Emery Hamilton

Emery Manville Hamilton (1838-1921) was a versatile engineer and inventor from New York, with more than twenty patents (his first patent was issued in 1870 for a perspective diagram-sheet) in his name in various fields like telegraph, typewriter, time recording device, etc. One of his early inventions, an adding machine, Hamilton patented on 18 July 1871 (US patent No. 117169) (see the lower patent drawing).

The adding machine of Hamilton was announced in the section for more prominent patents of the August 1871 issue of the journal Scientific American (Volume 25, Number 06). Besides the patent application, nothing is known about the calculating instrument of Hamilton, so obviously it remained only on paper, and even the patent model of the device didn’t survive (up to 1880, the US Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application).

Emery Hamilton's adding machine (the patent drawing)
Emery Hamilton’s adding machine (the patent drawing)

In the Scientific American Hamilton’s adding machine was announced as:
This is a combination of various devices whereby the operation of adding may be accomplished, the machine carrying and automatically registering the sum totals of the numbers set off upon it. We judge it will compare favorably with other competitors in the same field of Invention.

Hamilton’s adding machine consists of a large circular disk on a pivot in a rectangular case, having 100 notches and teeth in the periphery, which notches are correspondingly numbered on the margin of the upper side of the wheel. The operation is by means of a pencil, being placed in a notch, opposite the number on projection of the bell-crank, which to be added to the number seen through the aperture, and the bell-crank being pushed inward thereby so that stud-pin is disengaged with it. Thus disk will be free to be turned by a spring, and it will move slide to the right until projection comes against the pencil resting in notch, when it and the disk will be arrested and, as the movement of the disk at the part having the numbers on it is the same as that of the slide, being the sum of the two addends.

Biography of Emery Hamilton

Emery Manville Hamilton was born on 22 January 1838, in Alfred, Allegany County, New York. He was the second child (of five) in the family of Horace Green Hamilton (15 Feb 1810-24 Mar 1896) and Catherine M. Burdick (26 Dec 1818-5 May 1896). Emery had an elder sister, Mary Lavantia (1836-1922), a younger brother, Arthur (1842-1862), and two younger sisters, Madelia (b. 1846) and Madeline Lucy (b. 1849).

Horace Green Hamilton (a family of Scotch descent, early settlers of Allegany County, N.Y.) was a farmer, carpenter, and builder, born in Brookfield, Madison Co., N.Y. On 25 Sep 1834, he married in Alfred, Allegany Co. to Catherine M. Burdick. In 1842 the family resolved to try his fortune in the West and emigrated to the territory of Wisconsin, settling in Rock County, purchasing a farm in the town of Lima, then a part of Milton. Besides the farm, Horace worked as a carpenter and joiner and filled various local offices, including that of Assessor, Deputy Provost Marshal and Justice of the Peace.

In late April 1861, after the outbreak of the American Civil War, at the age of 23, Emery joined the United States Army as a volunteer, together with his brother Arthur. Unfortunately, Arthur was wounded to death at the battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862. Emery survived, and in 1863 he was promoted to a major in the 1st Regiment Engineers Corps d’Afrique. Hamilton would be known as “Major Hamilton of New York” for the rest of his life.

Automatic Typewriter of Emery Hamilton
Automatic typewriter of Emery Hamilton

It is unknown what kind of education Emery Hamilton had, but in the US census of 1880 he was listed as a mining engineer, so most probably after the Civil War, he studied engineering and graduated around 1870. Evidence of Hamilton’s engineering work exists even today. One of the names for the Stony Pass trail in Colorado is Hamilton Pass. It is named after Major E.M. Hamilton, who built a wagon road along the route in 1872.

It seems Emery Hamilton was a brilliant engineer. Besides his calculating machine, he was a holder of over 20 patents in the US, Canada, and Great Britain for typewriters, telegraph equipment (sounder, transmitter, and receiver), perspective diagram-sheet, apparatus for recording measurements of time, piano-action, etc. His Hamilton Automatic (see the nearby image) is considered one of the masterpieces of 19th-century American typewriter manufacturing. The Automatic (the patent was applied for in 1884, approximately three hundred of these charming typewriters were manufactured in the late 1880s) was the smallest typebar typewriter ever made and the first typewriter with proportional spacing. There is evidence of Hamilton working on other promising typewriter designs, none of which were formally marketed or have survived.

Emery Hamilton married Josephine Hamilton, they had no children.

Towards the end of his life, Hamilton lived in Flushing, New York, where he died at the age of 83 in 1921.