One hundred years ago in May, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant and Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil turned the emerald studded throttles to start the huge Corliss engine marking the opening of the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia. These two heads of state were supported by a choir of 1,000 voices singing Handel's Hallelujah chorus, Theodore Thomas' band of 150 pieces playing the Centennial March which had been composed to order by Richard Wagner, a 100 gun salute, blasts on steam whistles and the company of everyone of importance in America.
In the center of the entire ceremony was the mighty engine of George H. Corliss which drove the entire exhibit since there was no electric power available in those days. This giant stood forty feet high. Its flywheel was 30 feet in diameter and each of its two cylinders had a bore of 40 inches and a stroke of ten feet. It drove two sets of line shafting each 600 feet long. These shafts in turn drove over 8,000 assorted machines exhibiting in Machinery Hall.
This engine had been designed and built in Providence by Corliss and erected in Philadelphia in record time. The supervising engineer was none other than the young Nathanial G. Herreshoff later known as the wizard of Bristol.
One hundred years ago Rhode Island was the center of the steam engine business in America, if not the world. It is fitting that during the Centennial year of the great Corliss engine that we do it and its builder honor by reenacting the starting ceremony in East Greenwich, R. I. at the New England Wireless and Steam Museum.
A recently restored Corliss engine with a mere 12-foot flywheel will be started to mark this event. The tentative program of the celebration is, Sunday, May 9, 1976, 1 p.m. Raising of flags with cannon salute. Band - National Anthem. Brief biographical sketch of George H. Corliss. Brief technical description of the principle of the Corliss engine. Band - Wagner's Centennial March. Greetings - American Society of Mechanical Engineers, National Association of Power Engineers, Providence Engineering Society, Rhode Island Historical Society. Introduction of dignitaries to start engine. Start and run engine. Whistle blowing. Open house at museum. Display of Corlissiana. Refreshments.