Woodruff and Beach Steam Engine

1 / 6
The old Woodruff and Beach engine before it was moved.
2 / 6
The picture below and those on the following pages show the moving process.
3 / 6
4 / 6
5 / 6
6 / 6
Photo by Judy Whiteside, Stemgas Publishing Co.

Curator of Industry Henry Ford Museum Dearborn, Michigan
48121

Reprinted from ‘Tools & Technology,’ quarterly
journal of the American Precision Museum in Windsor,
Vermont.

Our museum building was constructed in 1846 for the manufacture
of 10,000 Model 1841 U.S. Army rifles using only water power. In
the course of doing this, they developed the most modern armory and
machine shop in the country for precision interchangeable
manufacturing. They also began to sell duplicates of the fine
machine tools developed for their own use. This called for more
power than making small rifle parts. As their business expanded,
they found that the water power, always variable in quantity from a
steady winter flow to the much reduced flow of mid-summer,
interfered with keeping precise delivery dates. The only practical
answer in that era was an auxiliary steam engine as a supplement,
even though steam power was far more expensive than water
power.

Many visitors to the museum inquire how the machinery was driven
and about the water power obviously running over the dam. We have
no exact date when the original steam engine was installed. A
lithograph of 1849 shows no chimney or engine room, however,
another lithograph of 1853 shows an engine room, chimney and open
wood shed. Wood was the fuel of choice in the area at that time and
later; the Central Vermont Railroad only changed to burning coal
about 1900. As long as manufacturing continued in our building,
until 1884, the fuel was wood and it is said that it was the cost
of this fuel that was the major factor in discontinuance of the
business. At that time the business was cotton manufacturing, a
highly competitive enterprise.

For proper restoration and to meet public interest we have
needed a suitable replacement for the original engine. Not many
engines with the correct characteristics have survived, but a
friend in Connecticut1 brought an engine of suitable
age, size, quality, design and plausible origin2 to
museum attention in 1982. An exciting feature of the engine found
was the identification cast on the engine bed, ‘Woodruff and
Beach, Hartford, Conn. 1849.’ Another wonderful and difficult
to find feature was an engine that had a balance or flywheel with a
narrow rim not used for a belt to drive the machinery. Instead the
power from this engine, as with the original, was transferred from
a coupling on the crankshaft to a clutch so that it could be
coupled to the water wheel as needed or could also drive the
factory alone, as circumstances dictated. The flywheel rim has not
been machined and there is no evidence of balancing by the addition
or subtraction of weight. Very probably the heavy crank was located
on the light side of the wheel as a counter poise. The flywheel and
crank, indeed all of the castings, are of excellent quality so the
engine exhibits nice foundry work as well as superior skill in
machine work.

One of the standard engine sizes made by Woodruff and Beach had
a 14′ bore and 30′ stroke, to which our engine conforms.
The maker rated this size of engine at 35 horsepower at 55
revolutions per minute. The steam pressure is not stated, but it is
a high pressure engine of its era, perhaps however this amounted to
not more than a boiler pressure of 85 pounds per square
inch.3 The valve or steam chest extends the full length
of the cylinder and is on the side rather than the top. This was a
relatively new design at the time with two important features: it
simplified the connection between the valve and the eccentric
actuating it, and second, and very importantly, it made it easier
for condensed water in a cold engine cylinder to escape to the
exhaust pipe with much less danger of straining or lifting a
cylinder head. The slide valve itself has a separate exhaust port
at each end, thus steam was admitted to each end of the cylinder
through a very short passage with a minimum loss of heat and
pressure. Economy of the exhaust steam was a secondary
consideration not much regarded at this time. Low pressure engines,
particularly marine engines, did at this time exhaust into a
condenser which increased efficiency, but it was chiefly done to
reuse the water in oceangoing vessels to keep salt out of the
boiler.

By 1855 the Woodruff and Beach engines were made with entirely
different valve design, balanced poppet inlet valves and a gridiron
slide valve for the exhaust. It is said that at the time this
design was introduced the Woodruff and Beach engine was the only
one to have a governor controlled automatic cutoff, quick-closing,
valve gear, with the exception of the Corliss Engine patented in
1849, which had an entirely different valve gear that had shown
much greater fuel economy than plain slide valve
engines.4

The inventor of this valve gear, or at least enough of it to
contribute some degree of patent protection, was William Wright of
Rochester, New York, who was residing in Providence, Rhode Island
when he received a patent on a complex rotary engine. Two of the
six claims in his patent refer to balanced valves where the steam
pressure does not cause friction as in the D type valve used in all
but the Corliss engine of four years later. The inlet valves were
opened to admit steam at the beginning of each piston stroke, but
their closing was determined by the engine speed under governor
control in accord with the load on the engine. This responsiveness
to load resulted in important fuel economy giving it a competitive
advantage over nearly all other engines in the market. The Wright
patent does not refer to governor control. Wright held the position
of engineer in the Woodruff and Beach organization for some time,
but then moved to Newburg, New York where he established an engine
factory in his own name. There he made an engine closely similar to
that of the Woodruff and Beach engines, but with vertically instead
of horizontally oriented inlet valves.

This digression about the improved valve gear is made chiefly to
illustrate what a leading maker Woodruff and Beach was in the
mid-19th century. ‘For several years…among the most extensive
in New England for the manufacture of engines and heavy
machinery.’5This is the quality of machinery that
Robbins and Lawrence would be likely to bring to their ideal
factory.

Woodruff and Beach evolved from the small iron foundry of
Goodwin, Dodd and Gilbert purchased in 1821 by Alpheus and Truman
Hanks and said to have been the first foundry in
Connecticut6. This of course would be as distinguished
from iron furnaces, where iron was reduced from the ore and where
castings were also made. In 1842 Henry Beach began as agent for
Truman Hanks, and in 1844 bought out Mr. Hanks, his father-in-law,
and was joined by Samuel Woodruff doing business as the Woodruff
and Beach Company. In 1853 the name was changed to Woodruff &
Beach Iron Works at the time of incorporation with Samuel Woodruff
as president. Their engines became noted for the quality of both
design and workmanship. At the beginning of the Civil War they
greatly expanded their works, including an enlarged foundry with a
center and two wings measuring 230 by 63 feet inside and a boiler
shop 125 feet long and 60 feet wide. This growth enabled them to
build some very large marine engines for U.S. war vessels: the
sloops Mohican, Kearsarge, Manitou, Minnetonka and Piscataqua;
the gunboats Cayuga, Pequot and Nipsic
; the transports
Dudley Buck and George C. Collins; and the steam ships
America and United States; all for government service7.
They had previously built pumping engines, probably all low
pressure beam engines, for the cities of Brooklyn, New York,
Hartford, Connecticut, and for the U.S. Navy dry docks at
Charlestown, Massachusetts and Norfolk, Virginia. They are known
also for a beam engine built for the U.S. Armory at Springfield,
Massachusetts in 1856 , which saw service as late as the beginning
of World War I, and several engines for Colt’s armory, one as
large as 200 horsepower. The number of engines built for private
industry has been lost track of, but the number was large. It has
also been stated that they built the engine for the Hartford,
Admiral Farragut’s
flag ship at the battle of Mobile Bay,
but this does not appear in the company advertising as engines for
other government vessels do, so is probably
erroneous.9

Following the Civil War, the engine business seems to have
declined, and the corporate name was changed to the Woodruff Iron
Works. ‘In 1871 the firm ceased to do business, and the boiler
department passed to H.B. Beach & Son, who have continued to do
a large business. ‘In 1870 this firm Woodruff & Beach
Iron Works went out of existence. In 1871 the firm of H.B. Beach
& Son was organized.’10

Samuel Woodruff lived to 1882, when he was 68 years old, and it
would appear from an advertisement of 1874 that the Woodruff Iron
Works was very much in business at that time advertising mill work,
all kinds of machinery and castings of any size or style. The
engine illustrated in this advertisement is a new engine not shown
in the advertising as late as 1869. It has a girder bed and is
elevated from its foundation on short legs. The valve gear is also
different, the intake valves being arranged vertically and operated
by a long shaft controlled endwise by the governor. In all an
engine of more modern design and appearance, but apparently using
the same valves.

Our engine was moved from the site of an old woodworking factory
in Deep River, Connecticut to the museum in the early autumn of
1990, and is presently outside waiting for the preparation of the
site for it inside.

‘The Woodruff Iron Works, known also as the Woodruff
& Beach works, stood very high among the makers of heavy and
complicated machinery, especially such as required skill and
ingenuity in designing.11

We regret not having information at this time about the outfit
of machine tools so necessary to the manufacture of all these
complex and high-grade engines.

If anyone knows of the existence of early machines which have
been abandoned at their original sites, please contact the American
Precision Museum, P.O. Box 679, Windsor, VT 05089, and John
Bow-ditch, Curator of Industry, Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI
48121.

FOOTNOTES

1Richard Everett.

2Given to the APM in 1983 by Robert Garthwaite.

3POWER, August 22, 1911, and Woodruff & Beach
catalog of gear patterns, 1868, at Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, DC.

4No. 4182, issued Sept 9, 1845.

5 A History of American Manufacturers from 1608 to
1860, by J. Leander Bishop, Philadelphia, Edward Young & Co.,
1864, Vol. II, p. 747.

6 The Memorial History of Hartford County,
Connecticut 1633-1884, ed. by J. Hammond Trumbull, Boston, Edward
L. Os-good, Publ., 1886, Vol. 1, p. 570.

7Full page illustrated advertisement. Webb’s
N.E. Railway and Manufacturers Statistical Gazetteer
,
Providence, 1869, p. 595.

8P0WER, March 7, 1922, Vol. 55, No. 10.

9See Footnote 6.

10Ibid.

11Ibid.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment