William Dean Howells describes the Corliss steam engine, American Centennial Exhibition, 1876

At the 1876 American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, a mighty Corliss steam engine was ceremoniously unveiled on opening day by President Ulysses Grant and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. The 1400 horsepower engine powered all the other mechanical devices on display in the grand Machinery Hall. Earlier versions of the engine, whose design George Corliss patented in 1849, helped make possible the transition from water power to steam through their greater fuel efficiency, uniform motion, and ability to handle changes in load. 

William Dean Howells, the American writer and critic, saw the Corliss engine as a symbol of American technological might in the late 19th century. How does Howells use the Corliss engine to distinguish the United States from the older European nations? How does his rhetoric compare with that of Emerson and Cist?


President Ulysses Grant and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, starting Corliss steam engine in Machinery Hall, American Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, USA, from Graphic, volume XIII, no 341, June 10, 1876.

Howells, William Dean. “A Sennight of the Centennial.” The Atlantic Monthly 96. July 1876.

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