History of a C.H. Brown Stationary Steam Engine

Inventor and builder C.H. Brown developed the automatic cutoff steam engine; this 150 HP model powered a New Hampshire sawmill for almost 75 years.

| September/October 2002

Last summer our association, the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, was very fortunate to receive a donation from Edward M. Clark of Littleton, N.H., in the form of a circa 1875 150 HP C.H. Brown & Co. horizontal stationary steam engine. For the past 50 years this steam engine had been on static display at Clark's Trading Post, a tourist site in Lincoln, N.H., and if you visited Clark's Trading Post - and Clark's trained bears - you would have seen this steam engine under a covered pavilion just behind the bear ring.

Charles H. Brown

C.H. Brown, inventor and builder, was born in Blackstone, R.I., in 1820. As a young man he formed a close association with another inventor, Charles Burleigh, when the two of them apprenticed together working for Boston engine builder Otis Tufts, a pioneer in steam engine design.

At this same time the Putnam Machine Co. of Fitchburg, N.H., got its first substantial boost from the manufacture of a gear-cutting machine invented by John Putnam. Following a disastrous fire in 1849 the company re-organized, and C.H. Brown, then only 29 years old, and Benjamin Snow Jr. came on as one-third partners. The partnership grew again in 1854 with Charles Burleigh becoming a partner in the company.

In 1855 the Putnam Machine Co. began manufacturing a steam engine designed by Charles H. Brown and Charles Burleigh. This engine proved popular for many years, and following this the two men set to work fashioning a working model of a new steam engine. Patented in 1856, this new engine gained fame as the Putnam engine and was shipped all over the world.

After development of the Putnam engine Charles H. Brown continued working at Putnam's as superintendent of the engine department, but poor health forced him into retirement in 1859. Charles Burleigh went on to invent the Burleigh rock drill and air compressor, tools that made possible the building of the great Hoosac Tunnel in western Massachusetts, which was completed in 1875.

In 1863, after resting for four years, Brown went back into the steam engine business, this time setting up his own small shop on Newton Lane in Fitchburg. By 1866 demand for his engines was so great that Brown moved to a larger facility on lower Main Street in Fitchburg, and it was here that he developed the celebrated automatic cutoff engine, a design that was to play an important part in American industrial history.