Henry and the Horseshoe

Henry BurdenSome may say that Henry Burden was born with a horseshoe up his “derriere”. While horseshoes figured prominently, this self-made millionaire owed more to hard work and inventiveness than to luck. Born in Dunblane, Perthshire, Scotland in 1791, this Scotsman immigrated to Canada, married a girl from Lachute, Quebec and subsequently moved to the then young republic of the United States of America.

A brilliant inventor and trained engineer, Burden created the first designs for what would become the modern cruise ship. He built several early steamships including the “Helen”, named for his wife and the inland steamer, the “Hendrick Hudson”. Though his plans for “Burden’s Atlantic Steam-Ferry Company” never came materialized, his idea was adopted by Nova Scotia’s Samuel Cunard and others to give birth to the modern cruise liner.

First dredge for the corpsBurden’s ambitions came to fruition in Troy, New York where the Burden Iron Works became one of the largest iron foundries in the world. He created the world’s most powerful water wheel in 1851, developing twelve hundred horse-power and sixty feet in diameter, to power his nail factory. Poet Louis Gaylor Clark called it the “Niagara of Water Wheels”.

The Burden WheelBurden invented the first machine capable of mass producing horseshoes, previously a laborious process done by hand, and could produce 60 shoes a minute or 51 million annually. His machine made him very wealthy especially when he supplied the Union forces with horse shoes during the American Civil War. Burden also invented the first farm cultivator to be used in the United States.

The Burden horseshoe machine, a major breakthrough of the time.

Two of Henry’s grandsons, James A. and William A. M. Burden married granddaughters of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the then richest man in the world with a net worth equivalent today of 167 billion dollars. William later became a US ambassador to Belgium and served as the president of New York’s Modern Museum of Art.

Descendant Shirley Burden became a noted American photographer and Carter Burden a New York City socialite, chairman of the City Council and one time owner of the “Village Voice”.

The family’s wealth and influence waned somewhat by the mid-twentieth century but the clan certainly made its mark on the American era known as the “Gilded Age” and beyond.

Burden Iron Works Entrance


Photo Credits

Horseshoe Machine – Farm Collector

Picture of Henry Burden – rootsweb

Design by Burden – Art of Dredging

Main building of The Burden Iron Works, Troy New York – Wikipedia Public Domain

The Burden water wheel – Wikipedia Public Domain

Authors note: If you are of Scottish ancestry or just want to be, check out this link: Visit Scotland



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