Jehu Hatfield

Jehu Hatfield's Machine for Computing Interest (photo: Renee Lando)
Jehu Hatfield’s Machine for Computing Interest (photo: Renee Lando)

On 6 May 1844, a certain Jehu Hatfield of Glens Falls, New York, took out a US patent №3574 for a machine for computing interest, measuring lumber, and for other purposes. It is unknown how many devices were produced, but at least one managed to survive to our time (see the nearby photo).

The device of Hatfield is housed in a mahogany veneer over pine case, similar to the shelf clock cases made during the 1840s. There is a blue colored paper on the inside of the lower half of the door. The calculating mechanism is operated by a turned wooden knob on the left side of the case. When the knob is turned the hand on the dial is directed to various “Months” and “Days”. At the same time, the hand in the upper section of the case moves the vertical cylinder in the lower half of the case spins to reveal the “Principal Dollars” and “Principal Cents” visible through the opening in the blue paper-covered lower door panel.

Hatfield's Machine with open front door (photo: Renee Lando)
Hatfield’s Machine with open front door (photo: Renee Lando)

The machine (see the lower patent drawing) consists of a vertical revolving cylinder (marked with A), having on its outer surface vertical parallel columns of figures, representing the interest on the several sums shown in a stationary column on a surrounding case. There is also a circular scale, or dial (D), placed in front of the case in a vertical position, to indicate the days of the month, with an index hand, or pointer (G), which is operated by the cylinder—the two being connected together by mitre wheels (B).

Jehu Hatfield's machine (the patent drawing)
Jehu Hatfield’s machine (the patent drawing)

Biography of Jehu Hatfield

Jehu Hatfield was born on 16 June 1806, in a farm in Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, as the 6th child from the third marriage of John Hatfield (1 May 1745-4 Aug 1813) and his third wife Nancy Berryhill (1766-1850).

John Hatfield was a prosperous dairy farmer in Dauphin County. When in 1813 he died in the 69th year of his life, he left a wife and thirteen surviving (of eighteen) children (he had seven children from his first marriage to Sarah Patton (1756-1788), three from his second marriage to Elizabeth Cochran (died 1793), and eight from third, a remarkable productiveness, even for the time), including Jehu. John Hatfield was a husbandman, soldier of Revolution, and a very intelegent man and quite of Scholar in his day. The Hatfields were Yorkshire men, who, via Leyden, came to America in the 1660s, settling in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Jehu stayed in the farm with his family for some years, before relocating to New York State when he reached adulthood.

Jehu Hatfield married too young Harriet Hatfield and the couple had a daughter, but for some reason, they obtained a divorce by an act of Pennsylvania legislature on 6 April 1833. In the same year, Jehu married Phebe Ann Wood (1804-1897) in Rensselaerville, New York. The new couple settled in Mechanicville, Saratoga County, New York, where they produced three children: Mary E. (b. 1835), Charles Berryhill (1838-1916), and Ann Eliza (1842).

The name of Jehu Hatfield remained in US history with the curious episode of inventing the modern friction matches (the first successful friction match, called later Lucifer’s match, was invented in 1826 by John Walker, an English chemist, and druggist from Stockton-on-Tees, but these early matches had a number of problems). In August 1835, while Jehu was working in the spittoon and pottery-making business in Mechanicville, a friend handed him two friction matches (French fire-sticks offered for sale on the New York docks), which he has never seen before. Being engaged at that time in the manufacture of lucifer matches at Mechanicville, Jehu received them as a treasure, and immediately set his wits to work to unravel the secret of their production. Not being a chemist himself, he asked for help from local chemical heads in Mechanicville, Troy, and Albany, but to no avail, so he decided to experiment alone.

Examining the matches, he made up his mind from the smoke and light they emitted in the dark, that they contained phosphorus. He went experimenting, mixing phosphorus and gum arabic, trying to combine them on some hot coals. Unfortunately, the first batch took fire and burned up. Then he went to work a little more systematic, and succeeded well with adding a little chlorate of potash. Thus step by step (with the help of his friends Joel Farnam of Mechanicsville, NY, and Martin Day of Chesterfield, Mass.) Jehu managed to crack the chemical formula that ignited the devices and produced about 1400 match sticks, which he sold for 14 shillings. This was the first modern friction matches (widely known as locofocos) production in the USA.

Jehu Hatfield even received a patent in this area (US Patent №219 of 3 June 1837, for mode of dipping or charging locofoco matches), and applied for another patent in 1839, but it was rejected. Unfortunately, despite starting the production of friction matches in September 1835, Jehu didn’t manage to patent his invention. The first patent for the manufacture of friction matches in the USA (Letters Patent No. 68, dated October 24, 1836) was granted to Alonzo Dwight Phillips of Springfield, Mass. So Hatfield was forced to abandon his original venture to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

In the late 1840s, Jehu Hatfield served as a town clerk of Stillwater (a town nearby Mechanicville, New York). In 1862 he received another patent ((US Patent №34229 of 21 Jan 1862) for Machine for Making Paper Boxes.

Jehu Hatfield died on 23 April 1871, in Troy, New York.