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Finding Aid for the Moses G. Farmer Papers, 1830-1893
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Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Moses G. Farmer Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1830-1893
    Collection number: 771
    Creator: Farmer, Moses G. (Moses Gerrish), 1820-1893
    Extent: 5 boxes (2.5 linear ft.) 1 oversize box
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Abstract: Moses Gerrish Farmer (1820-1893) was born in Boxcawen, New Hampshire. While he was a school principal in Dover, New Hampshire, he invented a machine to print paper window shades. He invented what became the first electric fire alarm system in the U.S., discovered means for duplex and quadruplex telegraph, invented an incandescent electric lamp and in 1866, he patented a self-exciting dynamo. The collection contains correspondence to and from Moses G. Farmer, account books, diaries, clippings, photographs, and other memorabilia. The collection also contains legal and business papers regarding Farmer's patents and inventions, especially the electric railroad and fire alarm system.
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Advance notice required for access.

    Additional Physical Form Available

    A copy of the original version of this online finding aid is available at the UCLA Department of Special Collections for in-house consultation and may be obtained for a fee. Please contact:
    • Public Services Division
    • UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections
    • Room A1713, Charles E. Young Research Library
    • Box 951575
    • Los Angeles, CA 90095-1575
    • Telephone: 310/825-4988 (10:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m., Pacific Time)
    • Email: spec-coll@library.ucla.edu

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Charles Scribner's Sons, purchase, 1962.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Moses G. Farmer Papers (Collection 771). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Biography

    Moses Gerrish Farmer was born February 9, 1820 in Boxcawen, New Hampshire; entered preparatory school at Andover in 1832; attended Dartmouth, but withdrew because of ill health; he worked briefly in a civil engineer's office and was affiliated with various private schools in New England; married Hannah Tobey Shapleigh in 1844; while he was a school principal in Dover, New Hampshire, he invented a machine to print paper window shades; began work with the electric telegraph, eventually taking charge of the telegraph line between Boston and Newburyport,Massachusetts in 1848 he invented what became the first electric fire alarm system in the U.S.; discovered means for duplex and quadruplex telegraph; in 1858-59 invented an incandescent electric lamp; in 1866 he patented a self-exciting dynamo; appointed as electrician of U.S. Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island; consulting electrician, U.S. Electric Light Company of New York; died in 1893.

    Biographical Narrative

    Moses Gerrish Farmer, inventor and pioneer electrician was born on February 9, 1820 in Boxcawen, New Hampshire to Colonel John and Sally (Gerrish) Farmer. He died at the World's Fair in Chicago on May 25, 1893.
    In 1832 Moses Farmer entered the preparatory school at Andover, Massachusetts. He also attended Dartmouth College, but had to give up his studies due to ill health. After a brief period of employment in a civil engineer's office, Farmer was affiliated with various private schools in New England including Eliot Academy, Eliot Maine. While in Eliot, Farmer married Hannah Tobey Shapleigh on December 25, 1844. They had one daughter, Sarah Jane Farmer.
    Moses Farmer's career as an inventor began while he was principal of a school in Dover, New Hampshire. At that time he devised a machine to print paper window shades. In 1845 he became enthusiastic about electricity. His first project was to construct a miniature electric train which was first exhibited on July 26, 1847. By December of that year he had accepted a position as wire examiner of the new electric telegraph line between Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts. During this time he learned telegraphy and July 1848 was appointed operator in the office at Salem, Massachussetts. Farmer later took charge of the telegraph between Boston and Newburyport, Massachusetts and undertook opening telegraph offices along this line.
    In the meantime, Moses Farmer continued his electrical experimentation at home. In 1848 he invented an electric-striking aparatus for a fire-alarm service which he developed with Dr. William F. Channing. This system was installed in the City of Boston in 1851. Farmer became the superintendent of the system. This was the first electric fire-alarm system in the United States.
    Farmer resigned the superintendency in 1853 and worked on his various electrical ideas. In 1855, he discovered the means for duplex and quadruplex telegraph. Succeeding in depositing aluminum electrolytically in 1856, he went into the electrotyping business with several other men. The business failed in the panic of 1857.
    After the business failure, Moses Farmer experimented with electricity as a source of light and in 1858-59 he invented an incandescent electric lamp. Becoming the superintendent of a tobacco-extracting manufactory in Somerville, Massachusetts, allowed Farmer to do further experiments. In 1866 he patented, a self-exciting dynamo. His attention was then concentrated more and more upon electric power generation and distribution.
    In 1872 Farmer was appointed to the office of electrician at the United States Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island. For a period of nine years he greatly advanced torpedo warfare until his health made his resignation imperative. As far as his health permitted, he then acted as consulting electrician for the United States Electric Light Company of New York. After several years he retired with his family to their summer home at Eliot, Maine, where he established a public library.
    Moses Gerrish Farmer led the way by thirty years in many applications of electric current. His electrical patents rivalled Thomas A. Edison's. He received less fame and less profit because of his constant impulse to plunge into the unknown rather than to develop and perfect a marketable invention. Farmer's patents were purchased by the United States Electric Light Company and were later sold to Westinghouse.

    Scope and Content

    Collection contains correspondence to and from Moses G. Farmer, account books, diaries, clippings, photographs, and other memorabilia. Correspondents include inventors Joseph Henry and William Francis Channing. Also contains legal and business papers regarding Farmer's patents and inventions, especially the electric railroad and fire alarm system. Includes correspondence and papers of members of the Farmer, Shapleigh, and Little families.

    Expanded Scope and Content

    The Moses Gerrish Farmer collection was purchased in July 1962. The collection contains correspondence to and from Moses Gerrish Farmer and papers regarding his patents and inventions, especially the electric railroad and fire-alarm system. There is some biographical material in the collection including an autobiography of Farmer. Various other writings by Farmer are also present. The remainder of the collection is composed of correspondence and papers of members of the Farmer, Shapleigh and Little families, including legal papers, diaries and photographs.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Correspondence of Moses G. Farmer (Box 1).
    2. Correspondence of other family members (Box 2).
    3. Legal papers of Richard Shapleigh, Sally Gerrish Farmer's diaries, photographs (Box 2).
    4. Autobiography, biography, and biographical materials on Moses G. Farmer (Box 2).
    5. Various writings of Moses G. Farmer, insurance policies, and legal papers (Box 3).
    6. Notes re: inventions, electric railway, fire alarm system (Box 3).
    7. List of patents, patent applications and agreements, published patents (Box 4).
    8. Letters of Moses G. Farmer and miscellaneous material (Box 5).
    9. Journal of Hannah Farmer, 1844-53 (Box 6).

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Farmer, Moses G.--(Moses Gerrish),--1820-1893--Archives.
    Inventors--United States--Archival resources.
    Diaries.