Curators' Choice: America's Industrial Revolution
24 artifacts in this set
Steam power initially spread in the United States via its adoption and adaptation in ships and boats. This early mill engine's layout and dimensions are firmly rooted in Mississippi riverboat practice, while its applied decorative detail and vibrant color scheme speak to the increasingly elevated status of steam technology as it found a firm footing in mills and factories.
George Corliss was one of the United States' most highly regarded steam engine designers. His valve innovations made his engines particularly important to the textile industry--where a combination of high power output and quick response to changes in load were greatly valued. He designed many of the machines used to manufacture his engines and was a pioneer in standardized manufacturing techniques.
This is the oldest known surviving steam engine in the world. Named for its inventor Thomas Newcomen, the engine converted chemical energy in the fuel into useful mechanical work. Its early history is not known, but it was used to pump water out of the Cannel mine in the Lancashire coalfields of England in about 1765. The engine was presented to Henry Ford in 1929.
Boulton and Watt built this engine for the Warwick and Birmingham Canal Navigation Company in 1796. It was used at the Bowyer Street pumping station in Birmingham, England, to pump water on the Bordesley Canal until 1854, when it was superseded by a more modern engine. The engine remained in the pumping station until coming to The Henry Ford in 1929.
By the mid-1800s steam power had become widely adopted throughout settled areas of the United States. While refinements continued, the basic technology was accepted fully enough that it began to host contemporary decorative fashions. This engine's pronounced Gothic styling -- thoroughly digested into its (fairly advanced) engineering -- suggests the significance steam power had assumed both practically and philosophically.
Ford's Model T mass production system would not have been practical without electricity; by 1919 nine of these Ford-designed hybrid internal combustion/steam engines generated the power needed by the Highland Park plant's assembly lines and associated machinery. By 1926 the engines were rendered obsolete when electricity was fed from the power plant at Ford's River Rouge plant ten miles away.
Nikolaus Otto's engines -- originally using coal gas, not gasoline -- were the first internal combustion engines to challenge the supremacy of the steam engine. They were hugely successful, needing neither boiler (cheaper initial investment and greater safety) nor licensed operators (lower operating expenses); plus they offered greater readiness -- they could simply be started, there was no waiting period to raise steam.
Thomas Blanchard's duplicating lathe was originally developed in 1818 for manufacturing rifle stocks. It made copies using a rotating blade whose position was guided by the shape of a prototype -- much in the manner of a modern key cutting machine. These lathes -- readily operated by semi-skilled operators -- were adapted to make other irregularly-shaped forms such as shoe lasts and axe handles.
Rooted in a tension between human dexterity and dictated speed, this modest machine offers insight into both the possibilities and potential drudgery of volume production methods. While operation was simple (screw blanks, inserted by hand into the holes in the rotating drum, passed beneath spinning saw blades; slotted screws fell out into a waiting bin) it was also monotonously repetitive.
The work of Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) is fundamental to the development of industrial precision. This is the oldest industrial capacity precision machine tool in the world. Capable of machining to an accuracy of several thousandths of an inch, it enabled Maudslay's company to manufacture tools and engines to unprecedented standards -- and set the stage for even higher levels of precision.
For much of the nineteenth century, the American textile industry was at the forefront of processing and precision machine technology. Carding is a crucial step in the processing of raw cotton or wool; machines like this were used singly in tiny rural mills or in multiple in the largest textile factories.
The Model T's distinction as a landmark car design can be traced in large part to machines like this -- a high capacity precision machine tool that performed just two production steps on the car engine's cylinder block. The Model T as a design achievement is inseparable from many hundreds of engineering, materials, and production innovations.
Unimate robots were the world's first successful industrial robots. The units, designed by Unimation Inc., could perform tasks in manufacturing facilities that were difficult, dangerous, or monotonous for human workers. This is the first Unimate ever used on an assembly line. It was installed at the General Motors plant in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1961 to unload a die-casting press.
Design as a discipline is rooted in craft but revealed in industry. Similarly the story of incandescent lamp manufacture begins with craft (the earliest ones offered for sale were exquisite hand-made objects) and ends with mass production. This high output machine (ten bulb blanks a second) was developed by a former glass blower and a mechanical engineer.
In 1986, Chuck Hull received a patent for stereolithography--an early form of 3D printing. His innovation combines optical scanning and laser technologies to print precise physical parts, using liquid polymers. This additive manufacturing process accelerates production design, creating prototype parts and concept models with a quick turnaround time. This is the first machine shipped by Hull's company, 3D Systems.
In the 1980s Enertech grew to be a leading producer of wind turbines--in an industry fast becoming dominated by European companies. This particular unit was one of 8 installed in Princeton, Massachusetts. The Princeton wind farm, which began operation in September 1984, grew from the community's eagerness to explore alternatives to buying power generated by the Seabrook, New Hampshire Nuclear facility.
Nikola Tesla's name is inseparable from the development of alternating current electricity--particularly with regard to polyphase transmission, but especially with regard to the induction motor. His motor, patented in 1888, was the first practical AC motor. George Westinghouse licensed Tesla's motor patents that same year--enabling the Westinghouse AC lighting system to become a real competitor with direct current systems.
Chucking machines are used to manufacture high precision parts that are turned, faced, bored, threaded, or otherwise machined while being held in a chuck or collet. A variety of different cutting tools are successively used to shape the part. The Conquest 42 combines the high precision of its manually operated predecessors with the flexibility and automatic operation made possible by computer control.
For Thomas Edison, successful experimental results were but a prelude to continual improvements that would lead to commercial implementation. This dynamo is from the first lighting system he sold -- installed on a ship, four months after the December 1879 experimental demonstration. Its crude finish, at odds with the highly advanced technology it embodied, suggests Edison's impatient eagerness to move from experiment to market.