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William Sellers

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William Sellers (1824-1905) of William Sellers and Co of Philadelphia.

1824 September 19th. Born in Upper Darby, Delaware County.

1845 Took charge of the machine shop of Fairbanks, Bancroft and Co., in Providence, R. I.

1848 Went into partnership with Edward Bancroft as Bancroft and Sellers. In 1855, on the death of the senior partner, the business passed into the hands of brothers William Sellers and John Sellers Jr. Their cousin, Coleman Sellers, joined the firm in 1856. In 1873 when Coleman Sellers, John Sellers Bancroft and James C. Brooks became partners.

1865 William Sellers, Engineer, Philadelphia, United States.[1]

1905 William Sellers died on January 24th, 1905, in the 81st year of his age.

See here for an excellent source of information, including links to patents. [2]

From Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (1900, volume 5)

Born in Upper Darby, Pa., 19 Sept., 1824. He was educated at a private school, and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to his uncle, a machinist, with whom he remained for seven years. In 1845 he was called to the management of the shops of the Fairbanks and Bancroft machine-works in Providence, R. I., and two years afterward he established himself independently in Philadelphia. He was then joined by his former employer, and in 1848 the firm of Bancroft and Sellers was formed, which continued until 1855, when, on the death of the senior member, the style became William Sellers and Co. Mr. Sellers has been active in the improvement of existing forms of tools and machines, as well as in the invention of new patterns, and from his first patent, for an improvement on turning-lathes in 1854, until 1888 he has received seventy patents. His inventions have received numerous medals, and at the World's fair in Vienna in 1873 he was awarded a grand diploma of honor. In 1868 he established the Edgemoor iron company, which now owns the largest plant in this country for building iron bridges and other structures of iron and steel. All of the iron-work for the buildings of the World's fair in Philadelphia in 1876 were supplied by this company. He became president of the Midvale steel-works in 1873, and reorganized that concern, which is now one of the largest establishments in the vicinity of Philadelphia. Mr. Sellers was elected president of the Franklin institute in 1864. and while holding that office proposed the first formula that was ever offered for a system of screws, threads, and nuts, which subsequently became the standard for the United States. He is a member of scientific societies both in this country and abroad, was elected to the American philosophical society in 1864, to the National academy of sciences in 1873, and correspondent of the Societe d'encouragement pour l'industrie Rationale in 1875. At the formation of the Fairmount park commission in 1867 he was appointed a commissioner for five years, during which time all of the land now comprised in this great park was purchased by the commission. He was active in the organization of the World's fair in Philadelphia in 1876, and was at the beginning vice-president of the management. In 1868 he was elected a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, and he is a director of several railroads. His publications include short papers and discussions on technical subjects.

1905 Obituary [3]

WILLIAM SELLERS was born in Upper Darby, Delaware County, Pa., United States, on 19th September 1824, being a descendant of Samuel Sellers who emigrated from Belper, Derbyshire, in 1682.

He was educated at a private school, built and maintained by his father and two relatives for the education of their children.

When fourteen years of age he was apprenticed for seven years to the machinist's trade with his uncle, Mr. J. Morton Poole, of Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1845 he took charge of the large machine shop of Messrs. Fairbanks, Bancroft and Co., in Providence, R.I.

Two years later he went to West Philadelphia, and began a similar department of manufacture on his own account, and subsequently joined in partnership one of his former employers, Mr. Edward Bancroft, the firm becoming Bancroft and Sellers.

Later, Mr. John Sellers, Jun., was admitted as a partner, and the firm moved to new works in Philadelphia.

On the death of Mr. Bancroft in 1856, the firm became Messrs. William Sellers and Co., subsequently being incorporated in 1886.

In 1868 he formed the Edgmoor Iron Co., of which he was the President. This company furnished all the iron structural material for the Centennial Exhibition Buildings in Philadelphia in 1876, and also that for the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1873 he became President of the Midvale Steel Co., Nicetown, Philadelphia, which he subsequently re-organized, and under his management became the first successful producer of material required by the Government for its steel cannon.

The development of the business of the Edgmoor Iron Co. turned his inventive ability in new directions, and a long series of mechanical devices was evolved to meet the changing requirements of that business. The works were first started to make wrought-iron by mechanical puddling machinery of a new type, were subsequently changed to a bridge shop, and later a department was created for the manufacture of boilers of various kinds.

As illustrating his mechanical ingenuity, it may be noted that he was granted about ninety patents in the United States, either alone or in conjunction with others; the earliest was dated 1857, and patents were pending at the time of his death.

His inventions covered a great variety of subjects—machine tools, injectors, rifling machine, riveters, boilers, hydraulic machinery of various kinds, furnaces, hoists, cranes, steam-hammers, steam-engines, ordnance, pumps, etc.

Probably the best known of his inventions is the spiral gear planer drive, in which the table or platten is moved back and forth by a multi-thread screw On an inclined shaft engaging with a rack on the under surface of the table. Of his individual achievements Mr. Sellers' name is best known in connection with the Sellers system of screw threads and nuts,. which eventually became the standard for the United States. A similar effort towards standardization had been previously made by Sir Joseph Whitworth, whose work no doubt inspired that of Mr. Sellers.

During a visit to England in 1860, his attention was called by Messrs. Sharp, Stewart and Co., of Manchester, to the Giffard Injector for feeding steam-boilers. His immediate estimate of the value of the invention led him to obtain from them the American rights of the patent; and a Paper was read by Mr. John Robinson in 1866, describing the improvements in the injector made by Mr. Sellers to obviate the necessity of adjusting by hand the quantity of water supplied to the injector.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1865; he was a Member of the Iron and Steel Institute, a corresponding member of the Societê d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Rationale, and at the close of the Paris Exhibition of 1889 he received the decoration of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. In addition to the foregoing he was a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and a Past-President of the Franklin Institute.

His death took place at the University Hospital of Philadelphia on 24th January 1905, at the age of eighty.

1905 Obituary. [4]

Mr. Sellers' first ancestor in this country was Samuel Sellers, who came from Belpre, Derbyshire. England, in 1682. . . .

In l886 the corporation of William Sellers and Co, Incorporated, was established, with Mr. Sellers as president and engineer. . . . . the establishment of William Sellers and Co. has exerted a very profound and far reaching influence upon the art and science of machine-tool construction, and his fame as a tool builder extends over the civilised world, wherever machine tools are known and appreciated.

1906 Obituary [5]

WILLIAM SELLERS, of Philadelphia, who died in that city on the 24th January, 1905, aged 80, was born at Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, on the 19th September, 1824, and was of English descent.

After being educated privately, he was apprenticed to the machinist’s trade with his uncle, Mr. J. M. Poole, at Wilmington, Delaware, and at the age of twenty-one, he became general foreman to Messrs. Fairbanks, Bancroft and Company, of what were then the largest steam-engine works in New England.

In 1848 he commenced the manufacture of machine-tools and mill-gearing at Philadelphia, and shortly afterwards joined Mr. Edward Bancroft, on whose death the firm became William Sellers and Company, incorporated in 1886 under Mr. Sellers’s presidency.

In 1868 Mr. Sellers founded the Edgmoor Iron Company, which furnished the structural material for a number of important bridges, including the East River Bridge at New York, and for the Centennial Exhibition buildings at Philadelphia. Another undertaking, the Midvale Steel Company, became under his management he fist successful producer of material for steel cannon for the United States Government.

The successful development of the various enterprises with which he was connected brought Mr. Sellers to the forefront of his profession in America, whilst the fruits of his inventive ability, manifested in the long series of valuable mechanical devices which marked the course of his business career, contributed materially to the advancement of mechanical science, and greatly enhanced his professional reputation. Ninety patents granted in the United States, covering a great variety of subjects, bear witness to his mechanical ingenuity; but his name will probably be best remembered in connection with the standard system of screw-threads which he introduced, and which was generally adopted in the United States. His labours in this direction, and the rigorous, scientific methods of workmanship which he always insisted upon, earned for him the title of the Whitworth of America.

Apart from his professional and commercial pursuits, Mr. Sellers’s energies were devoted to various interests with marked ability and success. His long connection with the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, and his work on the Board of Management, resulted in his election to the office of President in 1864, at a critical period of the society’s history, and the preservation and subsequent advancement of that institution were largely due to his efforts on its behalf. As a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania he served continuously for 37 years. He rendered valuable service to the Centennial Exhibition as a member of the Board of Finance.

He was a member of numerous scientific societies, including the American Philosophical Society, the American Societies of Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers, the Iron and Steel Institute, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Societe d'couragement pour 1’Industrie Nationale. At the close of the Paris Exhibition of 1889, he received the decoration of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

He was elected a Member of this Institution on the 6th December, 1887.

1905 Obituary [6]

WILLIAM SELLERS died at his residence in Philadelphia on January 25, 1905, in his eighty-first year. He came of a family long settled in the United States, in which he was himself born in 1824.

At an early age he adopted the profession of a mechanical engineer, and was in charge of the large machine shop of Fairbanks, Bancroft and Co., Providence, Rhode Island. He subsequently joined Mr. Edward Bancroft, the new firm being Bancroft & Sellers. In 1856, on the death of the senior partner, the firm became William Sellers & Co. Mr. Sellers was president, after the incorporation of the company in 1886, and was also president of the Edgemoor Iron Co. and of the Midvale Steel Co. He was largely identified with the social and scientific life of Philadelphia, and was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania for a continuous period of thirty-seven years. He was also a member of most of the learned societies of the city, and was first president of the Franklin Institute, after its reorganisation in 1864, in which year he contributed a paper on screw threads and nuts, which subsequently became the basis for the system afterwards adopted as the standard for the United States. He was a recognised authority on machine tools and lathes, and held about ninety patents connected with mechanical inventions, and received numerous awards in connection with the work he did in this direction.

He was a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. He was also a corresponding member of the Societe d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale, a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and of the American Societies of Civil and of Mechanical Engineers. He was possessed of a strong constitution and a commanding presence, and his opinions and counsel were sought by men in all walks of life, his judgment being regarded as of the greatest value, not only in engineering matters, but in civic and governmental affairs of importance. He was held in the highest esteem and regard by all with whom he came in contact, and was highly respected in Philadelphia as an example of probity, judgment, and high principles. His fame as an engineer was international, and he was frequently styled the Whitworth of America.

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1874, and on the occasion of the first visit of members of the Institute to America, in 1890, he acted as a member of the General Committee. In 1904, when the Institute visited America for the second time, he was a member of the General Reception Committee and of the Philadelphia Executive Committee.

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