Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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COLLES, Christopher, engineer, born in Ireland about 1738; died in New York City in 1821. He was educated by Pococke, the oriental traveller, after whose death, in 1765, he immigrated to America, lectured in Philadelphia on pneumatics in 1772, and in 1773 delivered a series of lectures in New York City on inland lock navigation. In April, 1774, he proposed to build a reservoir for New York city. The Revolutionary war having prevented the construction of the reservoir, he suggested a system of pipes to supply the city: with water from outside, and offered to carry out the work. In 1775 he lectured on gunnery, and was employed as instructor to the artillery department of the army, until the arrival of Baron Steuben in 1777. Colles was the first to suggest canals and improvements to connect Lake Ontario with the Hudson, and surveyed the Mohawk River as far as Wood creek. In 1784 he presented a memorial to the New York legislature recommending that project. The results of his labors were published by Samuel Loudon in 1785. In 1808 Colles published a pamphlet on inland navigable communications. He made a tour through Pennsylvania and New York, and in 1789 published a book describing the roads of New York state. In 1796 he settled in New York City, and engaged in the manufacture of band-boxes, paper-hangings, rat- and mouse-traps, Prussian blue, and other colors, traded in skins and Indian curiosities, supplied Blanchard and Baron with astronomical calculations for their "Mathematical Correspondent," made fireworks, and applied his science to other practical purposes; yet, in spite of his knowledge and ingenuity, his honesty, and his estimable character, he was always in pecuniary straits. After the duties on spirits were established by congress, he was appointed to test the specific gravity of imported liquors. He also made proof-glasses. Finally, through his friend, John Pintard, he received the appointment of superintendent of the academy of fine arts. During the war of 1812 he constructed and worked the telegraph on Castle Clinton. He is said to have built the first steam-engine in the United States. He was the friend of Jefferson and Hamilton, was respected by his contemporaries, and his memory was preserved as that of the original projector of the Erie canal.
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