Steam power & the Circular Saw

| May/June 1982

#1, Princeton, Wisconsin 54968

Another significant development was the wire nail. George Chandler of Maryland had secured a patent on a nail cutting and heading machine on December 12, 1796. Nails had been cut cold nearly 20 years earlier in Cumberland, Rhode Island. The first successful wire nail machine was built under the supervision of Major Thomas Norton by Adolph and Felix Brown of New York City. It was put into operation by William Hassall of the same city in 1851. To have constructed the number of buildings erected during the next five decades without the wire nail would have been difficult if not impossible.21

A third development of considerable importance was improved means of transportation. The railroad and steam ship were themselves users of wood products. Most ships were made of wood and railroads consumed much wood for fuel and lumber for bridges, piles, depots, cars, turntables and crossties. Many sawmills along the routes of railroads supplied the lumber and ties needed. But besides being consumers of lumber the ships and railroads made possible the transporting of lumber to centers of population at great distances.

A fourth development of consequence was the rapid rise in population. The first cencus taken in 1790 revealed that Virginia had the largest population. The grand total for the United States was four million, or slightly more than half that of the Chicago metropolitan area in 1980.

By 1850 the population had reached 23,000,000. At the end of the century it had increased threefold to 75,994,575 and passed the 100,000,000 mark within another twenty years.22 This growth was accompanied by an increase in the urban population to the point where it exceeded the rural population. But farmers, as well as city dwellers, were voracious users of lumber. The price of lumber and the quantity used appears to have fluctuated with the prices farmers were receiving for their grain and livestock.

A fifth development was a set of consequences that flowed from the increase in population and the resultant demand for lumber and wood products, that is diversification and specialization within the lumber industry itself. The frame house could be erected more quickly if lumber were cut to specifications. There was at once a need for furniture, doors, sashes, windows, shades, wagons, caskets, carriages, and cabinets. To meet some of these diverse needs, the planning mill, veneer mill, and shingle saw, to mention only three, were devised. Joseph Bramah (1748-1814) of Yorkshire, England, apprenticed as a carpenter, employed as a cabinet maker and water closet mechanic, inventor of an improved lock, developed a planning mill.23