PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
BEAN'S HISTORY OF
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
THE NATIONAL GAS-WORKS. -Professor T. S. C. Lowe established this works some years ago in Norristown. The experiment was tried to introduce gas made from water, for lighting and heating purposes, into Norristown, and a building was erected near the corner of De Kalb and Washington Streets for the purpose of manufacturing gas on Professor Lowe's patent. A company was formed and many hundred feet of pipes laid down, but the project failed. Professor Lowe next established a foundry and machine-shop for the manufacture of the engines, retorts, tanks, etc., required in his business, on the lot formerly occupied by George Zinnel as a coal-yard, on Lafayette Street, and extending the entire depth of the block to Main Street, where the offices are located. About a dozen hands are employed at the works. A foundry in connection with the works was built in the Fifth Ward, near the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, but it has not been in operation for some years.
THADDEUS S. C. LOWE, of Norristown, the distinguished aeronaut, scientist and inventor, was born August 20, 1832, at Jefferson, N.H. and is the son of Clovis and Alpha Greene Lowe, of that town. His mother was a daughter of Thomas Greene, and on both sides the ancestry claims to be of the early Pilgrims, who came from England in the seventeenth century. Mr. Lowe enjoyed only common-school instruction in early life, but soon found himself drawn, as by an irresistible force, to chemistry, natural philosophy and kindred studies. At a very early age, therefore, he turned his attention to aerostatics and ballooning as a specialty.
When a young man he studied medicine, but instead of practicing the same, was engaged in chemical and scientific matters for several years, till 1855. In that year, while residing in New York, he was married to Miss Leontine Gachon, who had been born and educated in Paris, France. Very soon after, in 1857, be commenced to study aeronautics, and made numerous aerial voyages in different parts of the country, his first one being from Ottawa, Canada, in 1858, in celebration of the laying of the first Atlantic cable. In 1859 he constructed the largest aerostat ever built, or probably ever will be; it was intended for voyages across the ocean, which he estimated could be done in less than three days by taking advantage of the ever-constant eastward current, which he bad discovered to always prevail in all the numerous voyages he had made previous to that time. This he did to in some way compensate for the temporary failure of the Atlantic cable, which was to endeavor to communicate more rapidly than by steamers, which in that day were quite slow compared with the present. This aerostic was one hundred and fifty feet perpendicular diameter by one hundred and four feet transverse diameter, the upper portion being spherical. When fully inflated with hydrogen, its atmospheric displacement would give a lifting force of twenty-two and a half tons. It had for its outfit, besides a car with all the necessary scientific instruments, provisions, etc., a complete iron life-boat, schooner-rigged, much larger than several that have successfully crossed the ocean since. The gas envelope weighed of itself over two tons, while the net-work and other cordage weighed about one and a half tons. It was quite late in the autumn before this monarch of balloons was completed. Professor Lowe procured the site of the New York Crystal Palace, which had been destroyed by fire, and clearing away the debris of that once fine building, he on the 1st of November, began the inflation of this large aerostat for the voyage; but owing to a lack in the supply of gas from the street mains, whereby six days would be required to inflate instead of one day, which was necessary for a successful use of the gas, the attempt at that time had to be abandoned. There was not then a newspaper in the civilized world but what noticed, more or less, the
extensive preparations he had made for this undertaking.
In the spring of 1860, by invitation of a number of the members of the Franklin Institute, Professor Lowe came to Philadelphia, where Professor John C. Cresson, then president of the Philadelphia Gas Works, promised the necessary rapid supply of gas for a trial-trip to test the feasibility of inflating and launching into the air this immense aeronautic machine. Older aeronauts from all parts of the world had predicted that an aerostat of this size could not be successfully inflated and launched into the air. Notwithstanding these predictions, a successful trip was made from the Point Breeze Gas-Works in June 1860, where four hundred thousand cubic feet of gas were furnished in four hours. On this trip five passengers were taken, including Mr. Garrick Mallory, of the "Philadelphia Inquirer," who wrote an account of the trip, which was published in that paper at the time. In this voyage two and a half miles altitude was attained in passing over the city of Philadelphia, and when near Atlantic City a descent was made to a lower current, which wafted the great aerostat back to within eighteen miles of Philadelphia, where a landing was effected. This immense balloon was handled with go much skill that the departure from the earth, with a weight of over ten tons, and the return again, were so gentle that the passengers on board would hardly have known when they left or when they landed had they not seen it accomplished.
So well pleased were Professor Lowe's friends at his successful managing of an aerostat six times larger than any one ever before built that they recommended him to visit Professor Joseph Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, and, if possible, secure his cooperation, and to that end furnished him with the following letter:
"TO PROF. JOSEPH HENRY, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
"The undersigned citizens of Philadelphia have taken a deep interest in the attempt of Mr. T. S. C. Lowe to cross the Atlantic by aeronautic machinery, and have confidence that his extensive preparation to effect that object will greatly add to scientific knowledge. Mr. Lowe has individually spent much time and money in the enterprise, and in addition, the citizens of Philadelphia have contributed several thousand dollars to further his efforts in demonstrating the feasibility of transatlantic air navigation. With reliance upon Mr. Lowe and his plans, we cheerfully recommend him to the favorable consideration of the Smithsonian Institution, and trust such aid and advice will be furnished humbly that distinguished body as may assist in the success of the attempt in which we take a deep interest.
"Jno. C. Cresson
W. H. Harrison
J. Cheston Morris, M. D.
James C. Fisher, M. D.
Thos. Stewardson, M. D.
J. B. Lippincott
Geo. W. Childs
S. S. Haldeman
John E. Frazer
It is needless to say that Professor Henry received Professor Lowe with extreme warmth and congeniality, from which sprung a lasting friendship, and gave him the freedom of the institution. Upon the recommendation of Professor Henry, preparatory to a transatlantic voyage, Professor Lowe made a trip across the continent in a smaller aerostat, starting from Cincinnati, Ohio, at four o'clock in the morning of April 20, 1861, after taking leave of his friends, among whom were Messrs. Potter and Murat Halstead, of the "Cincinnati Commercial," and landed on the South Carolina coast at twelve o'clock the same day, making the quickest and longest voyage on record, delivering papers at about a thousand miles distant, still damp from the press, in eight hours after they were printed. This voyage was fraught with great interest, both scientific and otherwise, long accounts of it being published at the time. Landing it this way in South Carolina two weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter caused considerable excitement in the rebel armies, and Professor Lowe was arrested and thrown in prison, but on producing proof relative to the scientific objects of the voyage, he was released, and after five days and nights of railroading found his way back to Cincinnati, the point from which he had so recently traveled in eight hours.
Secretary Chase, then a member of President Lincoln's Cabinet, telegraphed, at the request of the President, to Professor Lowe to come to Washington and consult him as to the use of balloons for war purposes, whither he went, and was received by the President with marked attention, spending several nights at the Presidential mansion. These interviews resulted in obtaining authority for the organization of the corps of observation or aeronautic corps, with Professor Lowe at its head as chief aeronaut of the United States army, which position he held for three years, at the end of which time his health became so much impaired that he turned his department over to one of his assistants, and retired on a farm in Chester County with the hope of regaining his health. The services rendered the government during his stay in the army were of immense value, as testified to by the commander-in-chief and numerous corps commanders, who had received valuable information to better govern their movements. During this time he made personally over three thousand cable ascensions, and was the first and only person to establish telegraphic communication from a balloon to various portions of the army and to Washington at the same time. Conspicuous among these occasions was those at the battle of Fair Oaks. These balloons, with assistant aeronauts, were sent to different armies, including the forces, on the Southern coast and in the West. To make these war balloons efficient on land and water, it became necessary to make many new inventions, conspicuous among which were Professor Lowe's hydrogen gas generators, for field and ship service. At any time within three hours after halting beside a pool of water he could extract sufficient hydrogen there from to inflate one of these balloons, whereby himself and often several officers would mount a thousand or two feet into the air to overlook the country. His renown spread over Europe and South America, and his field system of aeronautics was introduced into the British, French and Brazilian armies. The Emperor of Brazil, through his ministers, made numerous overtures and offered large inducements to Professor Lowe to take a major-general's position in the Brazilian army during the Paraguayan war, to conduct the same line of service as that rendered to the United States government, but owing to other engagements he was compelled to decline. He, however, furnished the necessary field apparatus and balloons, with competent assistants, who rendered valuable aid, and greatly shortened the duration of that war, especially by observation on the river Paraguay, at Asuncion.
In 1865, Professor Lowe invented and brought out the ice-machine for refrigeration and the manufacture of artificial ice, which is now in general use in all parts of the world.
In 1875 he invented and brought out his famous water-gas process for illumination and heating purposes, which is already lighting between one hundred and two hundred cities, and is predicted to ere long entirely supersede all other methods of light, beat and power.
This hasty sketch maybe properly closed by quoting from a previous publication the following: "He has little more than reached middle life, and it is warrantable to suppose that his speculative and fertile mind will grasp and produce other valuable inventions. He has already made a number of ingenious cooking and heating contrivances for using his heating gas, the right of which he holds for the protection of his business.
Professor Lowe is eminently a domestic man, having a large family of children, whose names are as follows:
The three eldest were born in New York.
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES