A Brief Biography: George Henry Corliss 1817-1888

| May/June 1991

from a pamphlet on the Harris-Corliss Steam Engine, Randall Brothers, Inc., published by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers

George H. Corliss was an inventor and manufacturer of the finest and most efficient steam engines of the late 19th century. He was born in Easton, N.Y., June 2, 1817, and began his working life as a clerk in the factory store of William Mowry & Co., a cotton manufacturer.

In 1838 he opened his own store, which led him to consider, as a result of complaints by his customers, the possibility of using machinery in the manufacture of ready made boots and shoes. This gradually led him into the invention and construction of various types of machinery, and eventually he found his way into the steam-engine business.

In 1844 he moved to Providence, and joined the machine and engine business of Fairbanks, Bancroft & Co. By 1846 he was a partner in the firm and had invented the steam engine that bears his name. This steam engine, including an improved valve gear, was patented in 1849. The patent was re-issued in 1851 and again in 1859. This special valve gear revolutionized steam engine design.

In 1856 George H. Corliss incorporated the Corliss Steam Engine Company in Providence. In time the company became the world's largest maker of stationary engines. During the Civil War, the Corliss Company manufactured a number of precision parts for the iron-clad Monitor.

Corliss held 68 patents and pioneered ideas in standardization and mass production. He died in 1888.


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