Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century
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DURFEE, William Franklin, engineer, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, 15 November. 1833, received a practical mechanical training at home, and took a course of special study at the Lawrence scientific school of Harvard. In 1853 he became an engineer and architect in his native town, and for five years held the appointment of City surveyor. It e was chosen as one of the representatives of New Bedford in the legislature of 1861, and, as secretary of its military committee, was active in forwarding legislation for the equipment of troops at the beginning of the civil war. While holding office he introduced a resolution requesting congress to repeal "all laws which deprive any class of loyal subjects of the government from bearing arms for the common defense." This is believed to have been the first definite proposal for the arming of colored troops.
Subsequent to the adjournment of the legislature he devoted himself to his profession, and designed a gun for naval use. A government commission reported that it was the best of its kind that had ever been brought to its notice. Every essential feature of this weapon anticipated that of the "Destroyer" of John Ericsson ; but the government was slow to adopt new weapons, and all efforts to introduce it were abandoned by Mr. Durfee.
In June 1862, he was invited to ascertain if the iron ores of the Lake Superior region were suitable for the manufacture of steel by a method invented by William Kelly, and he erected experimental works where ingots of steel were produced from which were rolled, on 25 May 1865, the first steel rails ever made in the United States. Mr. Durfee became convinced early in his study of the Bessemer process that an exact knowledge of the chemical composition of the crude materials was necessary, and for this purpose equipped, at Wyandotte, Michigan, the first analytical laboratory built as an adjunct to steelworks in the United States.
Since that time he has had the management of various works, and has successfully introduced the Siemens's regenerative furnace in several places. During 1876 he was one of the group of judges at the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia, having under its supervision the examination of machine tools for wood, iron, and stone working. For his services he received a medal. Afterward he built, at Ansonia, Connecticut, the first successful furnaces for refining copper by the use of gaseous fuel ever constructed in the United States. Of his recent work, the most conspicuous undertaking was the removal of a brick chimney, eight feet square at the base and 100 feet high, weighing 170 tons, from its original foundation, and successfully placing the same upon a new one some thirty feet distant. In 1886 he accepted the general management of the U. S. Mitis company, owners of important patents for the production of wrought iron.
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