Oliver Evans

Oliver Evans
Oliver Evans

Oliver Evans (13 September, 175515 April, 1819) was a United States inventor.

Evans was born in Newport, Delaware. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a wheelwright.

Evans' first notable invention was in 1777, when he made a machine for making card teeth for carding wool. He went into business with his brothers and produced a number of improvements in the textile industry as well as other factory equipment, including an elevator and perhaps the first industrial conveyor belt. He also produced improved equipment for flour mills.

In 1792 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He produced an improved high-pressure steam engine. For some years he contemplated the idea of applying steam power to wagons to produce an automobile. He was granted a patent for a steam-carriage design in 1789, but did not produce a successful working example of such a machine until over a decade later. Part of his difficulties was a failure to get financial backing. After lack of support in his native land, in 1794 he sent copies of some his designs to Great Britain in an attempt to interest investors there. Some writers have said that Richard Trevithick saw Evans' designs, and Trevithick's early steam-carriages owed much to Evans.

As Evans designed a refrigeration machine which ran on vapour in 1805, he is often called the inventor of the refrigerator, although he never built one. (His design was modified by Jacob Perkins, who obtained the first patent for a refrigerating machine in 1834.)

The Oruktor Amphibolos

Oliver Evans' most famous device was the Oruktor Amphibolos, or "Amphibious Digger", built on commission from the city of Philadelphia who asked Evans to turn his talent to the problem of dredging and cleaning the city's dockyards.

The result was a 30-foot long 15 ton contraption which debuted in 1804. A 5 horse-power steam engine was inside a small boat hull. The hull was set on 4 wheels; the engine could be used to power two of them, moving the vehicle on land, or to turn a paddle wheel in back, propelling it through water, or a dredge. This was the first self-powered amphibious vehicle, as well as the first self-powered land vehicle in the United States (steam powered automobiles had already been used earlier in France and Great Britain). The Oruktor Amphibolos saw several years of service in Philadelphia and became a famous site of the city at the time. It moved through the water quite well, but steering on land was quite awkward.

Oliver Evans wrote up proposals to mechanize stage coach lines, but failed to get backing from investors. In 1812 he published a rather visionary description of the nation connected by a network of railroad lines with transportation by swift steam locomotives. It should be remembered that at the time the locomotive was little more than a crude curiousity, and no attempts to use it for long distance transport had yet been made; see: History of rail transport.

In 1819 while in New York City Oliver Evans was informed that his laboratory and workshop in Philadelphia had burned to the ground. Evans suffered from a stroke at the news, and died soon after.

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