•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stacking Blocks No.1



STEVE JOBS quoting STEWART BRAND from The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Touch it. Freshly lathed and drilled blocks are irresistible. Run your hands over the crisp edges and across the smooth, gently rippling surfaces. Rap one with your knuckle to hear its damped resonance. Try to lift it (They weigh about 300 lbs ea) to feel its heft. They seem thoroughly solid, but the brass men who formed Holmes, Booth, and Haydens had a much deeper understanding of copper, and they used it to make simple things better, cheaper, faster.

Hiram W. Hayden was an inventor and held more patents for manufacturing processes than anyone else in the industry. On Dec. 16, 1851 he received his first patent revolutionizing one of life's most ubiquitous essentials, the common, copper kettle. The traditional way of manufacturing a copper kettle was on a machine that stamped a disk of metal between a succession of dies, gradually stretching the bottom and compressing the sides up and in until the final set of dies stamped the kettle into kettle shape. As Hayden explained in his patent renewal, the old method is always trying to knock the bottom off the kettle, damaging the metal and making it thin at the bottom where it needs to be thick, and thick at the top where it should be thin. The metal is pounded and damaged at precisely the points where it must take greatest stress.

Hiram Hayden's patent calls for spinning a disk of copper and a succession of forms together on a lathe-like machine while an appropriate tool gradually presses the metal and draws it into the desired kettle shape. This method reduces the number of steps in the kettle-making process and the number of times the metal must be annealed between tooling, and it produces a kettle thick at the bottom where it takes punishment and thin at the top where it should be light. The metal is not abused while being processed and the resulting kettle is better, cheaper, and more durable. Hiram Hayden understood the fluid nature of the his metals, the value of spin, and how to engineer a machine that would take advantage of these. Was this the spirit that gave American industry its early vitality? If so, it is also the spirit exemplified in the life of Steve Jobs who died yesterday and whose work touched each of us profoundly and changed the world.

You can see the drawings and read the patent application for Hayden's kettle-making machine here.