Davenport, Thomas

SUBJECT AREA: Electricity
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b. 9 July 1802 Williamstown, Vermont, USA
d. 6 July 1851 Salisbury, Vermont, USA
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American craftsman and inventor who constructed the first rotating electrical machines in the United States.
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When he was 14 years old Davenport was apprenticed to a blacksmith for seven years. At the close of his apprenticeship in 1823 he opened a blacksmith's shop in Brandon, Vermont. He began experimenting with electromagnets after observing one in use at the Penfield Iron Works at Crown Point, New York, in 1831. He saw the device as a possible source of power and by July 1834 had constructed his first electric motor. Having totally abandoned his regular business, Davenport built and exhibited a number of miniature machines; he utilized an electric motor to propel a model car around a circular track in 1836, and this became the first recorded instance of an electric railway. An application for a patent and a model were destroyed in a fire at the United States Patent Office in December 1836, but a second application was made and Davenport received a patent the following year for Improvements in Propelling Machinery by Magnetism and Electromagnetism. A British patent was also obtained. A workshop and laboratory were established in New York, but Davenport had little financial backing for his experiments. He built a total of over one hundred motors but was defeated by the inability to obtain an inexpensive source of power. Using an electric motor of his own design to operate a printing press in 1840, he undertook the publication of a journal, The Electromagnet and Mechanics' Intelligencer. This was the first American periodical on electricity, but it was discontinued after a few issues. In failing health he retired to Vermont where in the last year of his life he continued experiments in electromagnetism.
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Bibliography
1837, US patent no. 132, "Improvements in Propelling Machinery by Magnetism and Electromagnetism".
6 June 1837 British patent no. 7,386.
Further Reading
F.L.Pope, 1891, "Inventors of the electric motor with special reference to the work of Thomas Davenport", Electrical Engineer, 11:1–5, 33–9, 65–71, 93–8, 125–30 (the most comprehensive account).
Annals of Electricity (1838) 2:257–64 (provides a description of Davenport's motor).
W.J.King, 1962, The Development of Electrical Technology in the 19th Century, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, Paper 28, pp. 263–4 (a short account).
GW

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

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