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Oliver Evans papers on patents, manufacturing and business matters

1793-1818, 1900, 0.67 linear feet

7281

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute
Creator:
Evans, Oliver, 1755-1819
Title:
Oliver Evans papers on patents, manufacturing and business matters
Date:
1793-1818, 1900
Call Number:
7281
Extent:
0.67 Linear feet
Language:
English
Abstract:
Oliver Evans (1755-1819) was a pioneer in automation, materials handling, and steam power whose innovations gave great impetus to the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Evans was among the first Americans to recognize the advantage of combined heat and power, or cogeneration. Later in his career, much of his time was spent on patent infringement lawsuits. The Oliver Evans papers on patents, manufacturing and business matters, 1793-1818, 1900, consist primarily of correspondence, as well as legal documents relating to Oliver Evans' patent infringement cases including summons, court papers and proceedings, sworn testimony and statements, and financial records.
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Biography/History

Oliver Evans (1755-1819) was a pioneer in automation, materials handling, and steam power whose innovations gave great impetus to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

"...He produced two major innovations, the automated flour mill and the high-pressure, non-condensing steam engine, and experimented with or anticipated others, including four-cycle mechanical refrigeration, central heating, the steam wagon, the machine gun, and a perpetual baking oven.

"Evans was born in Newport, Delaware, on September 13, 1755. Little is known of his early life beyond the fact that he was apprenticed to a wheelwright and worked in several other mechanical trades. Between 1780 and 1787 he conceived and perfected his plan of a fully automated flour mill using bucket elevators, screw conveyors and a hopper boy to spread, cool and dry the meal between grinding and bolting. This was the first time that anyone had conceived and executed a system of continuous, fully automatic production. The system was first installed in a mill on Red Clay Creek [near Newport, DE] operated by Oliver's brothers. In 1795 Evans published "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," explaining both his own system and general principles of mill construction. Fifteen editions were published between 1795 and 1860.

"In 1793 Evans moved to Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] and established himself as a merchant, while he continued to pursue his inventions, particularly steam carriages. He soon became preoccupied with the engine itself. The need for a more compact and powerful power plant led him to develop the high-pressure, non-condensing steam engine, which he invented independently of and contemporaneously with Richard Trevithick in Britain. Evans' first model was in operation in 1803. In 1805 he built the Orukter Amphibolos, a steam-powered dredge that was at once a crude steam wagon and steamboat.

"Evans had a rather abrasive personality and little tolerance for those who did not see the originality and importance of his inventions. This made it difficult for him to obtain financial backing, forcing him to depend on patent royalties. In 1805, after failing to get a patent extension law through Congress and falling into a public dispute with another steam engineer, John Stevens, Evans ceased his experiments and published his still incomplete text on steam engineering as "The Abortion of the Young Steam Engineer's Guide."

"After 1806 Evans moved into manufacturing, building the Mars Iron Works in Philadelphia (1806-1807). Here he built not only his steam engine and boilers but also iron gears and other industrial castings. Evans' engines were installed in the Fairmount pumping station of the Philadelphia Water Works in 1816, in flour mills in the Ohio Valley, and in steamboats operating on the Delaware and Ohio Rivers. Oliver's son, George Evans, organized the Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company in 1812 as a western offshoot of the Mars Works. Evans spent the years after 1809 in pressing his patent rights and was involved in several patent controversies. He died in New York on April 15, 1819."

Bibliography:

Quoted text from: "The Alba B. Johnson collection of Oliver Evans manuscripts." Accessed April 15, 2015. http://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid/collection/data/164038358.

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of correspondence as well as legal documents relating to Oliver Evans's patent infringement cases, including summons, court papers and proceedings, sworn testimony and statements, and financial records.

Documents related to patent infringement in the collection include: printed and handwritten legal documents, pamphlets referring back to original documents (1818), testimony (1806), and court records.

Correspondence in the collection includes: letters and notes about Evans's work and experiments with mills and steam and transportation, a letter to the Watering Committee (Fairmount Water Works), a letter to hydraulic engineer Frederick Graff, letters from engineer and inventor Robert Fulton, and a personal letter (1814) written by Evans. Evans's notes often contain detailed descriptions of mechanical processes.

Financial records in the collection include: detailed accounts Evans had with Clark and Coffee for manufacturing materials, 1809-1811, and various other financial records of a similar nature.

Some of Oliver Evans's patents, a few of which have been signed by Thomas Jefferson, can be found in the patent collection in The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute manuscript collection, 1762-2003.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Jack McCarthy through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Sponsor

This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Access Restrictions

Contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute for information about accessing this collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

Gift of James L. Woods, 1900.

Processing Information Note

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute directly for more information.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials Note

The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute: The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute manuscript collection, 1762-2003

Historical Society of Delaware: Oliver Evans papers, 1789-1956

University of Michigan Libraries, Bentley Historical Library: The Alba B. Johnson collection of Oliver Evans manuscripts

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)
Personal Name(s)
  • Evans, Oliver, 1755-1819
  • Fulton, Robert, 1765-1815
Subject(s)
  • Inventors
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Mechanical engineers
  • Patent infringement
  • Patent laws and legislation

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