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The Water Wheel Album: Page Three

The Henry Burden Water Wheel

Henry Burden (1791-1871)

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 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:

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 250.0 tons.

Save the drawings as images, they are much larger and show more detail.

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.

Burden Iron Works at Troy, New York

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 Layout of the Henry Burden & Sons Factory,
showing the relations of water wheel to machinery, if restored.

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.

Important Facts to Know
Sloane D. Bullough.
Reference: Laura Lee, "Horseshoe Factory Tour Set," Albany TimesUnion, August 11, 1998.

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.

Shaw's Water Wheel at Greenock, Scotland

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.

Shaw's Water Wheel at Greenock, Scotland

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We saw three of the Good
Now learn about.....the Bigger

The Laxey Water Wheel

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