Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Deane, 11 April 1773

To William Deane6

ALS (draft): American Philosophical Society

London, April 11. 1773

Dear Sir,

Miss Martin that was, now Mrs. Blacker, being about to return to Dublin,7 I cannot omit the Opportunity it gives me of chatting a [little] with one, whose Conversation afforded me so much pleasure and Instruction while I was there.

I know of nothing new here, worth communicating to you, unless perhaps the new Art of making Ca[rriage] W[heels,] the Fellies of one Piece bent into a Circle and sur[rounded] by a Hoop of Iron, the whole very light and strong, there being no cross’d Grain in the Wood, which [is also?] a great Saving of Timber. The Wood is first [steam]’d in the Vapour from boiling Water, and then bent by a forcible Machine, I have seen Pieces so bent of 6 Inches wide, and 3½ thick into a Circle of 4 feet diameter.8 These for Duration can only be exceeded by your Iron Wheels. Pray, have you compleated that ingenious Invention?

W[hat is] become of honest Mr. Kettilby?9 Does he go on with his Printing Schemes, or has he got into some better Employment?

Th[ey tell] us here that some Person with you has discovered a new moving Power, that may be of Use in mechanical Operations; that it consists in the Explosion of Iron Tears chill’d suddenly from the melting State in Cold Water. That Explosion I have often seen in Drops of Glass with Wonder, understanding it no more than they did in the Time of Hudibras, who makes a Simile of it, which I repeat because tis probably long since you read it,

Honour, is like that glassy Bubble,

That gives Philosophers such Trouble

Whose least part crack’d, the whole does fly,

And Wits are crack’d to find out why.

May I ask you if you know any thing of the Application of this Power, of which I have not at present the smallest Conception?1

I have compleated my Stove, in which the Smoke of the Coal is all turn’d into Flame and operates as Fuel in heating the Room. I have us’d it all this Winter; and find it answer even beyond my Expectation. I purpose to print a little Description of its Use and Construction and shall send you a Copy.2

I hope Billy and Jenny continue and will always continue as happy as when I knew them. My best Wishes attend them, being ever, with sincere Esteem, Dear Sir, Your most obedient humble servant


Wm Deane Esqr

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6An Irish friend that BF had made during his visit in 1771. To judge by the tone of this letter, the friendship was still very much alive; but Deane (d. 1793) has not appeared before and, to the best of our knowledge, does not appear again. He was a solicitor and officer in the Irish Court of Chancery, but was better known as an amateur scientist and one of the owners of a factory that made bottles and window glass; he was also a founding member of the Royal Irish Academy. He received a B.A. from Trinity College in 1757 and an honorary L.L.D. in 1779, and at his death left chemical apparatus and a planetarium to his alma mater. 4 Royal Hist. and Archaeol. Assn. of Ireland Jour., VII (1885–86), 448; M. S. Dudley Westropp, Irish Glass … (London, [1920]), pp. 46–7, 51; George D. Burtchaell and Thomas U. Sadleir, eds., Alumni Dublinenses … (Dublin, 1935), p. 219; The Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanack … (Dublin, 1774), pp. 58–9, 94; Gent. Mag., LXIII (1793), 1152.

7BF was attempting to renew, through letters she carried, two friendships he had formed; see the preceding document.

8The advent of the turnpike had created a traffic problem of increasing magnitude, and a demand for greater Parliamentary control. In 1772 a committee of the House of Commons issued its report on revising earlier legislation. The following year the report was implemented in two statutes (13 Geo. III, c. 78, 84), one for highways and one for turnpikes. Both regulated the relationship between wheel width and the number of horses used, and the second regulated the wheels themselves. The subject aroused considerable public attention (see for example the Public Advertiser, March 12, 19, April 3, 1773), and mechanics became interested in new ways of making wheels. BF suggested one to Joseph Jacob, a partner of his friend John Viny (above, XVII, 72 n) in a carriage-building firm: make the wheel in one piece, as New Jersey farmers did by bending a sapling into a circle. Jacob thought the idea impractical, but Viny took it up. Saplings were unavailable in England, and BF worked with Viny until they devised a method of making a circular felly with dry wood. That was the account Viny gave John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1786, when they visited his factory. BF, he made clear, originated “the new Art of making Carriage Wheels”—for which he takes no credit in this letter—and worked on implementing it; Viny “spoke of him with love and gratitude.” Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date, Princeton, N.J., 1950-), XI, 43–4; see also Butterfield, ed., Diary of John Adams, III, 186–7; Smyth, Writings, VII, 222. It was not Viny but Jacob, however, who patented the new method, apparently in 1771. He described it in general terms in a pamphlet two years later, and soon afterward announced that specimen wheels were on display at the factory on Blackfriars Road, Christ Church. Bennet Woodcroft, Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions … (London, [1969]); Jacob, Observations on the Structure and Draft of Wheel-Carriages (London, 1773), pp. 81–3, and Animadversions on the Use of Broad Wheels … (London, [1774]), pp. 23–4. The partners subsequently quarreled over the patent rights, and the firm went bankrupt in 1778. Viny continued to operate the factory for the creditors, and before long controlled it. By 1783 he was being supported by seven-year subscriptions, to the tune of £1,800; three dukes were on the list. But BF had the reputation of having devised “the best wheels Ever Invented.” William James to BF, June 7, 1783, APS; see also Gent. Mag., XLVIII (1778), 440; Mary Hewson to BF, Jan. 11, 1779, APS; John Viny to BF, May 21, 1783, APS.

9J. G. Kettilby was an innovative printer; doubtless he was also honest, but we know nothing about him except for a single letter: above, XVIII, 85–7.

1We have no more conception than BF had. On the back of the page is a drawing, badly blotted and with no evidence of who drew it, that may be somehow related to BF’s inquiry of Deane about the drops of iron, but even conjecturing how would require a wild stretch of imagination; the drawing shows a circle containing a pattern of triangles of equal size, arranged eccentrically, and a sequence of numbers. The curiosity of glass drops that provided Samuel Butler with his metaphor in Hudibras ([John Wilders, ed.; Oxford, 1967], p. 137) evoked more serious attention in the eighteenth century; see Claude le Cat, “A Memoir on the Lacrymae Batavicae or Glass-Drops …,” Phil. Trans., XLVI (1752), 175–88. The “Explosion of Iron Tears,” however, is something else again; it resembles the way in which leaden buckshot and bullets were made at the time, but no one would have called that process “a new moving Power.”

2BF did not print the description for more than a decade; see the story of the stove in the note on BF to Dubourg above, Jan. 22.

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