Biography of John Humphrey

John Humphrey, the founder and present general manager of the Humphrey Machine Company, was born October 12, 18$4, at Lyndon, Vt., from whence, at the age of nine years, his childhood home was changed to Rindge, N. H., and, with the exception of two years, he has since been a resident of Cheshire county. Not being exempt from enrollment in the great army of toilers for daily bread, he was early mustered into service in the conflict of life, and after some experience in the grist-mill and upon the farm of his step-father, he started out at the age of twelve to find employment and gain his own livelihood. His first engagement-in the wood-ware businesscontinued about three years, when he accepted a clerkship in a country store for one year, after which he returned to his more congenial mechanical pursuit, engaging with a wood-ware firm at Nelson, where, during the autumn of his second year, a failure of the water supply caused a stoppage of the mills for several weeks, which time the amateur mechanic industriously improved for the construction of a set of moulders patterns for a new machine which he had previously invented-sufficient instruction relative to rules for calculating the shrinkage of metal, draft, (coring), etc., being obtained from the “boss” machinist at Harrisville, and by a visit to a foundry to see the processes of molding, which were kindly explained so far as requisite for the purpose by the obliging proprietor and workmen who afterwards made castings from the then projected patterns. During the progress of the pattern work the proprietor of the machine shop at Harrisville (the late Mainard Wilson), having learned of the project, volunteered a very generous proposition to have the machine built at his shop, kindly offering the inventor facilities for doing the work, so far as he might be able, by his own hands, while upon any parts where he might require aid, the skilled workmen of the shop were to assist, either by exchange of service or for other proper compensation. This favorable offer was gratefully accepted, and in February, 1863, the work began, which after nearly three months persistent, but very pleasant labor, performed almost exclusively by the projector, the machine was successfully completed and put in operation in May following, when an invitation to remain at the machine shop instead of returning again to the wood-ware work, completed a series of seemingly providential incidents which directed and perchance determined the later calling of the subject of our sketch. This engagement continued until the decease of Mr. Wilson in December, 1864, and very satisfactorily, as evidenced by the fact that Mr. Wilson, without solicitation or expectation on the part of the recipient, twice advanced his pay which had at first been fixed by Mr. Wilson considerably above the usual rates to beginners, so that at the end of the first year it equalled that of more experienced journeymen. Also upon the retirement of the former foreman of the shop, which occurred soon after the engagement in the summer of 1863, Mr. Wilson (who was not a practical machinist), delegated the charge of that department of his work to this youngest and latest engaged of his employees, who during the term engineered the building of a wood-ware manufactory and its machinery, which was considered a model mill of the times, at that time. After the decease of Mr. Wilson the shop was kept in operation by Mr. Humphrey until October, 1855, when he arrived at the age of twenty-one, and came into possession of a small patrimonial inheritance with which he purchased an interest in a machine shop at Marlboro, making an unfortunate partnership alliance, from which he became extricated about a year later with less capital and more “experience,” when he removed to Keene and entered the shop of H. L. Haynes as an employee, but the work here being somewhat intermittent and uncertain, the invention and construction of special machines again became an employment for spare time, which soon supplied himself and others with work until the spring of 1859, while setting up one of his machines at Hartford. Vt., he was introduced to the agent of the extensive machine works then standing idle at White River junction, a portion of which was about to be started up as a shoe peg manufactory. A favorable proposition from the agent resulted in an engagement and removal to that place, where the manufacture of machinery was carried on until May 24, 186 1, when a conflagration of the entire works brought the business abruptly to a close, but the heat of the flames had scarcely subsided when the arrival of the afternoon mail brought a letter from the assignee of Mr. Haynes (who had failed in business) inviting Mr. Humphrey to return to Keene, if possible, and take the shop, etc., of Mr. Haynes. As the acceptance of this opportune invitation appeared to be, not only possible, but practicable, satisfactory negotiations were made and June 1st – just a week after the fire-business was again commenced at Keene which has been continued by J. Humphrey, J. Humphrey & Co., and the Humphrey Machine Co., until the present time with a good degree of success.

The practical knowledge of the requirements of wood-working machinery, derived from early experience in that work, has enabled Mr. Humphrey to design a variety of improved machines and appliances for special uses in that branch, while the study and practice of later years has given him much experience in various lines of mathematical engineering, and in hydraulics he is well versed and very successful, particularly in the construction and adaptation of water-wheels of the different styles of which he is the inventor and patentee.

In public or political matters he has never sought official position, but he has held the offices of county commissioner, representative to the state legislature, engineer of fire department, etc., also has been a commissioner of the Keene water works much of the time since they have been in use, and has declined being a candidate for various city offices.

Discountenancing unfair means and plans to further partisan projects, but . earnestly advocating what he regards as right, he is ever ready to support measures for the public weal. He was quite influential in the establishment of the Beaver Mills, and lent a helping hand to other enterprises, and is always happy to aid his fellow men whenever he can.



Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Cheshire and Sullivan counties, New Hampshire. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis. 1886.

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