Early Steam information in the Library at Ford Museum

1 / 3
Erie Engine Works, Catalogue of Erie Engine Works, successors to Cleveland & Hardwick, Erie, Pennsylvania Catalogue for 1901. Courtesy of The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.
2 / 3
Courtesy of Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.
3 / 3
Armington & Sims Company, description of Armington and Sims' Portable Steam Engines, manufactured by Armington and Sims Company, Lawrence, Massachusetts. Catalogue number 14 for 1879. This model has a driver's seat and footboard for convenience in travell

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022

Jerome Irving Smith, chief librarian of the Robert Hudson
Tannahill Research Library of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn,
Michigan, has written an informative pamphlet about the

The booklet lists the library’s eight major divisions,
explains the reasons for them, points out items of note in them,
and names collectors whose material the library has acquired.

The divisions are: reference library; manuscript collection;
American business archives; records and inventories; rare books;
prints, maps, music sheets, broadsides and frakturs; photographic
collection; colonial and continental paper currency and stamp
collection; and newspaper collection.

In the reference library are more than 100,000 pieces of
material for research. Reference tools furnish background history
of the United States in various fields including agriculture,
transportation, commerce and inventions.

The library business archives section has a collection of
original records and correspondence, gathered by Henry Ford, of
firms which manufactured mechanical equipment. In addition to
Ford’s collection, the library has acquired other records,
including those of an early automaker, the Winton Carriage

The rare books section of the library is probably of
considerable interest to Iron Men readers. In this department are
trade catalogues covering the production by American firms of
everything to do with farms, gardens, dairying, factories,
industrial needs and homes from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Among firms represented by catalogues are: The Alberger Pump and
Condenser Company, The Ames Iron Works, Armington and Sims Engine
Company, Atlas Engine Works, Aultman and Taylor Machinery Company,
Avery Company, A. D. Baker Company, Ball Engine Company, Birdsall
Company, Chandler and Taylor Company, Erie City Iron Works, Fischer
Foundry and Machine Company, Fitchburg Steam Engine Company, Frick
Company, Gaar Scott and Company, Ideal Gas Engine Company,
Manchester Locomotive Works, Novo Engine Company, Reeves Engine
Company, Trenton Engine Company, Watertown Engine Company and
Westinghouse Machine Company. This is just a partial list.

Smith notes that this rare book section includes European books
which influenced the development of American industries, and books,
souvenir booklets and memorabilia about most of the World’s
Fairs from 1851 through 1939.

Of particular interest to our readers could be the famous
Newcomen ‘atmospheric’ or ‘beam’ engine which is
exhibited in the museum.

Thomas Newcomen lived from 1663 to 1729. A blacksmith and iron
merchant of Dartmouth, England, he built a model of his engine
about 1705. In this engine, a piston was moved by atmospheric
pressure in a cylinder in which a vacuum had been created by the
use of cooling water to condense steam.

At first, water cooled the outside of the cylinder to produce
steam. The value of an internal spray was discovered when water
accidentally leaked on top of the piston.

This is how Newcomen’s engine worked. Boiler-generated steam
was admitted to a cylinder. A counter-balanced beam raised a piston
and rod at one end of the beam and lowered a pump rod at the other.
A spray was ejected into the cylinder, condensing trapped steam and
making a partial vacuum. The difference between the lower pressure
inside the cylinder and the atmospheric pressure on top of the
piston pushed the piston which actuated the beam and raised the
pump rod. 

At first, the valves were operated by hand. Newcomen’s
helper supposedly figured out an automatic system using cords,
later replaced by tappet rods. References give the helper’s
name as either Henry or Humphrey Potter, a lad who apparently
preferred fishing to opening and closing valves. The story goes
that Potter thought of an attachment that he called a
‘scoggin,’ which, when connected to the beam, tripped the
valve at the end of the stroke, allowing the engine to work while
he went off to the creek. So, was born the first automatic valve

Thomas Savery, also an Englishman, had patented an engine in
1698. Newcomen agreed to build engines of his own design using the
Savery patent. The most famous Newcomen-Savery engine was erected
in 1712 at Dudley Castle.

Smith’s description of the prints, maps, music sheets,
broadsides and frakturs division of the library is most

American history is illustrated by woodcuts, engravings,
lithographs and chromolithographs. Over 2,000 bookplates represent
famous engravers and prominent users. There is a small but select
map collection, including the first published map of the Western
Hemisphere made by Sebastian Munster in 1550 in Basle, Switzerland,
and a cartograph of Herman Moll with a view of Niagara Falls and of
beavers building a dam below it 

The Research Library is a memorial to Robert Hudson Tannahill,
who served as a trustee of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford
Museum. He also served as honorary curator of American Art at the
Detroit Institute of Arts. Tannahill is described as having a great
love of American art and artifacts.

Tannahill would have liked Smith’s pamphlet, which is, in
truth, a ‘little gem.’ As the author describes the library
he at the same time gives us a picture of the development of
America, its origins and its history. The booklet is
well-organized, understandable and splendidly illustrated. It can
be purchased for $1.40, postage prepaid and can be ordered through
Earl Hartman, Merchandising Department, Greenfield Village and
Henry Ford Museum. 

Photograph of the atmospheric steam engine, ‘Fairbottom
Bob,’ taken in the 1860’s at the original site near
Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England. This is the earliest known
form of steam-operated reciprocating engine and the forerunner of
every type of engine using a piston and connecting rod assembly. It
was invented by Thomas Newcomen, an ironmonger of Dartmouth,
England, and was given to Henry Ford in 1928 by the Earl of
Stamford. It is exhibited in the Henry Ford Museum with a
‘haystack’ wrought iron boiler of the same period.

The Research Library is used, of course, by Museum staff
members. Research workers, accredited students and
‘friends’ of the museum may be served by appointment.

Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, corporately known as
the Edison Institute, all began with the search for a
McGuffey’s Reader. One thing led to another and well it did,
for a knowledge of the past is

vital to an understanding of the present. Smith’s pamphlet
is vital to an understanding of the operation of the Robert Hudson
Tannahill Research Library.

References checked for information about Thomas Newcomen and his
engine were Encyclopedia International, vols. 13 and 17, and
Encyclopedia America, vol. 15.

Need Help? Call 1-866-624-9388
Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment