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Erasmus Darwin Leavitt

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1889. Boiler for the Calumet and Hecla mine.

Erasmus Darwin Leavitt (1836-1916)


1916 Obituary [1]

ERASMUS DARWIN LEAVITT was born at Lowell, Mass., United States, on 27th October 1836.

He was educated at local public schools, and at the age of sixteen began work in the machine shops of the Lowell Manufacturing Co., where he served an apprenticeship of three years.

He spent a year with Messrs. Corliss and Nightingale, and was later assistant foreman of the City Point Works in South Boston, where he had charge of the construction of the engine of the U.S.S. "Hartford."

From 1859-61 he was chief draughtsman for Messrs. Thurston, Gardner and Co., of Providence, R.I., leaving there to enter the United States Navy as assistant engineer. He served through the Civil War, and during that time he was attached to the Eastern Gulf Squadron, afterwards being engaged on construction duty at Baltimore, Boston, and Brooklyn. Two years later he was detailed to the Naval Academy at Annapolis as instructor in steam-engineering, making a speciality of pumping and mining machinery.

In 1867 Mr. Leavitt resigned from the naval service and started as a consulting engineer. From that time he began to be well known, and became, probably, the most prominent mechanical engineer in consulting practice in the United States. His fame as an engineer may be said to have begun with the installation of the pumping engine at Lynn, Mass., which embraced all his ideas of engine economy. This engine marked an era in the economy of pumping engines throughout the world.

In 1874 he was appointed consulting and mechanical engineer to the Calumet and Heels Mining Co., a position he retained until 1904, when he retired. During that period he designed and superintended the building of the enormous equipment now in use at Calumet.

Up to 1886 Mr. Leavitt's standard steam-pressure was 135 lb. per square inch, but in that year he began the design of triple-expansion engines, and adopted 185 lb. pressure. He also changed the construction of the sand-wheels from wood — which was used in the Lake Superior region — to metal, and he designed wheels of 50 and 60 feet diameter on the principle of the bicycle wheel.

While he was employed by the Calumet and Hecla Co. he was frequently engaged by other companies and municipalities, and found time to act as consulting engineer for Messrs. Henry R. Worthington of New York, the Dickson Manufacturing Co., the City of Boston, and the City of Cambridge, Mass. As advisory engineer, he designed machinery for the Bethlehem Steel Co. and for South African mining companies. He was a strong advocate of the locomotive type of boiler and used it almost exclusively, the diameter of the shell being usually 90 inches.

In 1884 Mr. Leavitt received the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology. He occupied a leading position among the most eminent engineers of the world, and was a recognized authority on the branch of Steam Engineering.

He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1883, and was nominated an Honorary Life Member in February of the present year. He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was one of the thirty mechanical engineers who organized The American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1880, and became its President during 1882-3; he was also a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and other technical societies.

His death took place at his residence in Cambridge, Mass., on 1lth March 1916, in his eightieth year.


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