Rensselaer Reynolds

Biographical Sketch


Columbia County,

New York

Capt. Franklin Ellis423


    Following the cut and description of Mr. Reynolds' Empire Loom Works, which appear on the proceeding pages, it is fitting and proper that we should give a portrait and biography of the inventor and founder.

     Rensselaer Reynolds was born in Valatie, Columbia county, New York, on the 26th of August, 1807, his parents, Nathaniel and Sarah [Gillette) Reynolds [Click here for more information on this family], having settled there before the year 1800.  He served an apprenticeship with the late Nathan Wild, of that village, and on February 14, 1830, married Elsie Burns, of Schodack, Rensselaer county, New York.  She was born June 16, 1814.

     The mechanical genius of Mr. Reynolds was of a very positive and high order.  As early as 1830 he commenced hiring tools of his employer and set up in the machine business for himself.  Five years later he became associated with his brother Benjamin (deceased), who was also of an inventive turn of mind, and in 1837 the new firm first came into somewhat prominent notice by the exhibition of a revolving battery for projecting balls by centrifugal force.  This really ingenious and effective device actually discharged six thousand two-ounce balls per minute, with four men at the crank, and before a military commission in Washington sent them entirely through a two-inch plank at a distance of over one hundred and twelve yards.  Many of the leading artillerists of that day were highly pleased with the invention, and Major Worth, then  in active service, complimented the brothers Reynolds on the success they had achieved.  But although the invention was one of great merit, the method of warfare proved impracticable, as it has in all the subsequent numerous experiments of the kind, and the sanguine hopes of the inventors were doomed to disappointment.  The pecuniary loss to them was very heavy, and might have disheartened less resolute and determined men; but rallying at once, they resumed the general machine business, and were soon actively engaged in the manufacture of the looms then in use, to which they added many valuable improvements.

     Mr. Reynolds from an early period in his life was constantly studying the scientific principles of mechanism and applying them to the invention of machines of various kinds.  He and Nathan Wild invented the first gear-cutting machine in the United States, and made it a practical success.  He invented the first machine for insulating telegraph wires for submarine purposes, and the first machine in the United States for making round matches.  But his great invention was the perfection of the Empire Loom, which he began to manufacture at Stockport, in company with Mr. Benjamin, of New York, in 1852, with which his name and interest were ever after associated till the time of his death, and by which he will be known to the world through many generations yet to come.  Mr. Reynolds early saw and appreciated the defects in the common looms which, it was supposed, rendered it impossible to increase their rate of speed beyond certain limits, and he set his practical genius at work to overcome the difficulties hitherto considered insurmountable by the most skillful machinists.  He succeeded, first in the invention, and then in gradually maturing and perfecting it, until it stands absolutely unrivaled for simplicity, durability, and rapidity of operation.  It is safe to say that through the genius and enterprise of Mr. Reynolds the speed of the ordinary power-loom has been at least doubled, and, what is most interesting, this grand result has been attained without any troublesome complication of machinery.

     Mr. Reynolds built up a large and prosperous business at Stockport during the thirty odd years in which he was engaged in manufacturing the splendid product of his own fertile brain and enterprise.  He was a man of rare mechanical and scientific attainments, of great liberality and public spirit, particularly in the cause of education, of strictest integrity, and of an unblemished reputation in all the walks of life.  His sudden death, on the 8th of January, 1872, gave a shock to the community as the loss of a personal friend.  But a few days before he had been busy with preparations for a New Year's reception to be given by one of his daughters,--an event which he anticipated with much pleasure, but which was deferred on account of his illness.  He died peacefully, as if passing into sleep.

     His surviving family consists of six children, his four sons being his successors in business at Stockport, New York.