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William S. Otis

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William S. Otis invented the steam shovel in 1835. His invention was one of the first pieces of earthmoving equipment available and was readily used in the construction and mining industries. Also known as the power shovel, Otis' creation was one of the most important contributions to the development and evolution of earthmoving machines.

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[edit] History

[edit] Birth and Early Life

William Otis was born in 1813 in Massachusetts and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was hired at the contracting firm Carmichael & Fairbanks in 1833. He became a partner within a year, about the same time that the firm became involved with expanding the railroad of the American Midwest.

The construction of the railroad led to a contract for Carmichael & Fairbanks that meant they would receive bonuses for additional loads that they were able to excavate. Otis and his crew grew frustrated with the slow pace of the tools they had to work with and resorted to using their own machines in constructing the railroad. The slow pace of traditional wagon-mounted graders, horse-drawn dragpans, and manual labor prompted Otis to develop the shovel.[1]

[edit] Invention

Otis figured that with the advent of steam engines, it must be possible to produce a machine that utilized this technology for digging earth. With the help of his engineer friend, Charles H. French, he built the first steam shovel in 1835 in Canton, Massachusetts. He patented the device in 1839 and it became the earliest known bucket excavator used for removing dry earth. By 1840, the Otis shovel was a North American treasure. After his death in 1839, the Otis shovel brand was carried on by Oliver Chapman, who married Otis' widow. The shovels were then produced as Otis-Chapman shovels.[2]

Because Otis had patented his steam shovel, other equipment manufacturing companies and contractors could not benefit from the device until the patent expired in the 1870s.

The machine was used on railroads and could also be utilized for open-pit mining. It was not initially used as a roadbuilding machine.

Once shovels became more mobile, particularly by mounting them on crawlers, they became paramount to earthmoving in the construction industry. Otis' shovel was a proven machine for excavating earth and was relied upon heavily during the construction of the Panama Canal.[3]

[edit] Death

Otis died in 1839 of typhoid fever. His family contracting business owned and controlled the patents for his steam shovel for the next 40 years. Otis lived to the age of 26. After his death, companies such as Bucryus and Marion Steam Shovel Co. were formed and began manufacturing steam shovels.

[edit] References

  1. Haddock, Keith. Bucyrus: Making the Earth Move for 125 Years. Motorbooks: 2005.
  2. Sheryn, Hinton J. An Illustrated History of Excavators. Ian Allan Publishing: Shepperton, 2000.
  3. Haycraft, William R. Yellow Steel: The Story of the Earthmoving Equipment Industry. U of Illinois P: Chicago, 2000.