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Stone and wood had been the sole material used in arching streams.Paine bethought himself of the use of iron and worked out a plan for bridging the Harlem River, which General Lewis Morris, fonnder of Morrisania on the farther shore, was to have financed. Paine then proposed to place it across the Schuylkill, hut funds were not to be had.
He has brought the model of an iron bridge, with which he supposes a single arch of four hundred feet may be made.” He gave the bridge much thought, writing more than once to the inventor. that the execution of the arch of experiment exceeds your expectations.
“I will begin with the subject of your bridge, in which I feel myself interested;” he observed a letter to Paine, “and it is with great pleasure that I learn . In your former letter, you mention that instead of arranging your tubes and bolts as ordi-nates to the cord of the arch, you had reverted to your first idea, of arranging them in the direction of the radii.
To a generation that finds its greatest interest in Benjamin Franklin as the author of some advice on how to choose a mistress, it may come amiss to be reminded that the sage’s most important discovery was Thomas Paine, and that Paine’s most beneficial action was the invention of the iron bridge.
Confirmed admirers of the workman, who became the first polemist of the eighteenth century, are apt to claim too much for him—especially when they allege that he inspired the Declaration of Independence, but they stop short of his chief achievement, tta building of the metal cross-over.
So it was that Thomas Paine, alternately corset maker, exciseman, and agitator, fell athwart Benjamin Franklin while in London lobbying for better pay to collectors of revenue from spirits, and was persuaded to sail for our land of opportunity, where the Revolution was ripening. The pamphleteer had yet to be superseded by the journalist, and “Common Sense” electrified the colonies when it first appeared on January 10, 1776, half a year ahead of the Declaration.
Here he arrived in due season, with a letter to Richard Bache, describing him as “an ingenious, worthy young man,” to whom the note brought more in the way of acquaintance than employment. If ever there was a loud note to kings and ministers, this was it!
It was thirty-four feet wide, with a span of two hundred and thirty-six feet—the father of all the great structures that now serve human convenience everywhere.
The iron bridge greatly interested Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was glad to see him and letters given by Franklin soon put him in the society of the elect. While Paine was idling in England, his inventive mind evolved a planing machine, a crane for lifting heavy bodies, a concentric wheel, and a scheme for using gunpowder as a motive power by explosion, as we to-day employ gasoline.
From Paris he journeyed to Thedford, to find his father dead and his mother in her ninety-first year. Blackfriars Bridge and two bridges over the Tyne had just collapsed, and Paine brought out his iron idea. There was no rush of custom, but his trusses stood the shop tests.