Note: While this series of six blogs will focus on patents from Pine Village, Rainsville, and Independence, Indiana, several equally fascinating patents originated in other towns within Warren County, Indiana.
As fewer than a million gallons of sorghum syrup are produced annually in the United States today, it is easy to forget that, in 1900, when the U.S. population was only a fourth what it is today, more than twenty million gallons were produced. Sorghum is a cereal grain that is harvested for human consumption in some parts of the world. As it is free of gluten and full of nutrients, sorghum could enjoy a comeback in the U.S. one day. Benjamin Franklin wrote about using the straw for brooms, but not until a century later was sorghum widely cultivated in the U.S. Page 62 of the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture (1859, published in 1860) announced that the state fair had witnessed “many samples of syrup of the Sorgho, or Chinese Sugar Cane.” As late nineteenth-century homes had gallon containers of sorghum syrup (a.k.a. sorghum molasses) to pour on buckwheat pancakes, to sweeten baked beans, to make cookies, and to flavor bread, there was widespread interest in techniques for boiling the juice from the crushed sorghum stalks to transform into syrup.
|Sorghum: An Important Crop in Samuel M. Williams' Day|
According to page 32 of the Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1867, 6,698,181 gallons of sorghum molasses were recorded in the census for 1860. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri were responsible for approximately half the total production in 1867, when Samuel M. Williams, who lived on a farm just west of my hometown of Pine Village, Indiana, invented an improved evaporator system to change sorghum juice into “sirup,” as the word was often spelled back then.
Sorghum Mill for Mashing Juice from Stalks
Drawing by Eric Sloane
In Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was (1982)
If my genealogical work is correct, Samuel was the grandson of two early Hoosiers. Kenneth E. Kinman contributed this information to the Society of Indiana Pioneers: Samuel Williams, who was born around 1788 in Charles County, Maryland, was the eldest son of Jeremiah Williams, who was born possibly in the 1760s in Charles County, Maryland, and who died on the 31st of May in 1812 in Franklin County, Indiana, where the family had moved after residing in Scott County, Kentucky. In 1809, the same year that Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe were born, Samuel married Susanna Hackleman, who was born a daughter of Johann Jacob Hackleman in South Carolina in 1787. The censuses of 1820 and 1830 recorded that Samuel and Susanna were living in Fayette County, Indiana. On the 8th of June in 1833, Samuel bought two hundred acres of land in Warren County, Indiana (the county where I grew up on a farm). Four years later, he added thirty-eight more acres. Although Samuel died on the 20th of March in 1839, his widow, Susanna, whom some documents call Susan, lived for many more years. She appeared in the censuses of 1840 and 1850 as a citizen of Warren County. She then moved across the state border to Iroquois County, Illinois, where she was buried.
Patent for Sorghum Juice Evaporator
By Samuel M. Williams
Pine Village, Indiana (1867)
I see an eight-year-old Samuel listed in the 1850 census (taken in September of that year), who is in Susanna’s household, where a daughter in her thirties was also living. I must guess that Samuel is Susanna’s grandson. They lived in Pine Township, which is immediately west of Pine Village and which includes Rainsville. I am virtually certain that I have identified the correct person as our inventor, but let me explain my slight hesitancy. The name “Samuel Williams” was common in the 1860s; there were several men by that name in Indiana. I believe that I can logically rule out the others and that Susanna’s grandson is the Samuel Williams of our story.
Samuel M. Williams’ Patent
For Sorghum Juice Evaporator
Reported in Scientific American for June 29, 1867
If I am right, Samuel was twenty-five years of age when he patented his evaporator system. Let us get the gist of his invention. Essentially, Samuel has one firebox to supply heat to three trays. When the sorghum juice has been reduced a third of the way in one of the trays, it is conducted into a second tray, and, when it has been reduced by a second third, it is finished in a third tray that is steam heated just above the firebox. Samuel opens and closes dampers to conduct heat from the fire to the tray of his choice.
Samuel also patented a rake with a screen that slides along the edges of the trays in such a way that it does not touch the unwanted sediment at the bottom of a tray but merely skims any unwanted scum off the surface of the syrup.
As with any patent about which not much can be known this many years later, I wonder if Samuel built and sold any of his evaporators. Apparently, his invention was novel enough to catch the attention of Scientific American, the leading magazine of its kind, which listed his evaporator patent. Other names associated with Samuel’s patent include witnesses William W. Sale and George W. Wakeman.