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Engines of Our Ingenuity

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Samuel Slater Digital History ID 4480
Samuel Slater came to America when he was 21. He'd been born and raised in England and served an apprenticeship in an English spinning mill. When he arrived in 1789, our new country was trying to create its own industries, apart from England. The great Quaker patron of Rhode Island, Moses Brown, for one, was trying to spin thread with English equipment.
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Oliver Evans Digital History ID 4493
Many engineers of the late 17th century were trying to make use of two new sources of power: steam and gunpowder. By then, England and Europe were under the threat of a serious energy crisis. Most of the trees were gone, and the depth of coal mines had reached the underground water table. A reliable power source was badly needed to pump water out of the mines so people could keep heating their homes.
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John Fitch Digital History ID 4495
John Fitch was born in 1743 in Connecticut. His mother died when he was four -- his father was harsh and rigid. A sense of injustice and failure marked his life from the start. Pulled from school when he was eight and made to work on his hated family farm, he became, in his own words, "almost crazy after learning." He finally fled the farm and took up silversmithing. He married in 1776 but soon left his nagging wife, who couldn't bear his manic-depressive extremes. For several years he explored the Ohio River basin, spent time as a prisoner of the British and Indians, and eventually returned to the Colonies afire with a new obsession. He went to Pennsylvania, where he set out to make a steam-powered boat to navigate the western rivers.
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Poets View the Industrial Revolution Digital History ID 4497
Not everyone who was charmed by the movie Chariots of Fire knows the source of its title. Actually, it's a phrase from an English hymn that's sung rather briefly near the beginning of the movie. The words, by the poet William Blake, at first seem to portray the Industrial Revolution as a manifestation of human evil. He says: And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills?
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Eliphalet Nott Digital History ID 4485
I'll bet you've never heard of Eliphalet Nott. Nott was a child prodigy, born just before the American Revolution. He was educated for all of two months at a small college that later became Brown University. But Nott could talk. By the age of 25 he was minister of a fancy church in Albany, New York. Nott was eloquent. When one parishioner killed another in a duel, he wrote a sermon that helped end dueling in America. By the way, those duelers were Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
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An American Revolution Digital History ID 4490
The American Revolution ended in 1783. Then a different revolution followed right on its heels. Our belief in detached rationalism gave way to a new vision of the power of the mind. We'd modeled our Revolution on the Roman Republic. We were firm, rational men in a rational world. Our art showed Roman soldiers with uplifted swords. We carved busts of our leaders in classic Roman form. That mood still hung over in the early 1800s when we went about saying things like "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." We needed that sort of assertion to sustain the Revolution once it was won. But that was a rhetoric that'd been honed in the late Colonial period.
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Pittsburgh in 1816 Digital History ID 4494
Now what was so special about Pittsburgh and the year 1816? The War of 1812 had just ended. We'd survived our first 40 years of independence, and we'd started to see ourselves as a strong and solvent country. Pittsburgh was a singular town. It lay across that great natural barrier, the Allegheny mountains, far from America's population centers on the Atlantic coast.
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The Telegraph Digital History ID 4496
Historians of technology are pretty cautious about naming the first person to invent anything. Someone else always shows up having thought of it first. The telegraph is no exception. The noted American painter Samuel F.B. Morse did put together a telegraph system in 1837. But it was probably his invention of an early version of what we call the "Morse code" that got him credited with inventing the telegraph.
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