Overview of an Obscure Innovator

Jehu Hatfield (1806-1871) was an inventor and self-taught mechanic who displayed remarkable creativity for an isolated 19th century tradesman. Through ingenious persistence, he formulated early prototypes of friction matches, an intricate mechanical calculating machine, and a automated paper box fabrication system among other devices. Yet only one model of his pioneering innovations survives today – evidence of a visionary inventor limited mainly by the resources and awareness of his era. Here we unearth Hatfield‘s unsung accomplishments that mark him as one of early America‘s overlooked feats of mechanical engineering and daring.

From Rural Farmer to Ambitious Inventor

Born the son of a dairy farmer in central Pennsylvania, Jehu Hatfield relocated to New York state as a young man seeking his fortunes. There he initially entered the stoneware and pottery business, foreshadowing the skilled craftsmanship his later contraptions would display. But an 1837 encounter ignited a decade of tenacious home inventing…

Driven by Discovery and Hard-Won Patents

You have likely struck a match before without considering its mundane origins. Yet friction matches enabling instant fire were themselves an early 19th century innovation. When Hatfield viewed French "fire sticks" firsthand, he became determined to unlock their chemical secrets himself through home experimentation. His patent application claimed:

"Having by numerous experiments succeeded in preparing a compound which I believe to be entirely new…I am induced to apply for letters patent to secure the exclusive right."

Despite succeeding in devising viable friction match sticks ahead of any American, business setbacks denied him profits from their mass production. Yet this likely spurred his shift to mechanical contraptions instead – self-contained systems relying more on precision than volatile chemistry.

Jehu Hatfield‘s Known Inventions

YearPatent No.InventionSignificance
1837US 219Friction match sticksFirst American devise self-igniting matches through home experiments, but loses patent race to competitors allowing cheaper fabrication methods
1844US 3,574Interest computerCreates intricate machine integrating cylinders, dials and gears to quickly calculate percentages and compound interest – visionary "mechanical computer"
1856US 15,536Paper box makerDevises automated metal press system to mass produce folding paper boxes used widespread in 19th century commerce

The Interest Computer stands out as Jehu‘s magnum opus, evidenced by the surviving device on display for scholars and the public. Through hand-cranked gears, its arrays of numbered dials automated complex financial computations – a stunning blend of visual appeal and mechanical sophistication.

Family Life and a Lasting Imprint

A serial entrepreneur and inventor needs a supportive family, which Jehu maintained over decades in New York with his second wife Phebe Ann and their three children. While Hatfield‘s unsung achievements went broadly unrecognized in the business, finance and technology spheres during his lifetime, he left a tangible legacy for today‘s scholars and inventors – a working prototype machine standing centuries ahead of its time.

We can only speculate what further innovations Jehu Hatfield may have pioneered with more resources at his disposal. But the exquisite calculating relic he left behind confirms Jehu as one of America‘s overlooked early trailblazers – an isolated small-town visionary whose talents and creativity outpaced what contemporary society could apprehend.

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