Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Porter, Rufus

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PORTER, Rufus, inventor, b. in West Boxford, Massachusetts, 1 May, 1792; d. in New Haven, Connecticut, 13 Aug., 1884. He early showed mechanical genius. In 1807 his parents apprenticed him to a shoemaker, but he soon gave up this trade, and occupied himself by playing the fife for military companies, and the violin for dancing parties. Three years later he was apprenticed to a house-painter. During the war of 1812 he was occupied in painting gun-boats, and as fifer to the Portland light infantry. In 1813 he painted sleighs at Denmark, Me., beat the drum for the soldiers, taught others to do the same, and wrote a book on the art of drumming, and he then enlisted in the militia for several months. Subsequently he was a teacher, but was unable to remain in one place, and so led a wandering life. In 1820 he made a camera-obscura with a lens and a mirror so arranged that with its aid he could draw a satisfactory portrait in fifteen minutes. With this apparatus he travelled through the country until he invented a revolving almanac, when he at once stopped his painting in order to introduce his latest device. His next project was a twin boat to be propelled by horse-power, but it proved unsuccessful, and he turned to portrait-painting again. In 1824 he began landscape-painting, but relinquished it to build a horse flat-boat. He invented a successful cord-making machine in 1825, and thereafter produced a clock, a steam carriage, a portable horse-power, corn-sheller, churn, a washing-machine, signal telegraph, fire-alarm, and numerous other articles. In 1840 he became editor of the “New York Mechanic,” which prospered, and in the following year he moved it to Boston, where he called it the “American Mechanic.” The new art of electrotyping there attracted his attention, and he gave up editorial work in order to occupy himself with the new invention. He devised at this period a revolving rifle, which he sold to Col. Samuel Colt for $100. In 1845 he returned to New York and engaged in electrotyping, and about this time he founded the “Scientific American,” the first issue of which bears the date 28 Aug., 1845. At the end of six months he was glad to dispose of his interest in the paper, and then occupied himself with his inventions. These included a flying-ship, trip-hammer, fog-whistle, engine-lathe, balanced valve, rotary plough, reaction wind-wheel, portable house, thermo-engine, rotary engine, and scores of others.