PAINE, THOMAS. Autograph letter signed in full to and unidentified correspondent ("Sir"), Rotherham [England], 1 May 1789. One page, 4to, minor spotting, light show-through of docket on verso: "N.B. The afterwards celebrated T.P."
TOM PAINE, CIVIL ENGINEER
An interesting letter reflecting an often forgotten side of Paine: his interest in mechanics and engineering, especially bridge-building. "We have erected our Experiment Rib and Struck the Center.-- The Messrs.
Walkers join me in Compliments and an invitation to you and Mr. Strut
to come and Survey our Handy-Works -- Please to favour me with a line when we may expect you that I may not be out of the way. I am Sir your Obedt. Humble Servt. Thomas Paine."
Paine had shown a strong interest in science and mechanics early in life, and once he was settled in reasonable comfort, after 1784, he returned to this interest. He conceived the design of a bridge, spanning some 400 to 500 feet, constructed entirely of iron. In 1787 on his return to France he displayed a model to the French Academy of Sciences, then, in England later that year, took out patents for its construction, arranged for investors to fund the project and, in the company of Edmund Burke, searched for a suitable firm to build the structure. He settled upon the firm of Walker Brothers, ironmakers at Rotherham in Yorkshire, and by May 1790, the bridge, of only 100 foot span, was built as Lisson Grove near Paddington. The public were charged a shilling a head to visit it, and it proved a great attraction. News of Paine's enterprise reached America in due course. Paine, optimistic over the bridge project, resumed his long-interrupred correspondence with President George Washington. In a letter to David Humphreys of 16 March 1791, Washington remarked that he was pleased to hear "that Mr. Paine is likely to succeed with his bridge" (Fitzpatrick 31:242). Soon, events in France drew Paine back into politics.