The inventor and patentee of all water wheels known as the Burham turbine died from Bright's disease of the kidneys at his home, York, Pa., Dec. 22, 1890, aged 68 years 9 months and 9 days. He was born in the city of New York, March 13, 1822, and was of English-Irish and French descent. His father was a millwright and with him worked at the trade in Orange county, N.Y., until he was 16 years old. He then commenced learning the watchmakers' business, which he was obliged to relinquish, after three years, on account of his health. He then went to Laurel, Md., in 1844, and engaged with Patuxent & Co. as mercantile clerk and bookkeeper. In 1856 he commenced the manufacture of the French turbine water wheel. In 1879 he sold out his Laurel interests, went to New York and commenced manufacturing his own patents. On May 22, 1883, he founded the Drovers' and Mechanics' National Bank of York, and was elected its first president, which position he held at the time of his death. In 1881, with others, he built the York opera house, at a cost of $40,000. He was a Knight Templar, and past master of the I.O.O.F., and past sachem of Red Men.


He was the oldest turbine wheel manufacturer living, having been actually engaged in the manufacture of turbines since 1856. He first made and sold the French Jonval turbine, which was then the best turbine made, but being complicated in construction, it soon wore out and leaked. From the experience he had from this wheel he invented and patented Feb. 22, 1859, his improved Jonval turbine, which was very simply constructed and yielded a greater percentage of power than the French Jonval turbines. Hundreds of these improved wheels, which were put in operation between the years 1859 and 1868, are still in use. (We show no cut of this wheel, but it had four chutes instead of six, as shown in March 24, 1863, patent.)

The first wheel (72 inch) made after the patent was granted was sold to Brightwell & Davis, Farmville, Va., and put into their flour mill under six feet head. In 1870, Brightwell & Davis sold their mill to Scott & Davis. Afterward G.W. Davis owned and operated the mill and put in one 1858 patent "New Turbine." In 1889 the Farmville Mill Company bought and remodeled the mill to roller process and required more power than the old 1856 Jonval turbine and 1868 "New Turbine" would yield, and on Aug. 30, 1889, sold the Farmville Mill Company two 54 inch new improved Standard turbines to displace the two old wheels. In 1860 he commenced experimenting with different forms of buckets and chutes, and used six chutes instead of four as first made, and was granted patent March 24, 1863.

This addition of chutes proved beneficial, as the wheel worked better with the gates partly opened than it did with four chutes. His next invention was granted him Dec. 24, 1867, which he called Burnham's improved central and vertical discharge turbine.

This improvement consisted in making the guide blade straight on the outside (instead of rounding, as then made by all others), from inner point back to bolt or gudgeon, and thick enough at the latter point to let water pass without being obstructed by said bolt and the arrangement for shifting the water guides. Two 42-inch wheels of this pattern were built and put into operation, but they soon commenced leaking water and became troublesome on account of the many small pieces of castings and bolts, and were abandoned as worthless. There are several manufacturers of this style of wheel that advertise them as "simple and durable." Such a complicated case with twelve chutes cannot be made to operate unless by a large number of castings, bolts and studs. With these adjustable water guides, one of the objects was obtained. Admitting the water to the wheel through chutes corresponding in height to the outer edge of buckets exposed, but not placing the water against the face of the buckets at right angles with the center of the wheel, except when the guide blades were full opened, for as the guides are changed so is the current of the water likewise changed.

After making several differently constructed wheels and testing them a number of times, he selected the best one and obtained a patent for it March 3, 1868, and called it "new turbine," which he still further improved and patented May 9, 1871. This "new turbine" consisted of the former improved Jonval wheel, hub and buckets, with a new circular case and new form of chutes, having a register gate entirely surrounding the case and having apertures corresponding to those in the case for admitting water to the wheel. This register gate was moved by means of a segment and pinion.

This "new turbine" soon gained for itself a reputation enjoyed by no other water wheel. It was selected by the United States Patent Office, and put at work in room 189, to run a pump which forces water to the top of the building. It was likewise selected by the Japan commission when they were in this country to select samples of our best machines. He continued making the 1868 patent and improved in 1871 "new turbine" but a few years, for as long as he could detect a defect in the wheel, case or gate, he continued improving and simplifying them, and in 1873 he erected a very complete testing flume, also made a very sensitive dynamometer, it having a combination screw for tightening the friction band, which required 100 turns to make one inch, and commenced making and experimenting with different constructed turbines. He made five different wheels and made over a hundred tests before he was satisfied. Application was then made for a patent, which was granted March 31, 1874, for his "Standard turbine."

This "Standard turbine" was a combination of his former improvements, with the cover extending over top of the gate to prevent it from tilting, and an eccentric wheel working in cam yoke to open and close the gate.

Thousands of Standard turbines are to-day working and giving the best satisfaction, and we venture to say that not one of the Standard turbines has been displaced by any other make of turbine, which gave better results for the water used. In 1881 he again commenced experimenting to find out how much water could be put through a wheel of given diameter. After making and testing several wheels it was found that the amount of water with full gate drawn named in tables found in Burnham Bros.' latest catalogue for each size wheel yielded 84 per cent. and that the water used with 7/8 gate drawn yielded the same percentage (84), or with ¾ gate 82 per cent., 5/8 gate 79, and ½ gate 75 per cent. A patent for the mechanism was applied for and granted March 27, 1883, and named Burnham's Improved Standard Turbine.

It was found that the brackets with brass rollers attached, to prevent the gate from rising and tilting and rubbing the curb, soon wore and allowed the gate to rub against the curb, and he experimented with several devices of gate arms. While so engaged he found that the great weight of water on the top of the cover sprang it, causing the sleeve bearing on the under side of the cover to be thrown out of place, and the gate pressed so hard against the case that it was almost impossible to move it, and after thoroughly testing with the different devices of gate arms, application was made and patent granted for adjustable gate arms, also for the new worm gate gearing May 1, 1888, and named Burham's new improved standard turbine.

This he improved and patented May 13, 1890, to run on horizontal shaft.

In the year 1872 he had two patents granted him for improvement in water wheels, but never had any wheels built of that pattern. After completing and patents granted for his new improved Standard turbine, he was perfectly satisfied, and often remarked, "I cannot improve on my register gate turbine any more, as it is as near perfection as can be made," and he was fully convinced, for the past year he was experimenting with a cylinder gate turbine, and patent was granted Oct. 21, 1890. Previously he had made a 24-inch wheel, which was tested Aug. 14, 1890, at Holyoke testing flume, and gave fair results, and at the time of his demise he was having made a new runner for the cylinder gate turbine, which we will complete and have tested. His idea was to have us manufacture and sell register and cylinder gate turbines. His inventive powers were not confined to water wheels, for on Feb. 23, 1886, patents were granted him for automatic steam engine, governor and lubricating device. We also remember in the year 1873 or 1874, when his mind was occupied with his "Standard turbine," he was hindered by some device used now on locomotives of the present construction (what it was we are unable to say), but when draughting at his water wheel, would conflict the two, and by his invitation we wrote to a prominent locomotive builder and had him examine the drawings, which he had not fully completed, and sold same to him.

Of this we only have a faint recollection, but do recollect his saying: "Well, that is off my mind now, and I can devote it to the finishing of my new wheel." - American Miller.