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Paul Rapsey Hodge

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Paul Rapsey Hodge (1808-1871) of the USA and London

Hodge arrived in the USA some time before 1837. He worked as a draughtsman for Thomas Rogers. He returned to England in 1847, and published 'Analytical Principles and Practical Application of the Expansive Steam Engine' in 1849.[1]

1840-1 Hodge built the first steam fire engine in the USA, in New York. It was also the first ever self-propelled fire engine. There was a dog clutch which separated or joined the two halves of the rear axle (to facilitate steering?). On trial it threw a jet to a height of 166 ft when running at 120 rpm. It was regarded as an unwelcome intruder by established fire-fighters. It proved unpopular with the men of the Pearl Hose Co who had to operate it, and was sold to a Mr Bloomer for use as a stationary engine. Hodge was described in the reference source as an eminent English engineer[2]. Illustrations show that the machine resembled a 2-2-0 locomotive, with a firebox of the 'Bury' type. The horizontal cylinders were in tandem with the pump cylinders. The pistons acted on a pair of large driving wheels. Ahead of the smokebox, above the front axle, was an air vessel, surmounted by a bell and, naturally, an eagle. The method of steering is not apparent. When pumping, the back wheels were raised off the ground by an inbuilt screw jack, and served the role of flywheels.

1840 Published 'The Steam Engine: Its Origin and Gradual Improvement'. This includes a brief description of a locomotive which he designed in 1836 for Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor of Paterson, NJ.

1847 Business address: 140 Strand, London

1850 New patent: P. R. Hodge, Adam Street, Adelphi, for improvements in certain descriptions of steam engines, and in the apparatus and management for cultivating and manuring the soil, and in treating produce thereof.[3]

1851 Paul Rapsey Hodge appeared before the House of Lords Committee on Patents. He was in good company – many eminent engineers and industrialists also gave evidence, including William Fairbairn, Richard Roberts, I K Brunel. Hodge, described as a civil engineer, and inventor and a patent agent, cited specific examples of his knowledge of patents and their working. He advocated a number of improvements in the granting of patents, including reducing the costs. He observed that ‘the real inventors are generally operatives, - practical men. I can cite an instance of a spinning-machine [patent?] which has been bought for £6000, which was invented by a journeyman who worked under me for ten years. We used very often to laugh at this man’s assertion that he would make a better spinning-machine than Mr. Danforth’s, with whom he served his time; and this improved spinning-machine is now in the Exhibition. My experience in America goes to prove that practical men and operatives themselves, if they are encouraged, are the very men to invent, and not the employers. …. Though the workman has been the inventor, the employer is the only one benefited by it. Sometimes the workman meets with a liberal employer; I can cite to your Lordships and instance of Messrs. Sharpe, of Manchester, who gave Mr. Hill, at the head of their loom department, £2000 or £3000 for an improvement in a carpet loom.'[4]

1855 Business address: 11 Buckingham Street, Adelphi, London (IMechE list of members, 1855)

1856 Hodge made a request to utilise the waste hot spring water discharged from the baths in Bath, to heat glasshouses to raise vegetables. An area of up to 20 acres was enisaged, and the proposals included the prospect of eventually establishing a horticultural college there. The proposal was discussed at length by Bath Town Council.[5]

1867 Patent sealed: No. 2525, P R Hodge, 106 Cannon Street: filtration of fluids.[6]

1867 Patent sealed: P. R. Hodge, London, improvements in machinery or apparatus for heating and forming metals for railway wheel tyres : Dec. 7,1867.[7]

P R Hodge was a member of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers, and frequently contributed to discussions at their meetings, drawing on his wide experience in Britain and the USA. For example, in 1855, he contributed to discussions on papers relating to expansion in marine engines, tuyeres and hearths, and pressure gauges[8]

Railway Engineering

Mention of P R Hodge in the early days of US railroads: 'English influence in several forms enters the story of the New Jersey Rogers Locomotive Works. Starting a chain of reaction was the first locomotive to be operated on the Whistler-engineered Paterson and Hudson Railroad, the English-built "McNeill." As the West Point Foundry adapted from the pioneer Delaware and Hudson locomotives, Baldwin from the "John Bull," and Whistler from the English locomotives of the Boston and Lowell Railroad, so Engineer Swinburne, with the aid of English-trained mechanical draftsman Hodge, drew from the "McNeill." Both men were employees of the manufacturing firm of Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor of Paterson, N. J., whose sole railroad experience, until this 1835 incident, had been the construction of a hundred sets of wheels for the South Carolina Railroad, on a contract from Horatio Allen. Sixteen months later number one of this firm emerged as the Sandusky," and became, when sold, the first locomotive owned by the Ohio pioneer line, (other than the Michigan-built Kalamazoo and Erie) the Mad River and Lake Erie. When the "Sandusky" arrived at Sandusky, Ohio, November 17, 1837, aboard the schooner "Sandusky," there was no track built; its gauge, 4' 10", set the standard for the owning line and the State of Ohio. Rogers' notable improvement on this locomotive over the "McNeill" was the first use of counterbalanced driving wheels. Rogers built seven additional locomotives in 1837. Englishman Hodges, while visiting his homeland in 1847, sent the Rogers Company a drawing of Robert Stephenson's unpatented 1842 link-motion valve control, which became a standard on Rogers locomotives. This transmittal, however, was not the movement of an English practice across the Atlantic, but the return of American innovation first used by William T. James, of New York, in 1832. Rogers' locomotive "Stockbridge," this same year, pioneered with outside cylinders.' [9]

At one of the meetings of the IMechE in 1850, in discussions about the enormous problem of railway axle failures, Hodge made the very interesting suggestion that "To arrive at any true results as to the structure of iron it would be necessary to call in the aid of the microscope, to examine the fibrous and crystalline structure." 'This counsel was followed up by R. Stephenson who reported that he had (since the last meeting) examined a piece of iron called “crystalline”, and a piece of iron called “fibrous” under a powerful microscope and that it would probably surprise people to know that no real difference could be perceived.'[10] Hodge's suggestion and Stephenson's observation may sound trivial, but this was before the concept of fatigue had come to light, and this seems to have been a turning point in Stephenson's views on the phenomenon.

1868 Hodge made an interesting contribution to an I.C.E. discussion on American Locomotives and Rolling Stock. He praised the chilled iron railway wheels patented by H. R. Dunham of New York, but cautioned against the use of chilled iron wheels at high speed. He stated that he had invented the 'close-oil box' for railway axles in 1849, and that it was taken to the USA by Mr Hughes of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railway. Hodge had tried to introduce them on British railways, and referred to successful trials on the L&NWR. Robert Stephenson had adopted the boxes in Egypt. Hodge also exhibited a drawing he had done in 1835 of the first engine with long connecting rods and outside eccentrics, and stated that he had produced the drawings for the first locomotive built in the USA.[11]. Note: see also Hodge's 1853 IMechE Paper 'On a new self-lubricating axle-box....'[12]

Biographical Information

1808 Born 15th July in St Austell, Cornwall

1851 Census: Civil Engineer, living at 4 Albion Grove, Islington

1861 Census: Civil Engineer, living at 36 Blessington Road, Lee St. Margaret, Kent, age 52, with wife Mary (52, born Truro), daughter Honora M., 29, born Philadelphia, son Thomas Franklin Hodge, civil engineer, 27, born Petersburg, Virginia, and two servants.

1871 Census, civil engineer and author, widower, living at Clyde Terrace, Deptford, with daughter Honora and her daughter.

Died 21 October 1871, buried at St Giles, Camberwell.

'Paul Rapsey Hodge,- who was born at St. Austell, July 15th, 1808, was man with a very fertile mind. At least 16 patents were taken out by him, with a very wide range of subjects. In 1856 he devised improvements in the method of lighting domestic fires, and improvements in the following: Grinding wheat, manufacture of felted cloth, regulating recoil of springs in railway carriages and station buffers, brewing fermented liquors, new material for making paper; he invented a dinner, breakfast, and dessert plate, made improvements in smelting of glass, metal, or porcelain, manufacture of pigments for ink, manufacture of lighting and heating gas, waterproofing of fabrics. A coloured picture ran be seen at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, depicting the first steam fire engine made in the United States for the insurance company of New York, by Paul Rapsey Hodge, in, 1840-1.'[13]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'A History of the American Locomotive: Its Development, 1830-1880' by John H. White Jr, Dover Publications
  2. [1] 'History of the American Steam Fire-Engine' by William T. King, first published 1896, Dover edition 2001
  3. Birmingham Journal - Saturday 13 July 1850
  4. [2] 'Copyright and Patents for Inventions Pleas and Plans …Vol II', Robert Andrew Macfie, 1883. NB 700 page pdf.
  5. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 20 November 1856
  6. London City Press - Saturday 13 April 1867
  7. Aris's Birmingham Gazette - Saturday 30 May 1868
  8. [3] IMecE Proceedings, 1855
  9. [4]'The English Influence On American Railroads' by EARL J. HEYDINGER, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, no. 91 (1954)
  10. [5] '‘History of Strength of Materials: With a brief account of the history of theory of elasticity and theory of structures’ by Stephen P. Timoshenko, Dover Publications Inc., New York, p.165
  11. [6] DISCUSSION: AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVES AND ROLLING STOCK. January 1869, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, pp.402-4
  12. [7] Hodge's 1853 IMechE Paper 'On a new self-lubricating axle-box....'
  13. Ref link