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Early Mechanical Inventions
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - December, 1954

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the locksmith was the artisan of one of the most elaborate and delicately wrought handicrafts. Besides framing keyholes with rich and beautifully designed ornamentation, he also showed great inventiveness in the finely wrought ironwork of gates, grilles, knobs, handles, and ornamentation of chests, In fact, iron seemed to have become as supple as wood from the way it was twisted and changed into something fragile and delicate with no trace of coarseness. By the middle of the nineteenth century those artists of ironwork had disappeared before the mechanization of these examples of artisanship, which were increasingly mass produced in cast iron, and therefore changed and usually simplified in design.

One effect of this was to bring about the new type of inexpensive mechanical lock especially desirable for use in safes and banks. By 1825 fireproof chests and burglar-proof locks were available for public use. The lock which Joseph Bramah invented in 1784 was the burglar-proof lock of its period, and it was widely known and employed up to the middle of the nineteenth century, In 1851 this lock was finally "picked" after a month’s attempt by a salesman for the "Parautoptic lock" which no one was successful in picking that year. Also in 1851 Linus Yale introduced a bank lock which he named the "Infallible Bank Lock," or the "Magic Lock." He was not entirely satisfied with this example, and ended by developing for practical use the dial combination locks. In 1856 he submitted his "Magic Lock" for examination by the committee on science and arts of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where it still may be seen with the autograph of its famous inventor.

Oliver Evans, who was primarily interested in the construction of an automatic mill, introduced the continuous belt of the production line with its various types of conveyors (belt, screw, and bucket), which he used for his automatic mill modeled in 1783, and finished constructing in 1785. The principle of the screw and circular motion had been known to the Ancients since the Archimedean screw but had been used, as far as we know, for liquids only. Oliver Evans appears to have been the first to employ the system to convey solids also. He also invented a steam-dredging machine for cleaning the docks, and introduced a method for making ice mechanically. For his assistance in the advancement of industry Oliver Evans received little appreciative recognition and he died an embittered man.

Johann Georg Bodmer, a Swiss born in 1786 and who died in 1864, was another inventor who concentrated on the improvement of the conveyor’s belt, and contrived new methods so that it could transport heavier material and for a greater variety of uses. He was an exceedingly versatile inventor, and besides his preoccupation with designing new patterns of conveyance within production, he worked on machine tools, spinning machines, water wheels, steam engines, locomotives, and a traveling crane.

In 1810 Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839) constructed what he called a "perpetual oven," as it had an endless belt of loose wire a yard wide which ran the length of the baking chamber and could be kept in motion without cessation.

In 1588 the Italian engineer Agostino Ramelli made use of the Archimedean Screw (three) for raising water. He was renowned for inventions of this type and also devised "a fine and artificious machine which is most useful and convenient to any person who takes delight in study. A man may read a great many books without moving from one place." This was true for the machine was a wheel with surfaces occurring at exact intervals like the planes of a water wheel, and books could be placed on these ledges and brought to the eye level.

As improvements in the implements for use in the field of agriculture became increasingly necessary, countless inventors worked unceasingly to improve machines for practical use.

Jethro Tull was one of those and in 1701 he produced the drill, and by 1716 the horse-drawn cultivator. The threshing machines appeared in 1732 and was improved for working use in 1786 by the Scot Andrew Meikle. The reaper, with its principle of continuous rotation, also appeared in the eighteenth century but it was not until 1834 that the workmanlike reaper, with which we are all familiar, was patented by McCormick and introduced to the public. By 1851 it had proved its unrivaled superiority to all others in the field.

Walter A. Wood of Hoosick Falls, New York, was another important constructor in the latter half of the nineteenth century of large agricultural machines which could use interchangeable parts.

Furniture was mechanized in ways to make it more comfortable and in 1831 we find the rocking chair was given more elasticity by inserting wagon springs between the rockers and the seat. By 1853 sitting chairs, of a type later used in offices, were improved by the placing of rockers mounted directly beneath the seat, and giving rotation and oscillation.

In the field of wearing apparel we find that as early as 1878 hat and clothing were cut by mass production, with stacks of exactly repeated pieces piled on the factory tables.

Electrical appliances such as irons, wringers, toasters, and fans were available by 1912, and the vacuum cleaner by 1917. By 1930 there were electric ranges, and in 1932 the electric refrigerator. And now the atomic field is still barely known to the public.

 

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