Moses Carlyle Johnson

Aug. 1, 2007
One of New England's most prominent sons is Moses Carlyle Johnson, born in 1844 in Hinsdale, N.H. At the age of just 18, Johnson moved to Hartford, Conn.

One of New England's most prominent sons is Moses Carlyle Johnson, born in 1844 in Hinsdale, N.H. At the age of just 18, Johnson moved to Hartford, Conn. and enlisted in Company D, Twenty-second Regiment, of the Union Army to serve his country during the Civil War.

After the war ended, Johnson continued to serve his country, as an inventor and mechanical engineer. He began as an apprentice machinist at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Conn., where he spent time investigating how to safely disengage individual machines from line shafts. At the time, disengaging tools from the line shafts that powered them meant that operators had to pull leather belts off pulleys on the line shafts every time — a time-consuming and somewhat dangerous job. So, to eliminate this problem, Johnson designed a friction clutch in 1884 that permitted engagement and disengagement of individual tools from factory line shafts. The friction clutch he designed was small, efficient, and able to handle high torques, so its use spread rapidly in machine tool operations.

Together with Henry Staubaugh and Frank Simon, Johnson founded the Helix Gear Co. in 1900. Two years later, he received a patent for his friction clutch. Then in 1903, they changed the company name to the Carlyle Johnson Machine Co., and moved to Manchester, Conn. Johnson held control over the company until 1905, when the Simons took over. But the company continued to design and manufacture new products, following in the footsteps of its founder. Among their inventions are the marine reversing drive in 1902 and more advanced clutches.

As for Johnson, after leaving the company he founded, he continued to tinker and invented several more mechanisms, obtaining several patents, most notably for the bicycle industry. He was involved in various business ventures until he passed away in 1926.

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