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Manufacturers Index - Wright Steam Engine Works
Last Modified: May 11 2012 7:51PM by joelr4
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      WILLIAM WRIGHT, inventor and constructing engineer. This gentleman ranks as one of the foremost men of his time in the field of steam-engineering. He invented early in his career improvements, which revolutionized the construction of the steam engine, and though another secured for a time the public credit therefor, the genius of Mr. Wright is now recognized and honored. For many years he has been manufacturing in this city, principally, his patent automatic cutoff-engine, which is known all the world over. This engine is built upon a solid cast-iron bed plate. The cylinder is fitted with an automatic expansion valve-gear, and the point of cut-off is determined by the governor. The portion of the frame which in ordinary engines is devoted to the usual fiat side, consists of a hollow cylinder arranged concentrically with the steam cylinder, and serves as a guide for the cross-head, the guiding cylinder being simply bored out to receive the cross-head. There are lateral openings in this cylindrical guiding portion of the frame, in order that access may be had to the cross-head and stuffing-box of the piston-rod. This combination conduces to simplicity, strength and economy in the construction of the frame. The steam cylinder itself rests on a separate bedplate, to which it is securely bolted, the bottom of which is at the same level with the pillow block and of the bedplate. The cylinder-foot carries all necessary rocker-shafts for the valve gear. There are four valves, known as the gridiron slide valves, which work vertically in chests cast with the cylinder, two upon one side being for induction or cut-off, and two upon the opposite side being for eduction or exhaust steam. The steam valves are V shaped, partly balanced valves, with correspondingly shaped valve seats, which arc bolted separately to the cylinder by composition bolts. All valve motion is derived from a single eccentric, which operates levers so arranged as to give quick opening movement to valves when opening, and also ft very slow movement when the valves are lapped. The location of all these valve-faces close to the base of the cylinder, insures the least possible amount of clearance. The steam valve-stems are fastened in yokes, which have, at their lower ends, plunders fitted in dash-pots, the same acting as guides. The yokes are operated by steel slides fitted through the ends of hollow rocker-arms, and which act upon the swinging toes held in the yokes, the said slide having a diagonal slot in which works a feather, this feather being made on a rod which has a longitudinal movement through the hollow rocker-arm and to which the governor is connected. By this longitudinal motion and through the diagonal feather and slot, the slide is automatically set, to engage more or less with the swinging toes, and which gives the valves the proper lift and liberates upon the chord of the arch. The governor itself stands upon a bracket or shelf cast on the slide part of the bed plate, and the governor-rod is connected to a lever, which is fastened to the governor-shaft. This same shaft carries two forked arms, which take hold of the small rods running through the hollow rocker-shaft. The rods are enlarged at their other ends, where they carry the adjustable slides mentioned before. The advantage of this arrangement of valves and valve-gearing is easy accessibility to each valve. By the simple removal of a bonnet, the valves can easily be taken from the T headed valve stems and the valve seats inspected. The very important and desirable fact is that the whole of the valve-gear and governor connections are outside of the steam chests, where any derangement can at once be seen and rectified. The steam piston is fitted with steam packing-rings, and a brass shoe reaching around the lower half of the piston; which is adjusted by set-screws to carry the weight of the piston, so that the packing-rings carry their own weight only and can act freely. The piston-rod, crank and cross-head pins, valve-stems and all smaller wrist-pins and all heads of connections are made of steel; all connections have adjustable brass boxes. The cross-head, which is made of cast iron, has a large shoe at top and bottom, lined with anti-friction metal, fitted to the bore of the slide, and is adjusted by set-screws to take up the wear. The connecting-rod is made of the best hammered wrought iron, with composition boxes. The crankshaft is made of the best-hammered wrought iron. It has long bearings, one in the main bed plate, and one in an outside pillow-block, both lined with anti-friction metal, and the main bearing with adjustable sideboxes. Mr. Wright has recently patented an improved rotative valve, which he is applying to his latest improved engine. The Wright engines have acquired their wide reputation because of their uniformly excellent performances. Many of them are used in foreign countries, and numerous testimonials from manufacturers and corporations in this country bear evidence to their efficiency, economy and reliability. The great engines used on the Brooklyn Bridge were built by Mr. Wright. He also manufactures machinery of various kinds, high and low pressure boilers, and marine as well as stationary engines. The engines of the fast propeller Homer Ramsdell were built by Mr. Wright. He has also a large assortment of patterns for hoisting engines, horizontal and vertical blast engines, and wrought-iron work of every description. For more than twenty years past Mr. Wright has occupied an extensive series of buildings, formerly known as the Washington Iron Works, and employing about 200 men. In 1890 he began to build new works in the northern part of the city, which are now practically completed and ready for occupation. They are situated on the old Sherman dock property, and have a river frontage of five hundred feet. There is a substantial pier with a frontage of 205 feet and a depth of 350. The West Shore Railroad runs through the premises, and the shops stand on the west side of the tracks. They have thus both rail and water communication at their doors. It is an ideal situation for a manufactory. The buildings are all constructed of brick in a substantial and handsome manner. The largest is exactly 400 feet long and 100 wide. The walls are 28 inches thick. The main floor of the south half of this building contains the principal machine shop, which is 200 feet long and 100 wide. The roof being supported by trusses, it has a clear floor space, except through the middle where there is a long double line of lathes, with heavy posts to support the shafting and the railroads for the traveling-cranes. These cranes are one of the notable features of the shop. They can pick up and carry 25 tons' weight to any particular place in the room. They cost about $10,000 to construct. There are two large pit lathes that cost a like sum. They will turn a wheel 32 feet in diameter and 6 feet face. Besides these there are many smaller lathes, and planers, shapers, drills and a large assortment of tools. A large part of the machinery was designed and built expressly for this shop by Mr. Wright. At the south end of this room, supported by iron rods from the roof, is a large gallery on which is a tool room and various implements for doing small work. Beneath the machine shop is a basement 150 feet in length by 50 in width, in which are emery wheels, grindstones, bolt-cutting machines, etc. There is also a fire pump connected with the river and with fire plugs in various parts of the premises. In the north part of the main building is the foundry, with a clear floor space of 175x100 feet. The floor is filled with moulding-sand, obtained on the premises. The foundry contains a large, new furnace and cupola of the best pattern, besides every convenience for moulding and handling large masses of iron. A railway connects it with the machine-shop. In the middle of the main building are the engine and boiler rooms. The engine has 100 horse-power. West of the main building is another, which is 150 feet in length, 50 in width and two stories high. It contains the smith's shop, pattern-shop and storerooms. South of the main building is the office, 30x40 feet and three stories high. The basement will be used for storage, the main floor for offices, and the third story for drafting rooms. A boiler-shop will soon be erected on the dock, east of the railroad tracks. There are several fine springs on the premises, which have all been piped into one cistern in the north end of the machine shop. The establishment is extensive, complete and convenient, and represents an outlay of $150,000. William Wright is the son of Jacob Wright, who was born in the Town of Fishkill, and was the son of Joseph Wright, a soldier of the Revolution, who was the son of William Wright, a civil officer under commission from King George. Jacob Wright married Mary Drake, of the Town of Fishkill, and moved to Wayne County, N. Y. His son William, the second of a family of four children who reached mature years, was born near Newark, N. Y., May 17, 1818. Early in life William manifested a great interest in machinery and a liking for mechanical employment’s. The steam engine, then in the first stages of its development, especially attracted his attention. His hours out of school were mostly spent "in making something," and even in school the natural direction of his thoughts was indicated by the pictures of steam engines which he drew on his slate. The first engine he ever saw was driving a little foundry at Marion, a village twelve or fifteen miles from his home. He walked all the way there to see it. That engine gave him an idea of the exterior parts, but not of the inside. The parts which puzzled him most were the valves. Subsequently a wood-turner of his town purchased a small engine for his shop, and one day at noon, while the engine was idle, young Wright asked the privilege of taking the cover off the steam-chest and looking inside. Permission was reluctantly given upon the condition that the cover should be in place again before the time to resume work. By the aid of a monkey-wrench he soon had the interior exposed, and after he had seen all he wished he replaced the cover in good season. From the knowledge thus obtained he built from crude materials a steam engine in the cellar of his father's house. Some of the ironwork he made in the blacksmith-shop of a carriage-factory, being assisted by the smith, whom he repaid by blowing his bellows and cutting his cordwood. This unusual accomplishment by a boy of his age (he was then only sixteen) attracted the attention of many people, one of whom, John Daggett, a manufacturer of machinery for woolen mills, received him as an apprentice to learn the machinist trade. He remained with Mr. Daggett two years and a half, then moved to Niagara Falls and worked in the repair shops of the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad. In those days there were few books and no periodicals published on the subject of steam engines. Mr. Wright searched through the bookstores of Buffalo without finding any except a book by John Ericsson on hot-air engines. His next place of employment was at Palmyra, where he worked on a stationary engine till 1842. In the meantime by persistent study and experimenting he had become expert both in the theory and practice of engine-building, and after leaving Palmyra he began to build engines at Rochester in connection with John Bush. In 1845 he invented a rotary engine and moved to Providence, R. I., where he formed a partnership with F. S. Church to build it. This business was discontinued at the end of a year. Then for a short period Mr. Wright was employed by a tool company of which William Fields was manager, and which was afterwards merged into the Providence Tool Company, and finally he was engaged as superintendent Mr Wright withdrew from the employ of the engine works of Corliss, Nightingale & Co., which had been established but a short time before. The Corliss engine had no special merit over the other machines of that period till Mr. Wright invented the rotative valve, which revolutionized the construction of the steam engine, and gave the Corliss engine the great prominence it obtained. A few engines had been built, in which the releasing gear invented by Mr. Corliss had been applied to different forms of slide valves with more or less satisfaction, mostly less, so far as the practical working of the valve was concerned. Meanwhile the efforts of the inventor were bent in the direction of a valve better adapted to the requirements of his cut-off, which had demonstrated its superiority as a means of regulation. At this time an order had been taken for an engine for the Elm Street foundry in Providence, of which the father of William A. Harris, the present head of the engine company of that name, was superintendent. The frame and connections of the beam engine had been made, but the cylinder had been allowed to wait, pending the evolution of an improved valve. Mr. Harris became urgent in his demands for delivery, and on April 17, 1849, Mr. Wright approached Mr. Corliss with the question of the delayed cylinder. In the conversation which followed Mr. Wright took up a piece of paper and made a sketch of the rotative valve. This suggestion was greeted by Mr. Corliss with the statement that if he couldn't have something better than that he wouldn't have anything. Nothing better seems to have offered, however, for thousands of engines have been built in this way, and the appliance became universally known as the Corliss valve. The original sketch of this valve, drawn by Mr. Wright in 1849, verified by a fellow-workman, and adopted at that time by Corliss, is still in Mr. Wright's possession. He not only designed the valve, but also superintended the construction of the first engine, to which it was applied, which is still in operation. At a later period Mr. Corliss attempted to enjoin Mr. Wright in the United States Court from employing the principal of automatic cut-off, but failed to maintain a case. Mr. Wright withdrew from the employ of Corliss, Nightingale & Co. in 1850, and after building a large condensing engine for a Waterbury firm he accepted the position of general superintendent of the large engine works of Woodruff & Beach, at Hartford, Ct. During the thirteen years he was in that important position Mr. Wright devised a number of improvements, notably another automatic cut-off engine. He invented, patented and superintended the construction and erection of the massive pumping engines for the Brooklyn Water Works. He also superintended the construction and erection of the United States gunboat Kearsarge and other gunboats used in the Rebellion. From 1863 to 1866 he was a member of the New York Steam Engine Company, and built the engines of a number of men-of-war. Thus in almost every branch of steam engineering he has made his mark. In 1866 Mr. Wright obtained further patents, and arranged with the Washington Iron Works, of Newburgh, to construct his engines; but he did not take up his residence in Newburgh till 1870, when he organized the firm of William Wright & Co., and purchased the business of the Washington Iron Works. Since 1876 he has conducted the business alone. From time to time his engines have been improved in minor particulars, for his active brain is always devising something new. Few moments has he allowed to escape unemployed. He seeks relaxation from business cares in his library, where the latest and best works in general literature and mechanics have a place. In his youth and early manhood he worked under great disadvantages and suffered many discouragements, but his "mechanical genius, his patient assiduity in his profession, and his industrious habits have advanced him to a prominent place among the inventors of the age." Mr. Wright married in, 1841, Elizabeth G. Taft, of Victor, N. Y., and has one daughter living.

      The Wright Steam Engine Works, of Newburgh, N. Y. have reorganized and are again prepared to do business and to furnish the Wright Automatic Cut-off Steam Engine. The company will also be able to furnish Corliss engines to those preferring that type, as the Wright company have purchased all the drawings, patterns and patents of Chas.A. Dixon, of the late Dixon Engine Works of Newburgh, N.Y., so the Dixon improved Corliss engine can be furnished in all sizes. With this combination the new and complete shops of the Wright Steam Engine Works can be run to their full large capacity, and with the ample capital now invested in the company there will be no doubt of its success, and we wish this old established business a long continued prosperity. (Nov 1895)

Information Sources

  • Newburgh: her institutions, industries and leading citizens. by Ritchie & Hull 1891
  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006 page 278
  • Power Magazine Nov 1895 page 26