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Moses Farmer

AKA Moses Gerrish Farmer

Born: 9-Feb-1820
Birthplace: Boscawen, NH
Died: 25-May-1893
Location of death: Chicago, IL
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Family Cemetery, Eliot, NH

Gender: Male
Religion: See Note
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Educator

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Invented the fire alarm, electric trolley

Moses Farmer was a prolific but modest inventor whose religious beliefs held that he should not seek wealth, so his name never became synonymous with a corporation, and his accomplishments have been largely forgotten.

After Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph, Farmer worked as a wire examiner for the telegraph industry, and devised the sickle-shaped climber and iron rods that allowed linemen to climb telegraph poles. He established the feasibility of duplex and quadruplex systems, allowing multiple telegraphs to be sent simultaneously over the same wire. In 1847, a time when the steam engine was still "state of the art", he constructed a working model for an electric passenger trolley, and showed it to prospective investors, but it garnered no interest. With his friend William Channing, Farmer invented the first electric fire alarm system, and oversaw its 1852 installation on the sidewalks of Boston.

Farmer designed and built incandescent electric lamps twenty years before Thomas Edison's bulb was patented. In 1859, every bedroom in Farmer's house was illuminated by his lamps, and in 1868 he lit a home in Salem, Massachusetts, with power from a dynamo of his own invention. Edison used one of Farmer's dynamos to power his experimental light bulbs (which were of a completely different design). Farmer also conducted experiments to discern the approximate speed of sound, developed a method for electroplating aluminum, improved the design of military torpedoes, and invented a machine to print paper window shades. He died at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where he was preparing an exhibit of his inventions.

His wife, Hannah Tobey Shapleigh Farmer, was an outspoken suffragette who operated the Rosemary Cottage, a rural retreat for urban unwed mothers and their children, which was a forerunner of the Fresh Air Fund. The Farmers' home was a way station on the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape the South. Their daughter, Sarah Jane Farmer, helped establish the Baha'i faith in America, and founded the Green Acre Baha'i School, where Abdu'l-Bahá visited in 1912. Farmer's brother-in-law, Charles Carleton Coffin, was a war correspondent, famed for his coverage of the American Civil and Prusso-Austrian wars.

Father: John Farmer (farmer, b. 11-Dec-1791, d. 17-Jul-1836)
Mother: Sally Gerrish Farmer (m. 11-Feb-1819)
Sister: Page French Farmer (b. 28-Jun-1821, d. 27-Jul-1822)
Brother: John Page Farmer (b. 24-Sep-1823)
Sister: Sallie Russell Farmer Coffin (b. 30-Aug-1826, d. 20-Jun-1910)
Sister: Jane Gray Farmer Little (b. 7-Jun-1828 twin, d. 27-Jun-1867)
Brother: Jeremiah Otis Farmer (b. 7-Jun-1828 twin; d. 6-Dec-1828)
Wife: Hannah Tobey Shapleigh (activist, m. 25-Dec-1844)
Daughter: Sarah Jane Farmer (founded Green Acre Bahá'í School, b. 1844, d. 1916)
Son: Clarence Farmer (b. 26-May-1860; d. 27-May-1860)

    High School: Phillips Academy Andover (1838)
    University: Dartmouth College (dropped out)
    Teacher: Eliot Academy, Eliot, ME
    Administrator: Principal, Dover Girls' School, Dover, NH

    National Inventors Hall of Fame 2006 (posthumous)
    Underground Railroad


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