Thaddeus Hyatt Biography · Prof. Charles M. Spofford · February 19, 1913
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AND USER OF REINFORCED CONCRETE.
By Prof. Charles M. Spofford, Member Boston Society Of Civil Engineers.
[Read before the Society, February 19, 1913.]
It is the purpose of this paper to give a brief description of an American, Mr. Thaddeus Hyatt, who was one of the earliest users of reinforced concrete, and who has not received as yet the credit to which the writer believes him entitled.
Mr. Hyatt was a lawyer by education but an inventor by nature. He was born in New Jersey in 1816, but lived most of his life in New York City and London. One of his early inventions was an illuminated sidewalk grating, the use of which first made it possible to light the basement areas under the sidewalks of New York City, thereby adding materially to property values. The Hyatt grating is still made. The manufacture of these gratings soon proved sufficiently profitable to enable Mr. Hyatt to leave the conduct of this business in the hands of his managers and devote his own time and considerable money to experiments and study along other lines. Among many subjects which had long interested him was fireproof construction, he having early recognized that the unprotected iron then employed in so-called fireproof buildings was by no means fireproof. His use of Portland cement in conjunction with iron in the manufacture of gratings convinced him of the value of a combination of these materials both with respect to strength and resistance to fire, and he was led to experiment very extensively with such a combination.
In 1877 he published privately a book giving his views upon fireproof construction, together with results of tests of various combinations of iron and concrete. The title of this book is "An Account of Some Experiments with Portland Cement Concrete Combined with Iron as a Building Material with Reference to Economy in Construction and for Security against Fire in the Making of Roofs, Floors and Walking Surfaces."
Among the subjects which he investigated were the following:
The fireproof qualities of floors made of Portland cement and iron. The heat conduction power of concrete. The coefficient of elasticity of concrete. The strength of concrete beams with iron rods and bars embedded therein. The effect of quenching red hot concrete in cold water. The relative economy of solid floors of concrete with tension steel embedded therein as compared with floors composed of concrete and rolled beams.
The beam tests were made by Kirkaldy, the well-known testing engineer, and are very interesting. The figures accompanying this paper show some of many different combinations which he tested, and serve to indicate the wide scope of his experiments.
Specimens of Reinforced Concrete Beams Tested for Thaddeus Hyatt
From the results of his studies and tests, Mr. Hyatt drew the following conclusions:
Hyatt was so firmly convinced by these studies of the desirable qualities of reinforced concrete that he constructed a building on Farrington Road, London, in which he used much of this material. To convince others of its fireproof character, he built a fire in it without causing material damage. The building is still in use and has been visited by the writer.
A search through the records of the United States Patent Office shows that he was granted one patent of broad character covering the use of combinations of concrete and metal. This patent, No. 206112, was described as follows by the United States Patent Office Gazette of July 16, 1878.
The following portion of the original claim made by Hyatt is of particular interest as indicating the origin of the modern deformed bar, and in showing his knowledge of the importance of the shearing stresses in a reinforced concrete beam.
This brief sketch would be incomplete were no mention to be made of Mr. Hyatt's notable activity in lines distinct from those we have described. During the years preceding the Civil War he was active upon the anti-slavery side, and spent time and money with great liberality to prevent the extension of slavery into Kansas. During the heated contest which arose over this question he was continually engaged in planning public meetings and in traveling back and forth between Kansas and New York. He himself made but few public speeches, but was content with the organization of these meetings and the defraying of the expenses. His interest in this subject brought him into intimate relationship with John Brown, and after the Harper's Ferry incident he was called before the United States Senate to testify. This he absolutely refused to do; consequently he was imprisoned for thirteen and one-half weeks in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Undisturbed by this, he made himself as comfortable as possible, invited his friends to visit him, and continued his campaign against the extension of slavery by the organization of more meetings and by vigorous newspaper articles. His imprisonment was not long continued, as the pro-slavery senators found it of little avail.
At a later date, soon after Lincoln's election, the famine in Kansas gave him another opportunity to show his public-spirited nature. The state was nearly exhausted, but through his personal efforts a relief committee was appointed, through whom a fund of $1,000,000 cash was raised, in addition to many other gifts, the proper distribution of which he directed personally, and so wisely that the state was soon in a prosperous condition again. His unselfish devotion to the welfare of the state was widely recognized, and it is related that a prominent lawyer, upon meeting him for the first time, exclaimed, " Mr. Hyatt, the people of Kansas should erect a statue of gold to your memory!"
His death occurred in 1901, at the age of eighty-five. More fortunate than many, he lived to see the widespread adoption of his system of fireproof construction, the complete extinction of slavery and the rise of Kansas to a high position among the other states in wealth and importance.
[NOTE.—Discussion of this paper is invited, to be received by Fred. Brooks, Secretary, 31 Milk Street, Boston, by June 15, 1913, for publication in a subsequent number of the JOURNAL.]