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This Month in Delaware History

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Portrait of Oliver Evans;  Plate from “The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide”

On July 13th in 1805, inventor Oliver Evans, a native of Newport, Delaware, finished building the world’s first high-pressure steam powered vehicle. Although primitive in design, Evans’ vehicle was the first self propelled amphibious wagon and technically the world’s first ‘automobile’. Evans received little formal education early on in life. As a teenager he became a wheelwright’s apprentice and later went into business with his brothers in Philadelphia. The concept of creating and perfecting automated mills and devices fascinated Evans. His visionary designs for automation, such as conveyor belts and bucket chains, were crucial to the expansion of the Industrial Revolution during the following decades. It is difficult to exaggerate Evans’ engineering genius. In addition to designing an early steam engine and the first automobile, he also designed the first refrigerator, a perpetual baking oven, a machine gun, solar boiler, dough-kneading machine, and processes for water salvaging and for urban gas lighting on streets.

It seems Evans was not blessed with a pleasant disposition however, from personal accounts, and this is likely the reason he is not better known. His lack of social graces caused his financial investors to be few and led to his contributions often being ignored or attributed to others who came after him.Oliver Evans had seven children; three sons and four daughters. He died and was buried in New York City in 1819 at the age of 63.

The Delaware Historical Society possesses a rare first edition of a book published by Evans in 1795 entitled “The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide. In Five Parts-Embellished With Twenty Five Plates”. This book is available for public review in the research library of the Delaware Historical Society.


Object of the Month

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DHS Collection of Delaware WWI Military Service Records.

Our Object of the Month for July is the Society’s collection of World War I Military Service Records. The Delaware Historical Society is home to an outstanding collection of original documents with biographical information and details of military service rendered by Delawareans in the First World War, often with photographs of the soldiers themselves. The records were the result of efforts by the Wilmington Institute Free Library to gather information on Delawareans who served in the war. Submission of the records was entirely voluntary. These military records, which number in the thousands, are available for public review in the DHS research library. Our blog This Morning is History is also a convenient way to explore these WWI service records along with newspaper accounts of events of the war as they unfolded according to the Sunday Star.

Presented here as an example of the content and value of our WWI military record collection is a photograph and the military service record of Lieutenant Commander Theodore C. Hecker of Bellefonte, Delaware. Read more.





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The Delaware Historical Society is the statewide, non-profit organization that explores, preserves, shares, and promotes Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community.