PROLIFIC INVENTOR: OTIS TUFTS
Otis Tufts built the first iron-hulled vessel in the United States on this wharf in 1854. Named the R.B. Forbes, after its owner Robert Bennet Forbes, it was often used to tow clipper ships built along Border Street to their owners in New York. During the Civil War, the tugboat served in the Union blockade of Confederate ports until a gale sank it off Virginia in 1862.
The Cambridge-born Tufts was a remarkable inventor, machinist, and pioneer in steam-powered technology, which he applied to printing, marble cutting, and sugarcane refining. On seeing men building the Boston Custom House driving piles by hand (c. 1840), he returned the next day with drawings for a steam-driven pile driver that revolutionized construction.
And in 1859, Tufts invented the first passenger elevator. Previously elevators were used only for freight. His "vertical railway elevator," as he called it, rose slowly along a solid iron screw. Installed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, the novelty drew hundreds of visitors daily.