Memoir

Joseph Saxton

March 22, 1799 - October 26, 1873


Election Year: 1863
Membership Type: Member

Joseph Saxton was a prolific American inventor and a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences. Saxton left his home in a small Pennsylvania village at age 18 to seek fortune in Philadelphia. He worked in that city as a watchmaker, an engraver, and an apprentice machinist, and his reputation for ingenuity led to his membership in the Franklin Institute.

Saxton traveled to England and gained employment at the Adelaide Gallery of Practical Science, which was a museum for the public that demonstrated new inventions and scientific principles. During his time with the gallery, Saxton invented the magneto-electric machine, an apparatus for measuring the velocity of vessels, a device for measuring the height of water in a steam boiler, the riflescope, and the fountain pen.

Saxton also improved a machine that had been invented to draw repeated adjacent lines of varying depth on the surface of metal. His new design automated this machine and lent precision to how it marked designs on blank coins. He returned to the United States in 1837 to oversee the standard weighting apparatus of the U.S. Mint, and was later asked to construct standard weights, balances, and measures that could be used nationwide.

In 1843, Saxton received the Scott Medal of the Franklin Institute. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society.

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