Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Floating grain elevators

On pages 145-146, I mention floating grain elevators -- grain-elevating towers built upon small boats -- which, according to Scientific American (Vol. 2, No. 25, March 13, 1847), were "invented and patented by Mr. A.S. Bemia of Buffalo for dicharging and weighing grain from [lake] vessels into canal boats and warehouses. It is constructed after the style and model of dredging machine and floats in the harbor. One is to be built and launched ready for Spring service." To accomplish such transshipments of grain, floaters required at least one elevating leg, a system by which to garner and weigh grain, and spouts to send that grain down into a canal boat or back to a warehouse. Floaters never intended to store more than 40,000 bushels at a time, and so were "pure" elevators.

According to Thomas Flagg, author of "Floating Grain Elevators," published in Transfer No. 40, January-May 2004 and reproduced in part on-line, the first floater was built upon an old sailing-hull in Brooklyn in 1848 and followed "Pagan's patent" (p. 4). Reproduced above is the cover of Transfer No. 40, which shows the Ceres in operation in 1914 and, below that, a battery of floaters in Jersey City, New Jersey (date unknown).

Other illustrations to Flagg's article (not reproduced here) include diagrams of how elevating legs work, illustrations of grain elevators in the 19th century, and photographs of floaters in Jersey City and Weehauken, another port city in New Jersey. According to Flagg, a Brooklynite named Phillip Gill developed the world's first two-legged floater - a floater with two elevating legs, not just one - sometime in the mid-19th century (Flagg doesn't specify). "Gill's invention," Flagg says, "gave the craft an even more powerful visual effect: now they seemed to stand in the harbor with legs spread, like some colossus."

Allow me to add that:

1. grain elevators were in operation in Brooklyn as early as 1846 or 1847, when "Col. [Daniel] Richards erected upon the North Pier [of Brooklyn] the first steam grain elevator in the port of New York, and at this day nearly all of the grain business of the metropolis is done at Brooklyn, there being no stationary steam elevators on the New York side" (Henry R. Stiles, A History of the City of Brooklyn, Vol III, 1870, p. 580); and

2. the first grain elevators used in New York's harbor (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) were floaters. Indeed, it wasn't until 1870 that a "stationary" grain elevator was built in Manhattan. Same thing for New Orleans: floaters were all they used for a very long time.

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