Category Archives: The President Steam Engine

 The President Steam Engine described

 A Cornish engine in the USA

Now this series of posts on John West’s massive steam engine arrives at the point where it digs into the technical details. I have extracted various facts from the Damian Nance’s article, sifted, sorted and summarised to give a summary of the engine.

What was the President Engine?

The President was a rotative double acting engine with a 110″ cylinder, a 10 foot stroke screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgand weight of 675 tons Although described as a Cornish engine, but had many features not common to pumping engines in Cornwall, i.e. it was rotative had flywheels, and was  double acting.

The engine was named after president Ulysses S. Grant, who had been invited to its dedication but  then failed to arrive.

Who built the engine?

The Cornish Engineer John West built the engine (the nephew  of William West, the Last Great Cornish Engineer), and its components were built by various companies in Eastern USA. Merrick and sons built the engine at their Southwark factory Philadelphia, but  much of the casting was  done at Lazell Perkins and co Bridgewater Massachusetts. The Pumps, boilers and  mountings were produced by  LP  Morris and co, Philadelphia.

Click here for information on Merrick and sons on the Philadelphia encyclopedia>

What did the engine do?

The engine was built to pump large quantities of water from a relatively shallow  mine shaft. Accounts of the engine differ in the number of pumps installed. Some state two pair, some three. Each pair of pumps consisted of a  lifting pump at the bottom of the shaft, and a 30″ plunger pump part way up. The lifting pumps were only  at a depth of 127 feet, very shallow compared to the Cornish mines of the time which were down to thousands of feet deep. The engine pumped at  15000 gallons per minute at 12 strokes per minute, and discharged into an adit and into a tank for use as boiler and condenser feed-water.

 

How was the steam provided?

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The three roofs of the boiler house.

An engine of this size demanded large quantities of steam, and so it had an impressive array of boilers. The President was served  by 16 boilers in a boiler house to the rear of the engine house, each boiler was 50 feet long with a 36 inch diameter.

The engine was designed to run at 60 psi at which pressure it produced 3000  horsepower, although in use it was normally run at a lower pressure.

What was the key features of the President Engine?

Apart from its sheer size the President had several interesting features that set it apart from the standard arrangement of a pumping engine back in Cornwall. These differences arose from the shallow depth of the mine. Engines running expensively on the Cornish cycle are more effective if they have a load of the heavy pump rods in the shaft. To replace this John West designed the engine with large 92 ton flywheels of over 30 foot diameter. For smoother operation of the flywheel West made the engine double acting (powered on both up and down strokes).

Note: The weight and diameter of the flywheel has been shown differently on some engine descriptions.  These figures have been confirmed as the most likely to be correct by Mark Connar, who I thank for the additional information.

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Although he installed Cornish style steam valves, the operating method was unusual. Valve operation was through cams fitted on the flywheel shaft, three cams for three different values of cut-off. The  throttle valve was fitted with an automatic control using a block of wood in the sump of the shaft connected by wire to the valve. An ingenious arrangement that allowed more steam to enter the engine as the water level rose.

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The lattice beams

These are the features that attracted me to the engine. Although Open-work beams are graceful and light, they did not become widely adopted. Their main user was John West’s Uncle, William West of Tredenham. All of his most important engines used this design, and it is no doubt the family influence that resulted in their distinctive form being adopted for the President.

Reference

Damian Nance, The International Steam Engine Society Bulletin volume 34 no 4

 


wpid-westcover.jpg The story of William West is told in the Trevthick Society papaerback ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer‘.

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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.

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Where is the President Steam Engine?

Sat here in Cornwall its very hard to imagine the location of the President Cornish Engine house, many miles away across the other side of the Atlantic.  In this blog I will therefore delve into the wonders of the internet to  pin down this important reminder of Cornish engineering in the USA.  Have a go at armchair mine exploration.

Damian Nance in his article in the International Steam engine Society Bulletin describes the engine’s location as:

“On the south-eastern outskirts of Allentown, Pennsylvania, just over half a kilometer south of interstate 78”

Where is Allentown?

My first stop, was  to use google Earth to find Allentown-

allentown

Click here for map>

Where is the engine house?

Mark Connor describes the engine house’s location as

“The remains of the massive pump which provided water control for the mine consist of the stone walls of the engine house structure and they are located on the south west corner of Old Bethlehem Pike and Center Valley Parkway in Friedensville, Upper Saucon”

Using this information, and some wandering around google maps, I managed to find its location, and here it is on Google earth:

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This view looked promising,  a large flooded working with some obvious mine waste surrounding it, but no obvious engine house. But, When I clicked on the  google earth 3D button, and wandered around...and there it was!

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Stood on the edge of the flooded workings, surrounded by trees was the massive walls of the house. I next tried street view, but no how many times I wandered the roads around the location using googles little yellow man, I could not grasp a glimpse of the engine house remains. There is just far too much vegetation obscuring the view.

PresidentEH3dGoogle2

Now that I have tracked down where the mine is, my next task in this series will be to explore when the engine operated, to link its time line with that of William West. However, after that little journey into the world of Google Earth I am tempted to have a few more hunts around the world for Cornish Engine Houses.

 

 


 

wpid-wp-1435842521499.jpeg For an exploration of a Victorian Cornish Mining Map download a sample of my Kindle edition of The Liskeard Mining District in 1863.

Prime members can borrow the book for free.

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The Largest stationary Engine in the World-1872

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The President steam engine described in in the Australian Advertiser

Whilst pondering on how to start this dive into the history of the President steam I stumbled across this real gem of an article, and also an amazing website for historical research. Although written in 1872 the article was perfect to introduce this series of posts- a gift-thanks the National Library of Australia.

On the Trove website of the National  Library of Australia is a newspaper article from the South Australian Advertiser, published May 13th, 1872 that describes the President Engine, and also refers to John West and several other Cornish Engineers. The Trove site is a fascinatingTroveIcon resource, and whilst there, I was quickly sidetracked into doing my bit by correcting the transcript of the article. I highly recommend a visit to Trove, and having a session at correcting some text for them.

 Here is the text of the article-

THE LARGEST STATIONARY ENGINE IN THE WORLD


A recent number of the Mining Journal gives an interesting account of the starting of the Lehigh Zinc Company’s mammoth engine, in America. After describing the progress of fine ore mining generally, the following brief description of the great pumping engine is added:—
The engine was three years building, and was designed by Mr. John West, engineer of thePresidentNewspaper Lehigh Zinc Company, who personally superintended its erection in all its parts, down to the minutest particular. The engine was built by Merries: & Sons, Philadelphia, and the
pumps and boilers by I. P. Morris & Co., Philadelphia. The object for which the engine was built was to concentrate the greatest amount of power on one particular spot in the mines in the most economical manner. These new pumps drain the whole property of the Company, and are erected on the particular spot on which they stand on account of the presence of a firm rock to plant upon. Following is a description of the mammoth engine, as we gathered it from a conversation with Mr.West, which will be found to contain technical facts which Mr. Webster did not give in his remarks.
The engine has a pumping capacity of 15,000 gallons per minute, and may be run to 17,000 in case of emergency, raising water from a depth of 300 feet The engine alone weighs 650 tons, and including the pumps and boilers the total weight of the machinery is 1,000 tons. Size of cylinder, 110 inches in diameter; length of stroke, 10 feet. The heaviest pieces of iron in the engine are the sections of beams, and weigh 24 tons. There are two pieces of wrought-iron -weighing 16 tons each. The fly-wheels weigh 75 tons each; crank pins 1 ton each. The piston rod is 14 inches in diameter. The cross head weighs 8 tons. The connecting rods have 9-inch necks, and are 15 inches in the middle, 41 feet 2 1/2  inches long, and weigh 11 tons each.
There are two air pumps, 50 inches in diameter each.
PresidentNewspaper2This is, so far as known, the most powerful stationary engine in the world. Next to it in point of size and capacity is the engine at the Cincinnati Waterworks, cylinder 109 inches in diameter. Next is the engine at the Brooklyn Works, cylinder 90 inches; and next the engines used to drain the Meer at Haarlem, in Holland, There are three of these cylinders, 84 inches steam, with 12 feet Sims’compound, 600 -horse-power each. Next are the large Cornish engines used in the Cornish mines in England, and in the London Waterworks.
The work of the “President” will be to drive four plunger pumps, each 30 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke ; four lifting pumps, each 31 1/2 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke—the plunger pumps being uppermost and stationary. The lifting pumps will be used in the bottom of the shaft, and are movable, so as to go down as the shaft is sunk;and the lifting pumps, on account of veins of ore running through the
 shaft, are and will continue to be suspended, or the weight of the pumps would force them down into the ore to an indefinite depth. To handle these lifting pumps, hoisting or PresidentNewspaper3lowering them at pleasure, a steam capstan, capable of lifting 50 tons vertically, is used. By a series of strong gearing, a drum and a steel wire rope, with this capstan, if anything goes wrong with the pumps they can be taken hold of by the top and pulled out of water, repaired, and put back in a very short time. Everything that past experience could dictate is here applied, or at least, as Mr. West said, so it is thought, so far as known.
Mr. John West, who has brought this massive engine to its present state of perfect working, has been employed by the Lehigh Zinc Company for about five years, and designed and superintended the construction of all the machinery in and about these mines. This engine is certainly a triumph of skill, pluck, and per severance, of which the Company, who backed
up the President, Mr. Webster, who backed up
and sustained Mr. West, the engineer, who conceived
and carried out the only feasible plan for relief from the difficulties under which the
Company labored—too much water—may all feel very proud.
The erector of this mammoth engine, under Mr. West’s supervision, is Simeon Noell, a Cornishman, who has had 21 years’ experience in this kind of work in Cornwall, England.. The engineers who will run the “President” hereafter are William Harry, a Cornishman, age 35 years, with 17 years’ experience; and John Beddington, also a Comishman, age 37 years, 21 years’ experience as engineer. Bothsaw the engine go up from its foundation, and know every piece of it, and will keep a watchful and intelligent eye on the mammoth engine.
The John West refereed to in the article was the son of another Cornish engineer, who was also called John West, and that John West was the brother of William West, the subject of my two publications and many of the post in this blog.

And now I will read through the article again and pick up some threads to explore.


Books about William West

wpid-westcover.jpgOne paperback, one Kindle  51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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The tale of a Cornish engine across the Atlantic starts

The President Steam engine and its lattice beam

In my  threads of history talk on the William West, ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’ I gave a passing mention to an example of a lattice work beam in the USA. Now that the preparation for that talk is over, I have the chance to follow that thread of history, a thread that leads to events many miles away across the Atlantic.

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The open lattice work beam was a design used on by William West on all his most important engines, but it was a design rarely copied by other engineers. The only two non William West lattice beams I know of is the  massive Cruquius engine in the Netherlands the  ‘President’ engine at Pennsylvania. Both engines are examples of the massive size that the Cornish Engine principle reached towards the end of its development, and both engine have indirect links with William West.

The Cruquius was the largest steam engine in the world, and the President was the largest beam engine in the USA.  The latter engine had family connections with William West, so it is the history of that engine that I hope to explore in a bit more depth in this blog.

I will  dig into two rich sources of material as I explore; the research  of Damian Nance, and Mark Connar.  I am not yet sure where this wander across the Atlantic will take this blog,  but I am sure there will be some fascinating stories to uncover.  So feel free to follow this blog, and enjoy the journey

 

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