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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/339

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AMERICAN INDUSTRIES SINCE COLUMBUS.

between jaws furnished with a gauge to regulate the length, leaving a certain portion projecting, which, when beaten flat by a hammer, formed the head. By this process a man might make, toilsomely, perhaps two thousand tacks per day." Arnold, in his History of the State of Rhode Island, claims that "the first coldcut nail in the world was made in 1777 by Jeremiah Wilkinson, of Cumberland, R. I., who died in 1832, at the advanced age of ninety years." Bishop, speaking of Wilkinson's tacks, says: "They were first cut by a pair of shears (still preserved) from an old chest-lock, and afterwards headed in a smith's vise. Sheet iron was afterwards used, and the process extended to small nails, which he appears to have been one of the first to attempt. They were cut from old Spanish hoops, and headed in a clamp or vise by hand. Pins and needles were made by the same person during the Revolution from wire drawn by himself." Such was the genesis of the manufacture of nails in America; an industry now of the first importance, and which in 1889, after the lapse of little more than a century, produced over eight hundred million pounds of iron, steel, and wire nails, representing a consumption of this absolutely indispensable manufacture, for the past year, at the rate of over twelve pounds for each individual inhabitant of the United States. As nails enter as a component factor into all structures for domestic, manufacturing, and trade uses, this enormous consumption may be taken as a fair index of the development of the country during the past hundred years.

The adoption of the Constitution in 1787, followed by the enactment of the first national patent law in 1790 (previous to the establishment of a national government the several colonies had issued patents for meritorious inventions), powerfully stimulated the inventive genius of the people, and it soon became evident that America was destined to surpass all other nations in the invention and manufacture of labor-saving machinery.

One of the most important improvements in the manufacture of articles of metal, of which a large number were required of the same kind, was developed by Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton-gin, who, disappointed in his expectations relative to that machine, turned to the manufacture of small-arms for the United States Government. In 1798 he erected at Whitneyville, near New Haven, Conn., the first manufactory of fire-arms in which each part was made so exactly to the prescribed dimensions that it would fit its intended place in any one of thousands of muskets. Mr. Whitney not only conceived the ideas of the possibility and economic advantages of such perfect workmanship, but invented the system and much of the machinery by which it was practically accomplished. "Whitney's interchangeable system" has been applied successfully to the manufacture of