One of the elements of his success was his ability to gather and hold about him men of the highest order. Among these was Elisha K. Root, one of the ablest mechanics New England has ever produced. Root was a Massachusetts farmer's boy, a few years older than Colt. He served an apprenticeship, worked at Ware and at Chicopee Falls, and came to the Collins Company
, axe makers, at Collinsville, Conn., in 1832. He began work there as a lathe hand in the repair shop, but very soon became foreman and virtual superintendent. His inventions and methods converted a primitive shop into a modern factory and gave the Collins Company control, for a long time, of the American market, and opened up a large export trade. In 1845 he was made superintendent, and that same year was offered three important positions elsewhere, one of them that of master armorer at Springfield.
In 1849 Colt offered him the position of superintendent at a large salary. It was characteristic of Colt that, although he was just starting and still in small rented quarters, he outbid three others to get the best superintendent in New England. Root moved to Hartford, designed and built the new armory and installed its machinery. Many of the machines devised by him at that time are still running, holding their own in accuracy and economy of production with those of today. Almost every process used in the plant felt his influence. He invented the best form of drop hammer then in use, machines for boring, rifling, making cartridges, stock turning, splining, etc., and worked out the whole system of jigs, fixtures, tools and gauges. The credit for the revolver belongs to Colt; for the way they were made, mainly to Root. Fig. 33, a chucking lathe, and Fig. 34, a splining machine, are two of Mr. Root's machines which are still at work. When Colonel Colt died, Mr. Root became president of the company and continued until his death in 1865, receiving, it is said, the highest salary paid in the state of Connecticut. He was a mechanic and inventor of high order, a wise executive, and the success of the two companies he served was in a large measure due to him. He was quiet, thoughtful and modest. His influence went into flesh and blood as well as iron and steel, for under him have worked F. A. Pratt and Amos Whitney, Charles E. Billings and C. M. Spencer, George A. Fairfield, of the Hartford Machine Screw Company
, William Mason and a host of others whom we cannot mention here. Like a parent, a superintendent may be judged, in some measure, by the children he rears, and few superintendents can show such a family.
Next to the death of the great inventor of the Colt Revolver, the Patent Fire-Arms Company
, as well as this whole community in the field of mechanical invention, could sustain no greater loss than in the death of Elisha K. Root, on the 5th of July, 1865. This eminent machinist and excellent man was born in Belchertown, Hampshire County, in the State of Massachusetts, May 5th, 1808. His education, in the ordinary acceptation of that term, was confined to a diligent improvement of such opportunities as a common district school could afford, for four months in the year, until he was fifteen years old, when he became apprentice in a machine-shop in Ware. But his mind was stimulated by being early associated with other minds in a cotton factory, where he worked as a “bobbin boy” for eight months in the year, from the time he was ten years old until he began his apprenticeship. Here, as well as in his subsequent career, he was familiar with great operations, and surrounded every moment with striking illustrations of the triumph of mind over matter. Every thing with which he had to do was an eloquent witness to the value of education-— to the power of mind in devising and improving machinery, and in wielding the gigantic forces of nature to accomplish splendid pecuniary results, as well as moral good for mankind. In his peculiar field of work his thoughtful mind was trained to habits of observation and reflection, and his gift of invention was developed into a beneficent power. After serving his apprenticeship in the machine-shop in Ware, he worked as a machinist in various factory villages, and among them at Stafford, Connecticut, and at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, returning occasionally and for brief periods to Ware. On one of these visits he saw, for the first time, Samuel Colt, astonishing boys and men by an experiment in blowing up a raft on Mill Pond by a torpedo, or some preparation of powder. In this, as well as in his early experiments with the pistol, “the boy was father to the man.”
In 1832 Mr. Root removed to Connecticut, and became connected with the Collins Company
, in Collinsville. The originator of that successful company writes: “He came here and offered his services in 1832,11 young man about twenty-five years of age, without any recommendation, except a remarkable head and eye, indicating a man of more than usual mental ability. He called himself a machinist, and commenced work at a turning-lathe in our repair-shop. It was not long before his superiority became manifest, and he was appointed overseer of that shop, and in a few years was virtually overseer of all the shops, though not appointed superintendent by our directors until 1845. He invented several useful machines for facilitating our work, some of which were patented. He never manifested anxiety to obtain large compensation for his services, but was content to hide his time. In 1845 he was offered the situation of ‘master armorer’ in the United States Armory in Springfield, and about the same time he received two offers from large manufacturing concerns in Massachusetts, with very liberal compensation, which resulted in our giving him increased pay to remain with us. In 1849 Col. (Colt made him very liberal offers, more than we could afford to pay, but he was satisfied with 'his compensation here, and Would probably have remained, if I had not advised him to accept this offer as a matter of duty to himself and his family. He was here with me seventeen years, and I knew him intimately. He was not only a superior mechanic, with great inventive faculties, but he was a man of excellent judgment, and great caution and prudence, which cannot be said of inventors generally. He was also a deep thinker on most subjects that interest men of science and thought. He was a man of great simplicity and purity of character, a very modest, unassuming man, and yet very decided and firm. He was a very conscientious man, so that all who had business with him were impressed with his strict honesty and integrity. He was a man of liberality, in every sense of the word. He was averse to display of any kind, and despised all sham. He was a very superior man, and he had few equals. Such a man is a great loss to any community. Any thing I could say would be deemed faint praise by those here who knew and loved him.”
While at Collinsville he invented and patented several machines which greatly facilitated and perfected the manufacture of the axe, by which the Collins axe got and kept possession of the American market. One of his patents covered an entirely new process for punching out the eyes of axes, instead of forming them by welding; and another, by bringing the axe to an edge by chipping instead of the slower process of grinding, at once economized its construction, and obviated a deleterious result to the lungs of the operatives.
After joining Col. Colt as superintendent of the manufacture of his arm at Hartford, he devoted all his efforts to perfecting the machinery by which alone an effective weapon could be made- with economy; and in this direction he achieved results which no one was so prompt to perceive, adopt, and reward, as the great inventor of the Revolver. Besides introducing, from year to year, improvements in the details of almost every process in the construction and arrangement of the parts for which he took out no patents, he devised in 1853, in the drop-hammer, a new mode of forging the parts of firearms, which was patented, and which has been widely introduced into all forging shops in this country and in Europe. In 1854 he procured a patent for an improved machine for boring the chambers in the cylinders of revolvers, which completely revolutionized the manufacture of the article, by the accuracy and rapidity with which the work was done. In the same year he patented a compound-rifling machine, by which the work on four barrels could be done at one time, and thus the results be quadrupled. His improvement in the slide lathe, patented in 1855, is now almost universally adopted wherever this machine is used. Among his patents assigned to the Colt Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company
, are three for making and one for packing cartridges; and among his unpatented machines, is one for shaping the barrel, and another for shaping the stock of the pistol. In the construction of the buildings of the Armory, his inventive genius devised methods, which effected great saving of timber and labor. For the pumping apparatus used in supplying water to the reservoir of Armsmear, as well as in that used by the city of Hartford, Mr. Root made several important improvements, which were introduced into the steam-engines manufactured by Col. Colt for the Russian government.
Wherever and by whomsoever employed, Mr. Root was not content to do the work in hand as well as any other person under the same circumstances, but his thoughtful and ingenious mind was busy in devising a safer, shorter, more economical, and more efficient way of accomplishing the same or a better result. Possessing not only the gift of invention, as rare in mechanics as in poetry, which defies analysis, he had that other quality, equally rare, of consummate prudence or wisdom which discerned the line, invisible even to many brilliant minds, that divides the possible from the visionary. Hence every one of his patents had an immediate practical value, and his many suggestions on any subject in the field of his study and experience, even those which were not patented, were always prized. The two great companies whose operations have proved so profitable to their proprietors and stockholders—the whole community, that is benefited and enriched by the possession of better and cheaper implements in consequence of his witty devices—owe him not only high estimation and pecuniary reward while living, but, in memory, a large debt of gratitude, as one of the world’s benefactors. To be appreciated as he was by the founders of these companies ——to rise in their employ from the anvil and the lathe to the largest salary paid in the State, and to accumulate a handsome fortune for his family—was equally creditable to him and to them.
Mr. Root was eminently a man of modest stillness and humility—of many thoughts and few words. They tell a tale, says Lord Bacon, of a Spanish ambassador that was brought to see the treasury of St. Mark, in Venice, and still he looked down to the ground, and, being asked why he so looked down, said “he was looking to see whether their treasure had any root, so that, if it were spent, it would grow again, as his master’s had in the mines of America.” Well was it for the Patent Fire Arms Company
, that when death had snatched away its founder from his unfinished enterprise, and fire had done its worst, they had such a Root, in more than one sense. Well is it for them today that, though these inventors are dead, their ideas live incarnate in steel; and that, when their present incarnations shall have perished, their ideas will have but begun their posthumous life, in states unborn and accents yet unknown.
- English & American Tool Builders, by Joseph Wickham Roe, 1916, pages 168-170
- Armsmear, the Home, the Arm & the Armory of Samuel Colt, by Henry Barnard, 1866, pages 257-262