GRIFFEN, John.-the Griffen family, who were all members of the religious Society of Friends, had lived for five generations in the same house, one of the oldest in America, in the township of Mamaroneck, Westchester Co., N.Y., where John, son of John Griffen, was born in 1812. In less than a year after his birth his father died. As the property left was small, his mother became a school-teacher, and in that capacity educated him until his fourteenth year, when he commenced attending a Friends' boarding-school at Nine Partners, Duchess co., N.Y.
After finishing his education he entered the mercantile establishment of an uncle in the city of New York, and remained with him until his majority. He then engaged in business with another uncle. Afterwards he was bookkeeper. In 1843 he came to Pennsylvania, and was employed as bookkeeper in the iron-works and nail factory of R. C. Nichols & Co., of Norristown. Here he developed his talent for engineering and mechanical pursuits, which subsequently made him so celebrated as an engineer, inventor, and iron-master. He erected the iron-works of Moore & Hooven, of the same place, and while so engaged he conceived and successfully applied a novel method of using the waste heat from the heating and puddling furnaces for generating the steam necessary to run the engines. In this way the entire steam power necessary was produced without the use of any other fuel, all of which was lost under the old system. By this invention a mill could be run as cheaply as by water, while it is a decidedly better motor. While this idea had been before broached as a possibility, to him must fairly be ascribed the merit of being the first to successfully apply it. He was commissioned in 1847 to construct the works of Reeves, Abbott & co., at Safe Harbor; his duties were mainly of an executive character, and served to display his pre-eminent abilities. After the completion of the works he continued in their employ as superintendent until 1856, during which time he introduced the governor for controlling the speed of the steam engines used in rolling iron,-a great desideratum, but theretofore considered to be impracticable; and also machinery to run the carriage transporting the rails to the saws, instead of using hand labor. His well known invention for making wrought-iron cannon was also made here. Experiments were made to test the strength of these guns by the government; one of six hundred and twenty pounds (regulation weight nine hundred and eighty-eight pounds) was tried, which only burst after five hundred and sixty-eight discharges. The charges were gradually increased, the last three trials being with seven pounds of powder and thirteen balls, while the proof-charge for a bronze gun of the same calibre, but of nine hundred and eighty-eight pounds weight, is two pounds of powder, one wad, and one ball. Many hundreds of these guns, made by the Phoenix Iron Company and known as the "Griffen Gun," were used during the Rebellion.
He went to Phoenixville from Safe Harbor in 1856, to take charge of the iron-works there, and remained until 1862. His next invention was for rolling the large wrought-iron beams used in buildings on the small rollers then in use, for which he obtained a patent in 1857, and which is now in successful operation. Thousands of tons of these beams are now made annually. For years he rolled the largest beams rolled in the world. He assigned all rights to this process, except that of employing it in any other mill with which he might be connected, to the Phoenix Iron Company.
In 1862 he engaged to erect the Buffalo Union Iron-Works for a firm engaged in the general iron manufacture and in making iron beams. These works, though built in 1862, are now among the best in America.
In 1867 he accepted the position of civil and mechanical engineer with the Phoenix Iron Company, and eighteen months later he was again placed in charge of the works at Phoenixville as general superintendent. In 1873 and 1874 he erected the new and large works for the company which are now in partial operation. They are equal to any in the world, though there are in Europe some larger. They cover nearly seven acres, and are exclusively used for the finishing of iron. They are the first mills in the world in which compound high- and low-pressure vertical engines were introduced as the motive-power for roll-trains. The general plan of the mill-building and machinery was his own arrangement.
He was married in 1837 to Ester, daughter of Reuben Liggett, of New York, by whom he had five children, of whom only one survives. His first wife died in 1849; two years later he married her sister, by whom he had five children, four of whom are living. His eldest son, Robert, was a graduate of the Naval School, and was in the United States Navy. He lost his life by yellow fever while in the service of his country.
Mr. Griffen was elected burgess of Phoenixville in 1857. Subsequently he became a member of the school board. On his acceptance of the latter office he found the facilities offered for education very inefficient; and went to work to remedy the defects, and in a short time was largely instrumental in the erection of the present fine school-houses. He designed and superintended their erection, and had the schools properly graded. He was unanimously re-elected as a school director, being the first person in the borough to receive that honor. He is one of the directors of the Phoenix Iron Company (of which he is general superintendent), and is also a member of the firm of Clarke, Reeves & co., the celebrated bridge-builders. He is a good draughtsman, and has designed many of the finest residences in and about Phoenixville.
Mr. Griffen is a noble type of our free institutions, and illustrates
the grand example of a poor boy rising by his genius and industry to