Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sylvester Marsh - Inventor, Innovator, Engineer and Creator of the Cog Railway

Legends & Lore of the White Mountains
Sylvester Marsh - Inventor, Innovator, Engineer and Creator of the Cog Railway

Sylvester Marsh was born in Campton, New Hampshire, in 1803;  In 1826 he established himself as a provision-dealer in Boston, and later was engaged in Ashtabula, Ohio, in supplying Boston and New York with beef and pork.
In 1833 he moved to Chicago and established a similar business which folded in 1837, the result of a nation wide financial. But his time in Chicago was far from wasted. His business acumen increased substantially and his involvement in the community firmly established him as a founder of that great city.

Picking up his life again he began a career in the grain business, and acquired a substantial fortune.
Leaves on the Livermore Overthrust                  Cards                         Fine Art Prints

Marshes understanding of the power of steam would not only lead to his most notable New Hampshire achievement but would also play a role in many other aspects of his reputation for being an innovator. He is credited as the "originator" of the meat-packing industry and he invented many appliances that were incidental to its success, especially those utilizing steam as a source of power. He invented the dried-meal process, and "Marsh's caloric dried meal" is still an article of commerce.

In 1864 he settled in Littleton, New Hampshire, and after 1879 made Concord, New Hampshire, his residence.

While climbing Mount Washington in 1852 he lost his way. As a result of this misadventure he conceived the idea of building a railroad to its summit, believing that such an enterprise could be made profitable. In 1858 he obtained a charter for the road but the Civil War delayed his dream until 1866.

The construction of such a railroad was regarded as impossible, and he became known as " Crazy Marsh"; the legislature, in granting him a charter, further expressed their willingness to grant a "charter to the moon" if he wished.

Mount Washington Hotel                   Cards and Posters                Fine Art Prints

Marsh persisted in building the railroad, relying largely on his own finances as few were willing to risk money on the project.

Part of the reason that financiers were reluctant to aid in the construction was their understanding that a traditional railroad would not be able to scale terrain this steep. But Marsh had something else entirely in mind and invented a special locomotive and "cog-rails". He even invented special brakes for the train. The cog-rail consists of two pieces of wrought-iron, parallel to each other and connected by strong pins. The teeth of the driving wheel of the engine fit into the spaces of these bolts, and, as it revolves, the engine climbs or descends, resting on the outer rails. For stopping the trains and controlling their descent, both friction and atmospheric brakes were employed. 
The railroad was formally opened to the point known as Jacob's Ladder in August of 1868. It was completed in its entirety in July 1869 ascending more than 3,600 feet over a course of 2.81 miles. In that same year President Ulysses S. Grant made the trip to the summit. Alas it seems that there is no record of whether he was accompanied by any of those legislators who had openly laughed at Marsh ten years earlier.

New Hampshire Cards and Poster

The engines weighed about six and a half tons, and were rated at fifty horse-power, but by their gearing Marsh made a trade off of speed for power choosing to have the trains maximum speed about 2 MPH in exchange for the reliability of their power.

Total cost of construction was $139,000.

Sylvester Marsh died in Concord, New Hampshire, 30 December, 1884 but his legend lives on as one of New Hampshires great dreamers who endured the  scorn of critics and created a lasting legacy of innovation and achievement.

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