Emily Goss Davenport

The invention of the world's first electric motor is credited soley to Thomas Davenport. Some sources include his wife's cousin and brother, but few include the critical role played by Thomas's wife Emily. Recent research as well as contemporary biographers of Thomas Davenport clearly indicated that Emily Goss Davenport was as much involved in this important invention as her more widely-known husband. Thomas Davenport, an impoverished, uneducated blacksmith, had become intrigued with Joseph Henry's electromagnet that had come to be used in the iron ore separation process. Davenport purchased one of Henry's magnets and together with Emily, his brother Oliver and cousin Orange Smalley began work on what is described in the patent specifications as "an application of magnetism and electro magnetism to propelling machinery." (Patent Number 132). Both Thomas' biographer Walter Davenport and brother emphasize Emily's role in the invention. She was well-educated, kept the notes as the invention went along and recommended, most critically, the use of mercury as a conductor when it came to the point where it looked as if the Davenports' efforts were about to fail. The Davenport electrical motor received its formal patent in 1837 and Thomas sold a model to the country's first school of engineering, Rensselaer Institute in New York. It would be almost fifty years later before Thomas Edison would start his manufacturing company to produce motors modeled after the Davenport electrical motor.

Athena Greek Goddess of Mechanical Skills


Biography of Thomas Davenport by Walter Rice Davenport (Vermont Historical Society, 1929).
Mothers and Daughters of Invention by Autumn Stanley (Rutgers University Press, 1995) pp. 293-294
Patently Female by Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Pracek (John Wiley, 2002) p. 28.

Web Sites:

Inventor Stories
The Blacksmith's Motor
Thomas Davenport