Archive:Asa Whitney (1791-1874)

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Archives > Archive:Biographies > Asa Whitney (1791-1874)

Source: Webster's American Biographies, pub. 1974, pages 1129-30.

Inventor and manufacturer. Born in Townsend, Massachusetts, on December 1, 1791, Whitney learned the mechanical and technical trades while working for his father, a blacksmith, and in a number of machine shops. For most of the 1820's he worked as a wheelwright, then in 1830 went to work for the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, constructing railroad cars and installing machinery. From 1833 to 1839 he was superintendent of the line. His mechanical abilities were such that he was appointed canal commissioner for New York State in 1839. In 1840 he received a patent for a steam locomotive and from 1842 to 1846 he was in partnership with Mattias Baldwin, a locomotive builder in Philadelphia. In 1849 he formed his own manufacturing company, Asa Whitney & Sons, to turn out an improved cast-iron railroad wheel that he had invented and patented. Within a few years he was the largest manufacturer of car wheels in the country. In 1860-1861 he served as president of Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, but poor health forced him to retire. He continued to live in Philadelphia until his death on June 4, 1874.

Source: The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Volume X.

WHITNEY, Asa, inventor, was born in Townsend, Mass., Dec. 1, 1791.

His father was a blacksmith, and Asa followed that trade until 1812, when he removed to New Hampshire and was employed in a machine shop. He was sent to Brownsville, N.Y., to fit up a cotton mill; conducted a machine shop in Brownsville till 1830; was assistant superintendent of the Mohawk and Hudson railway, 1830-39, and canal commissioner in enlarging and managing the Erie canal, 1839-42.

He was a partner with Matthew W. Baldwin in the Baldwin locomotive worksin Philadelphia, 1852-54; was chosen president of the Morris canal company in 1854, and constructed the steam incline planes used on the canal. He invented the corrugated plate car wheel, in 1847, and began its manufacture in partnership with his son, George Whitney.

In 1848 be invented a process for annealing car wheels, that increased both their speed and capacity This invention gained him a fortune and about 75,000 car wheels were annually manufactured by A. Whitney & Sons. He was president of the Reading railroad, 1860-61, resigning in 1861, on account of failing health. By his will he gave $50,000 to found the chair of dynamical engineering in the University of Pennsylvania; $12,500 to the Franklin Institute, and $20,000 to the Old Men's home, Philadelphia.

He died in Philadelphia, Pa., June 4, 1874.

His ancestry: Asa7 WHITNEY, Jr. (Asa6, Levi5, Daniel4, Jonathan3, Jonathan2, John1).