The popularity which natural philosophy came to enjoy in the eighteenth century was probably due, above all else, to the triumphs of the "mechanic arts," that is, to the obvious utility of such inventions as the mechanical clock and steam engine. Physics was the core of natural philosophy, and physics was especially valued because of its useful applications. J. T. Desaguliers' Course of Experimental Philosophy ( 1734), one of the most popular texts, devoted as much space to the description of useful machines as to the principles of physics. The objective of the inventor was perhaps most frequently the improvement of agriculture or navigation, but his invention was most frequently mechanical in nature, as for example in the case of such items in the present collection as the mowing machine of John Jones (58-1, fig. 16) and John Fitch's paddle-boat (58-9, fig. 18). If we may judge from the surviving specimens related to the Magellanic Premium (58-19 and 58-50, fig. 14), the "improvements" submitted for that prize were chiefly mechanical in nature.
The specimens in the present collection have been classified, where appropriate, under the field to which they were applied -- agriculture, timekeeping, graphic arts, etc. Under the present heading we classify mechanical devices which do not fit these categories, inventions which were as practical as the hydraulic draw-gate submitted by Nathan Sellers in 1811, as impractical as Henry's wind-carriage, or as conventional as the pile-driver of Ludwig Kuhn. With the establishment of the national patent system in 1790 this type of improvement found an outlet more appropriate than the museum of the American Philosophical Society, and the period of its involvement in the mechanic arts drew to a close.
Made by Benjamin Dearborn. Wooden box on legs, with a hinged aperture in the top, drawer in front, and carrying handle beneath. Contemporary (?) marking in ink, "Inventor. Presented