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Brunoniana

From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Corliss-Brackett House

The Corliss-Brackett House at 45 Prospect Street is the Admission Office of Brown University. The house was built by George H. Corliss during the years 1875 to 1882. Corliss was an inventor and manufacturer of steam engines. He was born in Easton, New York, in 1817. He came to Providence in 1844, hoping to get financial backing for his newly invented sewing machine (for which he had received his first patent on December 27, 1843) and to acquire some machine shop experience. Instead he became a draftsman and put away his sewing machine. Years later, when Elias Howe was introduced at a dinner of the Associated Scientific Societies of France as the inventor of the sewing machine, he replied, “I did not invent the sewing machine. That honor belongs to George H. Corliss.” Corliss became president of the firm which employed him and by 1848 had invented a fuel-saving cut-off that revolutionized the steam engine. In 1876 his famed “Centennial Engine,” 776 tons, 40 feet high on a platform 56 feet in diameter, was transported on seventy-one flat cars to Philadelphia to provide the power for the fourteen-acre Machinery Hall at the country’s Centennial Exposition. There for six months the Corliss engine delivered power for the many machines on display, but only on six days a week, because George Corliss did not work on Sunday and neither did his engine (even when asked by President Grant, who had expected to open the exposition on a Sunday, but had to change his plans).

At about this time Corliss’s young second wife developed an illness (probably hypochondria) for which one of her specialists prescribed that she should spend her winters in Bermuda. To that announcement Corliss replied that he would build a Bermuda in Providence. The Victorian mansion which he built was the first radiantly heated house controlled by a thermostat, which provided the warm climate of Bermuda for Mrs. Corliss. Other ingenious features of the house were a hydraulic elevator, concealed insect screens in the windows, and discreet bathrooms at the ends of corridors or, in one case, accessible by a swinging bookcase. Charles Brackett, motion picture writer, who won an Oscar with Billy Wilder for “The Lost Weekend,” acquired the house from his cousin Maria Corliss, daughter of George Corliss. He gave the house to Brown in 1955, with a life tenancy for himself. The house was renovated for use by the admission office in 1973.

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.


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