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Alexander Lyman Holley

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Alexander Lyman Holley (1832-1882)

1882 Obituary [1]

ALEXANDER LYMAN HOLLEY was born on July 20, 1832, at Lakeville, Salisbury, Conn., of which State his father, Alexander H. Holley, was subsequently Governor. After some years' schooling at the academy of Isis native county, he went to another school at Stocksbridge, Mass., whence he was transferred in course of time to Brown University at Providence.

At an early age he showed an aptitude for mechanics. In his seventeenth year he wrote that he had been devoting all his leisure time for nearly two weeks " in making sectional and perspective views of the internal works, machinery, steam-works, &c., of the most improved locomotive engines, showing how the steam is made, applied, and cut off at half stroke or not, and how the engine is worked every way, in some seventeen different pictures, with explanations filling some eight or ten pages." When eighteen years of age, Holley, still at Stocksbridge, is found writing treatises on guncotton and on the manufacture of pocket cutlery, the latter of which was published in Poor's Railway Journal during the summer of 1850. A writer in the American Machinist of March 8, 1882, speaking of Holley at this period, states that "during one of his vacations he came up from his Salisbury home expressly to show me a miniature engine of his own building. It was complete in all respects, of skilful workmanship, and on being fired up, ran with admirable success. Thus he foreshadowed his devotion to the mechanic arts which so eminently characterised his manhood."

In 1852 Holley invented a new cut-off, of which he wrote, "It is bound to be patented, if I sell the coat on my back to pay for it, and go without any. I have shown my plans to a man who was four years with Messrs. Corliss & Nightingale of this place (Providence). These men have invented and are making the most improved cut-off engine of the day, and this gentleman says that my engine (that is to be) embraces all its improvements and none of its disadvantages." This cut-off, although never patented, was illustrated and described in the Mechanical Magazine in July 1852. It is a detached escapement, working both directly by a cam (at the end of the stroke), and indirectly from the governor at any point (luring the stroke. While still at college, Holley wrote a treatise on " 'Water Considered as a Carrier," which was published in 1854 in the Litchfield inquirer, and which deals at considerable length with such matters as thee functions and properties of water as a conveyer of gases, mechanical sediments, dissolved salts, germs, &c., and of its agency in geological formations, volcanic eruptions, and so on. Graduated in September 1853 with the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, Holley's discourse on this occasion referred to the "Natural Motors," and embraced descriptions of different kinds of engines, including Ericsson's caloric.

His college career leaving terminated, Holley entered the employment of Messrs. Corliss & Nightingale at Providence, where he served both as draughtsman and machinist in the locomotive department.

While so occupied, his efforts were directed to the attempt to apply to the locomotive engine the principle of the variable cut-off, for which purpose he ran the "advance" locomotive for some time on the Stottington Railway. His experiences with this locomotive, which was nicknamed the "Old Jigger," were described by Holley with characteristic humour in May 1881. "It had," he said, "as nearly as I can remember, 365 valves, one to break down every day in the year; and as to valve motion, well, nobody ever counted the number of its pieces. They were as the sands of the sea shore. Most of them used to jar off the first few trips of the week." Neither Holley nor his employers seem to have succeeded in applying successfully to the locomotive engine the detached variable cut-off, and another arrangement was ultimately substituted.

In March 1855 Holley left the works of Corliss & Nightingale to seek for other employment. With this object he visited the principal locomotive shops in the far West, including Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Covington, Louisville, Chicago, and St. Louis. For a time his efforts were singularly unsuccessful. "It is strange," he says in a letter of this date, "that when I have taken such pains to present myself modestly, and am willing to do anything, and work and persevere to the utmost extent; when I have got such strong letters; and. when I know that I can build a better locomotive than all the rest of them put together - even in the face of all this, I cannot, in the whole Western country, get a place to earn my daily bread." Ultimately the young man obtained a subordinate engagement at the locomotive works in Jersey City, which, not affording sufficient scope for his energies, he left to follow the career of a technical journalist.

Beginning as a contributor to Zerah Colburn's Railroad Advocate, Holley in 1855 became co-proprietor and editor of that paper. In 1856 Culburn relinquished his interest in this venture entirely to Holley, who continued for another year to publish it as Holley's Railroad Advocate. In July 1857 Colburn again joined Holley in the publication and control of the American Engineer, in which the Advocate then became merged, but in neither form was the journal a commercial success, and in September 1857 it finally ceased to exist. Holley and. Colburn soon afterwards undertook a journey to Europe to study railway practice and report thereon for the benefit of several American railway companies, on whose behalf they held a commission. In 1858 their report appeared under the title "The Permanent Way and Coal-burning and Locomotive Boilers of European Railways, with a Comparison of the Working Economy of European and American Lines, and the Principles upon which Improvement must Proceed." Returning to America, Holley for a time supported himself mainly by his pen, his contributions chiefly appearing in the New York Times, where Mr. R. W. Raymond (Memorial Address, November 1, 1882) has found two hundred and seventy-six articles from his pen, of which about two hundred appeared between 1858 and 1863, and the remainder at rarer intervals until the last, which was the leading editorial of April 27, 1875, and dealt with the United States Testing Board. An analysis of these articles indicates the range of Holley's acquirements. Forty-nine were devoted to railways, forty-two to steam navigation, twenty-two to the Stevens battery, nineteen to arms and ordnance, eleven to boiler explosions, seven to steam-engines, thirty to general engineering topics, and fifty-two to political, social, and other subjects.

In 1859 Holley accompanied H. J. Raymond of the New York Times to Europe, as correspondent of that journal. In that capacity he wrote a number of articles descriptive of the Great Eastern steamship. In 1860 he became editor of the mechanical department of the American Railway Review, and continued to act in that capacity for about eighteen months. In 1860 he published his "American and European Railway Practice." In March 1861 he arranged to supply engineering articles and definitions to "Webster's Unabridged Dictionary." In 1864 his treatise on "Ordnance and Armour" appeared, and about the same time he published many articles in popular and scientific reviews on iron-clad ships and heavy ordnance.

In 1863 Holley was employed by Corning, Winslow, & Co. to inquire into the Bessemer steel manufacture, which had then begun to attract some attention on the other side of the Atlantic Proceeding to England for that purpose, Holley was successful in effecting the purchase of the Bessemer patents for his employers, and subsequently aided in their combination with the conflicting American patents of Kelly. In 1865 he designed and constructed the works of Troy, the first Bessemer steelworks erected in the United States. In 1867 he enlarged the Troy works and built those at Harrisburg. Subsequently he planned the Bessemer works of North Chicago and Joliet, the Edgar-Thomson Works at Pittsburg, and the Vulcan Works at St. Louis, while he also acted as consulting engineer in designing the works of Cambria, Scranton, and Bethlehem. The improvements which Holley from time to time introduced into Bessemer plant and practice have been thus summarised by H. W. Hunt in his paper on the "History of the Bessemer Manufacture in America:"—.

"The result of his thought gave us the present accepted type of American Bessemer plant. He did away with the English deep pit, and raised the vessels so as to get working space under them on the ground-floor. He substituted top-supported hydraulic cranes for the more expensive counter-weighted English ones, and put three ingot cranes around the pit instead of two, thereby obtaining greater area of power. He changed the location of the vessels as related to the pit and melting-house. He modified the ladle crane, and worked all the cranes and the vessels from a single point. He substituted cupolas for reverberatory furnaces; and last, but by no means least, he introduced the intermediate or accumulating ladle, which is placed on scales, and thus ensured economy of operation by rendering possible the weighing of each charge of melted iron before pouring into the converter. These points cover the radical features of his innovations. After building such a plant, he began to meet the difficulties of details in manufacture, among the most serious of which was the short duration of the vessel bottoms, and the time required to cool off the vessels to a point at which it was possible for workmen to enter and make new bottoms. After many experiments, the result was the Holley converter bottom, which, either in its form as patented, or in a modification of it as now used in all American works, has rendered possible, as much as any other one thing, the present immense production. Then he tried many forms of cupolas at Troy, adopting in the original plant a changeable bottom and section below the tuyeres, and developing this idea still further in the first five-ton works. Later, at Harrisburg, the furnace was improved to a point which rendered these many bottoms unnecessary, chiefly by deepening the bottom and enlarging the tuyere area. Upon his rebuilding the Troy Works after their destruction by fire, Mr. Holley put in the perfected cupolas. At this time, the practice was to run a cupola for a turn's melting, which had reached eight heats or forty tons of steel, and then dropping its bottom. This was already an increase of 100 tons of steel over his boast about the same amount in twenty-four hours." t Mr. Holley did not, however, limit his professional work during the later and most active years of his life to the Bessemer steel manufacture.

He was scarcely less active in assisting the development of the open-hearth steel trade, and it is due to him that the Pernot furnace and the Krupp washing process became established in the United States. It was he, also, who negotiated the purchase by the Bessemer Steel Association of the patents relating to the basic Bessemer process.

As an inventor and patentee, Holley achieved a considerable amount of success. He obtained sixteen patents in all, two of which, taken out in 1859, were for a variable cut-off valve for steam-engines, and another for railway chairs. Ten other patents refer to improvements in the Bessemer process and plant, two to roll-trains and their feed-tables, while the remaining two are for a water-cooled furnace roof, and for a steam-boiler furnace with gaseous fuel, respectively. The last of his Bessemer patents relating to a detachable converter shell,* as now applied at Seraing, Witkowitz, and other works, has been purchased since Isis deaths by the American Bessemer Association. This, and the converter bottom, patented 9th August 1870, are regarded as Isis most important contributions to Bessemer practice.

Space will not allow us to add much that is left unsaid. In January 1869 Holley became first editor of Van Nostrand's Eclectic Engineering Magazine, a position which he held for over a year. In 1865 he became a member of the Board of Trustees of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he made his influence felt in favour of an improved curriculum. In 1876 he was one of the jurors on iron and steel, and contributed to the "Reports of the Judges of the Centennial Exposition" the paper on that subject. In 1880 he published in Appleton's Cyclopcedia of Mechanics an able treatise on steel; and from 1877 to 1880 he published in Engineering a series of illustrated articles on American iron and steel works which have been much appreciated in Europe. In 1875 he was appointed a member of the United States Board for testing structural materials, and in 1879 he became lecturer on metallurgy at the School of Mines in Columbia College.

With social qualities of the highest order, and with a ready talent for debate and for the clear and effective elucidation of any subject which he undertook to explain, it was only natural that Mr. Holley should take a leading part in societies representing applied science on both sides of the Atlantic. He was one of the founders of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, which, established in 1871, has now a membership of nearly 1200, and of which in 1875 he was elected President. In the following year he was elected a Vice-President of the American Institute of Civil Engineers. In 1879, in conjunction with Professor Thurston and other leading engineers, he founded the American Institute of Mechanical Engineers, of which he was elected the first President. He became a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1873, and of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1877. Before these various Societies he read many papers on metallurgical and engineering subjects, every one of which attests the thorough mastery which he had acquired in his profession. Most of his contributions, however, have gone to enrich the Proceedings of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, including papers on— ,

  • "Three-High Rolls."
  • "Setting Bessemer Converter Bottoms."
  • "General Improvements in Bessemer Plant."
  • "On the Strength of Wrought Iron as affected by its Composition and Reduction by Rolling."
  • "Notes on Salisbury Iron Mines and Works."
  • "The Pernot Furnace."
  • "The United States Testing - Machines at Watertown Arsenal."
  • "The Tessie Gas Producer."
  • "Washing Phosphoric Pig Iron for the Open-Hearth and Puddling Processes at Krupp's Works, Essen."
  • "Notes on the Siemens Direct Process."
  • "On the Use of Natural Gas for Puddling and Heating at Leechburg, Pennsylvania."
  • "What is Steel?"
  • "Bessemer Plant for the Basic Process."
  • "Rail Patterns."

Before the same Society, Holley delivered two presidential addresses, the first in February 1876, "On the Inadequate Union of Engineering Science and Art," and the other in the same year "On Some Pressing Needs of our Iron and Steel Manufactures." Before the American Society of Civil Engineers he read, in 1875, a paper "On the Wear of Rails;" and in 1881, to the new Society of Mechanical Engineers, he contributed a paper "On Rail Sections." To the Institution of Civil Engineers Mr. Holley contributed one paper "On the Chemical and Physical Analyses of Phosphoric Steel," and to the Iron and Steel Institute two on "Setting Bessemer Converter Bottoms" and "American Rolling Mills" respectively; besides which he attended and took part in discussions at the Barrow, Paris, and two London meetings of the Institute. In acknowledgment of his eminent services to metallurgical science, the Council of the Iron and Steel Institute forwarded to his family, through the American Ambassador in London, the Bessemer medal for 1882.

In 1880, Mr. Holley, on his usual annual visit to Europe, was seized with an illness which had been threatened by overwork some time before, but the buoyancy and cheerfulness of his own spirits, united to the care and solicitude of his friend Mr. James Dredge, at whose house he lay for weeks almost at the point of death, enabled him so far to recover that he was able in October of the same year to return to New York. In August 1881 he again returned to Europe, and was again seized with illness while on the Continent, but recovered sufficiently to take a part in the October meeting of the Institute in London, and at the banquet given by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House in honour of the Institute, he made a characteristically happy and appropriate speech in responding for the United States. It was his last public appearance. Indisposition confined him to his room in London for weeks afterwards, but on the 28th December he sailed for his home in Brooklyn, where he died on Sunday, January 27. His funeral took place on February 1, and was conducted by the Rev. H. W. Beecher, who delivered an eloquent memorial address, which with that subsequently delivered by his friend Mr. R. W. Raymond, and other details relating to his life and work, it is intended to publish shortly in the "Holley Memorial Volume." Since Mr. Holley's death, the Societies with which he was connected and the industry he did so much to promote have taken steps to erect a monument to his memory in the Central Park, New York.

Of Mr. Holley's many-sided character, apart from his career as an engineer and metallurgist, the scope of this too brief sketch does not allow of much being said. The universal esteem in which he was held has been sufficiently evidenced by the manifold tributes of sorrow and regard which have been paid to his memory since his decease by the leading men of the iron trade on the two continents between which his genius and his amiability tended so greatly to establish an entente cordiale.

1884 Obituary [2]

ALEXANDER LYMAN HOLLEY was born at Lakeville, in Salisbury, Connecticut, on the 20th of July, 1832. His father, Alexander H. Holley, subsequently Governor of that State, was a native of the same village.

He attended various schools in early boyhood, where his healthy physical activity and the overflow of mirth and high spirits made him a leader in sports and adventures. His light-hearted gaiety was the early form of that courage which carried him afterwards through many struggles and even . . . .

From 1876 onwards a series of Articles entitled "American Iron and Steel Works," from his pen, appeared in "Engineering," which illustrated and described nearly all the Bessemer works in the United States with which he was connected.

In 1877 he became Consulting Engineer to the Bessemer Association, the chief object of the Association being to secure certain advantages in common, among others a knowledge of what was going on in similar, industries in Europe. This led to an annual visit of several months’ duration to England and Europe, during which he acquired the Thomas-Gilchrist basic process for the Association which he represented.

He was largely instrumental in the introduction of the open-hearth process for making steel, and one of his last utterances was, in effect, "I should like to live ten or fifteen years longer to aid in realizing the possibilities of the open-hearth process. This would have rounded and completed my professional career; but I am satisfied."

It was about 1875 that his strength began to fail. In that year he wrote- "I am going in a week to one of the Elizabeth Islands, off New Bedford, where there is neither mail nor telegraph, to lie on the sea-shore for a week, and try to get strong and sleepy."

In the summer of 1880, while on the Continent of Europe, he was taken seriously ill; returning with difficulty to England, he slowly recovered, after many weeks of sickness, from a disorder of the liver.

In August, 1881, he was again in England, apparently in better health than he had long enjoyed; but during his visit to the Continent he was overtaken by symptoms similar to those that characterised his illness of the previous year. He returned to England, but did not leave for New York till the 28th of December.

The voyage somewhat restored him, but he continued to fail, and expired at his home in Brooklyn on the evening of Sunday, the 29th of January, 1882.

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