Who Invented the Hydraulic Jack?

The year was 1858 when Richard Dudgeon stood at stared at the charred remains of the Crystal Palace, the building that had housed the annual fair of the American Institute the night before. He knew that somewhere under the rubble was his exhibit of hydraulic apparatus. And somewhere under the wreckage were the remains of the steam carriage he had built and displayed as part of his exhibit.

The youngest son of eight children, Richard Dudgeon was born in 1819 in Tain, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. His father, Thomas Dudgeon, had caught “emigration fever” and made several trips to the United States, eventually bringing over his entire family.

Originally settling in along the Seneca Turnpike in the Mohawk Valley at New Hartford, N.Y., Richard quickly realized that that as the youngest son it was unlikely that he would inherit any his fathers estate so he left home at an early age. His journey took him first to Albany where he spent time as machinist apprentice and then on to New York City where he found a job at the Allaire Iron Works where he learned a great deal about steam engine building.

In 1848, Dudgeon married Harriet Loretta Clark. With a new young wife to support and the prospect of children in the near future, he opened up his own machine shop. It was in this very shop that Dungeon began to work on the first of his many inventions, the hydraulic jack.

French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal first described the principle of the hydraulic jack in the 17th century. In 1795, British engineer Joseph Bramah received a patent for “Certain New Methods of Producing and Applying More Power to all Machinery requiring Motion and Force.” It covered the first hydraulic press.

During his time working as an apprentice and with Allaire Iron works, Dudgeon had recognized the need for a portable and powerful lifting device. p to that point, heavy objects were lifted with great effort using inefficient screw jacks. On July 8, 1851, the U.S. Patent Office granted Patent No. 8,203 to Richard Dudgeon for a “portable hydraulic press.” The press used “water or other fluid,” stored in a reservoir was in the device’s head to operate. The “other fluid” was sometimes whale oil and sometimes whiskey. The whiskey was used principally in winter when other liquids would thicken or freeze. This was the reason that the press was given the nickname “whiskey jack.”

Dudgeon’s jack had its share of problems, the most of which was its tendency to be top heavy do the the storage reservoir being located on the top of the device. Although Dudgeon did improve the design of the jack 14 years later, the original jack was such a success in the New York ship yards and railroad shops that it brought him wealth right from the beginning.

Dudgeon went on to invent other things such as the steam carriage, but none of them ever enjoyed the success as the hydraulic jack,

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