John West- A Cornish Engineer in the USA

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An Obituary of John West (Jnr)

The connection between the great Cornish Beam engines in Cornwall and the greatest of the Cornish engines in the USA is a family one.  It is a link that will be explored in this post through a transcript kindly provided by Mark Connar.

John and William West

John G. West was one of the many Cornish miners and engineers who emigrated to the USA. An emigration that included not only the men and their families, but also the skills, knowledge and systems developed in the centuries of hard rock mining in their home country.

John West was the son of another well respected engineer, who was also  called John. His father’s brother was the famous engineer, William West of Tredenham, the ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’. William became famous for building the most efficient Cornish Engine ever built, and John G. West was famous for building the largest Cornish Engine in the USA.

This engine is the subject of this series of posts; it is normally refereed to as the ‘President’ but interestingly in newspaper extract below it is called the ‘General Grant’.


From Reading Times (Reading. Pa), Wednesday, May 10, 1893

Death of John G. West

Sketch of the Well-Known Mechanical Engineer and Inventor – Other Deaths
John Gartrell West, mechanical engineer, passed to his rest Tuesday forenoon. He was born in the village of Crowan, in the Parish of Crowan, Cornwall, England, on the 28th day of May 1822, thus making his length of life 70 years, 11 months and 14 days. He came to the United States forty-four years ago and for a time was engineer on one of the Ohio River steamboats. Afterwards, through his intimate knowledge of the construction, and erection of the Cornish pumping engine, he was engaged to erect one purchased in England for the Perkiomen Cooper Ore Company, at Shannonville, Montgomery county. When his contract expired with the aboveJohnWestOBT named company, he entered into partnership with the Messrs. Richard Corson and Samuel Thomas, the firm name being that of Thomas, Corson & West, mechanical engineers of the Norris Works, Norristown, Pa.
He designed and superintended the construction of the pumping engine for the Lehigh Zinc Company, of Bethlehem, Pa, known as the General Grant engine, which is the largest stationary engine ever made in the United States, before or since. This is a high-pressure condensing engine; the diameter of the cylinder is 110 1/4 inches, length of stroke 10 feet and weight of the engine is 1096 tons. Mr. West was engineer and superintendent of the Providence R.I. water works for a year and a half.
He was afterwards engaged in the construction and erection of pumping and mining engines for the Yellow Jacket and other gold mines in Virginia City, Nevada and elsewhere. He came to Reading in January 1878, as the superintendent and manger of the Scott foundry, which position he held until about three years ago, since which time he was employed in the capacity of mechanical engineer of the Reading Iron Company.
 
He was the son of John G. West, also a famous mechanical engineer. He was married fifty years ago to Miss Jane Henwood, who survives, but has been an invalid for years. Deceased was in good health up to two weeks ago, when he was prostated with an abscess which developed into blood poisoning, causing great agony and unconsciousness for several days. Mr. West was a man of sterling integrity, unusual amount of caution, and absolutely honest, scorning deceit and littleness wherever found. He was a member of Christ Cathedral, a prominent mason, and leaves the follow – children and sisters: Mrs. Sophia Von Hummell, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Barnet H. West, late manager of the Reading Iron Works, but now with the Messrs. Cramp Ship Building Company; Mrs. Henrietta Stephens, of this city; Miss Viola West, also of this city; Wye H. West, with the Phoenix Iron Company, Phoenixville. The sisters are: Mrs. Dr. Rowana, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Lovinia Dalty, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Bethia Chant, of Ridley Park and Mrs. Frances G. Jones, of this city, wife of G.W. Jones, superintendent of the McIlvain & Sons’ rolling mills. Transcript by Mark Connar

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The President Steam Engine- Key dates

A Cornish Engine in the USA

These dates have been derived from a quick dip into Damian Nance’s article on the engine, and correspondence from Mark Connar; I dived in, grabbed a few dates and sorted them out into an order. Then to add some context I have added a few dates from the life of William West, John West’s famous uncle.

Events leading up to the engine’s creation

PresidentBW

1801 William West is born at Dolcoath

1835 Austen Engine’s Trial

1838 East London Waterworks engine started

1845 A rich zinc ore deposit in the dolomite limestone of Saucon Valley was discovered

1853 A  predecessor company to the Lehigh Zinc Company was formed to extract and smelt this primary material.

1854 Ueberotth mine was opencast operation

1860 Lehigh Zinc Company formed

1866 John West erected a 32″ double acting engine

1868  the Company’s engineer, John West from Cornwall as commissioned to design an engine capable of pumping 12,000 gallons/minute from a depth of 300 feet.

By 1869 three different engines were being used to clear the mines of water

The Engine’s operating years

1872 The President  was erected

1874 the engine’s crank broke and it took a number of days for it to be repaired and there was concern that the mines would fill with water.

1876 Operations were suspended

1879 William West dies

The President’s later life

1881 One of the owners of the Correll Mine in Friedensville purchased the mining assets of Lehigh Zinc and unified them under the name “Friedensville Zinc Company”

1883 New shafts were being dug and that the plan was to move the President to the new shaft location. This equipment move never transpired.

1884, Water was controlled in the mines by using two new steam pumps with the President was being kept in operational condition as a backup pump. Later that year, in May, the President was restarted.

By 1890 The Ueberroth mine was no longer being worked and the President was being used to lower the water in the other, still active, mine works.

1891 The last reported time that the President Pump operated

Events after the engine’s final steaming

1898 Unsuccessful efforts were made to raise capital in Europe to restart the Friedensville mine.

1893 All mining activities in the Friedensville area ceased

1899 The President was for sale

1900 The President was sold to Philadelphia based scrap dealers for $10,000

1901 The sixteen boilers were removed from the site to South Bethlehem by the New Jersey Zinc Company. The plan was to reuse these equipment pieces at other New Jersey Zinc mines.

1940s A new Friedensville mine was opened by the New Jersey Zinc Company which operated until 1983

Other Time Lines on this blog


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

This publication describes the life and work of John West’s uncle through the eyes of a Victorian biographer.

Available on kindle>

The paperback “Last Great Cornish Engineer” explores the Engineer’s life beyond the words of the sketch.