Samuel Comfort

Samuel Comfort (1837-1923)
Samuel Comfort (1837-1923)

Samuel Comfort (1837-1923) of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, attained considerable distinction as an inventor of improvements in mowing and reaping machines, sewing machines, etc., for which he received numerous patents (by age 24 Comfort held over 12 patents in the USA and Great Britain, let’s mention only patent US14445 from 1856 for a mower, US16507 from 1856 and US18437 from 1857 for a harvester rake, and US16968 from 1857 for a harvester cutter). Interestingly, one of his patents from 1866, when he just founded a company for manufacturing of agricultural machinery in Newtown, is for a counting-machine (see US patent 52681 from 20 Feb 1866). Described in the patent device seems to be well designed and workable, but nothing is known about it, so obviously it remained only on paper and had not been implemented in practice.

Let’s examine the operation of the Comfort’s counting-machine using the description in the patent application (see the lower patent drawing):

When the crank C is in the position shown in Figs. 2, 3, and 4 the bar L engages in one of the notches, k or k’, in each of the numbering-wheels K, holding them all firmly to prevent their being turned upon their centers so as to alter the arrangement of the figures exhibited at the aperture in the face-plate. At the same time the bar N, which is secured to the frame H, is detached from the numbering-wheels and is free to move with the said frame without communicating any motion to the said wheels.

The patent drawing of Samuel Comfort's counting-machine
The patent drawing of Samuel Comfort’s counting-machine

The spiral spring G, contracting, bears the end of the slot in the bar E against the crank-pin i. The crank C and the bar E being on centers, the frames F and H are at the extreme limit of their movement toward the projection b. The end of the crank-pin engages in the groove l in the frame H, which latter has completed one-half of its oscillatory movement.
0n turning the shaft D in the direction of the arrow, Fig.4, the crank-pin i in the groove l causes the frame H to turn upon the rod I until the lip h’ comes in contact with the ways c’. At this moment the crank-pin leaves the groove l and the end of it passes over the surface of the flange m; but when the shaft D is put in motion, as described, the action of the spring G moves the frame F, which carries the bar L and the frame H, with the bar N, toward the projection b’.
By this movement the bar L is withdrawn from the notch in the wheel which indicates numbers of the denomination of units. As the bar L is withdrawn from this wheel the projection n of the bar N enters one of the notches, k or k’, in the same.
If it should enter one of the smaller notches, k, the bottom of the notch o will bear against the face of the said wheel and stop the farther movement in that direction; but if it should happen to enter one of the larger notches, k’, the larger portion of the bar N will pass through the said notch, and the projection n will engage the tens-wheel, and if the notch in the tens-wheel should be a large one also, it will pass on through this and enter the hundreds-wheel, and so on for the whole series; but the wheels being in the positions shown in the drawings, the bar N will only engage in the units-wheel.
When the frames F and H have been stopped by the bottom of the notch o bearing against one of the wheels K the crank will continue to revolve, the crank-pin running loosely in the slot in the bar E, the end of it passing freely over the face of the flange m until it re-enters the groove l, carries the frame H upon its axis in the opposite direction, turning with it the wheel or wheels K, which are engaged with the bar N.
When the lip h comes in contact with the ways c’ the end of the crank-pin i again leaves the groove l and traverses over the surface of the flange m’. At some period of this portion of its movement the crank-pin again comes in contact with the end of the slot in the bar E, moves the frames F and H, withdraws the bar N, and again registers the numbering-wheels K upon the bar L.
The crank-pin then re-enters the groove l and completes the movement to the point whence it started. The notches in the numbering-wheels are so arranged in respect to the digital numbers marked upon the same that when the figure 9 (nine) is exhibited by any wheel at the aperture in the face-plate the larger notch k’ of that wheel is so situated that the bar N may pass through it and engage the wheel of the next higher denomination. Thus the numbers indicated may pass from units to tens, from tens to hundreds, etc.

Biography of Samuel Comfort

Samuel Comfort as U.S. consul at Calcutta, India, end of 1890s
Samuel Comfort as U.S. consul in India, around 1900

Samuel Comfort Jr., son of George and Susan (nee Lower) Comfort, grandson of Samuel and Rebecca (Moon) Comfort, great-grandson of John and Mary (Woolman) Comfort, was born on 5 May 1837 at the Comfort homestead—a farmhouse on a 150-acre property located 1 km west of Morrisville, Bucks county, Pennsylvania (subsequently “Lincoln Inn”, now “Good Friends Inc.”). The Comfort and Lower families were both prominent members of the religious movement Society of Friends (Quakers) and two of the oldest families of Bucks county, as Samuel was great-great son of the famous American religious leader John Woolman (1720-1772).

George Comfort (1808-1887) was born at the family homestead in Bucks county, and spent some time working as a teacher in Philadelphia, but around 1830 returned to Bucks county and took possession and management of his family homestead. He was one of the directors of the Fallsington Library, and for 35 years was school director of Falls township. George Comfort married Susan Lower (1812-1888), a daughter of Abraham Lower (1776-1841) and Susanna Stackhouse (1779-1856) of Philadelphia, and they were the parents of seven children: Annie (b. 1831), Caroline (1833-1834), Rebecca (b. 1835), Samuel (1837-1923), Susan Elizabeth (1843-1866), Georgianna (1853-1916), and William G. (1854-1857).

Samuel Comfort was educated initially under private instructors and then in early 1850s at the nearby Trenton Academy, along with many children of the local elite. At an early age he developed special talents in mathematics, sciences and mechanics. At the end of 1850s the young Samuel devised numerous agricultural improvements in mowing and reaping machines, sewing machines, etc., for which he received numerous patents (by age 24 Comfort held over 12 patents in the USA, and Great Britain for agricultural machines).

Despite his Quaker upbringing, in 1861-1865 Samuel Comfort took active part in the Civil War and present numerous battles or skirmishes of more or less importance.

On 8 October 1861 he joined the Union Army as part of the “Anderson Troop,” the bodyguard of General Buell, in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Northern Alabama. In September 1862 he was honorably discharged form the service on account of physical disability (typhoid fever) contracted in the service. In June, 1863, he recruited at his own expense an independent company of cavalry in Bucks and Montgomery counties and the city of Philadelphia which was mustered into the service for a term of six months under the name of “Captain Samuel Comfort, Jr.’s Independent Company of Cavalry, the Bucks County Troop.”

Captain Comfort was wounded in the right arm while in command of the skirmish line in the battle of New Market, in the Shenandoah valley, in 1864, and was promoted to be major of the Twentieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry in March 1865. He was mustered out and honorably discharged from the service as major of the first Provisional Pennsylvania Cavalry, 25 July 1865.

Samuel Comfort's tombstone in Newtown, Pa (source:
Samuel Comfort’s tombstone in Newtown, Pa (source:

After the war, Comfort first established himself as a manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Newtown, Pennsylvania, founding the firm of Cornell & Comfort. In 1871, he joined the Keystone Petroleum Refinery of his brothers-in-law Thomas Chambers and Henry Pickering in Titusville, Pa, which later became part of Standard Oil Trust. From 1879 to 1898 Comfort represented Standard Oil both domestically and internationally, including six years managing the business in western India. Concurrently with his work in the oil industry, Comfort was U.S. vice-consul (1894-1896) and consul (1896-1898) at Bombay. From 1900 to 1903, Comfort served as U.S. vice- and deputy-consul general at Calcutta. By 1904 he accumulated a comfortable fortune and retired from active business, moving to London, where his daughter lived.

On 16 October 1866, Samuel Comfort married to Elizabeth Jenks Barnsley (4 Jul. 1844—1 Mar. 1932), daughter of John (1811-1880) and Mary (1814-1895) Barnsley (Hough), of Newtown, Bucks county, a second cousin of the illustrious US general and president Ulysses Grant (Mary’s grandfather John Simpson Hough was also grandfather of the general). One child was born of this marriage, Emma Walraven Comfort-Crookshank (1869-1954).

Samuel Comfort was a close friend of John D. Rockefeller and member of the Loyal Legion, Grand Army of the Republic Union League Club, and one of the oldest members of Bristol Lodge of Freemasons.

While visiting his relatives in Newtown in August, 1923, Samuel Comfort became ill and died due to senility on 11 October 1923 (he was 86 years old).