STEAM PIONEER

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Since IMA is a magazine devoted to steam traction engine collectors, we feel that everything connected with steam power is of interest.

That's why this month we devote some space to Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia, Pa., who designed and built the first engine driven by steam, which he called the 'Orukter Amphibolus'.

Evans started experimenting with steam in 1772, when he was 17 years old. He had to put up with a lot of ribbing, for the idea of utilizing steam to do anything was considered an impossible dream.

In 1787, the Maryland Legislature granted him a 14-year contract for exclusive use of its roads for steam-driven wagons. That same year, he also stated publicly that he could drive not only wagons with steam, but mills as well.

He published a bet of $3,000 that he could 'make a carriage to run upon a level road against the swiftest horse that could be found' but nobody challenged him. So wiseacres called him foolish.

A poet summed up what Evans claimed that his steam wagon would travel...

'Nine miles to the hour,
with fifty horse-power,
By daytime and night time,
Arrive at the right time,
Without rumble or jumble,
Or chance of a tumble,
As in a chaise, gig, or whiskey,
When horses are frisky.'

At this time, John Fitch was seeking to run boats by steam, and encountering just as much jeering as Evans.

Evans published some predictions about 1815. They seemed impossible then but seem mild now:

'The time will come, when people will travel in stages, moved by steam-engines, at fifteen to twenty miles an hour.

'A carriage will leave Washington in the morning, breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup at New York, on the same day!

'Railways will be laid, of wood or iron, or on smooth paths of broken stone, or gravel, to travel as well by night as day.

'A steam-engine will drive a carriage 180 miles in twelve hours or engines will drive boats ten or twelve miles an hour; and hundreds of boats will so run upon the Mississippi, and other waters, as prophesied thirty years ago; but the velocity of boats can never be made to equal those of carriages upon rails, because the resistance in water is 800 times more than that in air.'

The Maryland Legislature did not renew his grant of protection, and Pennsylvania never gave him any. He said posterity 'will not be able to discover why'.

He applied his steam engine plan to a large scow, for the purpose of cleaning docks. He set this on wheels, and piloted it through part of Philadelphia. Then, launching it on the Schuylkill River which flows through the city, he put paddle wheels in the stern and drove it down the river like a steamboat. From there he drove on land to the Delaware River, which also serves Philadelphia, and took it to the place where the cleaning of the dock was to be done.

The Evans gristmill needed only one operator (at right). Fully automatic, his invention eliminated the need for three other men. For years the world's first automatic plant was a commercial flop, since millers would have none of it. One of Evans' few customers was a sensible businessman from Virginia named George Washington.

The 'Orukter Amphibolos,' or Amphibious Digger, was a scow thirty feet long, weighing fifteen tons. Evans put this monster on wheels, sent it chuffing to the Schuylkill River, fixed a paddle wheel to its stern, and despite headwinds drove it to Philadelphia. Confronted with this miracle, wiseacres said only that the thing was too slow.

Evans tried, but found no takers, to get permission for steam carriages to run on the turnpikes, and also to build one to run on rails. He published his proposal for a steamboat at about the same time. He foresaw other uses of steam for ploughing, sowing and reaping, among others.

While he was not successful in gaining acceptance for use of steam for power, he did see widespread use of another of his projects a mill for grinding grain that could be operated by one man.

Before he died, he knew of Robert Fulton's trip up and down the Hudson in the Clermont, in 1807. His fellow Pennsylvanian went on to fame and a certain amount of fortune. Evans made little profit, but in the annals of steam he is not forgotten.