Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Roosevelt, Nicholas I.
ROOSEVELT, Nicholas I., inventor, b. in New York city, 27 Dec., 1767; d. in Skaneateles, N. Y., 30 July, 1854. His ancestors were early citizens of New York. His father, Isaac, was a member of the New York provincial congress, the legislature, and the city council, and for many years was president of the Bank of New York. Nicholas was carefully educated. His connection with the invention of vertical steamboat paddle-wheels is described by John H. B. Latrobe in his “Lost Chapter in the History of the Steamboat” (Baltimore, Md., 1871). Mr. Latrobe's investigations show that, soon after the evacuation of New York by the British, Roosevelt returned to New York from Esopus, where he then resided, and where he had made a small wooden boat, across which was an axle projecting over the sides with paddles at the ends, made to revolve by a tight cord wound around its middle by the reaction of hickory and whalebone springs. In New York he engaged in manufacturing and inventing in that city, subsequently became interested in the Schuyler copper-mines in New Jersey on the Passaic river, and from a model of Josiah Hornblower's atmospheric machine completed a similar one, built engines for various purposes, and constructed those for the water-works of Philadelphia. He was also at the same time under contract to erect rolling-works and supply the government with copper drawn and rolled for six 74-gun ships. In 1797, with Robert R. Livingston and John Stevens, he agreed to build a boat on joint account, for which the engines were to be constructed by Roosevelt, and the propelling agency was to be that planned by Livingston. This experiment failed, the speed attained being only equivalent to about three miles an hour in still water. On 6 Sept., 1798, Roosevelt had fully described to Livingston a vertical wheel, which he earnestly recommended. This is the first practical suggestion of the combination that made steam navigation a commercial success, although four years later Robert Fulton believed that chains and floats were alone to be relied on. Livingston, however, had replied to Roosevelt's proposition on 28 Oct., 1798, that “vertical wheels are out of the question.” But in the spring of 1802, Livingston having communicated Roosevelt's plan to Fulton, they adopted the former's view, and in January of the next year launched a boat that was propelled by Roosevelt's vertical wheels. Roosevelt in the mean time became greatly embarrassed financially, the government failed to fulfil its contract with him, and he was unable to put his plans in operation. In 1809 he associated himself with Fulton in the introduction of steamboats on the western waters, and in 1811 he built and navigated the “New Orleans,” the pioneer boat that descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Pittsburg to New Orleans in fourteen days, he having previously descended both rivers in a flat-boat to obtain information. In January, 1815, he applied to the legislature of New Jersey for protection as the inventor of vertical wheels, for which he had obtained letters-patent from the United States in December, 1814. The legislature, after discussion, decided that “it was inexpedient to make any special provision in connection with the matter in controversy before the body,” and there the matter rested. Roosevelt's papers came into the possession of Richard S. Cox, his executor, from whom they were obtained in 1828, and from these, with others from the papers of Chancellor Livingston, a case was prepared and submitted to Roger B. Taney, which had been already submitted to William Wirt, and, both opinions being favorable, a suit was about to be begun when the consideration of the great expense involved in its prosecution caused the whole matter to be abandoned. Roosevelt had by this time retired from active life, residing with his family at Skaneateles. In the case submitted for Mr. Wirt's opinion, it is said that Fulton never made oath to the application for a patent for vertical wheels over the sides; and that the application itself was signed by another person — a statement that would seem to be corroborated to a great extent by Fulton's own account of his invention in an interview with B. H. Latrobe on 7 Feb., 1809, when the latter was endeavoring to bring about what subsequently took place — a connection between Fulton and Roosevelt in regard to the introduction of steamboats on the western waters. “I have no pretensions,” said Fulton, “to be the first inventor of the steamboat. Hundreds of others have tried it and failed. Neither do I pretend to the right to navigate steamboats, except in New York. . . . That to which I claim an exclusive right is the so proportioning the boat to the power of the engine and the velocity with which the wheels of the boat, or both, move with the maximum velocity attainable by the power, and the construction of the whole machine.” In the same conversation Mr. Fulton said: “As to Mr. Roosevelt, I regard him as a noble-minded, intelligent man, and would do anything to serve him that I could.” — His nephew, Cornelias Van Schaik, merchant, b. in New York city, 30 Jan., 1794; d. in Oyster Bay, L. I., 17 July, 1871, inherited a large fortune, studied at Columbia, but was not graduated, and, engaging in business was a successful merchant for forty-seven years. During the latter part of his life he devoted a portion of his large income to charity. —
Cornelius's son, Robert Barnwell, congressman, b. in New York city, 7 Aug., 1829, was admitted to the bar in 1850. While in practice he also contributed to the magazines, was an enthusiastic sportsman, and organized several clubs to restrain the indiscriminate slaughter of game. During the civil war he was an active Democrat, and a founder of the allotment commission and the Loyal national league. He founded the New York state fishery commission in 1867, and was appointed one of the three fish commissioners, on which he has served without a salary. The reports of that body were prepared chiefly by him, and have led to the appointment of similar commissions in other states. His first experience in politics was in the organization of the Citizens' association at the time of the Tweed ring administration in New York city. He was a founder of the Committee of seventy, and first vice-president of the Reform club. With Charles G. Halpine he edited the “Citizen,” the organ of that association, and after Halpine's death succeeded to the sole charge of the paper. In 1870 he was chosen to congress as a Democrat. Although the pressure of anti-Tammany Democratic organizations forced Tammany Hall to approve his nomination, he denounced the measures of the corrupt clique. In May, 1888, he was appointed U. S. minister to the Netherlands, whereupon he resigned the office of fish commissioner, giving, in his letter to the governor, a review of what had been accomplished during his twenty years of service. He was instrumental in establishing paid fire and health departments in New York city, was a commissioner of the Brooklyn bridge, and for many years served as president of the Fish culture association, of that for the protection of game, of the New York sportsman's club, of the International association for the protection of game, of the Holland trust company, a founder of the Lotus and Arcadian clubs, and a member of the American association for the advancement of science. He has published “The Game Fish of North America” (New York, 1860); “The Game Birds of the North” (1866); “Superior Fishing” (1866): “Florida and the Game Water Birds” (1868); “Five Acres too Much,” a satire on amateur farming that was provoked by Edmund Morris's “Ten Acres Enough” (1869); “Progressive Petticoats,” a humorous illustration of modern medical habits (1871); and edited the “Political Works of Charles G. Halpine,” with a memoir (1869). — Another son of Cornelius, Theodore, merchant, b. in New York city, 22 Sept., 1831; d. there, 9 Feb., 1878, joined the firm of Roosevelt and Co., glass importers, and continued in that business till 1876, when he established a banking-house. President Hayes appointed him collector of the port of New York, but he was not confirmed by the senate. For many years he devoted much of his fortune to charity, contributed large sums to the Newsboys' lodging-house and the Young men's Christian association, was a founder of the Orthoædic hospital, under the care of the Children's aid society, organized the Bureau of united charities, and was a commissioner of the State board of charities. He was a director of the Metropolitan museum of art and of the Museum of natural history. — Theodore's son, Theodore, author, b. in New York city, 27 Oct., 1858, was graduated at Harvard in 1880, and the next year was elected to the New York assembly as a Republican. He led the minority during the session of 1882, was active in reform measures, and on his re-election in 1883 was largely instrumental in carrying out the state civil-service reform law, and an act for regulating primary elections. As chairman of the committee on cities in 1884, he succeeded in abolishing the fees of the county clerk and register, and in providing for their payment by salaries, curtailing abuses in the sheriff's and surrogate's offices, and securing the passage of a bill that deprived aldermen of the power to confirm appointments to office, and centred in the mayor the responsibility of administering municipal affairs. He was chairman of the New York delegation to the National Republican convention in 1884, and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of New York in 1886. He has spent much of his time in the west, exploring the country and hunting big game. Roosevelt was president of the New York board of police commissioners, assistant secretary of the navy in McKinley's administration, which he resigned to accept the position of lieutenant-colonel of cavalry in the war with Spain, and in July, 1898, was promoted colonel for gallantry at the battle of La Quasina. He has published “History of the Naval War of 1812” (New York, 1882); “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman” (1883); “Life of Thomas H. Benton” (Boston, 1887); and “Life of Gouverneur Morris,” in the “American Statesmen Series” (1888); also “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail” (New York, 1888). — Cornelius's brother, James John, jurist, b. in New York city, 14 Dec., 1795; d. there, 5 April, 1875, was graduated at Columbia in 1815, admitted to the bar in 1818, and became the partner of Peter Jay. He early identified himself with the Democratic party, and was active in the canvass of Gen. Jackson for the presidency in 1828. He retired temporarily from professional life in 1830, went to Europe, and was in Paris during the disturbances that followed the revolution. He resumed practice on his return in 1831, was a member of the legislature in 1835 and 1839-'40, and in 1841-'3 sat in congress, but declined renomination in 1844. He then went abroad again and studied foreign law in the courts of England, Holland, and France. He became a justice of the state supreme court in 1851, during one term was ex-officio judge of the state court of appeals, resigned in 1859 to become U. S. district attorney for southern New York, and retired in 1860. — His wife, Cornelia, was the daughter of Cornelius P. Van Ness, of Vermont, and a leader in New York society. She did good service in organizing hospital and charitable associations for the aid of the National troops during the civil war, and was subsequently active in benevolent enterprises in New York city. —
Cornelius's cousin, James Henry, philanthropist, b. in New York city, 10 Nov., 1800; d. there, 30 Nov., 1863, was graduated at Columbia in 1819, and studied law, but was prevented by delicate health from practising. He never married, and the fortune that he inherited was not large, but by investments in real estate, and a simple and unostentatious manner of living, he accumulated the sum that he intended from his early manhood to leave for some charitable object. By the terms of his will he left the principal part of his estate to found a noble hospital in New York city which bears his name, and was formally opened, 2 Nov., 1871. The property left by him was valued at about $1,000,000, but, in the interval of eight years between his death and the opening of the hospital, the estate had been so administered by the trustees that the principal aggregated at least $1,000,000 exclusive of the ground upon which the buildings were erected in West 59th street, and, as the buildings themselves represented an expenditure of about $950,000, the property is now (1900) worth $2,000,000. On the tablet that is placed to his memory in Roosevelt hospital is inscribed: “To the memory of James Henry Roosevelt, a true son of New York, the generous founder of this hospital, a man upright in his aims, simple in his life, and sublime in his benefaction.” — Cornelius's grandson, Hilborne Lewis, organ-builder, b. in New York city, 21 Dec., 1849; d. there, 30 Dec., 1886, entered an organ-factory in early youth, and subsequently studied his trade in Europe from an artistic standpoint, especially in regard to electric inventions as applied to organ-manufacture. On his return to New York he engaged in business to a large extent, established factories in that city, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and built some of the largest organs in the United States, including that in Garden City cathedral, Long Island, Grace church, New York city, each of which contains twenty miles of electric wire, that in Trinity church, New York, and the organ in the main building of the Philadelphia centennial exposition. He was widely known among electricians, invented several important details of the telephone, enjoyed a royalty for many years in the telephone-switch, and was largely interested in the Bell telephone company.