Monday, March 22, 2010
Richard Dudgeon, Forgotten American Inventor, 1: From Hydraulic Jacks to Street Locomotives
Tuesday, October 5, 1858, was a day New Yorkers would not forget. As dusk descended on the city, lamp lighters moved through the glass-walled Crystal Palace igniting its hundreds of gaslights. Seen from afar, the shimmering building resembled an enormous garden greenhouse alive with fireflies. Next to this pellucid structure, the massive bulk of the above-ground Croton Distributing Reservoir loomed darkly against the autumn sky, its sloping walls green with English ivy.
Inside the Crystal Palace, the annual fair of the American Institute was in progress--a tribute to the young nation's inventiveness and abundance. A late-afternoon crowd thronged the building, marveling at diverse exhibits ranging from the latest in sewing machines to an array of giant pumpkins. With the finest harbor in the world, New York had become the nation's primary port for sea-borne cargo. It was also a major rail hub and the nation's commercial, banking and manufacturing center. The Crystal Palace was a natural venue for inventors and manufacturers of the young nation to display their wares.
A Cry of "Fire!"
One of the fair's three steam calliopes had just finished shrilling "Pop Goes the Weasel" shortly after 5 p.m., when the ominous cry of "Fire!" went up near the 42nd Street entrance. Smoke and flames poured from an unused storeroom. The fire quickly traveled upward via the illuminating gas piping and outward along the resinous pitch pine flooring. Exhibits of paint and chemicals added to the inferno. Although it boasted more gaslights than existed in all the streets of New York, only five hydrants were provided in the entire structure--none of them supplied with fire hoses. The Crystal Palace was a disaster waiting to happen.
Within minutes, flames engulfed the dome. With a thunderous roar, it came crashing down, driving the fire into the wings of the structure. Despite the proximity of millions of gallons of Croton water in the adjoining distributing reservoir, the companies of volunteer firefighters could do little to stem the fire's advance. Miraculously, although more than two thousand persons were in the building, no lives were lost. Smoke and flame were visible from many parts of the city. Like many of his successors, Mayor Daniel F. Tiemann, a wealthy German-American paint manufacturer, loved to direct the firefighters and rushed to the scene. So did the city's pickpockets, to ply their trade openly among the stunned onlookers magnetized by the spectacle of the destruction of the city's showplace. After making sure that all visitors had exited safely, volunteer firemen repeatedly attempted to save the fire apparatus on exhibition.
When morning came, a few firefighters remained to wet down the still-smoldering ruins. Hordes of the curious snatched souvenirs covered with melted glass from the wreckage. Gone was an irreplaceable collection of fine art and manufactured products from all over the world. On 40th Street, the hostelry known as the Fremont House became the unofficial headquarters of the dispossessed exhibitors. Thronging the lobby, they recounted their losses and told of narrow escapes. Among those at the Fremont House was a tall and somber-looking Lincolnesque individual. Standing among the crowd, he listened quietly to accounts of the fire and tales of heroism. Then he walked across the street and stared at the ruins. Somewhere under that tangled mass lay his exhibit of hydraulic apparatus. And somewhere under the wreckage were the remains of the steam carriage he had built and displayed as part of his exhibit.
Richard Dudgeon, Machinist
Later, he identified himself to a watchman patroling the Crystal Palace site by exhibiting a business card reading, "Richard Dudgeon, Machinist, No. 17 Goerck Street, New York." Hearing him speak, a listener might detect the trace of a Scottish burr--and with reason. The youngest son of eight children, Richard Dudgeon was born in 1819 in Tain, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. His father, Thomas Dudgeon, had caught "emigration fever" and made several trips to the United States, eventually bringing over his whole family.
Traveling west from Albany, they settled along the Seneca Turnpike in the Mohawk Valley at New Hartford, N.Y. Now a modest suburb of Utica, the village was then enjoying a remarkable prosperity thanks to the newly opened Erie Canal. The prospects of a youngest son inheriting any of his father's estate were not bright, so Richard left home at an early age. He went first to Albany, where he showed a marked aptitude for mechanics. After a brief apprenticeship, young Dudgeon made his way to New York City and found a job at the Allaire Iron Works. This was indeed a stroke of good fortune. The Allaire Iron Works on Cherry Street proved to be a wonderful training school. The works were then the most famous--and the most advanced--engine-building establishment in America, named for owner James P. Allaire, who had cast with his own hands the brass air chamber for Robert Fulton's North River steamboat Clermont. In 1833, Allaire also built the first "apartment house"--a four-story building on Water Street, with a dwelling unit for one family on each floor.
Dudgeon married Harriet Loretta Clark in 1848. With a wife to support and the prospect of children to come, he began his own business. He opened a modest machine shop on the ground floor of 84 Willett Street, not far from Allaire's works and close to the many shipyards along the East River at Corlear's Hook. This great maritime complex launched one of every seven steam-powered vessels built in the United States. Here Richard Dudgeon began to work on the first of many inventions.
A Patent Granted
French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal first described the principle of the hydraulic jack in the 17th century. In 1795, British engineer Joseph Bramah received a patent for "Certain New Methods of Producing and Applying More Power to all Machinery requiring Motion and Force." It covered the first hydraulic press.
During his apprenticeship, Dudgeon had recognized the need for a portable, powerful and easily operated lifting device. Until then, heavy lifting was done with great effort using inefficient screw jacks that had not changed much from those used in ancient Rome. On July 8, 1851, the U.S. Patent Office granted Patent No. 8,203 to Richard Dudgeon for a "portable hydraulic press." Operated by "water or other fluid," Dudgeon's ingenious invention was a compact hydraulic jack whose fluid reservoir was in the device's head. The "other fluid" was sometimes whale oil and sometimes whiskey. The latter was used principally in winter when other liquids tended to thicken or freeze and led to it being called a "whiskey jack." Keeping a whiskey jack filled was sometimes a problem in a nation where tippling was common.
Dudgeon's hydraulic jack had other shortcomings. The reservoir in the head made the device top-heavy. Also, it could not be extended as far in a horizontal position as when standing upright. Dudgeon corrected these defects 14 years later in a new and improved model with the fluid reservoir in the base. His 1851 jack, however, had been functional enough to guarantee the young inventor financial success almost from the start. Dudgeon jacks were especially popular in the booming shipbuilding industry and in the growing number of railroad shops.
With a steady flow of orders, he moved his machine shop to larger quarters at 17 Goerck Street. Nearby at the corner of Stanton and Goerck streets, the Mechanics Bell hung on a 25-foot tower next to Isaac Webb's shipyard. Signaling the end of each ten-hour workday, the bell celebrated the end of the cruel "dawn to dark" schedule it supplanted.
Dudgeon's Steam Carriage
A lover of animals, Richard Dudgeon decided in 1853 to build a steam carriage, its purpose, as he later wrote, "to end the fearful horse murder and numerous other ills inseparable from their use." One of his good friends was W.S. Hudson, superintendent of the Rogers Locomotive Works in Paterson, N.J., to whom Dudgeon may have turned for advice. He must have completed his first steam carriage by 1857, for there are accounts of its successful operation in that year. The 1858 Annual of Scientific Discovery reported: "Considerable attention has been excited during the last year by the occasional appearance on Broadway of a street locomotive built by Mr. Richard Dudgeon. Its speed was about equal with the average speed of horses in stages and it was apparently controlled with much ease, and with more certainty. The popular notion that horses would be alarmed by such vehicles and that they cannot ascend hills on account of their wheels slipping, were refuted by the performance of the engine, which met with no case of difficulty of this nature, although it ran for a considerable part of several days on crowded streets."
No photographs of Dudgeon's first steam carriage have survived--but his original plans still exist. Contemporary accounts had good reason to call it a "street locomotive," for it strongly followed rail locomotive practice. The "engineer" and "fireman" occupied seats at the extreme rear of the vehicle. Long drive rods, slanted at an angle, connected the steam cylinders with a pair of spoked, large-diameter carriage wheels. A tall smokestack at the front end completed the rail locomotive analogy. Occasionally, Dudgeon's machine towed a light barouche through the streets.
Richard Dudgeon faced opposition to the use of his first steam wagon on city streets. There are hints of this in his introduction to an 1870 catalog of his products in which he unburdened himself frankly: "If anyone makes a good, manageable steam carriage at his own cost, and goes everywhere, interfering with no one, have it understood that if one tailor says his horse does not like it, and shook his head at it, command the steam carriage man never to take it out his door again. That is what Old Tieman did for my first. His venerable relative sitting by him; and he looked at him, as if he might have said. 'Ain't that smart, Pappy?' "
The term, "Old Tieman," of course, does not refer to a haberdasher, but to Daniel F. Tiemann, a former almshouse governor and later mayor of the city in 1858 and 1859. It is easy to imagine the imperious Tiemann decreeing that Dudgeon's carriage would not be allowed to operate on city streets. The "venerable relative" would have been Tiemann's German-born father, Anthony, who avidly followed the younger Tiemann's political career. Papa had retired ten years earlier from a thriving paint business in the uptown village of Manhattanville and left it to his son. History does not record this as fact, but thanks to the Tiemann edict, a team of horses probably towed the Dudgeon steam carriage to the Crystal Palace and its rendezvous with fire.
The Crystal Palace
The structure in which Richard Dudgeon's steam carriage was immolated had a short but fascinating history. Erected in 1853, the Crystal Palace was inspired by the success of London's edifice of the same name. Boston auctioneer and carriage builder Edward Riddle proposed a similar project to New York investors. These included attorney Theodore Sedgwick, banker August Belmont, steam packet operator Edward Knight Collins, newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant, and assorted members of old Hudson Valley families with names like Schuyler, Livingston and Hamilton. The investors formed an association and petitioned the Board of Aldermen for the use of Madison Square at 23rd Street for permission to erect a "house of iron and steel for an Industrial Exhibition."
When news of the project became public, residents near Madison Square sued to halt its use and won. The Board of Aldermen then granted the group permission to use a new site on the outskirts of the city, four-acre Reservoir Square, on Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. Secretary of State Daniel Webster facilitated the proposed exhibition building by declaring it a bonded warehouse. Soon after use of Reservoir Square was approved, Edward Riddle sold his shares in the project to the other investors, who took over the organization of the exhibition.
A competition to design the building was announced. Among the participants were Joseph Paxton, architect of the London Crystal Palace, and Leopold Eidlitz, later one of the designers of the state capitol building in Albany. James Bogardus and his assistant, Hamilton Halpin, submitted an innovative plan. Bogardus, a watchmaker and self-taught engineer, developed and patented a method of mass-producing modular building elements of cast iron that would make him famous.
The coveted award went to Georg Carstensen, designer of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Charles Gildemeister. Their plan called for an octagonal base with a superstructure in the form of a Greek cross surmounted by a dome 100 feet in diameter. Each of its four arms measured 365 feet. The selection of the winning design had been a compromise. Association directors had wanted a replica of London's building, which had a rectangular footprint.
Twenty-eight different iron works supplied cast iron. The building's structural elements, weighing 1800 tons, supported a central dome towering 149 feet into the air. Emulating the color scheme chosen by Owen Jones for London's Crystal Palace, the outside of the iron frame was painted a bronze color, with ornamental work touched with gold. Inside, the iron frame was painted a deep cream color, with ornamental work again gilded. A full palette of other colors highlighted the interior. A total of 15,000 blue and gold glass panes sheathed the structure, but New York had learned from the British experience. The clear glass installed in London's Crystal Palace caused it to heat up uncomfortably on sunny days. New York's Crystal Palace employed translucent glass manufactured by the Jackson Glass Works, near Camden, N.J.
The New York Crystal Palace officially opened on July 14, 1853, by newly elected President Franklin Pierce; thousands attended the ceremony. Among the first visitors was young Sam Clemens, who came all the way from Missouri. He called it a "perfect fairy palace--beautiful beyond description" and noted that it drew six thousand visitors a day, as he put it, "double the population of Hannibal." Walt Whitman was entranced by the Crystal Palace and saw its exhibits as an embodiment of the vigor of the America he would sing about. Tall and roughly dressed, he returned so often officials assigned detectives to shadow the almost shabby-looking poet.
On 43rd Street, immediately to the north of the Crystal Palace was another tourist attraction--the 280-foot-tall Latting Observatory. An octagonal tower of timber braced with iron, it had the first passenger elevator in New York City, installed by Yonkers inventor Elisha Graves Otis. Telescopes at the top afforded visitors sweeping views of the city to the south and the undeveloped areas to the north.
By the end of 1853 the Crystal Palace turned out to be a financial failure with $100,000 in unpaid bills. Its roof leaked during heavy rains, ruining exhibits and dousing visitors. The following year an attempt was made to revive the permanent exposition. Flamboyant showman P.T. Barnum was induced to take over the management of what had become a white elephant. He reopened the exhibition with a ceremony dedicated to the working classes, but growing debt and delays quickly defeated his best efforts. After investing much of his time and money, he concluded, "the dead cannot be raised." Barnum resigned on July 1, 1854, explaining that he was "weary, fagged, tired and almost sick." He added, "I was an ass for having anything to do with the Crystal Palace."
The exhibition in the massive structure closed on November 1, 1854, with a whopping debt of $300,000. On August 30, 1856, nearby Latting Observatory was destroyed by fire, a frequent menace of buidings public and private. It was a portent of things to come. The investors kept the Crystal Palace going until January of 1857 by renting out the building for concerts and conventions. New York City took over the property in May of 1857. Given the building's shaky financial condition, it is perhaps not so surprising that the 1858 conflagration, which began in paper in a storage room, was attributed to an unknown incendiary.
Among the priceless items destroyed in the fire was armor from the Tower of London, Sevres china, Gobelin tapestries, jewelry and Carlo Marochetti's colossal equestrian statue of Washington. Other sculptures that had been on display included August Kiss's bronze "Amazon Attacked by a Lion," Bertel Thorvaldsen's thirteen gigantic sculptures of Christ and the Apostles, and the most famous nude in American art, Hiram Powers' chained "Greek Slave." Losses totaled $2 million.
After making sure all visitors had left the burning building, volunteer firefighters turned their attention to saving the pieces of fire apparatus that were on exhibit there. They managed to retrieve the hose carts of Empire Hose Company No. 40 and the Oceana Hose Company No. 36. The fire consumed the hose carts of Eagle No. 1 and Croton No. 5, the engines of Gotham Company No. 16 and Pacific No. 28, the hook and ladder truck of Mutual No. 1, and several steam-powered fire engines. The apparatus of the volunteer fire companies was more than mere mechanical equipment. Oceana, quartered on Madison Street, was one of the most elaborate hose carts in the city. Affectionately called "The Old Red Gal," it was beautifully decorated by artist Edward Weir. On one panel, Oceana, goddess of water, was shown with nymphs rising from the sea. On another was a view of the High Bridge that carried Croton water over the Harlem River to the city, and a group of Indians. On the back were views of the Park and Bowling Green fountains. On the front, a painting of a small girl washing her feet at a hydrant.
In an amusing sidebar to the Crystal Palace fire, Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, was arrested in Paris and jailed for two days with debtors in that city's Clichy Prison. The complainant was a sculptor whose work had been destroyed in the fire and who hoped to force payment of his claim by jailing the cantankerous editor. Greeley had been one of the commissioners of the American Institute Fair.
Editor's Note: With this somber scene we conclude Part One of Richard Dudgeon's history. Part Two appears immediately below.
Richard Dudgeon, Forgotten American Inventor, 2: From Road Engines to Moving an Obelisk
In the first part of this account of the life and work of Richard Dudgeon, we followed a young immigrant boy from Scotland who learned the machinist's trade and invented a portable hydraulic jack that made him wealthy. His unusual steam-driven carriage, an ancestor of the modern automobile, had been exhibited in New York's Crystal Palace and was destroyed by fire in 1858.
Two years after the fire, Dudgeon moved his shops and forges from Goerck Street to even larger quarters at 24 Columbia Street in lower Manhattan. The move was just in time to ride the breaking wave of industrialization that accompanied the Civil War. After the portable hydraulic jack and a practical steam carriage (which he never bothered to patent), other inventions joined the Dudgeon product line, some inspired by his work on the steam carriage. These included a roller tube-expander for the ends of boiler tubes, pulling jacks (jacks that closed rather than opened), small hydraulic hand punches, large hydraulic punches for making holes in railroad rails and fish plates (the metal plates bolted to the ends of railroad rails to connect them).
The Great Eastern
Other new products included rotary steam engines and pumps, and specialized devices, ranging from ingenious little squirting oilcans to giant steam forging hammers. According to Dudgeon family legend, Dudgeon hydraulic rams may have been among the hundreds used in the several attempts to launch Isambard Kingdom Brunel's giant British steamship, the Great Eastern in 1858. Designed to sail to the East Indies and back carrying her own supply of coal, this behemoth was 692 feet long and had a beam of 120 feet, with designer Brunel's remarkable innovations: a flat-bottomed double hull and extensive internal bulkheads. Bulkheads in the Titanic launched 54 years later extended only ten feet above the water line; in the Great Eastern they rose 30 feet above the waterline. For almost half a century, no other ship would exceed the size and displacement of the Great Eastern. Not until the 704-foot White Star liner Oceanic was there a longer vessel. And not until the ill-fated Cunard liner Lusitania was launched in 1906 was there a heavier vessel.
Dudgeon hydraulic punches were used in making repairs to the Great Eastern in 1862. Because the giant steamer had too much draft for the shallow waters of New York harbor, her captain brought her into Long Island Sound, where she stove an 83-foot gash in the outer skin of her double-bottomed hull on an uncharted rock (still called "Great Eastern Rock" to this day) as she rounded Montauk Point. In no great danger, thanks to the safety features Brunel had designed into her, the Great Eastern was moored at Flushing, N.Y., where engineers inspected the damage. Henry B. Renwick and his younger brother, Edward S. Renwick, later Dudgeon’s patent attorney, made underwater repairs to the hull. Still another Renwick brother, James, had supervised the construction of the Distributing Reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, as an assistant engineer on the Croton Aqueduct. Later he would achieve fame as the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
No drydock was large enough to take the monster vessel, so the two Renwick brothers attached a giant cofferdam to the Great Eastern's curving hull, pumped out the water between her two hulls and riveted new plates to replace the damaged plates--all done without drydocking the giant ship.
Another Dudgeon family legend has it that Dudgeon jacks were used in successful the laying of the Atlantic cable in 1866, a project for which the prodigious size and carrying capacity of the Great Eastern, not to mention its stability, were ideally suited.
A Second Steam Carriage
At the end of the Civil War, Dudgeon began work on a new and improved steam vehicle to replace the one destroyed in the Crystal Palace conflagration. He completed it in 1866, and we know exactly what it looked like. In addition to its original plans still in existence (dated September 30, 1865, and signed by Richard Dudgeon), there are contemporary photographs of the vehicle, which has also survived in virtually original condition.
The inventor later outlined the specifications of his second steam carriage: "It has a plain horizontal boiler. The furnace, four feet long and 17 inches wide; tubes, 16 inches long; shell, or diameter, 20 inches; cylinders, four inches in diameter, with a 16-inch stroke. They are hung on the smoke box at an angle and operate the cranked back axle. The wheels are three feet in diameter; link motion works the slide valves. Without any patents about it, it will go all day on any good wagon road, carrying ten people at 14 miles an hour, with 70 pounds of steam, the pump and fire door open, if desired. One barrel of anthracite coal is required to run at this speed for four hours. It weighs 3,700 pounds with water and fire to run an hour. It will go 20 miles in an hour on any good road. It is perfectly manageable in the most crowded streets."
According to an expert who examined the vehicle, the cylinders of Dudgeon's second steam carriage are fixed in saddles and have crossheads, connecting rods and Stephenson links (valve locks) that allow turning and reversing. Its ingenious and flexible steering mechanism is a double-threaded screw shaft set in a swiveling ball joint in the sprung front axle. It differed only slightly from his first steam vehicle. Instead of the spoked carriage wheels of the first version, its wheels were solid sections of cedar fitted with iron rims. Another new feature was the sixty gallons of water stored under the longitudinal "park bench" seats in flat tanks. The boiler was covered with shredded cocoa matting as insulation.
Dudgeon had used his first steam carriage to travel between his home on East Broadway and his works at Goerck Street. Newspaper accounts were derogatory: "The running of the wagon is accompanied by a great deal of vibration and noise, for there are four exhausts, as in a locomotive, and the solid wooden disks that serve for wheels pound the road heavily." Yet when the commissioners of New York City's Central Park imported a stream roller from England for road construction--the first of its kind to be put in use in America--they asked Dudgeon to observe its operation.
Built by the firm of Aveling & Porter, of Rochester in England, the huge machine weighed 15 tons and had a maximum speed of four miles per hour. According to the Journal of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the roller had been tested thoroughly in England before being shipped across the Atlantic.
"The engine was purposely tested under the most disadvantageous circumstances, with a view of fully developing its power." It easily ascended Star Hill, the steepest incline in Rochester, with a rise of one in twelve (an 8.5 percent grade). The surface had previously been covered with the stones used in macadamized roads. "The steam roller commenced its work soon after 10 o'clock, and notwithstanding the increased difficulties it had to surmount," the Journal continued, "by 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it had made repeated ascents and descents of the hill, the entire surface of which was rolled completely smooth and fit for the passage over it of the lightest of vehicles."
On June 4, 1869, Richard Dudgeon and the commissioners watched it operate successfully at 115th Street and Sixth Avenue (now Lenox Avenue). They were impressed by the roller's short turning radius on flat ground. The June 19th issue of Scientific American described the steam roller, which had four rollers: "Two of the rollers perform the office of drivers, being turned by an endless chain and rag wheel; the others are made to turn like the forewheels of a waggon [sic] to guide the machine. The engine runs with a quick stroke and is speeded down (i.e., geared) so that great traction is achieved." Ever the enterprising entrepreneur, the canny Scot took advantage of the demonstration to sell the builders of the steamroller one of his jacks and some of his tube expanders.
Richard Dudgeon did not construct steam carriages merely to demonstrate his mechanical ingenuity; they were built to be sold. He advertised himself in an 1867 directory as "Richard Dudgeon, maker and patentee of hydraulic jacks, punches, roller tube-expanders, direct-acting steam hammers and steam carriages for good hard roads." He was obviously well ahead of his time. But with no customers for self-propelled vehicles, he completed only the two versions of his steam carriage. In his 1870 catalog, he acknowledged, "After 17 years of effort and conviction of its utility, I have learned that it is not fashionable, or that people are not ready for it."
Writing in this same catalog 137 years ago, this remarkable inventor foresaw the development of motor trucks: "Let no one suppose I intend to do without railways where there is business to sustain them. But this is not the case with most short lines and branches, and in such places I would use what would be far better--steam carriages."
Always generous toward his workers, Dudgeon introduced the eight-hour day in his shop at a time when most employers required ten hours of labor. To show their appreciation, his grateful employees presented him with a large testimonial certificate in elegant calligraphy. It thanked him for his encouragement of "real union and fellowship among us, wholly irrespective of creed, class and habit," and expressed the wish that he would have "honor, love, obedience and troops of friends."
Hydraulic machinery was the mainstay of Dudgeon's business. His jacks also figured prominently in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which began in 1867. Less well known is the part Dudgeon jacks played in the removal and erection of a beloved New York City monument--the obelisk popularly known as "Cleopatra's Needle" in Central Park.
In 1878, 38-year-old Henry H. Gorringe arrived in Egypt with specially designed Dudgeon jacks. His task was to remove and transport a huge obelisk standing in Alexandria. Only a few years before, as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy's Hydrographic Office, Gorringe had mapped the Egyptian coast and wrote the text of the "pilot"--the descriptive work used by ship captains sailing the coast.
The idea of moving the obelisk to New York City was the brainchild of William Hurlbert, editor of The New York World. Railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt agreed to foot the bill. In Britain, the city of London had already erected a twin of the obelisk along the Thames Embankment.
Using Dudgeon's jacks, Gorringe lowered the 220-ton stone at the rate of three feet a day, a procedure that took two weeks. Next he bought a ship, a decrepit former Egyptian postal steamer named Dessoug. Gorringe removed a portion of the hull at the bow to make a hole through which the giant stone could be slid into the hold. Gorringe also decided to take not only the obelisk but also its 50-ton pedestal and the steps on which it rested.
After traversing the Mediterranean, the Dessoug drifted helplessly in the Atlantic for a week following an engine breakdown and finally the ship arrived at Staten Island in 1880. The steps and pedestal were unloaded at the dock at 51st Street and the Hudson River. On a heavy-duty wagon pulled by 16 pairs of horses, the ponderous load made its way across 51st Street and lumbered up Fifth Avenue to Central Park. Before the cornerstone was laid on Graywacke Knoll behind the recently completed Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street, various items were sealed in lead containers and placed beneath the pedestal as a sort of time capsule.
In addition to a set of photographs recording the obelisk's removal and journey, the Treasury Department donated a proof set of 1880 U.S. coins, the War Department supplied maps and Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 137 added silver Masonic emblems. A Dudgeon jack was added for the edification of a future generation. Gorringe dutifully recorded that New York World editor Hurlbert had "contributed a small box, the contents of which is known only to himself."
Moving the Obelisk
No dock was available farther up the Hudson, and swift tides made an East River landing impracticable. So the obelisk was towed on pontoons to 96th Street and the Hudson River and offloaded onto a short length of narrow-gauge railroad. Using the anchor chain of Gorringe's ship, a steam winch towed the obelisk forward at the rate of 100 feet a day. It traveled east to The Boulevard (the name formerly applied to Broadway north of 59th Street). After taking six days just to turn the corner, it turned south.
At intervals the workers picked up the ties and tracks behind the slow-moving obelisk and laid them in front of it. Bitter cold weather slowed progress. At 86th Street, the obelisk turned east again, and crossed Central Park to Fifth Avenue, then down to 82nd Street, reaching the site 112 days after being landed. Not until January 22, 1881, was the obelisk ceremoniously raised to an upright position, an event witnessed by thousands of spectators.
Again, Dudgeon's jacks played a key role. Despite its name, the obelisk has no known connection with the Egyptian empress. Dating from about 1450 B.C., its hieroglyphics tell of Thutmose III, Ramses II and Osarkon I. In 500 B.C. Cambyses the Persian knocked it off its pedestal, and in 12 B.C. the Romans brought the shaft to Alexandria and raised it in front of a temple. Gorringe later paid tribute to the effectiveness of Dudgeon's jacks, remarking that they were fitted with lowering valves "which permitted a descent so gradual that it could not be detected without measurement."
Gorringe did not live long to enjoy the fame that came with his achievement. Recklessly trying to board a moving train in Philadelphia, he was seriously injured and died in New York in 1885. A graceful 25-foot-tall obelisk commemorating his successful moving of the obelisk marks his grave in Rockland Cemetery in Sparkhill, New York.
From the start, prosperity had smiled on Richard Dudgeon. He eventually moved to Peacock Point on Long Island, near Locust Valley. The steam carriage, always a curiosity, was operated on his estate as a tractor and occasionally over local roads.
Dudgeon died in New York City in April of 1895 in his 77th year. Two sons and a daughter survived him. For more than a quarter-century after his death, the business was operated as "The Estate of Richard Dudgeon"--until tax lawyers pointed out the advantages of incorporation. It then became Richard Dudgeon, Inc., manufacturing "hydraulic machinery, jacks, hydrostatic test equipment, and pumps" at 789 Bergen Street in Brooklyn.
Dudgeon's Steam Carriage Today
Over the years, the 1866 Dudgeon steam carriage has led a checkered existence. Upon Richard Dudgeon's death, it passed to his son, Franklin P. Dudgeon, who died in 1925 and left it to his son, Henry. The carriage was stored in a shed on a dock in Oyster Bay, Long Island. It later turned up in the hands of Charles W. Ludlam, who claimed he had received it in payment of the debt incurred for its storage. In 1937, Henry Dudgeon's wife sued Ludlam for possession of the carriage. This may have been a family quarrel; records show that Richard Dudgeon's son William Miller Dudgeon had married a Louise Carhart Ludlam in 1893. After two court trials (the first resulted in a hung jury), Mrs. Henry Dudgeon recovered the vehicle in June of 1938. But she was not to keep it for long. During 1939 and 1940, she lent it to the New York World's Fair. Displayed as part of the "Railroads on Parade" exhibit, the steam carriage seemed out of place among trains.
After the fair closed, George H. Waterman, Jr., and Kirkland H. Gibson, of Providence, R.I., two founders of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America, purchased the carriage from Mrs. Dudgeon for $500. They saw it for what it was--an early motor vehicle for travel over roads. For many years, it was exhibited at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts. It turned up next at Winthrop Rockefeller's automobile museum atop Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County, Arkansas. In 1967, it was in Providence as part of the celebration of the centennial year of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company.
Queried about what it was like to drive Dudgeon's steam carriage, co-owner Kirkland Gibson said, "I would say that it is slightly less terrifying than driving a steam roller. On one occasion we parked it on a public macadam road for half an hour or so. When it was finally moved, the macadam under the boiler had melted." Messrs. Waterman and Gibson later presented the Dudgeon steam carriage to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and it is now housed in the National Museum of American Hist
On New York's Lower East Side, the sites of the successive Dudgeon shops on Willett, Goerck and Columbia streets have all disappeared, swallowed up by the swift march of progress. Towering housing projects in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge now cover the streets on which were their former locations. Bryant Park today occupies the site of the former Crystal Palace. In 1911 the New York Public Library's white marble Beaux Arts building replaced the Distributing Reservoir. When Dudgeon workers found one of the original jacks in the company's building in Brooklyn, they took it apart "to see how it worked." Unable to put it together again, and with no sense of its importance in the history of technology, they consigned it to the scrap heap.
After a brief move in Brooklyn from Bergen Street to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, between 1972 to 1991 Richard Dudgeon, Inc., was located in the Yale & Towne industrial complex in Stamford, Conn. No longer owned exclusively by members of the Dudgeon family, the company today now is at 1565 Railroad Avenue in Bridgeport, Conn., still making hydraulic punches, jacks and specialized lifting devices. The only surviving mementos of the ingenuity of inventor Richard Dudgeon are his steam carriage in the Smithsonian and the hydraulic jack entombed under "Cleopatra's Needle" in Central Park. With a little bit of luck, they both may outlast us all.