Nathan Read

Nathan Read
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th district
In office
November 25, 1800  March 3, 1803
Preceded by Samuel Sewall
Succeeded by Seth Hastings
Personal details
Born (1759-07-02)July 2, 1759
Warren, Massachusetts
Died January 20, 1849(1849-01-20) (aged 89)
Belfast, Maine
Political party Federalist
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Engineer

Nathan Read (July 2, 1759 – January 20, 1849) was an American engineer and steam pioneer.

Nathan Read was the true inventor of the high-pressure steam engine in 1789, this was twelve years before the steam-engine was known to be used in the form of a high-pressure engine, and led a great revolution in steam power to navigation and land-transport.

Early life and family

Nathan Read was born in Warren, Massachusetts, on July 2, 1759. His ancestors came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, northeast England. His father, Reuben Read, was an officer in the Revolutionary service and his mother, whose maiden name was Tamison Eastman, was first cousin to Major-General Nathaniel Greene, of Rhode Island.

In 1774, Nathan Read commenced his preparatory studies for college. At the close of the summer vacation of 1777, he became a member of Harvard University.

Harvard University

At Harvard, Read studied medicine and graduated in 1781. He taught school in Beverly and Salem and was elected a tutor in Harvard University. After graduated, he became a scholar until 1783. Then, he was elected a tutor and continued his labors as such where he continued until 1787. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791.[1]

As an apothecary

Then, he opened an apothecary store in Salem and developed the potassium bicarbonate (CHKO3) in 1788, but kept it for only one year.

High-pressure steam engine

From October 1788, Nathan Read quit the last work and began to make a number of improvements of the steam engine. He built the multi-tubular boiler, a new kind of steam boiler. He then made efforts on improve the function of the steam cylinder, and placed it in a horizontal position so the engine could sustain much higher pressure than ever before, that is to say, Read invented the high-pressure steam engine, a new kind of steam engine, different from James Watt's old engine. Read made the engine more convenient and portable, also much lighter and safer. The most important was that the new engine needed much less room and fuel than the old one. Read successfully reconstructed the steam engine; he modified the Watt engine to a high-pressure engine that could be widely used in new fields, such as steamboat and locomotive.

Use in transportation

To prove the usefulness of the high-pressure steam engine, Read made several models of steamcar and steamboat in 1790. Read's experiment was very successful; it proved that the engine he built functioned well. He also invented the chain-wheel for paddle wheels to propel the steamboat, and set up a shipbuilding factory with his friends in 1796.

Nail machine

Several years later, Read made another important innovation. He developed a new machine, which could be used for cutting and heading nails at one operation. It was patented on January 8, 1798.

Other inventions

He developed a style of rotary steam engine in 1817.

In agricultural areas, he had more inventions and plans, such as threshing machine, thrashing machine, different forms of pumping engines and a new kind of windmill. He developed a plan for using the expansion and contraction of metals, multiplied by levers, widely used in winding up clocks and other purposes. He patented some of them, but others were mainly used in agricultural fields and never patented.


Nathan Read married Elizabeth Jeffrey in October 1790.


Read was elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Samuel Sewall; he was reelected to the Seventh Congress and served from November 25, 1800, to March 3, 1803. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1802. In 1803, he was judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Essex County. In 1807, he moved to Belfast, Maine, and was judge of the county court of Hancock County that year. He was instrumental in establishing Belfast Academy and served as trustee for forty years. He died near Belfast; interment was in Grove Cemetery, Belfast.


  1. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014.


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Samuel Sewall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Seth Hastings
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