Saturday, February 9, 2019

Exhibitions in American Public Spaces - The Machine in the Garden

Commercial public pleasure garden owners welcomed the curious machine into their 18th century American gardens with open arms. The machine soon would transform man's ancient agrarian society into a bustling industrial, & then, technological economy.


1671 Christiaan Huygens by Caspar Netscher (1635-1684)

In the 1600's & 1700's, master clockmakers began to build elaborate clockwork machines, initially showing the movement of the sun & planets.  The clockworks depicting the planets & sun were called orreries. Clockwork machines had been built by Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) & Steven Thrasi (d 1703) in Leiden by 1700.  Englishman George Graham invented the orrery about 1710.  This was quickly copied by London instrument maker John Rowley & more commercial, entertaining clockwork machines soon were available from English vendors George Adams & Benjamin Martin.  The popularity of these machines exploded in Europe, England, & the British American colonies.


An orrery by John Rowley. Detail of an engraving from The Universal Magazine (1749).  The device of arms & balls & gears, run by clockwork, showed how the planets & their satellites moved around the sun as time passed.  The Earth typically took about 10 minutes to go round once, so it probably would not have been an enthralling spectacle by today's standards.  John Rowley made a copy for Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery, and ingratiatingly named it in his honor.

During the 18C, Enlightenment writers sometimes described the universe itself using the metaphor of a great clock, an intricate mechanism moving with the perfect regularity & predictability of clockwork.  One of the earliest of these was Rene Descartes (1596–1650) who wrote in his 1664 Treatise on Man, "I suppose the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth ... Thus God ... places inside it all the parts required to make it walk, eat, breathe & indeed to imitate all those of our functions that can be imagined to proceed from matter...We see clocks, artificial fountains, mills & other such machines which, although only man made, have power to move of their own accord in many different ways. But I am supposing this machine to be made by the hands of God, & so ... you may reasonably think it capable of a greater variety of movements than I could possibly imagine in it."

Some of the earliest entertaining machines finding their way into a commercial colonial garden were akin to the clockwork mechanisms displayed in Pennsylvania at Philadelphia's Coach and Horses Tavern in 1738. The owner brought the exhibit to his tavern in hopes of beguiling his fairly influential clientele. The work depicted the dreams of the Biblical character Joseph.

The initial promotion must have been successful, as the intriguing machine made an encore appearance at the popular Coach and Horses in 1745.  The tavern & grounds, built around 1690, had originally been called The State House Inn of Philadelphia & was also known by the owner's name as Clark's Inn. In colonial times it seems to have been called the "Coach and Horses," & after the Revolution the "Half Moon." The most important thing about the tavern was its location. It sat on Chestnut Street across from State House which gave it the custom of the members & hangers-on of the colonial assemblies.  In the 1898 Memorial History of the City of Philadelphia, it was reported, "Master William Penn, when he was in Philadelphia during his second visit to his province, used to sit in the porch & refresh himself with a pipe...Apparently it was only a drinking-house of the commoner sort, to which the statesmen of the capital resorted for a cheerful glass..."

The Coach and Horses inn was a rather common 2 story building which stood not in a green garden filled with walkways & grass, but in a field covered in white crushed shells. At the Coach and Horses, where the city elections were usually held, discarded oyster & clam shells around it had been trampled into a hard, white, smooth yard giving it the appearance of a sea-beach tavern.  Whenever the weather permitted, guests would sit on chairs from the tavern carted out to the porch & the "garden."  The grounds did boast two ancient walnut trees, the remains of the forest that covered the neighborhood in Penn's time. The last of these trees was cut down in 1818.  Some of the wood was made into snuff-boxes, one of the boxes being presented to the Marquis de la Fayette, when he visited Philadelphia in 1825.

In another Philadelphia tavern, Crooked Billet, the owner exhibited a clockwork mechanism featuring eight figures ringing eight bells, while a lady turned head over heels "like a mountebank" in 1744. (In the mid 18th century, a mountebank was an impudent pretender to a skill or knowledge, a charlatan, who resorted to some degrading means to gain attention.) Men & women were invited to view this mechanical extravaganza for six6 pence apiece. Children were admitted for 3 pence.  Benjamin Franklin, fresh off the boat from Boston in 1723, looking for a "reputable" Philadelphia tavern headed for the Crooked Billet. The tavern was established in the 1690s by widow Alice Guest on Front Street below Chestnut.

By September 8, 1746, Richard Brickell had arrived in the colonies and begun to perform and promote in the New York Evening Post, a variety of entertainment in the taverns & public pleasure gardens of the colonies.  This initial presentation consisted of an elaborate musical clockwork with bellringers. "a curious musical machine, lately arrived from England, which performs several strange and diverting motions, viz. the doors fly open of their own accord, and there appear six ringers in white shirts, all busy pulling the bell-ropes, and playing several tunes, chimes, and changes:  They first appear with black caps and black beards; at one corner there is a barber's shop and a barber's pole hung out, and at the shop door stands the barber's boy, who, at the word of command, gives three knocks at his master's door, out comes the barber with his razor and bason, to shave the ringers, then the doors shut themselves whilst the barber is shaving them, then the doors open themselves the second time, and the ringers appear all clean shaved and clean caps put on; afterwards they ring a long peal of changes, and fall their bells to admiration, then the barber walks into his shop again, his boy standing ready to open the door for his master, and then shuts it after him; last of all, the great doors shut themselves again.  All being performed by clock-work, in intimation of Bow-Bells in London...Where is also to be seen, the curious and surprizing Magick Lanthorn, by which Friar Tuck, Doctor Faustus, and others, performs such wonderful curiosities, representing upwards of 30 humourous and entertaining figures, larger than men or women; as the Rising Sun, the Friendly Travellers, the Pot Companions, the Blind Beggar of Gednal Green and his Boy, the Merry Piper dancing a Jigg to his own dumb musick, the Courageous Fencing Master, the Italian Mountebank or famous infallible Quack,  the Man riding on a Pig with his face towards the tail, the Dutchman scating on the Ice in the midst of summer; with a great variety of other figures equally diverting and curious, too tedious here to mention."

In New York City, Adam Vandenberg's drinking establishment was known as the Drovers' Inn. In connection with the tavern business, he also operated a commercial public pleasure garden called Mead Garden. Vandenberg seems to have been one of the most energetic & successful amusement-promoters of his day. In addition to his tavern & entertainment garden, he maintained a race-course, to which he charged admission at the rate of six-pence a head, & which was the scene of many lively contests according to the local newspapers. Vandenberg was still in the occupation of the premises as the Revolution approached, when a a liberty pole was erected opposite his house.

An expert at enticing new drinking patrons into his Mead Garden, proprietor Adam Vandenberg, offered an intricate machine fantasy to lure the curious in 1755. He announced obtaining, "a curious musical MACHINE" depicting the 1703 London play The True & Ancient History of Bateman; or The Unhappy Marriage.  Vandenberg was so impressed with the mechanism that he bought newspaper space to advertise the entire workings to potential patrons. "Two folding doors fly open, a curtain draws itself up, & exhibits a company of gentlemen &ladies, with knives & forks in motion, sat down to a wedding-dinner. The bride having promised marriage to young Bateman, proving false, & marrying old Jermain, Bateman hangs himself on her wedding day. Four cupids fly down, & carry Bateman away. The bride still enjoying herself at dinner, she at last falls from the table, dead & her rosy colour changes to a deadly paleness; After which the devil comes up, &carries her away. Here the curtain falls, & ends the first act. The drawing up a Second time...exhibits young Bateman laid in state, with mourners about him, dressed in black cloaks & white hatbands; the room hung with excutcheons, & six ringers, in their shirts, ringing the bells...The whole represented by clock-work."

Elaborate clockwork productions retained their popularity throughout the 18th century, when a clock was probably the only machine most British American colonials could hope to own. Machines traveled from tavern to tavern. Bateman's clockwork tragedy appeared at Philadelphia's The Death of the Fox tavern in 1756. By that year, the owner John Butler ran his stage-wagon & stage-boat twice a week, setting out from his house 'at the sign of the Death of the Fox, in Strawberry alley,' on Monday morning, reaching Trenton, New Jersey ferry the same day. He received the return passengers at the ferry, & took them to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Interest in clockwork machines was booming, both inside & outside the commercial garden, by the time of the American Revolution.  In South Carolina by December of 1773, the Charleston Library Society decided to "to engage an ingenious Artist one Mr Writtenhouse of Philadelphia who is a native of Pennsylvania to make an Orrery for this Society (he having made one & nearly nearly finished another in which he seems greatly to have improv'd that Instrument)."  David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was a renowned American astronomer, clockmaker, mathematician, surveyor, scientific instrument craftsman, & public official. Rittenhouse was a president of the American Philosophical Society; Treausrer of Pennsylvania; & the first director of the United States Mint.


Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) Portrait of David Rittenhouse (1732-1796)

Familiar with published descriptions & illustrations of orreries produced by several English clockwork makers, Rittenhouse based his design on John Rowning's Compendious System of Natural Philosophy (1758).  In a 1767 letter, Rittenhuse explained how his clockwork orrery would differ from the strictly entertaining orreries & clockworks being produced in England, "I did not design a machine which should give the ignorant in astronomy a just view of the Solar System: but would rather astonish the skilful and curious examiner, by a most accurate correspondence between the situations and motions of our little representatives of the heavenly bodies, and the situations and motions of those bodies, themselves. I would have my Orrery really useful, by making it capable of informing us, truly, of the astronomical phaenomena for any particular point of time; which, I do not find that any Orrery yet made, can do."

Rittenhouse had begun his orrery design in 1767.  His 1st machine which contained 3 faces & pointers could determine the position of a planet for any day in the nest or the past 2,500 years of 1767.  A 2nd Rittenhouse machine measured 16 feet in width & was 8 feet high.  The Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, April 26th, 1770: "It is with pleasure we inform the public that the Orrery of which the American Philosophical Society formerly published an account projected and executed by Mr. David Rittenhouse in this Province is now almost finished. As this is an American production and much more compleat than anything of the-kind ever made in Europe, it must give great pleasure to every lover of his country to see her rising to fame in the sublime science as well as every improvement in the arts. Dr. Witherspoon accompanied by some gentlemen went on Saturday last to see and converse with the ingenious artist, and being convinced of the superior advantages that must arise from this new invented Orrery in the study of natural philosophy, and desirous to encourage so truly great a genius, purchased it for the use of the College of New Jersey."


The Rittenhouse Orrery at the University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia   The machine measures 16 feet in width & was 8 feet high.

Knowledge of clockwork machines, especially the Rittenhouse Orrery was growing throughout the public.  It ws alluded to in "The Vision of Columbus," published at Hartford in 1787:
See the sage RITTENHOUSE, with ardent eye,
Lift the long tube and pierce the starry sky;
Clear in his view the circling systems roll,
And broader splendours-gild the central pole.
He marks what laws th'eccentric wand'rers bind,
Copies Creation in his forming mind,
And bids, beneath his hand, in-semblance rise,
With mimic orbs, the labours of the skies.
There wond'ring crouds with raptur'd eye behold
The spangled Heav'ns their mystic maze unfold;
While each glad sage his splendid Hall shall grace,
With all the spheres that cleave th'ethereal space.
Mechanical clockwork machines, especially the two Rittenhouse orreries were of interest to a wide range of early Americans.  John Adams, August 27, 1776, wrote of the Princeton Orrery: "Here we saw a most beautiful machine--an Orrery or planetarium constructed by Mr. Rittenhouse of Philadelphia. It exhibits almost every motion in the astronomical world."

Near the end of the 18C, another clockwork exhibition appeared in a public pleasure garden in New York City. In 1798, Frenchman Joseph Delacroix presented a typically European intricacy at his Ice House GardenThe machine featured Charles, the Archduke of Austria, & Napoleon signing the Treaty of Campo Formio at Rastatt while a Turkish band played & 14 figures marched in the background. A bear & several monkeys danced to the commands of a keeper, & a German couple then danced with the bear plus a Harlequin. Admission to behold this "beautiful & astonishing sett of Mechanism, far superior to any ever exhibited in the United States," was two shillings for adults & one shilling for each child.

Clockwork machines were morphing into larger entities by the turn of the century.  Always searching for new ways to entice patrons to his New York City gardens, in 1805 Delacroix added a display of "hydraulic machines" to his July 4th spectacular. He announced that "at very great labor & expense" he had erected the machines in his garden. The apparatus turned vertically & horizontally using water power.  The inventor set up the whole machine as a globe of the world displaying people, a ship in full sail, animals, birds, fish, & trees. "The first moving wheel displayed Minerva, Pluto with Cerebus chained, a shepherdess, a miser with a money bag, a beggar with a bundle, & three children standing on each others shoulders. The second turning wheel was dedicated to mechanics. A wheelwright, cooper, baker, tanner, shoemaker, gardener, whitesmith, & a miller spun around on this level. The third twirling loop honored the military exhibiting a company of uniformed soldiers with two on horseback. A fourth wheel displayed an elegantly dressed African queen, a sportsman, a jew, Apollo with his harp, a Dominican friar on horseback, & Pluto with his dog chained."  In all, 12 wheels exhibited a variety of curious people &animals.

Four years later, the ingenious Delacroix added nine new wheels containing transparent paintings to his hydraulic machine. The paintings represented traditional motifs, "A figure of Night flying before the God of Day, who opens his azure gate to distribute his favours on the earth. Phoebus conducting his chariot, accompanied by Nymphs strewing flowers. Mars conducted by Victory to the Temple of Peach, where the Goddess offers him the Palm & Crown of Laurel, & a procession of Lovers offering at the Temple of HYMEN."



In the summer of 1800, inventor Phineas Parker patented a curious new attraction for Joseph Delacroix's New York City garden. This machine was not just meant to be viewed, adventurous visitors could even climb aboard Mr. Parker's contraption for a ride.



Parker called his novelty the "Patent Federal Ballon" or the "Vertical Aerial Coachee." The inventor offered to carry "persons in health...1500 feet per minute, nearly 20 mile an hour, but slower if they chuse," while passing by "a rich variety of Landscapes, equal to any in the world, & alternate views of the Waters of the East & North Rivers of the City of New-York, & the neighboring Villages."



He advertised that eight people could ride on the machine at a time. The machine may have been "flying horses"--called a a merry-go-round today--or it might have been a rotating flying swing. Philadelphia diarist Elizabeth Drinker remembered that the owner of the Coach and Horses tavern in that town "kept flying-coaches fifty years ago, perhaps."



Not to be outdone, Delacroix's fellow Frenchman Joseph Corré installed flying horses, a fountain, & a swing "for the amusement of the Ladies." in his new Mount Vernon Garden in 1800.


The proprietor of the Hay Market Garden in Richmond, Virginia hoped his machine would help increase his dinner business. In 1802 he promoted a newly patented cooking machine at his public pleasure garden while charging the audience for both the privilege of watching & eating.  ETHEREAL DINNER...a Dining & Dancing Party at the...Garden...THE dinner to be cooked entirely by the flame produced from gas according to Mr. Henfrey's mode, for which he has obtained a patent; the process of the cooking will be in view of the company so as to admit of a full investigation shewing its cleanliness, expedition & economy."

The novelty of newfangled machines did lure new patrons into America's 18th century commercial public pleasure gardens. Today's technology is based on machine building. Eighteenth century inventors soon abandoned the mechanical clockwork machines made soley for entertainment & applied the principles they had learned to the development of mechanical tools, soon inventing the world's first completely automated loom, controlled by a punch-card technology that anticipated the computer by 2 centuries.