A Toast To Oliver Evans

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To say Oliver Evans was a great American innovator would be like saying Mt. Everest was a mountain, true but only half the story. Oliver Evans was a bright and determined man; he worked hard, believed in himself and refused to be held down by what others might think of him or his ideas. Evans showed interest in engineering very early on, as a teenager he apprenticed himself to a wheelwright and wagon maker while studying math and science on the side. That was until a casual conversation with his brother opened his eyes to what he considered a new source of power. His brother told him about a blacksmith’s boy who had put water in a gun barrel, rammed wadding down it, and put the butt end of the gun in the smith’s fire. The compressed steam in the cylinder ejected the wadding with a crack as loud as gunpowder. This seeming ‘joke’ sparked something in Evans and led him down a path that would be largely responsible for America's industrialization in the early nineteenth century. At the age of 22, he began to work in a textile workshop where everything was done laboriously, by hand. When Evans witnessed the tedious and dirty method of converting wheat into flour he determined he would automate the process. Although it took him seven years, he finally perfected five machines that formed an integrated production line. This new mill was able to produce up to 300 bushels per hour. One might think that Evans journey would then be a walk in the park but this was not so for he had trouble convincing millers to adopt his new system. After his rejection, he set out to write a book, “The Young Mill-Wright and Millers Guide”, once published his book helped educate a new generation. In 1789, he made a breakthrough sale to the Ellicott brothers in Maryland and his profits skyrocketed. Within only a few years, Evans had licensed his technology to over one hundred

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