Historic Structures

Roots Blower Company, Connersville Indiana

Date added: April 1, 2016 Categories: Indiana Industrial

The brothers Francis Marion and Philander H. Roots were the sons of Alanson Roots. In 1846 Alanson Roots acquired rights to water power on the Whitewater Canal in Connersville and moved there from Oxford, Ohio. He set up a woolen mill in the city on the canal between 6th and 7th Streets A good deal of information is known about P.M. Roots because his son-in-law, Edwin F. Schively, wrote his biography in 1893.

The Roots brothers apparently discovered the principle of their blower in 1859. The old over-shot water wheel at their woolen factory required attention and they experimented with new types of wheels. One device consisted of two lobed wood wheels which revolved in opposite directions when the water was forced past them. However, the wood swelled because of the moisture and the device was not successful as a water wheel. Two patents were, nevertheless, secured for water wheels following this principle. While testing the machine, the brothers did notice that it seemed to be an effective mover of air. The device that they eventually worked out was patented in 1860. It was the basis for almost all of the later Roots rotary positive blowers.

The blower which was patented in 1860 works on a very simple principle. Two impellers, move in opposite directions in a close-fitting housing. The shape of each impeller with its two lobes and two depressions between them is calculated so that the impellers are always in very close contact with each other as well as with the outside casing. This prevents any air leakage.

In operation, air entering the blower is literally pushed by one of the impeller lobes upward and toward the perimeter of the casing and then forced out the discharge outlet. It is apparent that this action is exactly the reverse of the way a water wheel would operate. In this case the water rushing through would force the impellers to move, turning shafts which would power machinery.

The Roots brothers received their first significant orders in 1864. In 1887 they were able to incorporate as the P.H. and F.M. Roots Co. with a capital stock of $100,000. The firm operated under this name until 1929. In that year the Roots concern was bought by an Ohio syndicate under the control of the Stacey Engineering Company, which became the International Stacey Corporation in 1931. The old Roots operation was merged with the Connersville Blower Company in 1934 to form the Roots-Connersville Division, The division became part of Dresser Industries in 1944. The original Roots Blower buildings continued to operate until the end of World War II. They were briefly used again in the early 1950' s and then sold in 1952.

Between 1859, when the blower principle was discovered, and 1864, a half-dozen blowers were produced. These were made at the woolen mill and were largely experimental. The first two large blowers were placed at foundries, one in Cincinnati, the other in Covington, Kentucky. These proved extremely successful , and production really began on a larger scale in 1864 with orders for fifteen blowers.

In this year the Roots bought the Gephart stove foundry and almost immediately started to make additions. By 1874 the works had expanded so that they employed over 100 men. In 1915 there were about 225 employees . Already by 1880 the blowers had been exhibited in three international expositions and had attracted attention worldwide. A catalogue of that year which has been preserved in the company files states that 3.000 blowers were in use at that time in England alone with as many more on the Continent, in addition to those in use in this country. The catalogue gives a description and price list of the company's principal products.

The popularity of the Roots invention was in great measure due to the exhibits which the company mounted at World exhibitions, particularly those at Paris, Vienna and Philadelphia. At each fair the blowers won prizes and attracted attention.

At Paris in 1867 the machine exhibited had the figure-8 shape which had been patented in 1866, but the impellers were of solid wood rather than iron or a combination of iron and wood which the Roots normally used. it received very favorable comment both in this country and abroad.

At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia the company exhibited two machines with impellers of different shapes. The verdict of the technical press was again favorable. The engineers were not the only ones who found the blowers interesting. An Illustration in Frank Norton's Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition shows a machine, perhaps constructed by the Roots, blowing the hats off of the heads of surprised and amused visitors passing by.