Sylvester H. Roper

Sylvester H. Roper, second child or Merrick Roper, was born in Francistown, Vermont, November 24, 1823. He married first Almira D. Hill of Peterboro, Vermont, April 23, 1845, and (second) Ellen. F. Robinson, of Lynn, Massachusetts, October 28, 1873. When a boy, he displayed a remarkable degree of precocity in mechanics, and his career as an inventor proved him to be without a rival in mechanical genius among those who have gone out from Francistown. At twelve years of age, although he had not seen a steam engine, he constructed a small stationary engine which is now preserved in the laboratory of the Francistown Academy. Two years later he made a locomotive, and shortly afterward saw at Nashua for the first time in his life a railroad locomotive.He left home early in life and followed the trade of machinist in Nashua, Manchester and Worcester. In 1854 he became a resident of Hopedale and there spent the remainder of his life.

He invented the handstitch sewing machine which was in many respects an improvement on the earlier machines.

He invented a hot air engine in 1861, which was found useful until the day of gas and gasoline engines arrived. He made improvements on steam engines and invented breech loading guns of various patterns. He was most successful in a financial way with his hot air engines. During the war there was a large demand for his ammunition for field guns, of which he was the inventor. He invented a steam carriage, a steam velocipede and a steam bicycle, propelled by an engine fastened to the framework not unlike the modern motorcycle except that it was larger and the fuel was coal instead of gasoline. He invented a successful pocket fire escape, designed for the use of traveling men. He made several patterns of rotary engines. He designed a hot air furnace.Mr. Roper’s death was dramatic. After making a phenomenal mile of a steam bicycle of his invention he was stricken with heart disease and actually died while riding. The Boston Globe in describing the incident, said, “This dramatic fatality occurred (June 1, 1896) yesterday morning at the new Charles River bicycle track, just across the Harvard Bridge on the Cambridge side. The deceased had for years enjoyed a reputation as an able mechanical engineer, who had perhaps been more identified with steam propulsion as applied to carriages and for general road use than any other man in New England. Ever since 1859 he has been at work on various contrivances for conveyances with steam as a motive power. He was exhibiting his engine applied to a modern safety bicycle with a view of ascertaining it qualities as a pace maker for bicycle racing. He demonstrated its utility, but did not live to receive the congratulations on his achievement. Away back in 1869 Mr. Roper equipped a heavy two-wheeled velocipede with a steam engine, and for thirteen years used it with great success. No great speed was developed on it, but the inventor proved that it was a practical machine. Recently, however, he again turned his attention to an attachment for a modern racing cycle, and interested a large local bicycle manufacture in his invention. His bicycle was taken out first a week ago last Sunday for a speed trial on Dorchester Avenue. That it was capable of being run forty miles an hour was demonstrated, and then Mr. Roper was anxious to try it out on a smooth track. With his machine the inventor appeared yesterday. When he arrived there were a number of cyclers on the track in training. As he was to make a few exhibition trips around the track, it was suggested that the wheelmen try to follow him. Mr. Roper mounted his machine just back of the start and, turning on the steam, was under full headway in a remarkable short time. The trained racing men could not keep up with him, and he made a mile in two minutes, one and two-fifths seconds. After crossing the line Mr. Roper was so elated that he proposed making even better time, and continued to scorch around the track. The machine was cutting out a lively pace on the backstretch when the men seated near the training quarters noticed that the bicycle was unsteady. The forward wheel wobbled badly, and then suddenly the cycle was deflected from its course and plunged of the track into the sand, throwing the rider and overturning. All rushed to the assistance of the inventor, who lay motionless beneath the wheel, but as soon as they touched him, they perceived that life was extinct. The only wound was a slight cut over the left temple. Dr. Wolcott, who was called, gave his opinion that Mr. Roper died before the machine left the track. His bicycle weighed with the engine one hundred and fifty pounds, and carried from one hundred to one hundred and eighty-five pounds of steam. The rider could carry enough coal to carry him twenty-five miles or more.”Mr. Roper was a member of no fraternal orders. He was liberal in his religious views. He resided for many years at 299 Eustis Street, Roxbury, Boston. His first wife, Almira, died October 6, 1898. His widow survives him (1905). She resides in Dorchester. The children of Sylvester H. and Almira d. (Hill) Roper were: 1. Charles Frederick. 2. Ada Frances, died when four years old. Historical Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts, 1907.

With Roxbury being given as Roper's place of residence in the paragraph above, evidently that's where he was living at the time of his death. So far, the only source for the idea that Roper lived in Hopedale, is the earlier sentence in the Worcester County book The sentence that says he moved to Hopedale in 1854, "...and there spent the remainder of his life,"  doesn't agree with the sentence in the paragraph above that reads, "He resided for many years at 299 Eustis Street, Roxbury, Boston."




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