George Henry Corliss Biography (1817-1888)


Prominent inventor and entrepreneur George Henry Corliss was born in Easton,New York, on June 2, 1817, the only son of a physician. He worked for a textile manufacturer for four years and finished school in Vermont. By age twenty-five he had returned to New York, opened a boot store, and patented a boot-stitching machine. Two years later he began work as a draftsman for the Providence, Rhode Island, engineering firm who had helped him with that patent. Corliss devoted himself thereafter to improving the steam engines the firm manufactured.

Corliss was given free reign at the firm, and within four years had started his own business to manufacture and promote his earliest ideas--to create a more efficient and economical system of rocking valves and governors to controlsteam and exhaust valves. He received patents in 1849 and 1851 and opened the Corliss Engine Company in 1856, and within three years Corliss engines werebeing exported to Scotland for use in cotton mills. By 1864, valves for theengines were being made at Bolton, England. Corliss directed both the business and research sides of this company, and over the years invented many assembly line improvements such as a bevel-gear cutter.

Corliss's company gained international acclaim at both the Paris World's Fairof 1867 and the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. A 700-ton, 1400-1600 horsepower Corliss engine provided power to all the exhibits in Machinery Hall for six months continuously in Philadelphia. While there, historianHenry Adams (1838-1918) proclaimed the engine the symbol of the era. Corlissdirected his company until his death on February 21, 1888.

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