BUILDING A CORLISS


| July/August 1981



GEORGE HENRY CORLISS

GEORGE HENRY CORLISS

While restoring a Kingerey steam engine, I remembered an event back in 1926, when I was a young boy. I recall watching the operation of a Corliss engine in a creamery in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I will never forget the slow, positive strokes of the crosshead and the quick cut-off actions of the dash pots!

While the small Kingerey did not belong to me, I decided to build some sort of a small stationary steam engine!

Living on a small city lot with only a single-stall garage, I was prevented from collection and restoration of actual size engines of any kind, even the small hopper-cooled gasoline engines, which intrigued me very much.

The decision was to build a miniature model of the 'king of them all' the Corliss!

I first decided to learn about the history of the engine. I read some information on George Corliss himself, and studied Audel's book on the Corliss engines. It was interesting to find out that George H. Corliss, although possessing inventive ability, was actually a harness maker. He was born on June 2,1817, in Easton, New York, and died in Providence, Rhode Island, on February 21, 1888. Mr. Corliss was not fitted by any special education for his great work of taking the steam engine from where it was left by the immortal Watt, and bringing it to its present high state of perfection. He never saw the inside of a machine shop until he was 24 years of age. He attended an ordinary village school until he was 14. Working on leather harnesses resulted in the invention of a harness sewing machine which long preceded the famous sewing machine invented by the Howe brothers.

George Henry Corliss first came to Providence in 1844 to complete an invention of his for sewing harness leather. He took his work to the steam engine works of Fairbanks Bancroft & Co. He showed such adaptability as an inventor and draftsman, that he was requested by the firm to come and work for them and he abandoned the harness sewing machine.