Abraham Lincoln was issued a patent for his invention to lift boats over shoals and other obstructions in a river.
As a teenager the future President had taken a flatboat along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. After moving to Illinois he was employed by Denton Offutt a merchant and owner of a general store, to ferry goods along the Mississippi and its tributaries.
During these river trips Lincoln’s boats had run aground on more than one occasion, leading to the exhausting process of freeing the boat before it sank or the cargo went overboard. These experiences were to provide the inspiration for his invention.
Lincoln is believed to have begun work on his device in 1848, in which ‘adjustable buoyant air chambers’ attached to the boat could be forced under the water and inflated to float the boat free of the obstruction without the need to unload any of the cargo. He filed an application to the Patent Office on 10 March 1849, and Patent No. 6469 was awarded two months later on 22 May.
A model of the device is said to have been produced with the assistance of Walter Davis, a mechanic from Springfield, although Paul Johnston from the National Museum of American History believes it may instead have been made in Washington. Whatever the truth behind the creation of the model, this is the furthest that Lincoln’s invention ever got since nobody ever tried to install the system on a full-size boat.
The model itself can be seen on display at the Smithsonian Institute, and is claimed by the curator of the Marine Collection to be ‘one of the half dozen or so most valuable things in our collection.’ The invention is also significant in that it makes Abraham Lincoln the only President in the history of the United States to have been awarded a patent.
British inventor Edwin Budding went into partnership with foundry owner John Ferrabee to manufacture the world’s first lawn mower.
Edwin Budding grew up near the Gloucestershire town of Stroud, where he often saw teams of labourers using scythes to manually cut the lawns of the landed gentry. The labour-intensive nature of this work would later inspire him to create the ubiquitous machine.
Having begun work in an iron foundry as a pattern maker, Budding came across a mechanical napping machine created by John Lewis in 1815 that was used to trim fibres from the surface of woven cloth to produce an even finish. Later developments to this machine used a cylindrical cutting blade that directly influenced Budding’s lawn mower design.
Powered by a large iron roller and a series of gears that span the cutting cylinder close to a knife plate, Budding’s mower was pushed from behind. A second roller could be adjusted to alter the cutting height, while the clippings were flung into a collection box at the front.
On 18 May Budding signed an agreement with John Ferrabee, owner of the Phoenix Iron Works at the nearby town of Thrupp, to manufacture the machine. One of the first models was sold to Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in London where the head gardener reported that the new lawn mower allowed two men to do as much work as six or eight men with scythes.
Ferrabee subsequently licensed other manufacturers to produce Budding mowers, while Budding returned to inventing. He went on to create the first adjustable spanner in 1842.
The 25th April 1792 saw the world’s first use of the guillotine as a method of execution. Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, a French highwayman found guilty of killing a man during one of his robberies, was the guillotine’s first – but by no means last – victim.
Pelletier’s status as a common criminal was significant. Prior to the French Revolution, beheading as a form of execution had been reserved for the nobility. Commoners were usually subjected to longer and arguably more painful deaths through hanging, or worse. To end the privilege of the nobility, the National Assembly therefore made decapitation the only legal form of execution.
It was recognised that manual beheading was, however, still a gruesome form of execution. On 10th October 1789, physician Joseph Guillotin argued that every execution should be swift and mechanical. The National Assembly agreed, acknowledging that capital punishment should simply end life, not purposefully cause pain as well.
Another physician, Antoine Louis, was appointed to lead a committee to develop a quick and efficient decapitation machine. Although Guillotin was a member of this committee, it is actually therefore Antione Louis who is credited with the device’s invention, even though it carries the Guillotin’s name.
As for the highwayman Pelletier, his execution went smoothly – much to the disappointment of the crowd who expected better ‘entertainment’. Excited to see the new machine in action, they were disappointed at its speed and efficiency.
Put on for an audience of 200 invited attendees at the “Society for the Development of the National Industry”, the reaction to the moving black-and-white pictures caught the brothers by surprise. They had attended the conference to share Louis’ recent work on colour photography and only showed the 45-second film La Sortie des Usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), as a novelty after Louis’ lecture.
The machine used to project the film had been patented by the brothers the previous month. Their father owned a photographic materials factory in Lyon and told his sons about the Edison kinetoscope that he had seen in Paris in 1894. Inspired by their father’s enthusiasm they invented the Cinématographe which combined a camera, developer and projector into a single unit. Its drive mechanism was based on the “presser foot” used in sewing machines, and used a clawed gear to engage with perforations in the side of a roll of film. As the gear rotated, individual frames moved in front of the lens to capture the moving image at a rate of 12 frames every second. The same mechanism could later be used to project the captured images.
The positive reception to the first film screening led the brothers to refine their invention and, on 28 December 1895, they staged their first public show at the Grand Café in Paris. Within less than a decade, however, the brothers withdrew from the motion picture industry and instead turned their attention to the development of colour photography, a technology that they went on to dominate for a number of years with their Autochrome process.