The Age of Steam was steaming along merrily when the famous Centennial Exposition was held at Philadelphia in 1876. Consequently, steam engines and machinery powered by steam drew tremendous attention from the crowds.
Machinery Hall was a major attraction from the very first day, when President U.S. Grant and the Emperor of Brazil started the mammoth Corliss engine, which in turn set all the machines in the machinery hall operating. George H. Corliss ascended the engine platform with them.
A description is given in The Centennial Exposition by J. S. Ingram. He wrote: 'The President having taken hold of the valve-lever of one engine and the Emperor of that of the other, both gave the turn simultaneously; steam was on - the great walking-beams began to ascend and descend; the engine was in motion; eight miles of shafting and hundreds of machines of all descriptions were in operation, and the International Exposition of 1876 was at that instant thrown open to the world.'
New inventions and new products were a prominent feature of the Centennial. The telephone, developed by Alexander Graham Bell, was given its first big introduction to the public. America's industrial might was amply demonstrated. Other nations also shared many of their latest products.
Among those products shown, were many which would have interested readers of our publications. We present pictures from Ingram's book, and some of the wording of his descriptions.
In an article on the Perpetual Hay Press, Ingram wrote that in prior years, 'baling has always been done by placing the material for a bale in a large box and then pressing it into a bale, this forming a bale at a time, and necessarily so much time was consumed that only large bales are practicable, although they have always been found exceedingly disadvantageous.'
The illustration showed an early baler, the Perpetual Hay Press of the P. K. Dederick Co. of Albany, New York. This worked on an entirely new plan, 'forming, as well as discharging the bale without any assistance, except pitching the loose material into the hopper; and the operation being continuous, a whole stack or mow of hay can be baled without stopping either to tie or remove the bales.' The engraving showed the press driven by a small portable steam engine, both mounted.
The Blake Crusher, for crushing and breaking of stones was illustrated in the book as it would appear in actual use. Made by the Blake Crusher Co. of New Haven, Connecticut, this was designed for constructing roads, ballasting railroads and for mining operations. It apparently was able to apply pressure of over 27,000 pounds.
Use of straw as a fuel was made possible by one of the machines of the Ames Iron Works of Oswego, New York, which was on display. The book said:
'This boiler is constructed on the return-flue principle, with one large flue extending the entire length, forming the fire-box, and a number of small tubes returning each side of the large one, by which means perfect combustion of the straw is obtained. In the front end of the large flue, or fire-box, are placed the furnace doors, which are so arranged that a very slight pressure of a fork in inserting the straw easily opens them; and when the fork is withdrawn they are easily closed by means of a handle at the top of the doors.
When it is desirable, these boilers can be used equally as well with either wood or coal; and, in fact, are really superior to the ordinary boiler, having more extended fire surface. The boiler is so constructed that the fibre of the straw is entirely consumed, and the heat so thoroughly extracted from the smoke that nothing passes from the pipe but super flous gas. A very convenient and desirable feature is, that the fire is instantly extinguished by simply throwing open the doors. This is particularly desirable in case of the discovery of low water in the boiler.'
A British engine was also featured in the book----under the heading of 'Agricultural Locomotive Engine.' This was an Aveling & Porter, fitted with the firm's patent side-plate brackets, and designed expressly for steam cultivation, threshing, sawing, pumping and removing farm produce.
The writer said: 'It had a single steam-jacketed cylinder mounted on the fore end of the boiler, to prevent priming and to economize fuel. The bearings of the crank-shaft, countershaft and driving axle were carried by the side plates of the fire-box extended upwards and backwards in one piece for this purpose. The patented arrangement is an improvement in the construction of engines of very great value, as it saves the boiler from the strain otherwise put upon it by the working parts, and minimizes the risk from strained bolt holes. The driving wheels are of iron; the engine is steered from the foot-plate, and in short, the general characteristics of the agricultural locomotives are the same as those belonging to Aveling & Porter's road locomotives.'
The Centennial commissioners used two of these, fitted with cranes, to remove and lift heavy material.
Aveling & Porter also displayed a steam road-roller, which was an adaptation of the ordinary road locomotives. A road locomotive crane engine was also shown.