But to return to my correspondence with the Great Western Steamship Company. I wrote at once to Mr. Humphries, and sent him a sketch of my proposed steam hammer. I told him that I felt assured he would now be able to overcome his difficulty, and that the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain might now be forged. Mr. Humphries was delighted with my design. He submitted it to Mr. Brunel, engineer-in-chief of the steamship: to Mr. Guppy, the managing director; and to other persons interested in the undertaking,--by all of whom it was heartily approved. I accordingly gave the Company permission to communicate my design to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect the steam hammer, the only condition that I made being, that in the event of its being adopted I was to be allowed to supply it in accordance with my design.
But the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain was never forged. About that time the substitution of the Screw for the paddle-wheel as a means of propulsion was attracting much attention. The performances of the Archimedes, as arranged by Mr. Francis P. Smith, were so satisfactory that Mr. Brunel, after he had made an excursion in that vessel, recommended the directors to adopt the new propelling power. After much discussion, they yielded to his strongly-urged advice. The consequence was, that the great engines which Mr. Humphries had so elaborately designed, and which were far advanced in construction, were given up, to his inexpressible regret and mortification, as he had pinned his highest hopes as a practical engineer on the results of their performance. And, to crown his distress, he was ordered to produce fresh designs of engines specially suited for screw propulsion. Mr. Humphries was a man of the most sensitive and sanguine constitution of mind. The labour and the anxiety which he had already undergone, and perhaps the disappointment of his hopes, proved too much for him; and a brain fever carried him off after a few days' illness. There was thus, for a time, an end of the steam hammer required for forging the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain.
Very bad times for the iron-trade, and for all mechanical undertakings, set in about this time. A wide-spread depression affected all conditions of industry Although I wrote to the heads of all the great firms, urging the importance of my invention, and forwarding designs of my steam hammer, I was unable to obtain a single order. It is true, they cordially approved of my plan, and were greatly struck by its simplicity, unity, and apparent power.* [footnote... Among the heads of firms who sent me cordial congratulations on my design, were Benjamin Hick, of the Soho Ironworks, Bolton, a man, whose judgment in all matters connected with engineering and mechanical construction was held in the very highest regard; Messrs. Rushton and Eckersley, Bolton Ironworks; Messrs. Howard and Ravenhill, Rotherhithe Ironworks, London; Messrs. Hawkes, Crashaw, and Company, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; George Thorneycroft, Wolverhampton; and others. ...]
But the substance of their replies was, that they had not sufficient orders to keep the forge hammers they already possessed in work. They promised, however, that in the event of trade recovering from its depression, they would probably adopt the new power.
In the meantime my invention was taken up in an entirely new and unexpected quarter. I had for some years been supplying foreign customers with self-acting machine tools. The principals of continental manufacturing establishments were accustomed to make frequent visits to England for the purpose of purchasing various machine tools required for the production of the ponderous as well as the lighter parts of their machinery. We gave our foreign visitors every facility and opportunity for seeing our own tools at work, and they were often so much pleased that, when they came to order one special tool, they ended by ordering many,--the machine tools in full activity thus acting as their most effective advertisements. In like manner I freely opened my Scheme Book to any foreign visitors.* [footnote... Some establishments in the same line of business were jealous of the visit of foreigners; but to our views, restriction in the communication of new ideas on mechanical subjects to foreigners of intelligence and enterprising spirit served no good purpose, as the foreign engineer was certain to obtain all the information he was in quest of from the drawings in the Patent Office, or from the admirable engravings contained in the engineering publications of the day. It was better to derive the advantage of supplying them with the machines they were in quest of, than to wait until the demand was supplied by foreigners themselves. ...]
There I let them see the mechanical thoughts that were passing through my mind, reduced to pen and ink drawings. I did not hesitate to advocate the advantage of my steam hammer over every other method of forging heavy masses of iron; and I pointed out the drawing in my Scheme Book in confirmation of my views. The book was kept in the office to be handy for such occasions; and in many cases it was the means of suggesting ideas of machine tools to our customers, and thus led to orders which might not have been obtained without this effective method of prompting them. Amongst our foreign visitors was M. Schneider, proprietor of the great ironworks at Creuzot, in France. We had supplied him with various machine tools, and he was so pleased with their action that the next time he came to England he called at our office at Patricroft. M. Bourdon, his mechanical manager, accompanied him.
I happened to be absent on a journey at the time; but my partner, Mr. Gaskell, was present. After showing them over the works, as an act of courtesy he brought them my Scheme Book and allowed them to examine it. He pointed out the drawing of my steam hammer, and told them the purpose for which it was intended. They were impressed with its simplicity and apparent practical utility,--so much so, that M. Bourdon took careful notes and sketches of the constructive details of the hammer.
I was informed on my return of the visit of MM.Schneider and Bourdon, but the circumstance of their having inspected the designs in my Scheme Book, and especially my original design of the steam hammer, was regarded by my partner as too ordinary and trivial an incident of their visit to be mentioned to me. The exhibition of my mechanical designs to visitors at the Foundry was a matter of almost daily occurrence. I was, therefore, in entire ignorance of the fact that these foreign visitors had taken with them to France a copy of the plan and details of my steam hammer.