Archive for January, 2017

Capt Poe’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

Monday, January 30th, 2017

 

Capt Jacob Poe’s 50th wedding Anniversary (Collection of Ann L and John F Nash)

 

A fun bit of Georgetown, PA history.  Capt Jacob Poe and his wife, Mary Ann Ebert, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 27 Dec 1888.  Capt Jake was presented a gold headed cane by the citizens of Georgetown.  Capt Thomas S Calhoon made the presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
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No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

Str Silver Wave

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Several years ago, the question, “Where was the Civil War won?” was posed on a history site.  The usual answers were submitted with much documentary support.  I thought about the question for a few days then settled on my answer – Pittsburgh, PA.  The administrator of the blog wrote that it was the “damnedest” thing he had ever read, but he would seriously think about it.  One can get a bit carried away singing the praises of Pittsburgh.  Or can one?

 

History books inform us that the Civil War started in April 1861 in Charleston, SC with the bombardment of Ft Sumter in Charleston Bay.  This event provoked the war between the states, but the shots fired there were not the first. 

 

Earlier in Dec 1860, SC was the first state to secede from the union.  Others followed.  Sec of War, John B Floyd, a southern sympathizer, sent an order to the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh to ship 124 canons to New Orleans.   The steamers Silver Wave and Marengo were contracted to transport the canons south.  When citizens of Pittsburgh learned of this action, they protested knowing that the guns would be used to fortify the south.  The commander of the arsenal, John Symington, attempted to obey the order from Washington.  On Christmas Eve, angry crowds halted the movement of the canons and their military escorts to the Monongahela wharf.  Thirty-eight guns were loaded on the Silver Wave before the crowds blocked the movement and the order was countermanded.  Pittsburgh citizens threatened to blow the Silver Wave out of the water if it attempted to go down the Ohio River with the thirty-eight guns. 

 

Southern politicians were outraged that Pittsburgh citizens threatened to interfere with military orders for the distribution of federal artillery and munitions. 

 

The Silver Wave was a packet owned and operated by Capt John Smith McMillin.  The Silver Wave was also the first noncombat steamer to successfully pass the Vicksburg batteries in 1863.  Born in Georgetown, PA, Capt John S McMillin moved to Grandview Ave on Mt Washington in Pittsburgh in 1853.  In my heart, Capt John Smith McMillin will always be a Georgetown man. 

 

It can also be argued that the Pittsburgh citizens protest was the first act of war between the North and South.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
All Rights Reserved

No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.

Capstan Patent

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Capt John Smith McMillin was born on 23 Jul 1817 in Georgetown, PA.  During the Civil War, he achieved considerable fame for fearlessly running the batteries at Vicksburg as the owner and master of the steamer Silver Wave.  He was also an inventor. In that role, he was awarded a US Patent for the invention of the steam-powered capstan.[1]  The capstan patent was a Letters Patent No 63,917, granted on 16 Apr 1867 to John S McMillin for “an improvement in applying steam-power to the capstans of steamboats and other craft”. [2]

 

The steam-powered capstan patent was contested in court in at least two cases.  One suit, McMillan[3] v Rees[4] (17 OG, 1222), was filed against John S McMillin to “restrain the infringement” of the patent.  The circuit court opinions issued in both cases were not in favor of Capt McMillin.   The capstan patent was declared void “for want of any patentable invention”.  The basic arrangement of “shafts and cog-wheels” of the capstan was unchanged.  In the case against McMillin, the argument was that the modification to steam power did not warrant the issue of a patent because there was no “ingenuity of merit”, only the “ordinary judgement and skill of a trained mechanic”.   Capstans and steam engines were old technology, well known elements used in many places including grist mills and steamboats.      

 

Capt McMillin appealed the decisions.  On 17 Nov 1884, the Supreme Court of the US decided:

 

Upon the ground stated, we think the letters patent upon which the suit is based are void.  The decree of the circuit court by which the patent was sustained must therefore be reversed and the cause remanded with direction to dismiss the bill, and it is so ordered.  [5]

 

The history of the patent process was long and curious.  The first application for the patent was filed by Capt McMillin on 23 Jul 1855.  This application was rejected.   On 7 Feb 1856, the application was amended.  This amended application was also rejected.  Eleven years later, the application awarded the patent included the drawings and specifications of the first application unchanged.  The steam-powered capstan had been in wide use for more than a decade without any new state of te art developments or improvements.   That was the defense relied on to defeat the patent in court.              

 

More research is required to determine whether John S McMillin was demanding royalties from other steamboat owners and lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes and References.



[1]   A capstan was a spool device mounted on the steamboat deck used for winding up heavy rope.  With booms and block-and-tackle, a capstan was used to move heavy loads on and off the boat.  It was also used when “sparring” the boat over sandbars.   Before the steam-power improvement, the cylinder was turned by muscle power.    

[2]   Decisions of the Commissioner of Patents and of the US Courts in Patent Cases for the Year 1884, Washington Government Printing Office, 1884, p472.

[3]  McMillin was misspelled, or at least spelled differently.  In the two lower court challenges, the name is spelled with an “in” on one docket and “”an” on the other.  Adding to the confusion, the name McMillen is found on markers in Georgetown Cemetery.   Changing the spelling of a family name was not uncommon at that time in our history.  Such changes occurred between generations rather than within a family.  That makes this case unusual.  

[4]   Rees is a famous steamboat family from Pittsburgh.   Thomas M, James H, or William, or the Rees firm could have filed the complaint.

[5]   Decisions of the Commissioner of Patents and of the US Courts in Patent Cases for the Year 1884, Washington Government Printing Office, 1884, p475.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Francis W Nash
All Rights Reserved

No part of this website may be reproduced without permission in writing from the author.