Oliver Evans
Oliver Evans was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 inventor. Evans was born in Newport, Delaware
Newport, Delaware
Newport is a town in New Castle County, Delaware, United States. It is located on the Christina River. It is best known for being the home of colonial inventor Oliver Evans. The population was 1,055 at the 2010 census...

 to a family of Welsh
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 settlers. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a wheelwright
A wheelwright is a person who builds or repairs wheels. The word is the combination of "wheel" and the archaic word "wright", which comes from the Old English word "wryhta", meaning a worker or maker...


Evans' first invention was in 1777, when he designed a machine for making card teeth for carding
Carding is a mechanical process that breaks up locks and unorganised clumps of fibre and then aligns the individual fibres so that they are more or less parallel with each other. The word is derived from the Latin carduus meaning teasel, as dried vegetable teasels were first used to comb the raw wool...

Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

. He went into business with his brothers and produced a number of improvements in the flour milling industry.

Evans devoted a great deal of his time to patents, patent extensions, and enforcement of his patents.
In 1792 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...


He produced an improved high-pressure steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

 in 1801. For some years he contemplated the idea of applying steam power to wagons. He was granted a patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 for a steam-carriage design in 1789, but did not produce a working example of such a machine until over a decade later (see below on his Oruktor Amphibolos). Part of his difficulties was a failure to get financial backing. After lack of support in his native land, in 1794 he sent copies of some his designs to Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 in an attempt to interest investors there.

Evans designed a refrigeration machine which ran on vapor in 1805, so he is often called the inventor of the refrigerator, although he never built one. (His design was modified by Jacob Perkins
Jacob Perkins
Jacob Perkins was an Anglo-American inventor, mechanical engineer and physicist. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Perkins was apprenticed to a goldsmith...

, who obtained the first patent for a refrigerating machine in 1834.)

As noted by Roe, Evans is best known for the system of conveyors and other equipment he developed for his automatic flour mill:

"He practically invented the modern science of handling materials." Joseph Wickham Roe, 1916

Automatic flour mill

Evans most important invention was an automated flour mill which operated continuously through the use of bulk material handling
Bulk material handling
Bulk material handling is an engineering field that is centered around the design of equipment used for the handling of dry materials such as ores, coal, cereals, wood chips, sand, gravel and stone in loose bulk form...

 devices including bucket elevator
Bucket elevator
A bucket elevator, also called a grain leg, is a mechanism for hauling flowable bulk materials vertically.It consists of:# Buckets to contain the material;# A belt to carry the buckets and transmit the pull;...

s, conveyor belt
Conveyor belt
A conveyor belt consists of two or more pulleys, with a continuous loop of material - the conveyor belt - that rotates about them. One or both of the pulleys are powered, moving the belt and the material on the belt forward. The powered pulley is called the drive pulley while the unpowered pulley...

s, and Archimedean screws. Evans described this invention in The Young Mill-wright and Millers' Guide. He patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

ed this invention in a few states and, when the US patent system was established, in the federal patent system (Third U.S. Patent).

Evans' description of his fully automatic flour mill:
" These five machines…perform every necessary movement of the grain, and meal, from one part of the mill to another, and from one machine to another, through all the various operations, from the time the grain is emptied from the wagoner's bag….until completely manufactured into flour…without the aid of manual labor, excepting to set the different machines in motion."

The automatic flour mill was built ca. 1785 in Newcastle County, Delaware.

The Evans material handling system became widely used in flour mills and breweries during the 19th century.

David Hounshell (1984) acknowledged the influence of Evans'es automatic flour mill in the sequence of innovations leading up to the assembly line
Assembly line
An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which parts are added to a product in a sequential manner using optimally planned logistics to create a finished product much faster than with handcrafting-type methods...


The Oruktor Amphibolos

One device for which Oliver Evans is known today is his Oruktor Amphibolos, or "Amphibious Digger", built on commission from the Philadelphia Board of Health. The Board was concerned with the problem of dredging and cleaning the city's dockyards, and in 1805 Evans convinced them to contract with him for a steam-powered dredge.

No technical drawings of the device survive, and the only evidence for its design come from Oliver Evans' own descriptions, which are contradictory, and most likely exaggerated. He describes the vehicle as a 30 feet (9.1 m) long 15 ton scow, powered by a 5 horse-power steam engine. For a demonstration of his long-held beliefs in the possibility of land steam demonstration, Evans mounted the hull on 4 wheel
A wheel is a device that allows heavy objects to be moved easily through rotating on an axle through its center, facilitating movement or transportation while supporting a load, or performing labor in machines. Common examples found in transport applications. A wheel, together with an axle,...

s and may have connected the engine to them, to drive it through Philadelphia streets on the way to the river. The small size of the engine, the large size of the vehicle, and the lack of any contemporary evidence other than Evans' own writings for it make this seem unlikely. Evans claimed that his dredge was the first self-powered amphibious vehicle
Amphibious vehicle
An amphibious vehicle , is a vehicle or craft, that is a means of transport, viable on land as well as on water – just like an amphibian....

, as well as the first self-powered land vehicle in the United States (steam powered road vehicles had already been used earlier in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

). The Oruktor Amphibolos was never a success as a dredge, and after a few years of sitting at the dock was sold for parts.

Subsequently, Evans wrote about the Oruktor in many publications, and each time the achievements became more impressive. He also 'corrected' the date of the machine from 1805 to 1804, possibly in a dispute about steamboat patents, and this inaccuracy has since been perpetuated by several commentators.

Oliver Evans wrote up proposals to mechanize road vehicles, but failed to get backing from investors, who saw the scheme as impractical. In 1812 he published a visionary description of the nation connected by a network of railroad lines with transportation by swift steam locomotive
A locomotive is a railway vehicle that provides the motive power for a train. The word originates from the Latin loco – "from a place", ablative of locus, "place" + Medieval Latin motivus, "causing motion", and is a shortened form of the term locomotive engine, first used in the early 19th...

s. It should be remembered that at the time the locomotive was little more than a crude curiosity, and no attempts to use it for long distance transport had yet been made; see: History of rail transport
History of rail transport
The history of rail transport dates back nearly 500 years and includes systems with man or horse power and rails of wood or stone. Modern rail transport systems first appeared in England in the 1820s...


High pressure steam engine

Evans invented a high pressure steam engine 1n 1801 (patented 1804), near the same time Richard Trevithick
Richard Trevithick
Richard Trevithick was a British inventor and mining engineer from Cornwall. His most significant success was the high pressure steam engine and he also built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive...

 of England invented a similar, but less practical engine. The high pressure steam engine had a higher power to weight ratio, making it practical to make locomotives and steamboats.

In 1811, he founded the Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company
Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company
The Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company, originally the Pittsburgh Engine Company was a company founded in 1811 by Oliver Evans to manufacture high-pressure steam engines. It opened for business soon after Fulton's low-pressure New Orleans left Pittsburgh on her maiden voyage as the first steamboat...

, which in addition to engines made other heavy machinery and castings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Allegheny County. Regionally, it anchors the largest urban area of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley, and nationally, it is the 22nd-largest urban area in the United States...

. The location of the factory in the Mississippi watershed was important in the development of high pressure steam engines for the use in riverboats.


In 1819, while in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, Oliver Evans was informed that his workshop in Philadelphia had burned to the ground. Evans suffered from a stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 at the news, and died soon after. He is buried in Trinity Cemetery, Broadway
Broadway (New York City)
Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

 at 154th Street, New York City.

External links

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