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Wire Inventor Leaves Legacy


                of Engineering and Scientific

                                       Advancement



                                                 by Peter Hildebrandt
         Born at the close of the 18th century, in 1798, Ichabod Washburn perhaps epitomized what
         we would consider a renaissance man for the nineteenth century. Washburn was a devout
         church deacon and an equally devout industrialist from Worcester County, Massachusetts.
         By the time of his death in 1868, Washburn left financial legacies leading to the naming of
         both Washburn University in Kansas and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

         A
               t only sixteen Washburn  ap-
               prenticed in  Leicester,  Mas-
               sachusetts.  He went to school
         at the Leicester  Academy with  a dis-
         tant relative, Emory Washburn – who
         would later be elected Governor of the
         Bay State – and Stephen Salisbury II,
         who in turn would both years later help
         with the founding of Worcester Poly-
         technic Institute.
           By 1865,  not long  before the end of
         his life, Washburn would be co-propri-
         etor, with his son-in-law Philip Moen,
         of Washburn  and Moen  Manufactur-
         ing Company, at the time the world’s
         largest wire mill. Their manufactured
         products included piano wire, crinoline
         and supports for hoop skirts, wire for
         fences and other related items.
           Ichabod Washburn was born on Au-
         gust 11, 1798 in Kingston, Massachu-
         setts. His family was very poor, and he
         was apprenticed at the age of nine to
         a chaise, harness, and trunk maker in
         Duxbury. By the while still a teenager,
         Washburn had moved to Leicester and
         was apprenticed to a blacksmith. A few
         years later he established his own busi-
         ness  in Millbury  making agricultural
         implements.
           By 1820, he had come to Worcester and,
         with Benjamin Goddard, established a
         business making woolen machinery. In
         1824 he began making card wire at a fac-
         tory in Northville. By the 1830s, when   Of all the many photographs and engravings of Ichabod Washburn, this is one of the most
         Mr. Goddard retired from the business –   recognized painted portrait of the engineer/inventor. Photo courtesy of Washburn University Archives
         Mr. Washburn, with the help of Stephen   have long been satisfied that a course   personal independence and happiness,
         Salisbury II – had moved his business to   of instruction might be adopted in the   while it renders them better and more
         Grove Street and the company was mak-  education of apprentices to mechanical   useful  citizens,  and so  more like  our
         ing piano wire and wire for many other   employments,” wrote Washburn.   Divine Master, whose youth combined
         uses. In 1850, his son-in-law became a   He added, “whereby moral and intel-  the  conversations  of  the  learned  with
         partner of the firm, known as Washburn   lectual  training  might be united  with   the duties of the mechanic’s son, whose
         & Moen Manufacturing Company – lat-  the processes by which the arts of the   ideas  and  teachings  now  underlie  the
         er a subsidiary of U. S. Steel. By 1865,   mechanism as well as skill in the use   civilization of the world.”
         Washburn & Moen was the largest wire   and adaptation of tools and machinery   That about  covers  it all as  far as
         mill in the world.                 are taught, so as to elevate  our me-  what the practical results  of teach-
           Washburn was interested in setting   chanics as a class in the scale of intel-  ing mechanics may be, as well as the
         up a vocational school for mechanics. “I   ligence and influence, and add to their     continued on page 20

         18     Wire Rope News & Sling Technology   April 2018
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