PAINE, Thomas (1737-1809), Political Philosopher, Patriot. Autograph letter signed ("Thomas Paine") to an unknown recipient ("My Dear Friend"), "Yorkshire Stings Bowling Green", Sunday [May 1790]. 1½ pages, 4to, evidence of mounting on lower margin of verso, otherwise in good condition.
THOMAS PAINE, AUTHOR OF "COMMON SENSE," DESIGNS AND BUILDS A BRIDGE.
A talented writer who came to America just before the Revolution, Paine's works "The Crisis" and "Common Sense", played a key role in the successful colonial drive towards independence. Paine was multi-talented, much like his contemporary Benjamin Franklin, and showed an interest in science from an early age. At the Revolution's conclusion, "freed from financial anxiety, and having no immediate motive for continuing to write about politics, Paine was able to pursue his scientific interests" (Ayer, Thomas Paine, p. 51). In his spare moments, he had developed the idea for a single arched iron bridge that would span an unprecedented 400 or 500 feet.
Walker Brothers, an iron foundry in Yorkshire, began construction of the bridge. By May of 1790 the materials had been transported to a site, chosen by Paine, at Paddington in London. From England, Paine writes: "We have erected all the Iron and driven part of the Bolts. Everything succeeds to a Charm and every Body is charmed with it. When the bolts are all drove and keyed (cottered) we shall begin on the Bracing and flooring and in about a fortnights time I expect to begin to take money. Mr. Buel who has had an opportunity of observing the Curiosity it excites, and peoples observations upon it estimates it to bring in a thousand pound in six months. Were it in Liecester fields I should have no doubt of it but if it brings in 500 or only enough to pay the expences of Transportation, erecting, flooring etc it was worth bringing to London." Paine finished the letter on Monday, on which he writes: "We have been driving bolts this morning - they fit to a hair. It will be best to give it another coat of Paint for beauty sake. As you have lead works I intend to get it from thence and set a man to grind it. If it is necessary to have you order to procure it by please to write a line for that purpose."
When the bridge was completed, Paine charged interested spectators a shilling per person. Although it only spanned 110 feet, it was quite popular and remained on exhibit for a year. Six years later another longer bridge was built, but Paine's involvement was minimal due to his renewed political activity amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution.