James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Stephen S. Hallet, 9 September 1809

From Stephen S. Hallet

New york Sepr 9th 1809.


I beg leave to propose to your Excelency what I think an Improvement to the President’s House.

It is Montgolfier’s hydraulic ram improved, for which I have lately with a partener, obtained a patent of the United States.1

Dr. Wm. Thornton2 examined it Very Carefully, witnessed Some trials and was So kind as to take an active part in the Experiment we have exhibited in the City.

As I could not wish to meet with a better Judge of the matter I beg leave to refer your Excelency to that Gentleman’s explanations as to the merits of the machine; and to Capt Hobben3 as to the practicability and Utility of its aplication to the President’s House. Your Excelency’s Most humble And Obedient Servant

Stephen S. Hallet4


1Hallet and his partner, Joseph Cerneau (or Curneau), obtained a patent for an “improvement in the hydraulic ram” (water pump) on 3 Aug. (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Miscellaneous, 2:138; List of Patents, 21st Cong., 2d sess., 328).

2William Thornton (1759–1828), an architect and antislavery advocate, met JM in 1789 at Mrs. Mary House’s boardinghouse in Philadelphia (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–, Charlottesville, Va., 1977—). description ends , 12:438 n. 1). He won the Capitol design competition in 1793 and served as a commissioner of the federal district, 1794–1802. Jefferson appointed him clerk in charge of patents in the State Department in 1802. The Patent Office developed under his direction, and he served as its superintendent until his death.

3James Hoban (ca. 1762–1831) was an architect who won the 1792 design competition for the President’s House. Continuously employed in supervising the construction of public buildings, he served on the Washington City Council, 1802–31.

4Etienne Sulpice Hallet (1755–1825), a French architect, came to the U.S. circa 1788. He submitted designs for the President’s House and the Capitol and earned second prize for the latter plan. He supervised construction of the Capitol from Thornton’s design but was discharged in 1794. He moved to Philadelphia by 1796 (Philadelphia Pa. Packet, 21 Dec. 1796).

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