Solar Water Heating


The Perfect Turbine Wheel.

Something about "McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine Wheel," and the man who designed it and made it what it is to-day.—Making the money which produced the wheel by teaching music.—The inventor Daily witnessing the triumphs of his own invention.

        Just before closing the last few pages of this work, the editor happened to discover, in a purely incidental way, one of the mainsprings of the remarkable success which has attended the industrial life of Holyoke.
        Entirely without premeditation on the part of either, the writer was introduced to a gray and grizzled mechanic, to whom there is no reason to doubt, the industrial world is greatly in debt, for the saving of power he has given it. This man is John B. McCormick of Holyoke, a relative of the McCormicks of reaper fame, and that the Holyoke man has attained as much excellence in the line of hydraulic motors as his relatives have in reapers, it is believed the public will grant when the story is told; although limited space must be an apology for greatly abbreviating the description of a remarkable invention and its inventor.
        Away back, in a little corner room in the Messrs. Jolly’s machine shop in Holyoke, the persevering inventor of "McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine Wheel" chips away and carves upon his patterns. The man is a study; he talks as he works, and no matter how interested he is in what you have to say, he cuts and sandpapers the patterns of his turbine buckets as carefully and lovingly as if her were handling things of life—and things of life, or those which sustain life, the steel, brass and iron prototypes of the patterns will surely be when they are completed; for the blades, or buckets, which he fashions will indirectly furnish bread for thousands of families. Therefore, the more graceful the curves, according to underlying mechanical truths, the higher the efficiency produced—the faster the wheel will revolve, owing to the continual impinge from the power of the on-rushing water.
        The more correct those lines of beauty, the better you say? Ah! there’s the rub. Mechanics have experimented for years, and for aught we know, in centuries long gone, the secret of the best wheel power was barely missed; that it was ever found, before the present century, we certainly have no evidence. But in the present age, the strife to build a racing boat on such lines that she will easiest glide through the water, has not been more spirited or determined than the contest of American mechanics, in their endeavor to make iron and steel bands hold and embrace best, for the brief necessary instant, the flood of waters purposely directed against them.
        Has the best Amercan turbine wheel been found? James Emerson, the hydraulic engineer and mechanical expert of Willamnsett, the inventor of that sailors’ godsend, the ship’s windlass and the Emerson car heater says yes. The late General Ellis of Hartford, Conn., and Samuel Webber of Manchester, N.H., both hydraulic engineers of reputation, who acted as a committee in testing many turbine wheels with Mr. Emerson, also said yes, and decided with him in favor of Mr. McCormick’s "Hercules" turbine wheels. Mr. Emerson says, in his interesting work on hydrodynamics (and a good many other things!) that —

        "In 1876 several wheels were brought to the Holyoke testing flume, to be tested by me. The builders, Messrs. McCormick and Brown, made such extravagant claims that they were laughed at as visionary cranks of the then usual hydrodynamic species. A week spent in testing, re-testing, changing wheels and again testing, proved the claims of the builders to be well founded. Leading turbine builders were called in to assist in making the tests, for it was evident the wheel marked a new era in hydrodynamics."

        Like other inventors, however, Mr. McCormick has had to take his share of ridicule and derision, and he has been jumped upon and his wheel has been called all sorts of hard names by slack-backed engineers. Such pet names as the following have been freely used: "The great monstrosity," "The Herculean water-eater," "The lake-devourer, or dryer-up of the nineteenth century." Mr. McCormick has been many times twitted regarding his knowledge of hydraulics and matters pertaining thereto, but in the writer’s opinion, most of the inventor’s opponents would be worsted if engaged with him in either the discussion of hydraulics or leading questions of the day; for Mr. McCormick, though of American birth, has the hard head of his Scotch-Irish ancestors, and is somewhat of a student of political economics as well as his special line of mechanic art. And after all has been said and, it was with the introduction of Mr. McCormick’s wheels which made it possible for Holyoke paper mills to double and almost treble their output without materially increasing their flume area. Mr. McCormick can well afford to bear patiently the sneers and ridicule of the mechanical ignoramuses, for his wheels at one leap produced three times the power of former makes as to diameter, and the best partgate results ever attained, and changed the entire aspect, as far as water powers are concerned. He has lived to see the manufacturers of wheels change their power tables from time to time to correspond as nearly as possible to what he established.
        He has lived to see the principal manufacturers of turbines in the United States (except three) ask for the privilege of manufacturing "McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine," and no doubt they would but fear the effect produced thereby, providing they should not succeed in obtaining the privilege.
        He has lived to see manufacturers throw aside their double wheels, register gates and swing gates, and purloin and adopt his ideas and plans almost in toto, or as near as they dare to without infringing patents, and at this time there are some who are very near the danger line, if not there altogether, while others have undoubtedly crossed over.

McCormick's Holyoke Turbine
McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine.
        As showing how widely the merits of "McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine Wheels" are recognized, the history of the day on which this subject was discussed by Mr. McCormick and the writer may prove interesting. It was the day on which the Parsons Paper Company started up with a wheel having a capacity of four hundred horse power. Three men left for Dalton, Mass., the same day, to put in two of these wheels at Crane’s government mill. The same day, also, a contract was closed with the town of Easthampton, for a wheel to be placed in the pumping station of the water works, and an order was received the same morning from Glasgow, Scotland, for a thirty-inch wheel. The same week a wheel was shipped to the European agents of J. & W. Jolly, and the new Linden paper company made a contract with them for a pair of horizontal wheels and one vertical, having a total capacity of nearly one thousand horse power.
        A few words about the inventor of the Holyoke Turbine Wheel seem called for in this connection, although anything like a comprehensive sketch of the man’s life, it is simply impossible to produce here. John B. McCormick was born November 4, 1834, in the little town of Sinking Valley, near what is now known as the city of Altoona, in Huntingdon, now Blair county, Pa. The advantages afforded for education in the retired little community where Mr. McCormick lived were meagre enough, and he picked up most of his knowledge piecemeal, while all his life long experience has been his best teacher. When he became old enough he worked at cabinet and chair making, in an old-fashioned hand shop, thoroughly mastering his trade. At the same time he cultivated a taste for music, which he afterward turned to advantage. In later years some of the best old church tunes were the result of his inspiration, and his music books are now published by Bigelow & Main of New York.
        For five months in the year, for twenty-two years, Mr. McCormick taught music in the country school houses and churches, and thus it was that in Indiana county and adjoining counties, the name of McCormick became as familiar as a household word. Trudging from place to place, the inventor estimates that he actually traveled in this way, in the twenty-two years that he taught music, 42,000 miles. It was in this manner he saved the money which afterward enabled him to develop and bring forth his turbine wheels.
        Mr. McCormick came to Holyoke in 1877 and entered the shops of the Holyoke Machine Company, to perfect his turbine wheel, remaining there about eleven years. While here, he brought out the "Hercules" wheel which Mr. Emerson so highly commended, but which is now suspended by "McCormick’s Holyoke Turbine," which is from ten to twenty-eight per cent. Greater in power as to diameter. Here again it should be said that anything like a detailed history of this remarkable invention it is impossible to give. This must be reserved for some future mechanical history. Suffice it now to say, that the inventor’s final triumph was made in the Messrs. Jolly’s shops, and that he has now lived to see many of the wheels that gave from thirty to sixty per cent. Useful effect, displaced by his, which gave over eighty per cent.
        The engraving upon the opposite (Editorial Note, this photo appears on previous page) represents "the little corner room" where John B. McCormick designs and perfects the Turbine which, with the culmination of his ripe experience, is now being completed in its various sizes.
        Mr. McCormick has lived in Holyoke comparatively unnoticed, yet he is a saviour to the manufacturing interests of this country, of a mass of power and energy, which, if exerted as it had to be exerted with the old fashioned wheels, the cellars of the mills in Holyoke would not be large enough to contain such wheels. All the improved wheels of to-day are the offshoots of Mr. McCormick’s invention, which is one of the most important labor-saving triumphs of the age—the absolute financial value of which no man can estimate or compute, and which, of course indirectly, must amount to billions of dollars, for that which makes the product of the mills less costly to the manufacturers makes that product cheaper to consumers.
        Does not the inventor deserve to feel a solid sort of satisfaction when he wends his way home at nightfall and reflects that with the 17,000 horse power given through his turbine wheels (about nine-tenths of the whole) in the "Paper City," so much of a load is lifted from the shoulders of labor, and he has insomuch helped to make the burden of the world lighter?
        He has been esteemed a great benefactor of his race who could make two blades grow where one grew before and why should not the same hold true of hi, who makes easier the productions of the mechanical world? Certainly, were Murray's New Zealander to view the ruins of Holyoke, one thousand years hence, he could not fail to see a useful lesson of the dismantled turbine triumph of the nineteenth century civilization turned up; and the spirit of the inventor—if it were then allowed to hover near—might well exclaim, with proud Aeneas of Troy, "All of which I saw, and a great part of which I was."

© Laurel O’Donnell 1996 - 2006, all rights reserved
This document may be downloaded for personal non-commercial use only
and may not be reproduced or distributed without permission in any format.
This is an edited adaptation from the original publication.