Monday, November 17, 2014

Occupational Shaving Mug: John Hutchison and the Corliss Steam Engine

John Hutchison - Steam Engine

This beautiful occupational shaving mug shows an early stationary steam engine and has the name John Hutchison in gold above it. There is a warm sepia tone to the image and a craftsman's pride in the quality of the work. 

The stationary steam engine is depicted in precise detail. It is a variation of the Corliss Steam Engine, which was invented and named after William Henry Corliss in 1849. Corliss Steam Engines were much more efficient than the other steam engines of the time and were instrumental in moving industry away from Mill Ponds and direct-water powered engines. 

"This was the most efficient steam engine design until the invention of the Uniflow design,
followed by the steam turbine.  There are still a few of these in operation today!" - source

John Hutchison - Steam Engine

John Hutchison - Steam Engine

Who was John Hutchison and how was he connected to this stationary steam engine? In my research, I discovered a beautiful story about Robert Burns, the Scottish Poet, and the invention of one of the first steam engines built for a steam boat. John Hutchison was the name of the blacksmith who actually constructed it. He also made shoes for Robert Burns' horse and had a poem written about him. (See below.) However, as interesting as this is, the dates are unfortunately wrong by almost one hundred years. 

James Watt invented the first steam engine that could provide continuous rotative motion in 1781, although there were earlier versions of steam engines going back a couple of hundred years. William Symington was the first to put a steam engine into a pleasure boat in 1785. And the blacksmith John Hutchison worked on a variation of this "steam boat" in 1788. 

Shaving mugs range from the 1870s to the 1920s. And the Corliss Steam Engine is from 1849. It is tempting to consider a relation between the blacksmith John Hutchison and the one named on the shaving mug but a cursory look into the rich and complex Hutchison genealogy provides nothing obvious. (Curiously, there are quite a few Hutchisons in the Fulton family tree. Robert Fulton, of course, is credited with inventing the first "commercially viable" steam boat. However, there is no direct family connection that I can find.)

The Operative Miller, Volume 14 from 1909 has another tantalizing potential reference:

In the first column is a notice offering a Corliss Engine for sale. And in the middle column is an advertisement for John Hutchison Manufacturing Company - which was based in Jackson, Michigan.

Than, there is also this mention in The Northwestern Miller, Volume 43 from January 22, 1897:

"Resolved, that we extend a vote of thanks to the Knickerboker company and the John Hutchison Mfg, Co. for the interesting exhibit of special machinery made by them, and to George T. Smith for his interesting paper on "Milling Methods". 

Could John Hutchison's special machinery have been a variation of a Corliss Steam Engine that would revolutionize current milling methods? Was his Corliss Steam Engine so significant to him that he choose to memorialize it on his shaving mug as a way of representing his profession?

Following this lead, I found in Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan, Volume 107 (1895) a case, John Hutchison Mfg v. Pinch, with this interesting exchange:

Defendants testimony upon this subject was that, upon January 11, 1890, Mr. Hutchison and Mr. Crandall, a millwright employed by plaintiff, were, in company with Mr. Horn, defendants miller, examining the mill for the purpose of seeing what machinery was required.  During the examination, Mr. Horn said to Mr. Hutchison nod Mr. Crandall: 
It seems to me you are going to put in a good deal of machinery here. We have got all the machinery our power will carry, and, if you are going to add any machinery that will take more power, we have got to make some other arrangements. 
Mr. Hutchison then said that the machinery they were going to put in would run a great deal lighter than the old machinery, and that it would run with less power than was then required. 
There is an order for equipment related to milling but no mention of a steam engine. However, there is a compelling argument to made that what Hutchison is talking about is a more efficient engine that for the millwork. The Corliss Steam Engine is precisely that sort of engine.

In The Operative Miller, Volume 16 (1911), there is this notice regarding the Corliss Steam Engine and Mills:

Murray Corliss Engines. A miniature catalog, the press work and illustrations of which are a work of art, has been issued by the Murray Iron Works Company, of Burlington, Iowa. It contains brief descriptions of the Murray Corliss engine as a while and the various detailed parts. The engine, which has for many years been very popular with the millers, is built in a variety of styles and sizes to suit every possible requirement. The catalog also contains illustrations and descriptions of various types of Murray boilers and air compressors, which are largely being used in mills in every part of the country. A copy of the catalog will be sent on application to the Murray Iron Works Company.

1896 Ad-Murray Iron Works Co., Corliss Steam Engine

Another interesting element of the Hutchison shaving mug is that it shows a belt. Bruce Petty in his discussion of Corliss Steam Engines states:

The engine was usually housed in its own room of a factory in order to keep it free of dust and dirt.[...] With a large leather Flat Belt around the flywheel would then furnish power to a drive shaft inside the factory. This belt may be several hundred feet long and up to six feet wide. There were a number of companies that made these belts like the one shown below. 
Corliss Steam Engines
 This photograph taken in 1913, is the Press Room where Flat Belts are made up from hundreds of cow hides. This 72 inch wide Flat Belt is four layers thick with a driving capacity of 2000 horse power. 

Many Corliss Steam Engines, many over 100 years old, are still working today. Although most are just fascinating museum pieces:

After extensive research and evaluation, here is what can be said about the Hutchison shaving mug: John Hutchison owned a manufacturing and supply company for mills. Around this time the Corliss Steam Engine was instrumental in revolutionizing the way mills worked, supplanting direct water as a source of power and operating with far greater efficiency. Additionally, the Corliss Steam Engine was a thing of awesome mechanical beauty. For an owner of a manufacturing company, it was a perfect emblem of power, innovation and success to have depicted on your shaving mug. Much more interesting than a building or a collection of supply parts.

There also may be a genealogical connection between him and his Scottish ancestor of the same name. It is pleasing to believe so, that after his blacksmith ancestor worked to construct the first steam engine for a boat, this later day John would have a successful business based upon a beautiful elaboration of that earlier machine.

John Hutchison - Steam Engine

The first reference to a John Hutchison, blacksmith, who constructed a steam engine to power a boat. From The First Steamboat and Robert Burns
In "Families of Wanlockhead", note is taken of the Miller steamboat and the connexion of two natives of Leadhills who were educated in Wanlockhead. James Taylor, whose father was an overseer of the mines in Wanlockhead, after graduating from Edinburgh University, secured a position as tutor in the family of Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, near Dumfries. While thus engaged, he persuaded Miller of the feasibility of using a steam engine to power a boat. With Miller¹s backing he engaged William Symington, another Leadhills native educated in Wanlockhead and an inventive engineer who had constructed a steam propelled carriage in 1786, to design the engine, and John Hutchison, blacksmith at the mines, to build it. The first trial of the experimental steam boat in October 1788 witnessed by Burns, then a tenant of Miller's, among others ‹ was considered a great success. Nothing more came of this venture, mainly because Symington's later model, developed for commercial use, was tested in a narrow waterway where its side wheels damaged the banks. Queen Victoria recognized Taylor's part in this achievement with a pension of £100 for his widow. This later led to
controversy over who deserves credit for the invention of steam navigation. While the ingenuity and success of the design undoubtedly belong to Symington, Miller, Taylor and Hutchison also deserve recognition for the parts they played.

James Taylor's older brother, John, who had succeeded their father as an overseer, was himself involved, if indirectly, with Burns. During John Taylor's tenure as overseer, Robert Burns, on one of his journeys over his ten parishes as an exciseman, had arrived at Wanlockhead on a winter day, when the roads were slippery with ice and his mare, Jenny Geddes, kept her feet with difficulty. The blacksmith, John Hutchison ‹ referred to above could not accede to Burns's request to frost the mare's shoes without the approval of the overseer. Taylor gave his permission, whereupon Burns, staying at the inn, called for pen and ink and wrote the verses to John Taylor titled, "Pegasus at Wanlockhead". 
With Pegasus upon a day.
Apollo weary flying
(Through frosty hills the journey lay),
On foot the way was plying. 
Poor slipshod giddy Pegasus
Was but a sorry walker;
To Vulcan then Apollo goes
To get a frosty caulker. 
Obliging Vulcan fell to work,
Threw by his coat and bonnet,
And did Sol's business in a crack;
Sol paid him with a sonnet. 
Ye Vulcan's sons of Wanlockhead,
Pity my sad disaster!
My Pegasus is poorly shod,
I'll pay you like my master. 
Upon receiving the overseer's instructions, Hutchison "at once flew to his tools, sharpened the horse's shoes, and, it is recorded, lived thirty years to say he had never been 'saed weel' paid for his labour as by Burns, 'who paid him in siller, paid him in drink, and paid him in a sang.'" (The quotation is from J Moir Porteous in "God's Treasure-house in Scotland".) A footnote to these references to Robert Taylor and his two sons is that he was a son of the John Taylor who lies buried in the Leadhills Cemetery with the gravestone inscription that refers to him as having lived to the age of 137. This claim is open to question but there is substantial evidence to support it.

Another tantalizing reference to the mysterious blacksmith, John Hutchison from  'God's treasure-house in Scotland'; a history of times, mines, and lands in the Southern Highlands by the Rev. James Moir Porteous (1876):

One proof of superior intelligence and energy is furnished in the fact that the first trial of steamboat navigation on Dalswinton Loch, about 1786, was the work of three men drawn from thence. James Taylor, grandson of the very aged man referred to, and graduate of Edinburgh University in 1785, became tutor in the family of Mr Patrick Miller of Dalswinton.  Being conversant with the steam engines of this district, he contended with Mr Miller that steam-engines alone were powerful enough to propel vessels through the water, who at length sent for William Symington, engineer, and John Hutchison, blacksmith, from Wanlockhead, to make the machinery, which was fitted to a small vessel. Mr William Symington was a schoolfellow of James Tay1or, who introduced him as an ingenious young man. In 1787 Mr Miller published a description of a triple vessel propelled with paddle wheels moved by cranks, originally intended to be worked by men. ln 1789 Mr Symington was employed to construct one on the Forth and Clyde Canal, which, destroying the banks, was removed.  It has been said that the family of Mr Miller, Lord Brougham, and the poet Burns were present at the first trial on Dalswinton Loch.