Saturday, May 15, 2010

Josiah White - He Was the Hand That Rocked the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution

He was born in Mt. Holly New Jersey on March 4, 1781.  By 1810, he had a simple goal: accumulate $40,000 in wealth, and retire to a quiet farm life by the age of 30.  By the age of 28, he had his money and purchased a farm at the falls of the Schuylkill River.  A devout Quaker satisfied to follow the will of his Maker he was set for a quiet life.

Thankfully to all of us, the nation over, Josiah White did not rest there.  Without his foresight and innovation, this area and this nation would not have reaped the economic effects of the industrial revolution and we would not be enjoying the accumulated wealth we have today.

White and a man named Erskine Hazard had a wire mill in Philadelphia that was hurt by Jefferson's embargo and Britain's blockage of the War of 1812.  Determined not to allow a foreign power determine our supply of fuel again, he sought an alternative domestic energy source our nation's growing industries could depend on.  By 1817 at age 36, he arrived in the Hauto and Mauch Chunk area to inspect the coal lands with Revolutionary War Col. Jacob Weiss.

By 1818, George Hauto, Hazard and White had successfully obtained the rights to the Lehigh River for the transportation of coal.  White himself surveyed what would become Pennsylvania's first railroad and would eventually lead to the birth of the town of Mauch Chunk.  This gravity railway was constructed from Summit Hill following the Mauch Chunk Creek for nearly the entire 9-miles.  Eventually, engine houses were placed atop Mt Pisgah & Mt Jefferson for the return trip, creating the first roller coaster.  The picture above shows the stonework of the crossover about 4.5 miles west of the Mt Pisgah plane in Jim Thorpe.

Pictured here is one of White's numberous inventions. This is a model of the Bear Trap lock that White built to tame the Lehigh River to get the coal to markets.  According to Vince Hydro, noted White historian, White experimented with this dam and lock system along the Mauch Chunk Creek near present day Opera House.  Not to encourage the curiousity of the passersby, they were told they were working on 'bear traps' and most went about minding their own business.  (Mauch Chunk Historical Society and Opera House website.)

This lock system dammed the river to make slack water to make the river more navigatable for the arks carrying the coal.  But a method was needed to have the arks portage these dams.  This necessitated White's genious.  Water pressure from behind the dam would fill chambers that held closed the lock door.  When arks were ready to pass through, the water was shut out of the chambers, releasing the lock door for the ark to pass.  The surging water through the lock sometimes caused the arks to knock their operators right off the boat.

The impact of this industrial leader lives on.  Upon his return from a Society of Friends yearly meeting, and for the purpose of setting up an orphanage/training school in Richmond, Indiana in 1850, White died of typhoid.  He left a lasting impact on the economy of the United States and upon Carbon County, Pennsylvania.

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