Corliss, George Henry

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b. 2 June 1817 Easton, Washington City, New York, USA
d. 21 February 1888 USA
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American inventor of a cut-off mechanism linked to the governor which revolutionized the operation of steam engines.
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Corliss's father was a physician and surgeon. The son was educated at Greenwich, New York, but while he showed an aptitude for mathematics and mechanics he first of all became a storekeeper and then clerk, bookkeeper, salesperson and official measurer and inspector of the cloth produced at W.Mowbray \& Son. He went to the Castleton Academy, Vermont, for three years and at the age of 21 returned to a store of his own in Greenwich. Complaints about stitching in the boots he sold led him to patent a sewing machine. He approached Fairbanks, Bancroft \& Co., Providence, Rhode Island, machine and steam engine builders, about producing his machine, but they agreed to take him on as a draughtsman providing he abandoned it. Corliss moved to Providence with his family and soon revolutionized the design and construction of steam engines. Although he started working out ideas for his engine in 1846 and completed one in 1848 for the Providence Dyeing, Bleaching and Calendering Company, it was not until March 1849 that he obtained a patent. By that time he had joined John Barstow and E.J.Nightingale to form a new company, Corliss Nightingale \& Co., to build his design of steam-engines. He used paired valves, two inlet and two exhaust, placed on opposite sides of the cylinder, which gave good thermal properties in the flow of steam. His wrist-plate operating mechanism gave quick opening and his trip mechanism allowed the governor to regulate the closure of the inlet valve, giving maximum expansion for any load. It has been claimed that Corliss should rank equally with James Watt in the development of the steam-engine. The new company bought land in Providence for a factory which was completed in 1856 when the Corliss Engine Company was incorporated. Corliss directed the business activities as well as technical improvements. He took out further patents modifying his valve gear in 1851, 1852, 1859, 1867, 1875, 1880. The business grew until well over 1,000 workers were employed. The cylindrical oscillating valve normally associated with the Corliss engine did not make its appearance until 1850 and was included in the 1859 patent. The impressive beam engine designed for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition by E. Reynolds was the product of Corliss's works. Corliss also patented gear-cutting machines, boilers, condensing apparatus and a pumping engine for waterworks. While having little interest in politics, he represented North Providence in the General Assembly of Rhode Island between 1868 and 1870.
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Further Reading
Many obituaries appeared in engineering journals at the time of his death. Dictionary of American Biography, 1930, Vol. IV, New York: C.Scribner's Sons. R.L.Hills, 1989, Power from Steam. A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Cambridge University Press (explains Corliss's development of his valve gear).
J.L.Wood, 1980–1, "The introduction of the Corliss engine to Britain", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 52 (provides an account of the introduction of his valve gear to Britain).
W.H.Uhland, 1879, Corliss Engines and Allied Steam-motors, London: E. \& F.N.Spon.
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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