In honor of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's 207th commencement ceremony tomorrow, we'd like to note that it was 71 years ago that the institute determined that having ovaries would not necessarily preclude a person from understanding engineering and science. Today, that "limited number" of women students is as high as 29% of the student body.
Watch this wonderful piece of mechanism at work which in a second of time makes a horseshoe. Before you are two strong frames between which are four revolving shafts geared together and getting their motion from a pulley-wheel. On the shaft most exposed to view, you see three cams, one of which raises a cutting lever, another lifts a bending frame on which is a bending tongue, and the third works the flattening pieces ... Observe now the rapid movements of these shafts and their appurtenances. Gliding like a fiery serpent, you see a red-hot bar of iron, moving toward the machine, on the feeding rollers. Already the iron jaws of the monster are opening to catch between its incisive teeth this glowing rib of iron. The end of the bar has passed to the opposite side of the ravenous automaton's mouth, which is the proper measurement of the length of the intended shoe - the cutter comes up and severs it, and for an instant stops the feed; the bending tongue raises up and is pushed against the cut bar and bends it between two forked cams; it is then caught between the upper and lower dies, taking their impression, the bending tongue falls back, and the side levers close in the heel-ends ...
In the [punching-room] are seen a long line of men seated astride of the saddles of the punching machines making the nail-holes through the indented marks previously put in the creased part of the shoes. Thence they are conveyed in hand-cars to the swaging furnaces in which they are placed before they are swaged.
Boys are at work here, taking with tongs the heated shoes from the furnace and putting them singly on the revolving dies of the swaging machine. After the heated shoe is seated upon one of these dies, it is carried to the top of the machine where it is stopped for a moment; a top die descends on it and two side steels swage the sides of the shoe, removing all bulges and making the outside edges of the shoe perfectly smooth ...
The shoes when packed for shipping are then taken out, weighed and packed in kegs, in each of which are to be found 100 pounds of perfectly made horseshoes.
It's not possible to leave the biography of Henry Burden without relating this wonderful passage, "The Wonders of the Puddling Forge," which we daresay borders on some sort of gothic pornography:
The chemical elements of pig-iron are such as to render it unfit for any serviceable use in these mills, and it therefore undergoes another process of melting in the puddling furnaces, where it is subject to currents of air and flame while agitated by tools in the hands of the puddler. This manipulation brings it in contact with oxygen, which drives out the carbon in the pig-iron, leaving the metal afterward in a decarbonized condition.
In this temple of Vulcan – the puddling forge – the visitor beholds a scene of stirring activity seldom witnessed elsewhere. Scattered in groups or dispersed singly through this spacious building are hundreds of brawny men, with faces bedewed with perspiration and begrimed with coal dust, nude to their waists, their feet incased in heavy hob-nailed shoes, and their strong hands turning, thrusting, pulling, and piling the molten or fashioned iron in ways innumerable amid the heat, the smoke and the short-lived splendor of a thousand red-hot metallic sparks. Here are sooty-faced men stirring through the open doors of flaming furnaces, glowing incandescent masses of iron that blind one's eyes with their fervent brilliancy; others again taking great balls of puddled metal from the furnaces in iron buggies and casting them into the devouring jaws of the rotary concentric squeezers, from which, as unpalatable morsels, they are ejected in the shape of compact blooms which are immediately taken up red-hot as they are, and thrust between a pair of revolving cylinders, placed one above the other, and furnished with grooves of various sizes through which the blooms is run forward and backward, until it is shaped into a long bar of crude iron. The bars which have already cooled are then carefully tested by placing the end of each one on an anvil, where it is cut and bent before it receives its classification. These are then carried on cars to a great pair of iron shears, where they are cut as if they were ribbon, into pieces about three feet in length. These pieces, a number of them called "a pile," are again placed in furnaces, where they are reheated and again taken out and passed through the roll-trains, whence they issue, like long fiery serpents, in narrow bars, and passed to the horseshoe machines.
So here's an attempt to show just where the Troy Iron and Nail Factory and the rest of Burden's burgeoning Upper Works were, which should give you an idea of just how much this tiny corner of Troy has changed and changed back -- from wooded vale to center of industry to pleasant steep little street along a nearly forgotten set of falls. Click on the map for a larger view of an old map of the works overlaid with the current Google map. You'll see that the Wynantskill has been straightened out a bit, with the removal of that oxbow on which much of the works was built. Burden's Pond remains, as does the Woodside church just above the Oxbow. Factory buildings once lined the kill, but barely a trace of them remains today. And the only reminder of the greater water wheel that once powered all this is a mural on a concrete retaining wall at the bottom of the hill.
This diagram by the Society for Industrial Archeology from 1971 reconstructs the works. It's oriented upside-down from the map above. You can see that the buildings were built right up against the creek, with bridges across it for access. This is the only diagram I've found that has a precise location of the Burden water wheel, which was a landmark ruin for longer than it was a functioning wheel, but of which no trace is found on the grounds alongside the kill today.
As mentioned before, Henry Burden took charge of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory in 1822 when it was a smallish factory at the top of the Wynantskill in Troy, where Mill Street runs up the hill to Campbell Avenue today. "With more than ordinary foresight he caught glimpses of that future in which there were immediate and immense demands for the various articles produced by his machines, and he failed not, with excellent judgment, to make, in time, the necessary preparations for this enlarged business." [Note to self: have loving daughters write my gushing biography.] He bought up stock in the company and by 1835 owned half its stock, and through assignment of his patents for spike and horseshoe machines received 30 percent of the net earnings of the entire works. In 1848 he gained the whole works, after which it was known as H. Burden or H. Burden & Sons.
- A rolling mill and puddling forge
- A horseshoe factory (two buildings)
- A rivet factory
- A horseshoe warehouse, semicircular, containing 16 large bins, in which can be stored 7,000 tons of horseshoes (evident in the middle of the graphic)
- A scraphouse and shop
- Here also are the general business office, a supply store, a rivet warehouse, the stables, etc.
Woodside Presbyterian Church, built in 1869, is evident in this view. The course of the Wynantskill has been changed since then -- the oxbow shown here is now a jughandle along Mill Street. With the exception of the church, no other trace of the works really remains, except perhaps some walls and remnants in the woods along the creek.
The Lower Works were developed on the Hoyle farm, 45 acres between the Hudson River railroad (about where Route 4 is now) and the river. The lower works were driven by steam power, and included:
- Two blast furnaces, each 65 feet high and 16 feet at their boshes, with two casting-houses
- Two stockhouses
- An engine-room
- A puddling forge
- A rolling-mill
- A swaging shop
- A punching shop
- A horseshoe warehouse
- A square building, containing offices, blowroom, etc.
- A machine shop
- A blacksmith shop
- A foundry
- A pattern shop
- A tin and plumbing shop
- A building containing a supply store, draughting room, laboratory, etc.
- An iron warehouse.
All of this contained 60 puddling furnaces, 20 heating furnaces, 14 trains of rolls, three rotary concentric squeezers, nine horseshoe machines, 12 rivet machines, 10 large and 15 small steam engines, 70 boilers. And one large water-wheel.
The nearby railroad was used to bring in iron ore, kaolin, sand, stone and other materials, and to ship out horseshoes and iron. There was a barge landing on the river with steam derricks for moving coal.
It's baffling that Henry Burden isn't better remembered around here. His inventions improved the iron industry, advanced mechanization and helped build the railroads. His use of hydropower on the Wynantskill was world famous. His massive iron and steel works in South Troy employed thousands when the collar industry was growing on the north end of town. But little remains of the works but the main offices (now a museum), and his beautiful church called Woodside (now an arts center). Even the replica of his famous water wheel is now gone, with the closing of the Riverspark center in Troy. But Henry Burden is worth remembering.
According to something resembling a biography put together by his daughter, Margaret Proudfit, Henry Burden was born at Dunblane, Scotland, April 22, 1791. The son of a farmer, he showed an early interest in inventing devices. He constructed a threshing machine, erected grist mils and built farm implements. Unlike the stories of many of our self-made immigrants, Burden sought out instruction, going to Edinburgh and taking courses in mathematics, engineering and drawing in order to advance his abilities. He came to the United States in 1819, working for Albany agricultural manufacturer Townsend and Corning. He invented what may have been the first cultivator in practical operation in the country, and patented a flax and hemp machine. In 1822, he moved up the river to Troy as agent and then superintendent of The Troy Iron and Nail Factory Company.
There was a time when nails were made by hand, scarce and expensive. Their automated manufacture was a huge leap forward. As railroads started to grow, spikes of uniform quality were an absolute necessity. Henry Burden anticipated a change in rail design and invented a countersink hook-headed spike for T or H shaped rails (early rails were just thin straps of steel), and the machine for making them. His first contract with the Long Island Railroad Company, in 1836, ensured the success of the spike and its future use. He also set legal precedent, after a battle against the Corning iron empire for its infringement on his patent was found in Mr. Burden's favor after nearly 20 years of wrangling. "If anywhere machine hook-headed spikes have been found, it is certain that they have been made at the works of the Burden's, or in contempt of a decision of the United States Supreme Court."
He also patented the first really successful machine for the manufacture of horseshoes in 1834, which he continuously improved over two decades. "In 1857 he perfected and patented his present machine, which devours the heated bar, cuts, bends, and forges it into perfect shape with one movement, at the rate of sixty a minute, or thirty-six hundred shoes per hour." His machines were the primary supplier of horseshoes for the Union Army, putting the rebels at a serious disadvantage, not having a mass manufacturer to supply their cavalry.
"The rebel government employed a man by the name of Moses, a co-operator with Saunders, Thompson, and others of that class to come to the North, steal the pattern of this horseshoe machine and smuggle it into Canada, with a view to the ultimate establishment of a horseshoe factory at Atlanta for the benefit of the rebel confederacy. As it happened, Sherman's operations spoiled that game."
Almost forgotten is his very important improvement in the manufacture of wrought iron, known as the "rotary squeezer." Previously, great hammers were used to manipulate the metal between the puddling furnace and the rollers, creating what was called a bloom – essentially a blob of metal ready to be shaped. In many factories, this was a very manual process, employing "bloomers" who stood over molten metal and banged it into a suitable shape for the rolling mill. Henry Burden invented the rotary concentric squeezer, which created the same effect with minimal labor. "Go where you will in this country, in Great Britain, or on the Continent, you find Burden's rotary squeezer."
Burden dabbled in the improvement of steamboats, as well: "As early as 1825 he laid before the Troy Steamboat Association certain original plans whereby the construction of steamboats for inland navigation could be greatly improved, and which some years later were adopted in the building of the steamboat 'Hendrick Hudson.' Besides increasing the length of the boats, he wisely suggested for the convenience and accommodation of passengers, the erection of sleeping berth-rooms, on the upper decks, being a decided change from the holds of vessels where they had been previously placed." He even proposed to create "Burden's Atlantic Steam-Ferry Company," a cross-Atlantic venture that never came to fruition.
Today, all this is perhaps overshadowed by the memory of his fabulous water-wheel, the second-largest but certainly the most powerful in the world, "the Niagara of water-wheels." Long-gone, its location barely noted, it is nevertheless part of Troy's heritage, well-remembered and well-loved.
Tomorrow: more on the Burden Iron Works.
We've been talking about the Troy Iron and Nail Factory Company, which was powered by the falls of the Wynantskill, below what is now Burden Pond in Troy. Water power began there in 1809, and its use expanded as the company grew. Arthur James Weise writes:
"The five water-wheels of the works being insufficient to operate the number of spike and horseshoe machines required by the company, Henry Burden constructed in 1838-39, the immense water-wheel, which Louis Gaylord Clark figuratively denominated, 'the Niagara of water-wheels.' In 1851, it gave place to the present  large one of 1,200 horse-power. It is an over-shot wheel, 60 feet in diameter, with a width of 22 feet. Around its broad periphery are 36 buckets, 6 feet 3 inches deep ... By the enterprise of Henry Burden, the suply of water in the Wynants Kill was largely increased by the construction of storage reservoirs at Sandlake, whereby channels connecting several lakes a great quantity of surplus water was obtained to feed the Wynants Kill in seasons of drought. The reservoir immediately east of the Upper Works, covering an area of 14 acres, was constructed in 1846. The great water-wheel is turned by water flowing from it through a narrow race."
The wheel was in use until about 1890, and decayed for decades after. An RPI student who made a careful examination of the remains of the wheel in 1915 estimated its actual horsepower at something much more like 482 horsepower at maximum, and 282 horsepower normal output. In the 1930s there was thought given to reconstructing the wheel, but it was scrapped sometime before World War II.
At this point, there's an excellent chance next week will be Henry Burden Week on Hoxsie.
It hardly seems fair to talk about the Nail Factory Cemetery without diving more into the history of the nail factory itself. As mentioned before, the Troy Iron and Nail Factory Company (which today would no doubt be shortened to "TINFCO") was established on the Wynantskill, just a little way north of modern-day HVCC, in 1813. Spafford (of "Gazetteer" fame) said that "The nail factory is a stone edifice of great extent, calculated to contain 24 cutting and heading machines, all driven by water power, by one enormous iron wheel." Superintendent Henry Burden developed a number of the company's manufacturing advances, including the wrought-nail and spike machine he patented in 1825.
In 1839, the factory was described in the Troy Directory:
"At these works 900 tons of iron were rolled last year, of which 650 tons were cut into nails. More than 5,000 nail-kegs were used; 350 tons of Lehigh coal, with 10,000 bushels of charcoal, were consumed; and more than 40 men employed. The annual disbursement on account of this establishment is about $150,000, of which the largest part is paid for iron; and about $30,000 for labor immediately connected with the works."
That was just the nail factory. For some reason, the spike factory was considered a separate enterprise under the same company, though I think most of us would consider a spike to be an overgrown nail. This was another area where Henry Burden was key to the company's success, having patented a machine that would make counter-sunk railroad spikes to fasten flat rails to longitudinal sleepers. (Longitudinal sleepers, ties that ran parallel to the rails, were just about out of style at the time.) "The spike factory, owned by the proprietors of the iron and nail factory, made about 150 tons of wrought spikes, employed 8 men, and consumed about 40 tons of Lehigh coal, with about 2,000 bushels charcoal." Burden later patented a hook-headed spike machine for laying the new styles of rails; his first order of 10 tons went to the Long Island Railroad.
This wasn't even really what made the company's fortune. At a time when the entire country depended on horses, horseshoes were still being made one at a time by blacksmiths. Burden created a horseshoe manufacturing machine, patented in 1835, that could make 15-20 horseshoes a minute. With many improvements in process and speeding up to 60 shoes a minute, a few decades later the Burden Iron Works would provide nearly all the horseshoes used by the Union army.
More on Burden to come.
Glad to see that The Keenan Building, one of the centerpieces of downtown Troy, has been rehabbed and is once again going to be a vital part of the urban core. James Keenan opened this lovely edifice in 1883. When Arthur Weise wrote "The City of Troy and Its Vicinity" in 1886, the building was a thriving commercial center, with a great variety of tenants:
- Thomas H. Magill, selling millinery and fancy goods, "such as silks, velvets, laces, ribbons, ruches, plumes, wings, and other hat and bonnet trimmings, together with women's skirts, corsets, parasols, fans, handkerchiefs, hosiery and jewelry, besides yarns, zephyrs, embroidery-silks, work-baskets and a great variety of other goods."
- Edgar L. Everett's art store was at the western end of the building.
- Samuel B. Mount dealt fine and fashionable furs. "His valuable stock embraces different kinds of foreign and domestic furs, seal, sable, ermine, marten, beaver, otter, mink, chinchilla, squirrel and other animal skins. He largely manufactures fur garments, sacques, dolmans, mantles, capes, circulars, and also muffs, caps, gloves, and carriage and sleigh robes."
- Theodore A. Byram, merchant tailor, "seasonably replenishes his varied stock of cloths and other stuffs worn by men and boys from the best quality and most desirable goods in the market."
- Hudson & Smith, insurance agents. They represented a crazy variety of insurance companies.
- Zeph F. Magill, photographer, kept studios, darkroom and framing operation on the third floor. "His long experience enables him to produce excellent photographs of all sizes."
- "George Harrison occupies Room 6, on the second floor of the building, and sells bonds and mortgages on improved farms in the state of Kansas for investment."
- William V. Baker, agent of the Northwestern Life Insurance Company.
Until I ran across it on the Troy Irish Genealogy Society's website, I had never heard of the Nail Factory Cemetery, but apparently it was once a well-known feature at the top of the Wynantskill's descent to the Hudson.
Arthur James Weise's "The City of Troy and Its Vicinity" reports that the Troy Iron and Nail Factory Company conveyed land to the city in 1836 to serve as the Sixth Ward Cemetery. It was only about an acre of land, so the many deceased of the sixth ward must have been buried very close together. The Genealogy Society says there are no records of when the cemetery was closed, or where the bodies were moved, but the latest burials it lists are around 1880.
The Troy Iron and Nail Factory was the successor enterprise to the rolling and slitting mill John Converse built on the Wynantskill in 1809. With others, he formed the iron and nail factory in 1813, which used hydropower to make bar iron, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, sheet copper and more. In 1824, Spafford's Gazetteer said the factory comprised "a rolling and slitting mill, a very extensive nail factory, sundry shops for other mechanical business, and about 50 houses, making a busy, sequestered manufacturing village, which, in compliment to a man of distinguished merit, I shall call Adamsville...." He was honoring Col. Nathanael Adams, one of the partners in the enterprise. But by then the superintendent of the works was a guy by the name of Henry Burden, whose name would overshadow everyone else involved with the old nail factory as he built this enterprise into what would be the Burden Iron Works. Adamsville was quickly forgotten.
Given my love of local history, it would of course please me greatly to be memorialized in the Albany Rural Cemetery. However, if it were only possible, I think I'd have to prefer to be buried in the Nail Factory Cemetery, if only for the great name.