JF Ptak Science Books Post 1742 [Part of the series on Blank, Empty and Missing Things.]
This short post is about this remarkable illustration from a 16-page pamphlet by the inventor, architect and cast tion pioneer James Bogardus (1800-1874, Cast Iron Buildings, their Construction and Advantages, 1856 and 1858 second edition).
But before I get to that, I started to wonder about why it was that NYC developed up rather than out, vertically rather than horizontally? There was plenty of room for outward growth--and in mid-1850's, the period that this post addresses, most of the city had already been laid out, or at least up to 96th street. But in the city of about 900,000 people, there were few people living that far north (and not that many structure), with half of the population living below 42nd street. So, the largely flat, largely unoccupied island could well have been developed northward rather than skyward. My feeling is that the reason for vertical development was "running". That in the pre-telephone days and the earliest days of electrical telegraphy, that in order to conduct business rapidly messengers were used to take documents and communication back and forth. And so for the sake of speed of business, rather than have messengers traveling for 20 or 40 or 80 minutes to a more-removed uptown location, that it made more business sense to keep businesses together; and to do that on limited land, one needed to go up. Not out. I've never thought about this, ever, but this seems to make sense to me...
Now, getting back to the Bogardus illustration: what was missing was the building, or the pieces of the building that had previously been thought of as being absolutely essential for a structure of this size to maintain itself. But what Bogardus had done was to figure out a way of using cast iron rather than other building materials--a building tool that was stronger and with greater engineering chops than anything else that had been previously seen, which meant that there were different forces at play in structures using it, and which meant therefore that even though there were large pieces of the building's shell that were "missing", that this structure could and would still stand. It was a fabulous way of communicating a new idea.
What happened with the Boagardus idea is that it developed into the use of steel-framed buildings, which made for very light, very strong structures, which led to skyscrapers, which led to modernity.
The Harper Brothers building (built in 1854 at 331 Pearl Street) was an iron-facade building that was engineered by Bogardus (with the architect John B. Corlies) and was built in response--and partially as a safe, fire-proof building--following the devastating fire (and enormous liability payout) in the previous Harper building. One thing that was certainly different in the face of this building--owing to the efficiency of the cast iron, there could be plenty of windows in place of where there used to be building materials. And there was certainly plenty of glass in the Harper building.
[Image source: here, and THE HARPER ESTABLISHMENT; or, HOW THE STORY BOOKS ARE MADE, by Jacob Abbott; NY: Harper & Brothers, 1855. ]
[Patent source: the very easily usable Google Patents, much more nimble than the UST&PO, somehow.]
The trip to modernity didn't necessarily start here with Bogardus of course, but he was a considerable and significant chunk in the engineering developments necessary for the construction of tall buildings...and here it is interesting to note that another big piece of that development that came into being at nearly the same time (1854) as the publication of Bogardus' pamphlet and the construction of the Harper building was the installation of Otis' safety elevator int eh Haughtwout (five storey) store. And of course the elevator was necessary for the creation of tall buildings, just as the invention of the braking systems was essential for the creation of the elevator. And on the story goes.
The Bogardus achievement (patented May 7, 1850) was certainly an important step--it was pragmatic, efficient, and strong, and also led to the possibility of mass production and pre-fabricated structural elements. And for the mid-1850's, this was certainly a big deal.
One of the few remaining Bogardus structures, at 254 Canal Street, today:
And the Bogardus monument in the famous Green-Wood Cemetery, in Brooklyn: