Samuel Morey: an American inventor
November 30, 2012 3:33 AM   Subscribe

If you've been along the Connecticut river in eastern Vermont, you may have crossed the Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge, relaxed at Lake Morey, or seen some road markers mentioning Samuel Morey. Besides being the second person in the world to be in a car accident, who was Samuel Morey?

Samuel Morey, born October 23, 1762, was an early American inventor. His first known invention, patented in 1793, was a somewhat useless and forgotten method of turning a spit with steam. Many of his patents are among the earliest in American history, part of the X-patent collection.

Turning a spit with steam lead to other stem applications and patents, including the steam boat (over which be had a business dispute with Robert Fulton, who is often incorrectly given credit for inventing the steamboat). According to local lore, Morey would skip church on Sunday mornings to test his early steamboat prototypes while everyone was in church, so that no one would see him and ridicule him.

However, his greatest and most forward thinking invention was the internal combustion engine which he believed would change the world:
"The discovery will in good measure change greatly the commercial intercourse of the Country. There is good reason I trust to conclude that transportation on good roads or rail road may be done much cheaper as well as quicker than by locks and canals, besides having the great advantage of being done, much of it, in Winter, a time much the most convenient to the farmer. In their personal intercourse, if it should be generally thought most prudent to continue their intercourse on the earth's surface, yet I think there will be little use of horses for that purpose."
He built the first car in America with his engine, and was involved in the first American car accident (presumably he did not have car insurance, either). He also foresaw the engine's use in zeppelins:
"I see no reason why it [the gas engine] may not, in addition to the uses to which steam is applied, be applied with the greatest advantage in drawing carriages on good roads and railways and particularly for giving what seems to be much wanted direction and velocity to Balloons."
Samuel Morey died April 17, 1843, and is now largely forgotten. In modern times, the effort to revive his memory has its most high-profile proponent in Jay Leno, who penned a 2003 article called "An unknown American classic" for his "Jay Leno's garage" series in Popular Mechanics, in which he described Morey's life and inventions. (which, unfortnuately, is not available online)
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The steam boat predates Fulton and Morey. An early model was built by Frenchman Denis Papin (1647-1742), and it might have worked out had local boatman jealous of their trade not trashed the thing before he could sail it from the continent to England.

The world did, however, embrace Papin's other great invention: the pressure cooker.
posted by BWA at 4:47 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

So... the first automotive accident in the world... contained only one person?

Or it concerned two people, of whom Morey was one, and considered as the second of them because, well, perhaps his injury came a split second later?

Details! I need details!
posted by LogicalDash at 5:40 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to camp on Lake Morey and we had a whole song about Captain Morey's Steamboat, how it sank and Fulton got the credit. Which sounds like a backstory for a weak Bond villain actually.
posted by shothotbot at 5:41 AM on November 30, 2012

Details! I need details!

The man you're looking for is Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725-1804).

Mind you, there were a bunch of steam powered people carriers in the early 19th century, and they might have taken off if not for the railroads. One of the more interesting proponents in England was (shameless but relevant self-plug follows) Col. Francis Maceroni.
posted by BWA at 6:09 AM on November 30, 2012

"An unknown American classic" from "Jay Leno's garage" series in Popular Mechanics

Includes details of his accident.

I'll shut up now.
posted by BWA at 6:40 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was totally sure I knew the guy you were talking about, but it turns out that there is another Thomas who is an inventor of motor-like things and I had them confused. Lake Morey is a thing of beauty.
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 AM on November 30, 2012

Hey, I'm going to be staying by Lake Morey this weekend! Thanks for this post!
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2012

a dead quaker, if you're going to be in that area and you find this interesting, you can actually head over to the library at Dartmouth. It isn't too far away. They have the X-patents there for researchers, and if you arrange ahead of time, they'll bring them out for you to examine. They were all signed by early American presidents. It could be the only time you actually have the chance to get close-up with a historical artifact like that.

Libraries have treasures that most people don't know about, and if you're knowledgable and respectful, you can see things most people will never get to see.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2012

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