David Melville And The First American Gas Light Patents (cont'd)


Reprinted from The Rushlight , December 1998. Copyright The Rushlight Club. All rights reserved.


(1) The primary source for a description of Clayton's experiments is contained in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, V. XLI, 1739. See Fredrick Accum, A Practical Treatise on Gas-Light... (London: R. Ackermann, 1815), pp.55-6. For an account of Murdoch's work see Alexander Murdock, Light Without a Wick: A Century of Gas-Lighting, 1792-1892 (Glasgow: University Press, 1892).

(2) See for example Charles Hunt, A History of the Introduction of Gas Lighting (London: Walter King, 1907), pp.50-62. Am untranslated biography of Le Bon is contained in Baron Ernouf, Les Inventeurs de Gaz et de la Photographie (Paris: Hachette & Co., 1877).

(3) Denys Peter Myers, Gas Lighting in America (New York: Dover Publications, 1978), footnote 166.

(4) Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry at Yale College, noted in 1814, "few substances which I have tried afford a richer gas than walnut meats .... " In The Eclectic Repertory and Analytical Review, vol. V (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1815), p.125. This may well have been a "first!"

(5) Loris S. Russell, A Heritage of Light (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), p.288.

(6) A laudable exception is William E. Worthington, Beyond the City Lights (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1985). This was the catalog for a special exhibit designed by Rushlight Club member Russell Cashdollar. C. Malcolm Watkins (a founding Rushlight Club member) ascribes to David Melville the first use of gas for domestic lighting in "Artificial Lighting in America," Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1951), p.393.

(7) Myers states in footnote 166, "Melville patented his gas machine either in 1810... or in March 1813." Edith May Tilley lists incorrect dates for Melville's patents in "David Melville and his early experiments with gas in Newport," Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society (January 1927), p. 3. In the interest of full disclosure, the confusion over the date of Melville's first patent endured through the early drafts of this paper!

(8) Like all U.S. patents prior to 1836, this patent is unnumbered.

(9) From an inscription in the Melville family Bible. In Tilley, p.17.

(10) Tilley, p. 16.

(11) Melville's Gas Apparatus," American Gas Light Journal, Mar. 2, 1876, p.92.

(12) The Pioneer of Gas-Lighting in America," American Gas Light Journal, Nov. 1, 1859, p.87.

(13) "Early Efforts in Gas Lighting," American Gas Light Journal, Feb. 16, 1876, p.68.

(14) American Gas Light Journal, Mar. 2, 1876, p.92.

(15) See, for example, the caption for "Melville's Gas Apparatus," an illustration for a Centennial Exhibition supplement in American Gas Light Journal, July 3, 1876, p. 9 and Tilley, p. 1.

(16) Quoted in "Newport (R.I.) Claims the Honor," American Gas Light Journal, Sept. 1, 1859, p.5.

(17) Worthington, p.2. Perhaps this lack of information in the contemporary press should not be surprising. James Thomas Flexner found similar omissions in his study of the invention of the steamboat in Steamboats Come True (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Co., 1944, 1979).

(18) U.S. Patent Office, A Digest of Patents issued by the United States, from 1790 to January 1, 1839 (Washington, DC: Peter Force, 1840), p.183. I was very fortunate to be able to consult the Patent Office's original copy of this scarce work now in the Dibner Library at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

(19) The history of U.S. patent models is a long sad tale including four fires, "two federal economy waves, three auctions, a bankruptcy, and a sale at Gimbals Department Store" (Donald W. Hogan, "Unwanted Treasures of the Patent Office," American Heritage, February 1958, p.18). We are indebted to individuals such as 0. Rundle Gilbert and Cliff Petersen that anything has survived at all.

(20) An act of Congress on March 3, 1837 provided for "replacement of drawings destroyed in a fire on Dec. 15, 1836." These reconstructed drawings were made in the period from 1837 to 1847. Researchers interested in U. S. Patents prior to 1837 should be cautioned that the index by Research Publications, Early Unnumbered United States Patents 1790-1836, which does contain all known existent records, does not include all those lost in the fire.

(21) American Gas Light Journal, Nov. 1, 1859, p.87. These are reproduced without the anachronistic 19th century abbreviations that tend to confuse modern readers.

(22) Newport Mercury, Feb. 20, 1813, last page.

(23) Letter to Thomas Johnson, January 4, 1813. Polygraph Copy: LB (106/135). In John C. Van Horne, ed. The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Vol. 3, 18111820 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), p.416.

(24) Catherine Thuro-Gripton made me aware of the existence of the original patent drawings located at the National Archives. A highlight of research for this article was holding the Patent Office's delicately inked and tinted artwork of Melville's apparatus. (A handwritten notation on the illustration states that it was reconstructed on February 1, 1840.)

(25) Letters Patent, Vol. 5, p. 233.

(26) Thomas Cooper, Some Information Concerning Gas Lights (Philadelphia: John Conrad & Co., 1816), p.159.

(27) For an account of the Peale family's work with gas lighting see, David P. Erlick, "The Peales and Gas Lights in Baltimore," Maryland Historical Magazine, Spring 1985, pp. 9-18.

(28) Newport Mercury, Feb. 27, 1813, last page.

(29) Digest of Patents, pp. 164, 184. Regrettably, these patents were among those not reconstructed.

(30) For information on Capt. Lewis, I have relied primarily on Richard W. Updike, "Winslow Lewis and the Lighthouses," American Neptune, Vol. 28 (1968), pp.31-40. I am indebted to Rushlight editor Marianne Nolan for identifying this source.

(31) American Gas Light Journal, Mar. 2, 1876, p.93.

(32) Newport Mercury, June 5, 1813, last page. Melville's advertisement ran through Aug. 14, 1813.

(33) New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Albany: J. Munsell, 1863), p.8.

(34) The Bemis Manufacturing Co. in 1809 was the first to fabricate cotton duck in this country. In Samuel Adams Drake, History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880), vol. 1: 184; vol. 11:247.

(35) Newport Mercury, June 5, 1813, last page.

(36) American Gas Light Journal, Nov. 1, 1859, p.88.

(37) Columbian Phenix: Or, Providence Patriot, Nov. 20, 1813, front page. This advertisement ran sporadically until its final appearance on Dec. 18, 1813.

(38) Ibid.

(39) American Gas Light Journal, Nov. 1, 1859, p.88.

(40) Ibid.

(41) Ibid.

(42) Newport News, Aug. 15, 1859. Quoted in the American Gas Light Journal, Sept. 1, 1859, p.5.

(43) Reprinted in "First Use of Illuminating Gas in America," American Gas Light Journal, Oct. 2, 1874, p.124. It is not clear exactly when the Arkwright explosion took place. I have followed the timetable suggested in Iron Age, which makes an effective argument for this chronology.

(44) Reprinted in American Gas Light Journal, Oct. 2, 1874, p.124.

(45) Flexner, p.158.

(46) American Gas Light Journal, Nov. 1, 1859, P.88.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The author plans to write an additional article about David Melville and Winslow Lewis'further association.

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