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William Otis

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Title: William Otis  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of science/Selected anniversaries/February 24, 1839 in science, Canton Viaduct, 1839, 1839 deaths
Collection: 1813 Births, 1839 Deaths, American Inventors, People from Pelham, Massachusetts
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

William Otis

William Smith Otis
Born (1813-09-20)September 20, 1813
Pelham, Massachusetts,  United States
Died 13 November 1839(1839-11-13) (aged 26)
Nationality American
Known for Inventor of the steam shovel
Relatives Elisha Otis (Cousin)

William Otis (1813–1839) was an American inventor of the steam shovel. Otis received a patent for his creation on February 24, 1839.

In 1839, William Smith Otis, civil engineer of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was issued a US patent for the steam shovel (No. 1,089) for excavating and (removing earth). Officially the patent drawing is missing but a drawing exists which is said to be the one from the patent[1] and this shows the crane mounted on a railroad car. A load of earth could be lifted by the bucket, raised by the crane and turned to be dumped, such as in railcars. The patent described how a steam engine of a type then in ordinary use, was installed with a power control mechanism for the crane, and a system of pulleys to move its arms and bucket. It could move about 380 cubic meters of earth a day, with its 1.1 cubic meter capacity shovel and 180° slewing wooden jib. It was first used on the Western Railroad in Massachusetts.

William Smith Otis was born on September 20, 1813, in Pelham, Massachusetts, and was cousin to Elisha Otis of elevator fame. At an early age, William was interested in earthworks and mechanics. At the age of 22, he had shown an uncommon mechanical ingenuity and created the first steam powered mechanical excavator.

Using materials obtained in vicinity of Canton, Massachusetts, William created the machine in 1835 which was used building railroad lines between Norwich and Worcester. Working with the company, ”Carmichael and Fairbanks”, William Smith Otis devised an apparatus carrying out the same actions as the person with a shovel.

Otis moved to Philadelphia and enlisted the talents of Joseph Harrison to help construct a prototype. Harrison operated the company ”Garrett and Eastwick," and fabricated a pre-production model in 1836. On June 15, 1836, William Smith Otis received the patent for the invention; however during a fire, the engineering specifications had been destroyed.

On February 24, 1839, the patent behind number 1089 officially entered validity, and called “Crane-Excavator for Excavating and Removing Earth”.

William Smith Otis died on November 13, 1839 at the age of 26.

See also


  1. ^ Farrell, William. Digging by Stame. Historical Construction Equipment Association, 1994, p. 18.

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