John Burnham's Foundry


John Burnham's Brass Foundry

Caleb Lysander Howe Photograph


The shadows on the front of the building show that the sun is almost directly overhead on a summer day. Had Caleb Howe capped the lens five minutes later, the shadow falling from the roof eave would have dropped, to reveal the words painted on the lower part of the board.


Coin Silver Spoons For I. R. Wilder

Burnham Foundry 1850's

John Burnham, Sr. made brass pumps for the new-fangled windmills, and fashioned coin silver spoons from Spanish-milled dollars---six dollars to the spoon. He once cast a splendid gold ring from a nugget discovered in 1827 in the Branch Brook in the village of Williamsville in Newfane. But skilled silver-smithing remained the Burnham & Sons specialty---

Fiddle-end New England coin silver spoon by Brattleboro, Vermont silversmith John W. Burnham, circa 1835. Pointed oval bowl with rounded chamfered shoulders and downturned fiddle terminus. Struck once with the maker's mark "J. W. Burnham" in Roman capitals in a plain rectangle. "F S G" in sprigged script is engraved in the American style, parallel to the stem, on the terminus obverse. The length is 5 3/4" and the weight is 14 grams, or .45 Troy ounces.


Vermont Phoenix Advertisement

"The handmade silver spoons of John Burnham, Senior, won him a great reputation, and every newly married couple was expected to have a half-dozen, made from six Spanish mill dollars."


Larkin G. Mead House, Horse, John Burnham's Foundry



John Burnham, Jr.

John Burnham*

[Extract from the Illinois volume of the United States Biographical Dictionary, published at New York and Chicago, 1876].

He was born in Brattleboro, Vt., March 16, 1816; the son of John Burnham and Rachel nee Rossiter, both of whom were natives of Connecticut. He is a descendant of Thomas Burnham, who emigrated from England and settled in Hartford, Conn., about 1640.

John's educational advantages, very limited in extent, were such as the common schools of his native place would afford. He early developed a fondness for the reading of philosophical works and kindred subjects, but at an early age was obliged to close his studies and assist his father, who was a worker in gold and silver, also a brass founder and coppersmith.

Three years he traveled through New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine selling and fitting trusses. Going to Ellington, Conn., he there engaged with Mr. Henry McCray in the pump business, and soon began the sale of the now well-known "hydraulic ram."

He continued in this business until he was nearly 30 years of age, and during that time found so many who wanted running water, where they had not fall enough to use the ram, that his attention was diverted to the wind as a motive power.

Here was the power of millions of horses, sweeping through the heavens over every man's farm throughout the known world, and might be utilized to the saving of human, the dearest of all labor. It was this thought that inspired him and urged him on to the prosecution of that invention which has more than met his most hopeful expectations.

There was at that time no manufactory of small wind mills in this country, and probably none in the world, the reason Mr. Burnham divined to be the difficulty in producing a machine that could stand the strong winds, and he felt that if this difficulty could be obviated, the success of such a machine would be certain.

Feeling that he had but limited abilities as an inventor, he applied to Mr. Daniel Halladay, then conducting a small machine shop in the village, and after several times calling his attention to the subject, received from him the following reply:


Daniel Halladay

"I can invent a self-regulating wind mill that will be safe from all danger of destruction in violent wind storms; but after I should get it made, I don't know of a single man in all the world who would want one."


Daniel Halladay born November 26, 1827 in Marlboro, Vermont

Self-Controlled Windmill 1854

Original Patent Drawing

Scientific American, X, No. 4 (October 7, 1854), p. 25

Being assured by Burnham that he would find men who wanted them, he began and soon produced a self-regulating wind mill. The two now united in the enterprise, and soon organized a joint stock company in South Coventry, Conn., with Mr. Halladay as superintendent and Mr. Burnham as general agent.

The wonderful growth of the enterprise is abundantly shown in the following fact: When the machine was first entered at a State fair for a premium, it had to be entered as a miscellaneous article, as no such thing had ever been entered on a fair ground for a premium.

To-day they are seen at every State and County fair throughout the country, while millions are invested in their manufacture, and they have become a common article for pumping at railroad water stations, on farms, and also for running farm machinery, and during six or eight years past they have been successfully used for flouring mill purposes, a single machine being sufficient to to run three sets of burrs.

The flour produced is, in quality, equal to that manufactured by steam or water power, and is furnished at a much less expense.

In 1856, Mr. Burnham removed to Chicago where he resided eight years. He there made the acquaintance of John Van Nortwick, Esq., a noted western capitalist and railroad manager, who, after examining Mr. Halladay's invention, induced some of his friends to join him in forming a joint stock company, entitled "The United States Wind Engine and Pump Company," with himself as president and general manager, Daniel Hallladay as superintendent, and Mr. Burnham as general agent. Up to the present time, (1876), $3,000,000 worth of the Halladay Standard Mills have been sold.


An 1885 Halladay Standard Mill

"Burnham's Frost Proof Tank"

Since the beginning of railroads, civil engineers have deemed the tank house, fuel and attendance, at water stations in northern climates, indispensable, and it is estimated that over $20,000,000 have been expended for this purpose.

This became a serious objection to the use of the wind mill, as large tanks had to be provided to hold water sufficient to last through unusual calms; and to remove this objection, Mr. Burnham began experimenting , with a view of producing a frost-proof tank.

For some time he met only with discouragement, as he could not induce a road to allow him to even try his experiment, and finally accomplished his purpose through a director of one of the railroads, who was a stockholder in the wind mill company.

The first frost-proof tank has now been in use during five winters without house, fuel or attendance, and the road which adopted the improvement has already made a saving of more than $150,000, and the universal use into which this improvement is now coming, will, in the next quarter of a century, produce to the railroads of this country a saving of $25,000,000.

Mr. Burnham attributes the success of his life not only to perseverance, untiring industry and an extensive business acquaintance throughout almost every State in the Union, but also to the superior mechanical and financial abilities of the men with whom he has been associated in business. Of the four patents which he has obtained, this last he considers by far the most important.

This native of our village, whose name has found creditable record, as will be seen by the foregoing extract, commenced his wandering from home at a very early age.

To restrain his natural inclination for traveling, when about two years of age, he was fastened at one end of a long rope, but he would keep the rope straitened, and his constant cries obtained his liberation.

His infantile journey, in 1821, was toward the western prairies---the arena of his fame to-day---when he was discovered and restored to his parents by that good angel of all the little ones---Miss Mary Tyler.

*"The Yankee genius in the bud," when rescued by Miss Mary Tyler, in 1821. See concluding pages of the Tyler papers.

Henry Burnham, "Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont. Early History, with Biographical Sketches of some of its Citizens. (Brattleboro: Published by D. Leonard, 1880). Pages 128-130.

The illustrations here were not included in Henry Burnham's history of Brattleboro. Henry Burnham is writing about his older brother John Burnham, Jr.



Captain Jabez Butler owned this tavern in 1802 in East Dummerston, Vermont. In the nineteenth century, the tavern was also a Post Office. It is now the New Hampshire-Vermont Veterinary Clinic.

The windmill appears to be homemade---that is, built from whatever materials were available. These structures could be quite picturesque. Daniel Halladay and John Burnham's work inspired the building of windmills in places in which the hydraulic ram could not operate, due to the lack of any nearby, steeply falling brook or stream.

This windmill is reported to have "creaked", and served travelers for a landmark. When the former tavern was finally converted to a veterinary clinic in 1952, the windmill, with its water tank, was so dilapidated as to be beyond repair---but the land is still called Windmill Hill.


U. S. Wind Engine and Pump Company


Halladay Standard Windmill

Although Daniel Halladay developed a working wind engine in 1854, it was his business partner, John Burnham, who was his inspiration. Burnham worked to manufacture pumps he sold throughout New England, and it was during this time he conceived the idea of wind-powered water pumps like those so familiar in Holland. Understanding the difficulty in building and maintaining custom windmills, however, Burnham challenged Halladay to create a cheaper, simplified windmill that could operate without the regular attention of a miller.

Within a year of Burnham's proposal, Halladay patented a wind engine that was somewhat based on the Dutch design: it had four sails upon a pivoting cap and was completely made of wood, but its tower was only a simple pole, its cap was self-governing via a tail vane, and it was designed exclusively for pumping well water. More importantly, a simple weight and pulley system controlled the pitch of the sails to harness more light winds or fewer strong winds.

Trying to sell windmills in the northeast was a futile task, especially in a region where steam engines and water-powered machines ruled. But after selling several to farmers and expanding railroad companies near Chicago, Halladay Wind Mill Company manufactured wind engines for Burnham's U. S. Wind Engine and Pump Company in Chicago. Eventually, the two companies merged and moved their operation to Batavia, Illinois in 1863.


"Illinois Windmills"







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