Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Dart Elevator

As I note on page 116, there are virtually no images of the Dart Elevator, which was the world's first mechanized grain elevating and storage warehouse. Built by Robert Dunbar and his team between November 1842 and May 1843, and powered by a wood-burning steam engine, the Dart Elevator was named after Joseph Dart, an entrepreneur who either had the capital or the bank credit to finance the operation. Incorrectly thought to be the inventor of the grain elevator, Joseph Dart showed little awareness of how "his" elevator worked in 1865, when -- three years after the Dart exploded and was replaced by the Bennett -- he appeared before the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society (BECHS) to argue that he, and he alone, deserved to be granted a patent for "his" invention.

It is likely that the person(s) who made this model of the Dart Elevator, which was displayed at the BECHS and photographed by Chuck LaChiusa in 1992, knew more about the workings of the Dart Elevator than Joseph Dart himself did. Depicted here is the Dart Elevator after 1845, when it was doubled in storage capacity (from 55,000 to 110,000 bushels) and received a second elevating leg. It appears that the structure on the right (underneath the little cupola) was the second or "new" leg: it certainly looks like an add-on, while the leg in the middle, encased in a very sturdy-looking marine tower, looks well thought-out and planned.

A curious feature is the complete absence of canal spouts. Unlike nearly all of the elevators that followed it, the Dart required canal boats to dock underneath it, not alongside it, and to receive out-going grain through spouts that couldn't be seen. This arrangement was utilized in order to "economize" on available waterfront space. The only subsequent elevator in Buffalo to adopt this spatial practice was the Watson Elevator, built in 1863.

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