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Manufacturers Index - Novelty Iron Works

Novelty Iron Works
New York, NY, U.S.A.
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Steam and Gas Engines

History
Last Modified: May 28 2019 7:39PM by Jeff_Joslin
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

The history of this important steam engine manufacturer is poorly documented. Sources are mutually contradictory and primary sources are scarce, especially for the early history. Matters are complicated by the fact that Eliphalet Nott was simultaneously president of Union College, an inventor, a part owner of his sons' firm, H. Nott & Co., and a real estate tycoon, and he freely intermixed the financial and other dealings of all.

In 1827 sons (Howard Nott and Benjamin Nott) of inventor Eliphalet Nott established an Albany-based ironworking firm, H. Nott & Co., to manufacture a new boiler their father had invented and to allow him to develop a safer and more efficient coal-powered boiler.

One source says that the business was established in 1827, not by Nott but by Neziah Bliss, which may be true; the Notts were involved and running the show by about 1831.

In 1831 the works relocated to New York City, with the sons running the office, Neziah Bliss as superintendent of the works and Ezra K. Dodd as foreman and, later, chief engineer. One of Eliphalet's first boilers went into his own pleasure boat, the Novelty, which led to the works being known as The Novelty Iron Works. Bliss and Eliphalet Nott disagreed on both boiler and engine design and also on whether wood or coal was a better fuel. Bliss was the more conservative of the two men, and after the October 1834 sinking of the Novelty while carrying a load of Nott stoves, matters came to a head and Nott bought out Bliss's interest in the business.

In the Financial Panic of 1836 the Nott family suffered business reversals and lost control of the Works, which reorganized (sources disagree as to whether this happened in 1836 or '38) as Ward, Stillman & Co., with partners John D. Ward, Thomas B. Stillman, Robert M. Stratton, and C. St. John Seymour. It reportedly operated for a time as Stillman & Co. and perhaps also as Stillman, Stratton & Allen, but data is sparse.

In 1842, engineer and inventor Horatio Allen joined the business, which became Stillman, Allen & Co., manufacturing steam engines and sawmills among their products.

By the late 1840s, Novelty Iron Works employed 1500 and were perhaps the country's largest builder of marine engines. In 1855 the "Stillman, Allen & Co." name was dropped and the business was registered as Novelty Iron Works with a capital of $300,000.

During the Civil War they built engines for several Union ships. They also won a contract to conduct experiments on improving steam-engine efficiency. Although Horatio Allen's engines enjoyed an excellent reputation, the financial footing of the company was not as positive, and the end of the Civil War found them with slow sales and outdated machinery. In 1870 the company was wound down and their valuable land was sold at a good profit.

Information Sources

  • 1831-32 Longworth's New York City Directory lists "Nott & Co., Howard, stove manuf. 235 Water". The previous year's directory had no related listing under Nott, or Knott, or Novelty.
  • 1832 Longworth's New York City Directory lists "Nott & Co., H., stove manuf. 235 Water".
  • 1835-36 Longworth's New York City Directory lists "Bliss Neziah, dry dock", which is the earliest NYC directory listing for him we could find. Also listed is "Nott & Co., Howard, stovemanuf. 242 Water".
  • 1836 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, Charles St. John Seymour, or R. M. Stratton. Listed is "Nott & Co. Howard, stovemanuf. 242 Water"; Stillman, Thomas B. novelty works Twelfth h. 101 Av. D".
  • 1837 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss. Listed is "Nott & Co. Howard, stovemanuf. 242 Water".
  • 1837 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, C. St. J. Seymour. Listed is "Nott Howard, Twelfth Dry D."; "Stillman Thomas B. noveltyworks Twelfth h. 101 Avenue D"; "Stratton Robert M. mer. 242 Water h. 253 William".
  • 1838 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, Charles St. John Seymour. Listed is "Nott Howard, Twelfth Dry D."; "Stillman Thomas B. noveltyworks Twelfth h. 101 Aven. D"; "Stratton Robert M. mer. 242 Water h. 82 Frankfort"; "Stratton & Seymour, stoves, 242 Water".
  • 1839 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, nor Howard Nott. Listed are "Seymour Charles, stoves, 242 Water h. 82 Frankfort"; "Stillman Thomas B. noveltyworks Twelfth h. 101 Aven. D"; "Stratton Robert M. mer 242 Water h. 82 Frankfort"; "Stratton & Seymour, stoves 242 Water".
  • 1840 Longworth's New York City Directory lists "Bliss Neziah 88 Cedar", "Stillman Thomas B. novelty works Twelfth h. 101 Aven. D", "Seymour Charles St. J. stoves 242 Water h. 9 State", "Stratton Robert M. mer. 242 Water h. 82 Frankfort", and "Stratton & Seymour, stoves 242 Water". There is no listing for Howard Nott.
  • 1841 Longworth's New York City Directory lists "Bliss Neziah 88 Cedar", "Seymour Charles St. J. stoves 242 Water", "Stillman Thomas B. novelty works Twelfth h. 566 Fourth", "Stratton Robert M. merchant 242 Water h. 554 Fourth", and "Stratton & Seymour, stoves 242 Water". There is no listing for Howard Nott.
  • 1842 Doggett's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss or Howard Nott. Listed are "Seymour Chas. St. John, novelty wks. Twelfth n. E. R."; "Stillman Thomas B. office 242 Water, h. 566 Fourth"; "Stillman & Co., ironfounders, steamengine and general machinery, manufacturers, novelty works, foot of Twelfth, east river, office 242 Water. Thomas B. Stillman, R. M. Stratton, Chas. St. J. Seymour"; "Stratton Robert M. office 242 Water, h. 554 Fourth"; and "Stratton & Seymour, office 242 Water". There is no listing for Howard Nott.
  • 1842 Longworth's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, Howard Nott, or Charles St. John Seymour. Listed are "Nott's Stove Warehouse Shepard & Co. 242 Water"; "Stillman Thomas B. novelty works Twelfth h. 566 Fourth"; "Stillman & Co., Steam Engine manufacturers and Iron Founders, Novelty Works foot of Twelfth and Thirteenth-streets, on the East River Office 242 Water"; and "Stratton Robert M. merchant 554 Fourth". There is no listing for Howard Nott.
  • 1846 Doggett's New York City Directory does not list Neziah Bliss, Howard Nott. Listed are "Seymour, Charles St. John, outfitting, 31 John"; "Stillman Thomas B. ironworks foot Twelfth e. r. h. 551 Fourth"; "Stillman Allen & Co., novelty ironworks, steam engines, sugar mills, castings, iron ships, boats, &c., foot Twelfth e. r. office 242 Water"; and "Stratton Robert M. novelty iron-works foot Twelfth, E. R. office, 242 Water". There is no listing for Howard Nott.
  • 1847-48 Doggett's New York City Directory lists "STILLMAN, ALLEN & CO. novelty ironworks, steam engines, sugar mills, castings, iron ships, boats, &c., foot Twelfth e. r., office, 242 Water". Listed as working at foot Twelfth were Thomas B. Stillman, Alfred Stillman (engineer) and George F. Allen, Alex M. Stratton (founder), and Robert M. Stratton.
  • 1848-49 Doggett's New York City Directory lists "Seymour Charles St. John outfitting. 31 John"; "Seymour & Williams, stoves, 246 Water"; "Stillman, Thomas B. ironworks, foot Twelfth, E. R., h. 70 Seventh"; "Stillman, Allen & Co. novelty ironworks, steam engines, sugar mills, castings, iron ships, boats, &c., foot Twelfth E. R., office, 242 Water". Listed as working at foot Twelfth were Thomas B. Stillman, Alfred Stillman (engineer) and George F. Allen, Alex M. Stratton (founder), and Robert M. Stratton.
  • 1849-50 Doggett's New York City Directory lists "Seymour Charles St. John, outfitting, 31 John"; "Seymour & Williams, stoves, 246 Water"; "Stillman, Thomas B. ironworks, foot Twelfth, E. R. h. 70 Seventh"; "Stillman, Allen & Co. novelty ironworks, steam engines, sugar mills, vacuum pans, castings, iron ships, iron and copper boats, &c., foot of Twelfth E. R. office, 242 Water".
  • The 1853 document, Argument in Defence of the Rev. Eliphalet Nott, involves accusations made against Union College and its president, Eliphalet Nott. On page 62 the document reproduces "documents relating to the stock in the Commercial Bank in Albany." It appears that Dr. Nott was in the habit of blurring the lines between college and personal financial matters. He "from time to time placed in the hands of H. Nott & Co. certain funds, part whereof was the property of Union College, and part his own property..." "Messrs. Stratton and Seymour / To assignees of H. Nott & Co. / For amount of Novelty Works inventory, $61,419.30 / For amount of bricks to be delivered, 6,000.00..."
  • Gazetteer of the Manufactures and Manufacturing Towns of the United States, 1866 pg 107
  • Grems-Doolittle Library's onlnine biography of Eliphalet Nott. "In 1827, using sons Benjamin and Howard as managers, Nott set up H. Nott and Company in Albany, often referred to as “the Union Furnace.” By 1831, the company had moved to New York City, though the family lost control in the financial panic of 1836. Undaunted, Nott licensed out his patents to other companies and by the mid 1840’s did business with nationally and abroad, thus continuing to earn money from his patents."
  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006 page 173
  • Horatio Allen's 1884 memoir, The Railroad Era: First Five Years of Its Development, documents his important role in the early development of American railway technology—most notably, his unpatented invention of the double-truck locomotive design, which is hardly mentioned in his memoir—and does not include anything related to the Novelty Works.
  • From a 1965 York Historical Society Quarterly, an article by Codman Hislop. ...making 'the Rev'd Pres[iden]t. rich very fast.' In that year Dr. Nott established the Novelty Iron Works on Burnt Mill Point on the East River to provide his stoves as well as to allow him to experiment with safety boilers and anthracite furnaces for marine use. With the Novelty, the 'philosopher of caloric' hoped to prove he could generate power with anthracite coal under a radically new type of boiler which, as one nervous traveler wrote, would 'superadd a great desideratum of personal safety.' Nott and Capt. Neziah Bliss, superintended of the Novelty Iron Works, disagreed over ways of constructing new boilers, which Nott wanted made up of gun barrel tubes in which steam was to be generated. They disagreed on engine construction and on whether coal or wood was the best fuel. Dr. Nott and the Captain finally parted company when their boat, disabled and loaded with 'Nott Stoves,' broke its towline and sank in the Overslaugh, south of Albany, in October 1834. Because of the Doctor's faith in multi-tube boilers and anthracite furnaces, the Novelty was raised and towed back to her slip at Burnt Mill Point to be refitted with an experimental engine. Nott was no doubt well known to the anthracite mine owners as..."
  • The 1971 Wesleyan University Press book, Eliphalet Nott, by Codman Hislop, footnote 15 page 604. "The actual ownership of the Novelty Iron Works at this time is difficult to determine. On July 12, 1843, the Doctor wrote to his banker, G. A. Worth (City Bank of New York), ... See also the paper jacket binding the deeds involving the Novelty Iron Works; this jacket is undated, but in the hand of Eliphalet Nott: 'Title Deeds of Novelty Works from Nicholas Stuyvesant to Neziah Bliss—of whom I purchased 3/4 as will be seen by titles in another package—the other 4th Mr. Bliss sold to Benjamin Tibbits of whom I purchased that 4th.' Union College Archives."
  • 2010 book, The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition gives a biography of Neziah (Hezekian) Bliss (b. 1790). "In 1810 he moved to New York City, where he learned about steam engines from Robert Fulton... In 1827 he returned to the city and founded Novelty Iron Works on East 12th Street in Manhattan. In 1832 he bought 30 acres in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which became home to his company..."
  • An article on Horatio Allen on railfan.net provides some useful background on the man.
  • The German-language Kraft- und Dampfmaschinen site's page on the Novelty Iron Works provides some interesting data on the company which are at variance with other versions of the history.