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This page is about the manufacturer, engineer, executive and politician, for the merchant and railroad projector see Asa Whitney.

Asa Whitney (December 1, 1791 Townsend, Middlesex County, Massachusetts - June 4, 1874 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American manufacturer, inventor, railroad executive and politician.

Life

He became a blacksmith like his father. In 1812, he removed to New Hampshire. After a short time, his employer sent him to Brownsville, New York to supervise the installation of machinery at a cotton factory, and Whitney remained in New York. About 1830, he was hired by the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad to make machinery and railway carriages. After a few years he became Superintendent of the line.

In February 1840, he was elected by the New York State Legislature one of the canal commissioners, and remained in office until 1842 when the Democratic majority removed the Whig commissioners.

In 1842, he formed a partnership with Matthias W. Baldwin to manufacture steam locomotives in Philadelphia. Two years later he left Baldwin, and worked for the re-organized Morris Canal Company. In 1846, he opened his own factory to manufacture wheels for railway carriages. In 1847, he took out patents for the corrugated-plate car-wheel and the curved corrugated-plate car-wheel. In 1848, he took out a patent for the process of annealing car-wheels which consisted in placing the wheels, soon after they were cast, in a heated furnace, where they were subjected to a further gradual increase of temperature, and were then slowly cooled for three days. The discovery of this process of annealing, as applied to chilled cast-iron wheels, marked an era in the history of railroads. It enabled them with safety to increase both loads and speed. Previous to this discovery it was impossible to cast wheels with solid hubs, and therefore impossible to secure them rigidly to the axle. Now the whole wheel was easily cast in one piece, and capable of being forced securely upon the axle at a pressure of forty tons. In 1850, he patented the tapered and ribbed corrugated wheel.

He was for a short time President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, but retired in 1861 because of ill health.

After Whitney's death, the factory, which ahd been once the largest car-wheel manufacturer in the United States, was taken over by his three sons: George Whitney (d. 1885), John R. Whitney and James S. Whitney. In 1891, the company was in financial trouble and going bankrupt.

Sources

  • Bio in The American Railroad Passenger Car by John H. White (JHU Press, 1985, ISBN 0801827477 , ISBN 9780801827471 ; page 656)
  • The New York Civil List compiled by Franklin Benjamin Hough (page 42; Weed, Parsons and Co., 1858)
  • famousamericans.net/asawhitney/ Bio from Appleton's Encyclopedia
  • [1] "A. Whitney & Sons Fail", in NYT on March 26, 1891
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