Connecticut’s beloved airline manufacturer owes its heritage to two men who lived before flying was even a thought in nearly anybody’s mind. Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney, in fact, started their company creating wholly different machines.
TWO FORCES UNITE
Francis Pratt was born in Peru, NY on February 15, 1827. Amos Whitney, cousin of famous inventor Eli Whitney, was born in Biddeford, ME on October 8, 1832. The industrial success of Hartford is what brought these two men to the city: Pratt came to Hartford to work for machine manufacturer Lincoln & Company, while Whitney moved with his family to work for Colt’s Manufacturing.
Pratt designed a machine for the Colt Armory called the Lincoln Miller, which is considered the most important machine tool of the 19th century and worked well for the gun parts manufactured at Colt. The Lincoln Miller forms irregularly shaped parts, featuring a “screw feed with a quick-return hand motion.”
Through this invention, Pratt met Whitney. The Lincoln Miller was later modified to be used for sewing applications, something Pratt and Whitney created together while they were both working at Phoenix Iron Works.
After the Lincoln Miller was first modified, Pratt and Whitney established their own Pratt & Whitney machine company. Pratt’s Lincoln Miller was the template for 150,000 machines manufactured by the company. In 1879, Pratt & Whitney hired two men, W.A. Rogers and G.M. Bond to make the Rogers-Bond comparator, another groundbreaking machine that made precision manufacturing more convenient, reliable, and faster. The Rogers-Bond comparator established the standard for an inch and was accurate to the millionths of inches.
While interchangeable parts were originally pioneered by Eli Whitney, they were not institutionalized in early manufacturing, something Pratt spent his life trying to change. His implementation of the process in Pratt & Whitney’s business was instrumental to the company’s success.
In 1885, Pratt & Whitney began manufacturing the standard measuring machine to create uniformity across the industry. In 1893, the inch was officially defined as a form of measurement.
THE MANUFACTURING WORK CONTINUES
Whitney remained president of Pratt & Whitney until his retirement in 1901—one year before the passing of his partner, Pratt. Upon Whitney’s retirement, the company was bought by Niles-Bement-Pond, an Ohio-based manufacturing company.
The original machine manufacturing business of Pratt & Whitney continues in Bloomfield, CT as Pratt & Whitney Measurement Systems. The company’s legacy includes the first noiseless typewriter, automated scales for coal and grain, and innovation in laser technology in measurement systems.
The next CT Legends story will focus on Frederick Rentschler, who took Pratt & Whitney into the aircraft engine business.
Sources: M. Carey, “One Year Later: A Case of Promises Kept”, The Hartford Courant, 1992; Pratt & Whitney Measurement Systems; wiki.vintagemachinery.org; Wikipedia (“Milling Machines in the United States).