exactness.
“When about nineteen,” he writes, “ I took to geometry and algebra, and went unassisted through Euclid and Bonnycastle’s Algebra. Although I could not give my mind to the works of gold and silver that I wrought, I was always attentive to the operations of machinery wherever I saw them. Before I was fifteen I had gone through the many exercises of puzzling over the problem of perpetual motion. During this labor I pursued, without aid or instruction from any one, the great principle of vertical velocities. The rediscovery or untaught perception of this principle is sometimes given as a mark of great mental force. I am induced to think it not an uncommon occurrence, and that most young men with a little more then medium talents are capable of it. Of the value of a clear, constant, and vivid perception of it to the machinist too high an estimate cannot be formed.”
During the war with Great Britain in 1812, when the hard times upon which we had entered admonished the people not to indulge in luxuries of gold and silver, his prospect of success in his trade was not good and his attention was drawn towards manufactures. An article which was much needed and of which the supply had been cut off by the war was the common screw. During the day he worked in his shop with Mr. Churchill, and the evenings he passed in the adjoining shop of Phineas Dow, a man of considerable skill and ingenuity, some ten years his senior. After some two years of this intermittent work, they invented and perfected a machine which in his specifications he describes as “ a machine for making screws of metallic wire commonly called wood screws, at one operation, by water, steam, or any other power.” The machine performed the operation of making the screw entirely without the aid of the hand, taking in the wire at one end and delivering a finished screw at the other at the rate of fifteen to twenty-five a minute. For this he obtained a patent, and with the aid of one of his friends, established a screw factory in Saugus. He had great difficulty in obtaining suitable wire, as there was none made in this country, and the English wire was dear and hard to get. Capital also was not abundant with the inventors, and after a while peace was made with Great Britain, when imported screws becoming plenty, the machine and the right to manufacture it were sold to persons in Philadelphia. From the multiplicity of its operations it was necessarily very complicated. It was much admired for its ingenuity, and although it did not make the fortune of its inventors, it has been profitable to others, for it contained many of the principles upon which the screw machinery of the present time is constructed.
His next invention was a machine for making wrought iron nails. This was put in operation, and made finished nails, with heads and points complete, from heated rods fed in from above. About the time it was finished and at work, an Englishman appeared and claimed priority of invention, although his machine never made a perfect nail. Mr. Treadwell declined to contend with him and abandoned the business. It would seem, however, that his invention, either as then made or with some subsequent improvements, was again put in operation, for he was employed in the profitable manufacture of nails from 1824 to 1827.
In 1816, at the age of twenty-five, worn out with anxiety attendant upon his work, Mr. Treadwell determined to study medicine. He entered the office of Dr. John Ware of Boston, and attended the course of lectures at the Medical School of Harvard University. The attractions of this profession for him were undoubtedly the study of anatomy and physiology, which in many respects are intimately connected with mechanics and hydraulics. One of his papers records an investigation, probably made at this time, into the force exerted by the heart upon the contained blood. He based his calculations upon the height of a jet of blood from one of the larger arterial trunks and the space through which the blood moved in a given time. At that early period one of his fellowstudents says, “We, his friends, held him in high esteem and respect for his great scientific knowledge.” After studying with Dr. Ware about a year and a half his health improved, and his mind returned to its old habit of dwelling upon mechanical problems. He abandoned the idea of becoming a practitioner of medicine, but he never lost his interest in all matters pertaining to physiology.
In 1818 he again appears as an inventor. “ Aware of the fact,” he says, “that the legs have a vastly greater muscular force than the arms, it occurred to me that this circumstance might be taken advantage of in the construction of mechanical instruments in which the exertion is necessarily great without a great nicety in its direction. After much deliberation I selected the printing press, as connected with one of our most useful arts, and well-fitted to illustrate the principle assumed.”
Following out his plan, he invented a press differing from the ordinary handpress in several respects. In the handpress the “form” of type is upon a movable carriage, by which it can be run in and out beneath the platen, — a plain piece of solid metal covering the face of the form of type, and which, when pressed down by a powerful screw and lever pulled by the arm of the workman, gives the impression. In Mr. Treadwell’s press the form is stationary, and the platen, which is light and turns upon a horizontal hinge, is so counterbalanced that it can be turned on and off the form with very little expenditure of force. The impression is given by a lever which rests upon a projecting piece of metal rising from the top of the platen. This lever is connected by means of a descending rod with a treadle near the floor ; upon this the workman treads with his whole weight, and thus brings down the platen upon the types with great force. The time and power lost in moving the form is saved, and the muscular effort is a step instead of a pull. To this is added a double frisket, — a contrivance by which the paper, after being printed on one side, without being removed, is turned and printed upon the other. This he called the “ Treadle Press.” It excited a good deal of interest among printers ; Colonel Benjamin Russell, an old printer, and the wellknown editor of the “ Boston Centinel,” was much pleased with it and brought it prominently forward. The same friend who had aided Mr. Treadwell with the screw machine aided him with this also. The press when finished was put in operation in Boston for a short time, and seemed so satisfactory that Mr. Treadwell determined to introduce its use, and, being desirous of visiting England, concluded to make the attempt first in that country. He reached London in the latter part of 1819. In the following year it was patented, and two or three were manufactured by Mr. Napier and put in operation. But he found that the attention of printers was directed entirely to steam cylinder presses. Monday, November 28, 1814, the London Times had announced to the reader that he held in his hand a paper printed by steam. The prospect of success did not warrant a further stay, and he returned home in September, 1820.
After examining the steam cylinder press while in England, he was satisfied that, although it might answer sufficiently well for newspaper work, a better power press for book work might be constructed by using the platen rather than the cylinder for the impression. His own invention and those of his successors have confirmed the correctness of his conclusion. Soon after his return he commenced the construction of such a machine, which was completed in about a year, being the first press by which a printed sheet— a copy of the Boston Advertiser — was printed on this continent by other than human power. The difficulties which Mr. Treadwell encountered in this enterprise may be better understood when we know that there was not a single steam engine at work in any shop or manufactory in the old peninsula of Boston, and but a single one at the foundry at South Boston. There was not a lathe to be procured large enough to face the platen, which was consequently constructed of wood.
All the motions of the press were automatic with the exception of laying on and taking off the paper. It was put in operation by a horse. Mr. Treadwell called it the Power Printing Press, and it was patented March 2, 1826. After satisfying himself of the quality of the work, and of the important saving in expense over that of hand-printing that would be made by his press, Mr. Treadwell determined, in connection with two partners, to commence the business of printing, and continue it until the printers should be satisfied that it would be to their advantage to adopt his press and purchase the right to use it. Accordingly a second machine was built, type purchased, and workmen procured,— probably with some difficulty. Journeymen were opposed to his plan ; it was thought to interfere with the demand for their services, and one of his most reliable assistants was a young woman who laid on the paper to be printed, and became quite familiar with the working of the machinery, so that going afterwards to Philadelphia with one of the presses, she taught others how to manage it. The business was carried on about two years with moderate profit ; one of the principal booksellers of Boston then purchased the establishment, with the patent right for Massachusetts. During this time Treadwell received contracts from several booksellers to print works for them ; and many books are now to be seen with the imprint, “ Treadwell Power Press.”1 The opposition of the journeymen was violent and unremitting, and once when his warehouse took fire and the presses were injured, some of the journeymen were suspected of setting the fire.
Mr. Treadwell was soon after a member of the Rumford Committee of the Academy, which is charged with the duty of examining such discoveries or useful improvements in light or heat as in their opinion merit the Rumford medals. To this committee he was annually re-elected for nearly forty years.
In 1826 the Boston Mechanics’ Institution was founded. Dr. Bowditch was chosen president, and Mr. Treadwell the first of its three vice-presidents. In 1827 he commenced lecturing in Boston, and gave a course before the Institution on subjects of practical mechanics. In 1829, on the retirement of Dr. Bowditch, he was elected president.
In 1815, at the request of President Josiah Quincy, then the mayor of Boston, Mr. Treadwell examined the various ponds and running waters in the vicinity of the city, for the purpose of ascertaining the practicability of supplying it with pure water. In the report which followed, the advantages of elevated reservoirs within the city are strongly insisted upon, both because they reserve water which passes through the mains by night when the expenditure is small, and also because they afford a perfect and more steady supply, and a stock of water in case of accident to the mains, especially during a fire. In 1871, more than forty years after this report was written, and when the wisdom of its advice had been forgotten, it was proposed to tear down the reservoirs, and cover their valuable sites with buildings. Mr. Treadwell, then an octogenarian, remonstrated vigorously in the public prints. In the following November, during a severe frost, the whole supply of water for the city was for several hours cut off. The possibility of a conflagration caused great alarm, and the fire engines were at once hurried to the wharves. Fortunately no fire occurred, but the alarm was not without benefit. The reservoirs still stand ; though it is with regret that we must add that during the great fire of November 9, 1872, the city reservoir was found empty.
In 1837, under the mayoralty of Hon. Samuel A. Eliot, Mr. Treadwell was again chairman of a committee upon the same subject, and the subject of a suitable supply of water is fully discussed in the first of a series of examinations and reports which ended in the construction of the great Waterworks, opened Oct. 12, 1848.
While engaged in printing, Mr. Treadwell made many experiments with the hydrostatic press used in his establishment as to the effect of pressure on different kinds of woods when placed in the chamber of the press. He also made other experiments on the permeability of wood, and found that a pressure of 400 pounds to the inch forced water through a piece of wood endwise in a stream. Perceiving that in this way salt water or other solutions could be forced through timber, he laid before the Commissioners of the United States Navy in 1823, a plan for applying this process, which could be accomplished in a few minutes, to ship timber, as a substitute for docking, which requires several years.
Between the years 1823 and 1829 he constructed several sets of power printing presses, and put them in operation in New York for the Bible and Tract Society there, in Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, and Boston ; and in some of these cities they were in use for more than twenty years. There is good reason to believe that no form of power press for book printing constructed since then is capable of producing better impressions or making any considerable saving in the cost of work ; but some of them have an advantage in being more compact, and in working somewhat more rapidly than the original press. From the manufacture and sale of the rights of using his presses Mr. Treadwell received about $ 70,000.
In 1829, as chairman of a committee, Mr. Treadwell made a report to the Directors of the Massachusetts Railroad Association on the practicability of conducting transportation on a single set of tracks. He had already, in a short article in the “ Franklin Journal,” published in Philadelphia, particularly described his plan. No railroad for the transportation of passengers then existed in New England ; no English railway for public use, with other than a double track, had been mentioned ; the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had double tracks, and it was naturally inferred that they were essential. The surveys for the Boston and Albany Railroad had been made. Mr. Treadwell proposed for this road a single set of tracks with proper sidings at considerable intervals, fixed time of starting, and regulated velocities. These propositions he sustained with facts and sound arguments, and showed that by their adoption the transportation then required could be done as well as by double tracks, and that the same amount of capital could distribute the advantages of railroads over a much larger extent of country. The English system, on the other hand, would not only materially limit them, but would render them, in a sparsely settled country, unremunerative to the stockholders.
His system was violently opposed by another committee ; it was asserted that the only proper mode of construction was “a double set of tracks, with well-constructed joining places from one set to the other, within 50 or 60 rods of each other. As to the system of fixed times of starting and regulated velocities, “nothing” they said, “in the whole range of human affairs can ever be thought of, to which its application would be so ruinous and destructive as to the very railroad (the Boston and Albany), now under consideration.” As a consequence of this discussion, the Boston and Worcester, and the Boston and Lowell, and the Boston and Providence Railroads, the pioneer roads in this State, went into operation on the principle indicated and explained in the ingenious paper of Mr. Treadwell.
In the following October was the great competitive trial of locomotives on the Liverpool and Manchester railway, in which George Stephenson’s “Rocket” definitely settled the question of motive power for railroads, and with it the necessity for the adoption of Mr. Treadwell’s plan of fixed times and regulated velocities. In looking back from this time, one may say that the great primary success of the American over the English railways is in a great measure due to the adoption of the single-track system.
In 1829 Mr. Treadwell received the honorary degree of Master of Arts from Harvard College, and the same year delivered a short course of lectures to the undergraduates and University students on subjects of engineering and practical mechanics, comprising steam engines and railways. It was in this year, also, that he completed his first imperfect machine for spinning hemp for rope making. This subject took up the greater part of his time from 1828 to 1835, and comprised inventions—which formed the subject of five different patents — for preparing and spinning the hemp and tarring the yarn. These processes, which had before been performed entirely by hand, no rope yarn having been spun by machinery in any part of the world, were by his invention transferred to automatic machines, with a vast saving in the cost of production, and improvement in the quality of manufacture. During the whole period he met with determined opposition from the trade of rope makers, was often insulted, and even threatened with violence.
A full description by Mr. Treadwell of this most ingenious machine, under the title “A machine called a Gypsey, for spinning hemp and flax,” with drawings, may be found in the volume of Memoirs of the American Academy published in 1833. The first works were completed upon the Mill Dam in Boston, in 1832, and were capable of manufacturing nearly a thousand tons of hemp annually. In 1838 he contracted with the United States government for machines to be placed in the Navy Yard at Charlestown, Mass., where he afterwards placed eighty machines with complete tarring works. From a report made some years since, it appears that the saving to the government at the Navy Yard alone was from ten to twenty thousand dollars annually, without mentioning the benefit derived from the superior quality of the cordage. On these machines, and those copied from them and erected at Memphis, Tennessee, several years later, all the cordage for the American navy is spun ; and they stand now without a successful competitor in the Navy Yard at Charlestown, as efficient as when they were first placed there forty years ago. Since their invention the character of American cordage has so greatly improved that it has become an article of export to most parts of the world ; to the British Provinces, the East Indies, and even Great Britain. The machines, also, have been exported, first to Canada, and then, in 1860, to Great Britain, Ireland, and Russia, with a still increasing foreign demand. One of the inventions — the circular hatchel or lapper — is believed to be generally used wherever hemp is spun for the making of coarse cloth. With such a widespread demand, it is not surprising that the machines should find pirates and imitators, and these sprang up in all directions. The income derived by Mr. Treadwell from his power printing presses has already been stated ; that from the rope machine is believed to have been much greater. It is probable that this very satisfactory result prevented him from undertaking any defence of his rights.
“In 1831,” writes Mr. Treadwell, “ being then in my fortieth year, I married Miss Adeline Lincoln, a daughter of Dr. Lincoln, of Hingham, who has been my faithful and devoted companion to the present time(1854), and I trust will be preserved to me to the very end.”
In 1834 a new field of usefulness opened to Mr. Treadwell, when he was chosen to fill the chair of Rumford Professor at Cambridge, thus adding the office of teacher of the principles of mechanics and the practical application of them, to that of an inventor, which had heretofore chiefly occupied his thoughts. To qualify himself for the place he went to Europe in the following year, visited such public institutions as had for their object the advancement of the useful arts, and studied carefully such subjects as were more closely connected with his new duties, and also secured models of machinery and other apparatus required for the illustration of his lectures. In 1836 he returned, and went immediately to Cambridge to live, and began the duties of his professorship. Professor Treadwell says, “ I accepted this place rather against my inclinations, and with the suspicion that I was not exactly suited to it. I was a stranger to college life, its associations, customs, and traditions, unacquainted with some branches of learning, especially the ancient languages, that form, and I believe very properly, a principal subject of college study. But the courtesy and kindness of the professors and officers soon relieved me in a degree from the disagreements of my false position,”
His misgivings were not shared by his friends ; they knew his high intellectual powers and his abilities. His lectures were remarkable for pure and choice English, clearness of description, precision in the enunciation of propositions, logical sequence of ideas, and well-selected and successful experiments. Few lecturers could surpass him in the ability to fix clearly and permanently in the minds of his pupils the subjects of his teachings. He filled this chair with great honor to the College till his resignation in 1845.
His lectures required but a part of his time, and left him free to engage in other pursuits, and he directed his attention to the making of cannon of greater strength, and consequently of greater calibre, than those in common use. Being intimately acquainted with the properties of metals and the forces to which they are subjected when used in the construction of cannon, he saw the advantages to be derived from the substitution of wrought iron and steel for bronze and cast iron. He knew well the processes of manufacture ; he knew that these metals were, as usually wrought, a fibrous structure, as is clearly shown in wire and sheets of rolled iron, and that these fibres are always formed, and their strength or cohesion greatest, in the direction in which they are extended. By a short and clear process of reasoning, he showed that the resistance to longitudinal rupture of a cannon in use, as compared with its resistance to transverse rupture, can never be less than two to one, and may be much more. It was then obvious to him that, to obtain the greatest strength from a fibrous material in the construction of cannon, it should be wound around the axis of the calibre. After a few preliminary experiments, he set about constructing the machinery required to carry out his ideas. The following is his description of the process of manufacture.
“ Between the years 1841 and 1845, I made upwards of twenty cannon of this material (wrought iron). They were all made up of rings or short cylinders welded together endwise ; each ring was made of bars wound round an arbor spirally, like winding a ribbon upon a block, and, being welded and shaped in dies, were joined endwise, while in the furnace at a welding heat, and afterwards pressed together in a mould with a hydrostatic press of 1,000 ton’s force.
“ Finding in the early stage of the manufacture that the softness of the wrought iron was a serious defect, I formed those made afterwards with a lining of steel, the wrought iron bars being wound upon a previously formed steel ring. Eight of these guns were 6-pounders of the common United States bronze pattern, and eleven were 32-pounders, about eighty inches length of bore, and 1,900 pounds weight.” The cylinder of metal thus formed was turned and bored, the breech closed by a screw plug, and the trunnions fixed upon a band which was screwed upon the outside of the gun. The trunnion band and trunnions were formed like the cannon, by machinery moved by the hydrostatic press. The Secretary of War, advised by Lieutenant-Colonel Talcott, Chief of the Ordnance Bureau, authorized a contract with Professor Treadwell for a few 6-pounder field cannon. The Secretary of the Navy also contracted for four light navy 32-pounder cannon. After about a year and a half of most devoted and exhausting labor, and a very large outlay of money, Professor Treadwell completed the 6-pounder guns of 800 pounds weight each, to his satisfaction. Two of these were proved at Fortress Monroe with service charges fired 1,500 times without injury. “ After this, one of these guns which had been so proved was fired with the following charges :
20 rounds, 3 pounds of powder, 1 shot, 1 wad.
20 “ 3 “ “ 2 “ 2 “
10 “ 3 “ “ 3 “ 2 “
10 “ 6 “ " 7 “
and remains entirely uninjured. There is no enlargement of the bore exceeding one one-hundredth of an inch, and the gun is otherwise every way serviceable.”
The Chief of the Ordnance Bureau, after these experiments, writes to Professor Treadwell, “ I shall still say, as I have done, that your guns can be neither burst nor worn out, and refer to the facts of the various trials. No bronze 6-pounder gun ever made would withstand uninjured a single discharge of three pounds of powder and three shot. Cast iron guns are sometimes made to resist that charge, but no confidence can be placed in their safety in service.”
Professor Treadwell wrote in 1845, “ I have not hitherto spoken of carrying this method of making cannon to those of enormous sizes such, for example, as shall throw a shot of a thousand pounds, perhaps of many tons in weight. I can see no insuperable practical difficulty, however, to making such guns by the method devised by me. On the contrary, I can have but little doubt that further practice will lead to the fabrication of guns of these great calibres with perfect facility.” For this invention a patent was granted him in England, July 5, 1844. In November, 1846, the 32-pounders were finished, and although their weight was less than 1,900 pounds, one of them bore, uninjured, a succession of charges commencing with eight pounds of powder and one shot, and ending with twelve pounds of powder, five shot, and three wads.
With these favorable results, a charter was granted by the Legislature, February 28, 1845, to Professor Treadwell and eight other gentlemen of wealth and great respectability, under the title of the Steel Cannon Company. Land was bought in Brighton,and buildings erected suitable for the successful manufacture of the guns.
In 1845 Professor Treadwell published his “ Short Account of an Improved Cannon and of the Machinery and Process employed in its Manufacture.” Of this he sent copies to England and France, to the respective governments, and to many officers of the army and navy in both countries. The acknowledgement of the reception of the pamphlet at the Admiralty is dated September 11, 1847. To his Majesty, the King of the French, one of the cannon was forwarded in 1846.
In July, 1847, finding that this gun sent to France had not yet been proved, he determined to go and look alter its prospects there and in England. In England he made the acquaintance of Mr. Peter Barlow, through whose introduction he was admitted to the establishment at Woolwich. At that time the description of his gun Lad merely secured an acknowledgment of its reception at the Admiralty. Professor Treadwell then went to Paris, and there learned that the trial of his gun had commenced at Vincennes, November 9, and that it would be resumed in a few months. He then went to Italy for the winter, and returned to Paris in the spring. The proving of the gun was continued, and a copy of the report of the proving placed in Professor Treadwell’s hands in May, 1848. From this it appeared that the gun had been severely tried and remained uninjured. The revolution soon followed. During this, Professor Treadwell remained in Paris, and then returned to America.
Professor Treadwell, after his return, was offered a contract for the supply of several batteries for the army. But as the navy, upon which he had placed his chief reliance, did not favor the change proposed, he was obliged to abandon his project, with a loss of over $60,000 in buildings and machinery falling upon himself and the few friends engaged precariously with him.
Professor Treadwell was thus prevented from carrying out his ideas of making cannon of large calibre. His views and method of manufacture were well-known, however, in England, through the patents already secured in America, England, and Russia, and from the printed specifications, as well as the pamphlet above mentioned, which in 1848 was translated into French by a professor in the School of Artillery at Vincennes.
“ To prove that it was successful as a construction,” writes Professor Treadwell to the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy, “ I have only to say that Sir W. Armstrong, twelve years after I was obliged to abandon it, and after learning, as I fully believe, the method by which I produced it formed his rifled cannon upon the same plan ; and I defy him now, with the whole patronage of the British government, to produce a more perfect gun, so far as strength, soundness, and finish are concerned, than I produced seventeen years ago by private means alone. I limit my boast to the above enumerated particulars, for, as to Armstrong’s inventions in rifling and breech-loading, he deserves, in my opinion, much credit for them, and I hope that I shall be the last man to deny to another all that belongs to him.”
That Sir William Armstrong’s guns are manufactured upon the same principles as Professor Treadwell’s there can be but little doubt; for in 1863 Sir William says they are made “with a steel tube surrounded with coiled cylinders.” This gun has been adopted as the most efficient arm yet produced. It is a matter for national regret that America should have thus left to England the merit of a just appreciation of Treadwell’s great invention.
In 1856 he read before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences a memoir in which he proposes to “form a body for the gun containing the calibre and breech as now formed of cast iron, but with rods of only about half the thickness of the diameter of the bore. Upon this body I place,” says Professor Treadwell, “ rings or hoops of wrought iron, in one, two, or more layers. Every hoop is formed with a screw or thread upon its inside, to fit to a corresponding screw or thread formed upon the body of the gun first, and afterwards upon each layer that is embraced by another layer. These hoops are made a little — say one-thousandth part of their diameters —less upon their insides than the parts that they enclose. They are then expanded by heat, and being turned on to their places, are suffered to cool, when they shrink and compress, first the body of the gun, and afterwards each successive layer, all that it encloses. This compression must be made such that, when the gun is subjected to the greatest force, the body of the gun and the several layers of rings will be distended to the fracturing point at the same time, and thus each take a portion of the strain up to its bearing capacity.”
It will be remembered that the trunnion-band upon the guns constructed in 1845 was secured by means of a screw cut upon the body of the gun and “splined ” so as to prevent its starting : so also each hoop must be splined to prevent its starting. The trunnions in these last guns are welded upon one of the hoops. Cross fracture is resisted by the cast-iron body and also by the outer rings breaking joints over the inner. This gun was patented June 19, 1855. A patent was granted soon after to Captain Blakeley of the Royal Artillery, England, for constructing cannon upon this principle, using cast steel instead of cast iron for the body. No one doubts the great strength of these guns. Whitworth also uses hoops strained on to the body of all his large wrought cannon. Lastly, Mr. Parrott in this country has reinforced his cannon with hoops made of coil, on the principle of Professor Treadwell’s first gun, heated to a red heat and shrunk on to the cast-iron body of the gun without screws. This imperfect and partial application of Professor Treadwell’s principles has given a much stronger gun,— the only gun, indeed, that has in this country been used effectually as a rifle. Still these guns failed to do all that might reasonably be expected of them from the principle of construction. This failure may be attributed to two causes. First it will be seen that the hoops are of annealed, inelastic wrought iron. When, therefore, they are shrunk upon the castiron body and are subjected to a few discharges, they are expanded, and being inelastic, do not return to their first dimensions, but may remain without useful effect, so far as regards any compression of the cast-iron body or contribution to its strength. Professor Treadwell had already seen this defect of annealed wrought iron, and showed that the hoops should be cold hammered and stretched, and rendered clastic, and never afterwards heated sufficiently to lessen in the least degree this elasticity before being shrunk upon the body. He computed that a gun constructed in this way would be “ more than twice as strong as any hooped gun ever yet constructed, of the same materials, weight, and dimensions.”2 Secondly, the hoops made in neglect of this principle of elasticity did not retain their places, except when the gun was light, the body and hoop gradually changing their relative positions. This, in Professor Treadwell’s gun, the screw and spline effectually prevented. He laid great stress upon the accurate adaptation of the screw of the body to that of the hoop ; he considered the difference between the thread of a screw cut cold and the same thread when heated, and devised a machine for making screws with slight differences to obviate this very difficulty. A model of the machine is in the Observatory of Harvard College.
From Professor Treadwell’s papers, describing his gun and the principles of its construction, it is evident that it is still in advance of all others.
In 1858 we find him with an interest still unabated in the improvement of cannon. At this time he invented an apparatus for firing large guns, and at the same time effectually closing the vent or touch-hole during the discharge. The perfection of this instrument is such that a quantity of gunpowder can be fired in a hole in a steel block, not only without leakage, even for hours after the explosion, but without report. The advantages derived from the invention are : first, avoiding all wear of the vent; second, avoiding all danger from flame and annoyance from smoke ; third, the certain closure of the vent while reloading the gun ; fourth, the greatly increased certainty that the priming will inflame the charge ; fifth, a slightly increased effect of the same quantity of powder on the shot. Soon after its invention Professor Treadwell gave a full description to several officers of the United States Navy, and also sent a description to the proper department at Washington, but received no acknowledgment. In December, 1862, he sent a model to the Emperor Napoleon III. It was carefully examined by the Emperor personally, and a special commission appointed by the Minister of War to examine and report upon its merits. A special letter of thanks was also directed to be sent to Professor Treadwell through the Consul of France at Boston.
We have briefly noticed the most important of Professor Treadwell’s inventions. There are others, upon some of which he spent much time. He says of these, “ I succeeded in producing machines to operate as perfectly as I promised myself in the outset; but on trial they did not give that promise of profit which alone would warrant the attempt to establish them as practical instruments in the arts.” Among these was a machine for setting type, with a letter-board like the key-board of a piano, by pressing upon which the types were set. It is understood he found no difficulty in composing type, but the distribution of them was unsatisfactory,— a point at which others have been arrested. A contrivance of his for regulating the heat of a hot-air furnace is both simple and effective, and frequently used.
In reference to his inventions, Professor Treadwell writes, “It is dangerous for a man to judge of the merits of his own works, but I have always thought I have received from the public but a scant measure of credit for my inventions in spinning hemp. Few persons know that such machines exist, fewer still that they are of my invention. I believe that if a competent man were to compare these machines with many of the more famous inventions, understand the difficulties overcome, and the means devised for overcoming them, he would accord these inventions a very high place amongst modern machines.” In perfection and utility Treadwell’s Gypsey ranks with Arkwright’s spinning frame ; in ingenuity, it far exceeds it ; and they stand side by side in the revolution they have produced in the character of their respective products.
In Professor Treadwell’s inventions the material from the bale, without special regard to size or smoothness, is presented to the machine ; it enters it and lies upon a belted hatchel, through which it is drawn by rollers having a constant velocity, each fibre free to be moved in the direction of its length without carrying others with it. By this the fibres of hemp are straightened and laid parallel, so that they are strengthened for spinning and in the finished yarn. If the number of fibres is too small to form a yarn of the required size, the hatchel containing the roving advances and furnishes a new supply of fibres to the rollers ; when of proper size the hatchel stops ; if the supply has become too great a smaller hatchel combs out the surplus. It then passes to the spinning section, where it is drawn and twisted, and wound upon a bobbin a perfect yarn. The Gypsey is automatic ; it asks nothing of the workmen but to supply the material, and to join or piece a yarn if it happens to break, and of this even it takes care to notify him by instantly stopping, and does not again start until the yarn is made whole. If Richard Arkwright merited knighthood and riches, as he certainly did, for his combination in inventions already known, and their application to new processes, by which a new character is given to cotton manufacture, Daniel Treadwell deserves to be held in grateful remembrance for the originality of his inventions, the new combinations and new applications of others, and for the ardor and perseverance with which he overcame great obstacles and gave a new character to rope manufactures.
In May, 1865, Professor Treadwell received from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the Rumford medals, one of gold and one of silver. These medals, during the preceding thirty years that the Academy had been charged with their award, had been given to but two persons ; never before to a member of the Academy. To Professor Treadwell they were now given for “ Certain Improvements in the Management of Heat,” the particular improvements being a series of inventions by which the character of ordnance had been changed and its power immensely increased. This award was most grateful to him. It assured him that, however much his labors had been slighted by his own Government, and however much they had been appropriated by others, they were appreciated by a competent scientific tribunal, and his claims to originality fully recognized.
From 1856 to 1864, having ceased to engage in active pursuits, he prepared further papers on the construction of cannon, stimulated by the impulse the War of the Rebellion had given to this branch of manufacture. He also wrote a paper on the measure of the force of bodies moving with different velocities. These papers may be found in the Memoirs or Proceedings of the Academy. At the request of the Section of Civil Engineers, he delivered in 1855 a lecture on the Relations of Science to the Useful Arts. He also wrote several articles on the Natural Theology of Darwin’s Treatise on the Origin of Species.
Professor Treadwell’s health had been feeble from his early youth ; he was himself impressed with the belief that he should sooner or latter succumb to pulmonary disease. In after life his health improved, but was never robust. During his most active period be had attacks which often arrested him in the midst of his labors and compelled him to remain at rest for weeks together. During the latter part of his life he suffered from excessive pain; still he was interested in what was going on, and kept himself acquainted with discoveries and improvements. But as he grew weaker, he became subject to fits of despondency ; he withdrew from his club, and went but little abroad, except for exercise in his carriage. His painful attacks still pursued him. In the night of February 26, 1872, he suffered more severely than usual, but found relief, and went to sleep. From this sleep he never awoke, and died early in the morning of February 27, in his eighty-first year. Professor Treadwell was without children ; his widow survives him. In person he was of the medium height,— a spare figure, a pleasing though sedate countenance, and a bright eye. His manners were attractive but quiet ; his conversation direct, clear, and instructive. He was a kind-hearted man and a fast friend.
In giving the history of his labors and inventions, and the character of his intellectual abilities, his life is written. He had a taste for English Iiterature and was a great reader of Shakespeare ; he formed his own style, which was singularly pure and simple, on that of the best writers. With regard to questions upon which his mind was made up he was positive, impatient of opposition, and sometimes aggressive. He was apt to question the perfection of machines which he examined, and to this questioning it is probable we owe most of his inventions. This habit of mind he carried into other matters than mechanics, and was inclined to doubt what could not be demonstrated. He had a vivid imagination ; and when engaged in the invention of a machine, he could close his eyes and in his mind trace all its operations in regular order,— a faculty which enabled him to make rapid combinations and quickly determine their value.