Monday, April 20, 2009

George H. Johnson

On pages 192-197 of American Colossus, I discuss three pioneering fireproofed grain elevators designed and built by George H. Johnson:

1) the Washington Avenue Elevator, an elevator with iron bins built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1859 and 1866. A picture of it appears here.

2) the Brooklyn Iron Elevator, an iron-binned elevator built in Brooklyn, New York around 1865 as a rail-to-ocean transshipping and storage elevator. Demolished in 1902, it was equipped with 60 to 90 cylindrically shaped bins, supported by a system of iron girders and columns, and surrounded by walls made of brick. A photograph of the Brooklyn Iron Elevator appears in Daniel Badger's book, Illustrations of Iron Architecture (New York, 1865-1867);

3) the Plimpton Elevator, a brick-binned elevator built in Buffalo, New York in 1868. Demolished in 1905 to make way for a new railroad station, the Plimpton was equipped with bins that were 80-feet-deep and 15 feet in diameter. In February and March 1869, Johnson obtained patents for this elevator's grain distributor, grain spouts, elevator legs and grain-discharge system. An illustration based on a photograph of it appears above, taken from "Conserving our grain supply," by F.W. Fitzpatrick, The World To-Day, volume XIX, No. 2, August 1910 (page 837).

Johnson was also the inventor of the interstitial bin, that is, the small, cylindrical bin that can be constructed in the interstices between larger cylindrical bins, which he patented on December 9, 1862 for himself and W.S. Sampson (a grain dealer in Chicago). Prior to 1862, these interstitial spaces were filled with grain (but not grain bins). As a result, when these spaces were emptied, they sometimes caused the grain tanks next to them to bend or break open. In Johnson's patent, interstitial bins can be made out of either iron or iron, provided that, in either instance, they are produced in cylindrical shapes.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1830, George H. Johnson moved to New York City in 1852. For the next ten years, he managed the Architectural Iron Works. Thereafter, he traveled to and designed buildings in Chicago (1860), Richmond, Virginia (1865), Baltimore, Maryland (1867), Buffalo, New York (1868-1869), Chicago, again (1871), New York City, again (1874), and Chicago, one last time (1877). He died in 1879. His son, Ernest V. Johnson, continued his father's work with the Barnett & Johnson Company, which eventually became the Barnett & Record Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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