Riflemaker, inventor, and patriot
Born—West Cain Township, Pa.,
May 19. 1729
William Henry was a man of many talents and interests. He was both a riflemaker and a student of natural philosophy who contributed to the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. He experimented widely, particularly with steam, and was the first man in the United States to experiment with a steam-driven boat. His experiment was unsuccessful, but it enabled him to impart considerable knowledge to Robert Fulton, who visited him frequently. He invented an apparatus utilizing the expansive force of heated air to open and close the dampers in a furnace, a screw auger, a steam-heating system, many labor-saving machines for gunmaking, and was at work on a 'steam wheel' when he died.
In civic affairs Henry also held many important posts. He was a justice of the peace, assistant burgess of Lancaster, assistant justice of the County courts, member of the State canal commission, delegate to the State Assembly, member of the Council of Safety, Treasurer of Lancaster County, and member of the Continental Congress. Throughout the Revolution he was assistant commissary general for the District of Lancaster, and he supervised the manufacture of clothing and ordnance for the Continental Army.
In the firearms field, Henry is best known for his fine rifles. He learned the trade from Mathew Roesser. beginning at the age of 15. In 1750 he formed a partnership with Joseph Simon, and because the quality of his work created considerable demand, he slowly acquired a comfortable fortune. From 1755 to 1760 he served as the principal armorer for the Pennsylvania troops called up for the French and Indian War. Upon his return from service he bought out his partner and conducted the business alone until joined by his sons. In addition to his rifles he expanded his operation during the Revolution to include musket and bayonet manufacture and the repair of arms.—Harold L. Peterson
Was this article helpful?
Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.