Henry Burden “spent a lifetime in devising means for lightening toil”

Civil War Horse who's probably in better shoes than his friend. courtesy Pinterest
Civil War Horse who’s probably in better shoes than his friend.
courtesy Pinterest

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of the shoe, the horse was lost; For want of the horse, the rider was lost; For want of the rider, the message was lost; For want of the message, the battle was lost; For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Henry Burden’s story and how he helped win the American Civil War starts the way all success stories seemed to start in the 19th century. Driven, hardworking, innovative and independent young men thrived under America’s young and vibrant system.

Henry  was the son of Scottish sheep farmers. At home he studied engineering, improving upon farm implements for his father until he up and moved to New York. Not a man to sit still or think small he immediately moved up the ranks at “the Townsend & Corning Foundry, manufacturers of cast iron plows and other agricultural implements, located in Albany’s south end – near today’s Port of Albany. The next year, he invented an improved plow, which took first premium at three county fairs, and a cultivator, which was said to have been the first to be put into practical operation in the country. He also made mechanical improvements on threshing machines and grist mills.” (WIKI)

Not satisfied being under anyone Henry quickly went to work building his own company across the river in Troy. Some of us are happy to have a job to go to. Henry built his job, defining it as he went brick by brick, building by enormous building.

Look for the tiny man! courtesy wikipedia

He invented things and patented them. Fascinated by not only the useful implements he made but also the tools that made the useful things he erected huge waterwheels for powering his projects (The Ferris Wheel was inspired by his massive waterwheel).

As the winds of war blew up the Hudson Henry was set with his HORSESHOE MACHINE. It is said that Henry’s 600,000 KEGS OF HORSESHOES sent south each year won the war. If we find the importance of one company  hard to believe there is evidence that the Confederacy sent special men to infiltrate the Burden works hoping to destroy the business but to no avail. Iron works were some of the first targets in a war of horses and their shoes.

The Atlanta Campaign courtesy Longhair.net

Think of the great generals astride their beautiful mounts–no horseshoes, no beautiful mounts.

Henry employed many Troy men. Mrs. Burden worried about their souls and the long walks they must take on Sundays to get to church. Upon her death Henry Burden built Woodside Presbyterian Church granting her final wish. He died a few years later having lessened the burdens of others.


What the Burden Works Look Like Today


How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ~George Washington Carver


On his tombstone: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world”.

The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.–Flaubert

Young and lovely daughter Susan
Young and lovely daughter Susan

A friend trying to console me after my father’s death said that on the bright side I could now live a more independent life free of unnecessary attachments. But coming from a family that prides itself on clannish codependency the remark annoyed me. I knew the person meant well–all of that “when one door closes another opens” stuff. And the person was right in a way. Life went on.

Young Sam Morse wanted to be an artist and made money while attending Yale painting portraits. I think he was a bit of a looker. His father wanted him to go into bookselling, but you know kids–they want what they want. He painted, got married and had a few children.

Handsome young Sam
Handsome young Sam

Tragedy struck. While painting a commissioned work he received word –too late–that his beloved wife was ill and then dead.By the time he arrived home days later his wife had already been buried.

Sam was a sensitive and generous man. We can only imagine his grief and eventually his determination to invent a faster way to communicate across great distances.

“Samuel F.B. Morse, named professor of sculpture and painting at NYU in 1832, perfected his invention of the telegraph in the old University building. Morse’s first successful demonstration of the telegraph occurred in Washington Square on January 24, 1838. About ten miles of copper wire was coiled on drums in the laboratory of his aide and collaborator, Professor Lewis Gale, leading out into the square, and wrapping itself around several trees, before returning inside the University Building. Although Morse’s invention would not be practically implemented until 1844, the painter and scientist had started NYU’s long tradition of innovation.” NYU website

We never know where grief will lead us. We rarely consider when taking a picture or painting a portrait of a loved one that one day it will be all we have of them. Young Susan in the painting above grew up to marry a man with a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. She grew increasingly unhappy and boarded a ship to return to her father only to be lost at sea.

First message via telegraph in the United States: “What hath God Wrought?”


More fun Sam facts.