Friday 23 October 2015

Men of Yore: Thomas Davenport

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

Thomas Davenport (9 July 1802 – 6 July 1851) was a Vermont blacksmith who constructed the first American DC electric motor in 1834.[1] 
Davenport was born in Williamstown, Vermont. He lived in Forest Dale, a village near the town of Brandon. 
As early as 1834, he developed a battery-powered electric motor. He used it to operate a small model car on a short section of track, paving the way for the later electrification of streetcars.[2] 
Davenport's 1833 visit to the Penfield and Taft iron works at Crown Point, New York, where an electromagnet was operating, based on the design of Joseph Henry, was an impetus for his electromagnetic undertakings. Davenport bought an electromagnet from the Crown Point factory and took it apart to see how it worked. Then he forged a better iron core and redid the wiring, using silk from his wife's wedding gown.[3]
With his wife Emily, and a colleague Orange Smalley, Davenport received the first American patent on an electric machine in 1837, U. S. Patent No. 132.[4] 
In 1849, Charles Grafton Page, the Washington scientist and inventor, commenced a project to build an electromagnetically powered locomotive, with substantial funds appropriated by the US Senate. Davenport challenged the expenditure of public funds, arguing for the motors he had already invented. In 1851, Page's full sized electromagnetically operated locomotive was put to a calamity-laden test on the rail line between Washington and Baltimore.[5]

The electric motor, a pretty simple device that doesn't look all that impressive when viewed on a work bench, and looks even less impressive when it's operational.  Some one might even make a passing remark like "This is just a small box that has a spinning rod come out of it.  How is this supposed to change the world?"

A valid observation, because it is after all just a box with a rotating spindle coming out of it.  But when you start to see and/or think of how that rotating spindle can be put to use then you begin to see how much of an impact it can have on the world.  Davenport improved upon the work of previous men by putting his electric motor to use power printing presses and machine tools.  That's when you know that science has proven itself useful: when it can be used by John Does (like thee & me) in the everyday real world.

That short list has grown and grown since the 1840s when Davenport first developed the motor and now every room in your house has an electric motor in it.  Here's an uber-short list of appliances that have an electric motor in them:

Vacuum cleaner.
Electric saw.
Electric drill.
Ceiling fan.
Electric toothbrush.
Hair dryer.
Electric razor.
Several in the VCR.
Several in a CD player or tape deck.
Many in a computer (each disk drive has two or three, plus there's a fan or two).
Many toys that move have at least one motor.
Electric clocks.
Aquarium pumps.
Playstation games console dualshock controller.
Sex toys.
Food processor.
Electric cars.
Diesel-electric railway locomotives.
and last but not least the minigun.

Not bad going for such an innocuous looking contraption eh?!


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