Wheel Album: Page Three
Troy's most famous inventor. Burden was an inventive genius. He built
an industrial complex in South Troy that featured the most powerful water
wheel in the world.
Burden's horseshoe machine, capable of making sixty horseshoes a minute,
was a technological wonder. His rotary concentric squeezer, a machine for
working wrought iron, was adopted by iron industries world wide. His hook-headed
spike machine helped fuel the rapid expansion of railroads in the U.S.
Henry Burden was born in Scotland and emigrated to the U.S.in 1819. Burden
started in the Troy iron industry in 1822, as superintendent of the Troy
Iron and Nail Factory, on the Wynantskill in South Troy. Burden's inventions,
which automated work that was previously done by hand, made the factory
extremely profitable. Burden soon became the sole owner of the factory and
renamed it H. Burden and Sons.
Henry Burden realized that Troy's strategic location as a hub of rail and
water transportation networks made it possible to produce and ship an enormous
quantity of finished goods-fifty one million horseshoes per year, for instance.
Burden's inventions inspired the citizens of Troy to believe that technology
could make anything possible in Troy
The Burden water wheel, built in 1852, was the most powerful water wheel
in the world. It most likely inspired George Washington Ferris to build
the Ferris Wheel.
This most impressive example of an American overshot water wheel was built
by Henry Burden in 1851 to drive his automatic horseshoe and spike manufactory
at Troy, New York. This was not the largest water wheel of its type so far
as diameter was concerned, being exceeded in this respect, though probable
not in power. A larger water wheel is at Laxey on the Isle of Man and at
Greenock, Scotland, that latter supplied by Shaw's Waterworks with water
from an elevated reservoir. The Burden Water Wheel was sixty-two feet in
diameter and twenty-two feet in breath, was supplied by a small stream,
the Wynantskill, whose natural fall of some fifty feet was increased substantially
together with provision of storage capacity for year round operation by
a dam and related structures of conduit and penstock of ingenious design.
The water wheel itself was of what came to be termed the "suspension"
type, familiar to us in the bicycle wheel, with iron rods in tension replacing
the usual arms. It was made almost entirely of iron, save for the drum or
soling of the wheel and its buckets. the The appearance of the water wheel
and the details of its construction and of the elaborate gearing by means
of which the power was taken off and conveyed to the mill are sown in the
drawings. This gigantic prime mover continuously in service night and day
for nearly one half of a century. Following its abandonment in the 1890's,
it lay idle for another twenty years before its final collapse.
The Burden water wheel had a diameter in feet of 62.0, a breath or depth
in feet of 22.0. Its bulk was 56,000 cubic feet, and its R.P.M. was 2..5.
The final capacity or output in horsepower was 300 and the water wheel weighted
The best account of the Burden Water Wheel is F;.R. I. Sweeney, "The
Burden Water-Wheel," TASCE 28 (1893):237. A reprint of this article
with additional information, photographs, and an introduction by Robert
M. Vogel appeared in Society for Industrial Archeology Occasional Publications,
number 2, April 1973. The Burden wheel was made the subject for graduating
theses of students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1855-67: Sweeney
gives the figure of 278 horsepower for the water wheel as normally operated
does not reflect the heavy losses that must have occurred in the gearing
through which the power was taken off and transmitted to the mill. A man
was seated on an elevated platform, in front of the water wheel, having
his hand on a hand-wheel, by which he increases or diminishes the volume
of water to the wheel. Thereby adjusting its speed t the power requirements
of the moment, depending upon the number and kinds of machinery in operation.
Basic information from: "A History of Industrial Power in the United
States, 1780-1930, Volume One: Waterpower in the Century of the Steam Engine,"
by Louis C. Hunter, Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, University Press
of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1979. The late Mr. Hunter never mentions the
Fitz Water Wheel Company in the 606 pages found in volume one. I guess that
the late professor at American University considered vertical water wheels
inconsequential in the overall development of water power.
From the accompanying original description:
The name of the establishment was changed to Burden Iron Works, and the
firm name became "Henry Burden and Sons." Mr. Burden. died in
January, 1871; his eldest son, William F. Burden, had died December 7,
1867. The works are now. owned by the two surviving brothers, who retain
the firm name of Henry Burden and Sons.
The old establishment called the "Upper Works," or " Water
Mill " are in the valley of the Wynantekill, a short distance from
the Hudson river. They consist of the following buildings: a rolling-mill
and puddling forge under one roof in a brick building 358 by 136 feet; a
horse-shoe factory in two buildings, which are 125 by 34 feet, and 120 by
50 feet respectively; a rivet factory 120 by 80 feet; a semi-circular horse-shoe
ware-house 68 by 120 feet, divided into sixteen large bins capable of holding
7,000 tons of horse- shoes, scrap-house and shops 175 by 50 feet; the general
office, supply store, ware-house for rivets and spikes, stables, et cetera.
In these works is a celebrated overshot water-wheel, designed and built
by Henry Burden, in 1851. It is 60 feet in diameter, and 22 feet in width.
It has 36 buckets each six feet deep, and has a horse-power of 1200. It
is believed to be the largest water-wheel in the world.
The " Lower Works, " or "Steam Mills are on the bank
of the Hudson river, a short distance from the other works. There the Messrs.
Burden own an extensive tract of land, with a river front of nearly a mile,
affording ample room for receiving materials and shipping the products.
The Lower Works were built in 1862, and consist of two blast-furnaces each
60 feet in height, and 16 feet in diameter at the base, with two casting
houses each 92 by 47 feet, two stock houses each 114 by 65 feet, and on
engine-room 85 by 50 feet. There is a puddling forge in a building 492 by
83 feet; rolling-mill 421 by 96 feet; a square building containing blowing-
room, offices, et cetera, 96 by 96 feet; machine-shop 140 by 57 feet; black-
smith-shop 130 by 55 feet; foundry 250 by 57 feet; pattern-shop 85 by 55
feet; tin and plumbing-shop 64 by 55 feet; a building 105 by 55 feet, containing
supply store, draughting-room, " duplicates " room, et cetera,
and an iron ware-house 167 by 55 feet.
Henry Burden invented the world's first horseshoe manufacturing machine
in Troy in 1834, and received a patent for it in 1835.
Burden was an immigrant from Scotland who became manager of the Troy Iron
& Nail Factory in 1822.
Burden's machine could produce 1 horseshoe per second - or more than 50
million horseshoes per year.
Burden built a water wheel - the most powerful vertical water wheel in history
- to power his factory in 1851.
The Burden water wheel may have inspired Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
graduate George Ferris' own 1893 invention - the Ferris Wheel.
During the U.S. Civil War, the Union Army bought most of its horseshoes
from Burden's factory. Supplied horseshoes for the Union Army during the
Civil War; this inspired a Confederate plot to steal the machine's design.
The water wheel no longer stands, but Burden's office building survives
and now houses the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway.
Greenock Cut is an aqueduct, just under five miles long, which once carried
water from the 'Great Reservoir' - now known as Loch Thom - to the town
of Greenock. It was built between 1825 and 1827 by the civil engineer Robert
Thom. At the Twist Mill, (a large textile mill, five stories high, which
stood until the early 1960's) an extensive reorganisation of the water power
system in the late 1820's. Reservoirs were constructed between the dam and
the mill, and three large water wheels constructed.
These were designed by William Fairbairn, and incorporated his latest improvements
in water wheel construction, including the use of light wrought-iron spokes,
with power taken from the rim of the
wheel. Originally four wheels of a hundred horsepower each were planned,
but only two were built, by Fairbairn's own firm, Fairbairn and Lillie of
Manchester, in 1827. With a diameter of fifty feet, ten feet six inches
wide, and having a hundred and twenty buckets, each of these wheels actually
developed a hundred and twenty horsepower.
Then the most famous, largest and most powerful wheels in Scotland when
built it was constructed. This larger wheel, being seventy feet in diameter,
was installed at Greenock in 1840's. The installation remained without equal
for power until its demolition in 1947. The drive to the mills was carried
under Mill Street in a tunnel, while the tailrace, as before, flowed down
the street and continued in tunnel for a further quarter of a mile to the
mouth of the Burn 0' Need.
The Shaw's water wheel at Greenock, was built in 1841 and was 70 feet in
diameter, weighed about 180 tons, and had 160 buckets, each containing 100
gallons of water. The output was 200 horsepower.
Return to Home Page