Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Nancarrow, 9 February 1793

From John Nancarrow

Philada 2mo. 9. 1793

On dipping into the second Vol. of Desaguliers’ experimental Philos. I find that his 5th. size Engine which worked with 22 men, threw Water to the height of 55 yards or 165 feet, which if I am not mistaken exceeds the largest Engines made in Philada. altho’ a greater number of hands were employed. The Machine of Newsham in England expended 870 Gallons per minute with 22 men and the largest in this place about 200 Galls. with 25 or 26 men. This difference may be attributed to the different densities of the Atmosphere here and in England, it being an acknowledged fact that there is at least half an inch difference in the height of the mercury in this Country where the Air is generally denser than in the more northerly latitudes. It may be observed that the construction of these machines in Philada. and London is essentially the same.

Newshams first size Garden Engine at which 2 men are employed, which expends 30 Gallns. per minute and throws the water to the distance of 25 yards or 75 feet in a dispersed column may be a very proper size for the use of a private Gentleman, but where there are a large number of servants, I should prefer a machine which would require 4 hands to work it, furnished with hose both for the spout and tail of the Engine tho’ the expence might be more considerable.

I have thrown the above hints together with no other view than to submit them to thy better judgement & am with much respect Thy real Friend

Jno. Nancarrow

Since writing the above I called on Richd. Mason (one of our best Engine-makers who works in 3d. Street a little below Chesnut) who handed me the enclosed which confirms me in my opinion that a machine requiring 4 men will prove the most effectual—if JN can be of further service, please to command him freely.

RC (DLC); dateline between signature and postscript; endorsed by TJ: “fire engine.” Enclosure: Richard Mason’s notes on fire engines, n.d.: “An Engine that will discharge 30 Gals. water per Minute and throw the water 60 feet to work with two men Price £20 without Hose. One that will discharge 40 Galls. per Minute and throw the water 80 feet to work with four men Price £35. Suctions are an additional Expence of £6 to Each Engine and Hose at 3/9 per foot with Brass Screws and Everything complete” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 236: 42372).

Desaguliers’ experimental philos.: John Theophilus Desaguliers, A Course of Experimental Philosophy, 2 vols. (London, 1734–44; 2d ed. of Vol. 1, 1745). See Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3738. Newsham: Richard Newsham (d. 1743), an early English maker of fire engines whose models were copiously described and illustrated by Desaguliers (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds. Dictionary of National Biography, 2d ed., New York, 1908–09, 22 vols. description ends ). Richard Mason of Philadelphia reputedly built the first fire engine in America (PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends , xvi [1892], 95, lvi [1932], 374, 376–7).

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