Simon Ingersoll revolutionised the rock drilling industry
with his steam-powered, tripod-mounted rock drill and carved
out a place for himself among the pioneers and innovative
inventors of all time.
Born in 1818, Simon Ingersoll, a native of Stanwich, Connecticut,
USA, was one of the pioneering American inventors in the mining
and construction machinery. His name is associated with the
development of several significant inventions and he has 27
US patents to his credit. His first patent, in 1858, was a
steam engine shaft and marked the beginning of an illustrious
career which included a long catalogue of inventions ranging
from a gate latch to a scale to a friction clutch.
His best claim to fame came as the inventor of the first steam-powered,
tripod-mounted rock drill. It came about when Ingersoll, who
worked at truck farming, accepted a contractor’s commission
to develop a drill that would work on rock. Ingersoll worked
on the invention in a New York machine shop owned by entrepreneur
José F. de Navarro; he was successful in his endeavour
and thus, the first rock drill came into being. Patented in
1871, it was the catalyst for significant changes for the
construction industry and quite revolutionised the rock drilling
industry. It also laid the foundation for the Ingersoll Rock
Drill Company which started as a construction and mining machinery
maker and later became the Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, a renowned
international firm with an eclectic portfolio of machinery
with a wide variety of applications.
Before the invention of the steam-powered, tripod-mounted
rock drill by Simon Ingersoll, all drilling was a tedious,
gruelling and expensive job, since all mining and tunnelling
operations were done by hand. Underground drilling was done
by striking a length of steel rod repeatedly with a sledgehammer,
which amounted to back-breaking labour, to say the least.
However, the scenario changed after Ingersoll’s invention,
which was capable of automatically turning the drill after
each strike to continually advance the steel through the rock.
Ingersoll’s rock drill had several advantages: it was
tripod-mounted, required less manpower, was significantly
lighter than other drills, saved on time and effort, and was
considerably faster with a longer lifespan. Though initially
his invention was steam-powered, later on it was designed
to operate on compressed air.
The industry soon caught on to the advantages offered by Ingersoll’s
drill, realizing that the machine could be instrumental in
significantly escalating the productivity of workers involved
in mining and tunneling operations. Ingersoll’s drill
also ensured greater safety and helped to secure the wellbeing
of the workers to a certain extent. Moreover, the steam-powered
machine could accomplish the work of ten men, further speeding
up the process.
Thus, the rock drill invented by Simon Ingersoll played a
vital role in construction and excavation for more than a
century, as a result of its practical and ingenious applications.
Percussion drills used in excavation, mining, tunneling, and
highway construction were derived from Ingersoll’s design.
Even in present times, all rock drills integrate Ingersoll’s
innovations and are to be seen on almost every major construction
or excavation site across the globe.
Simon Ingersoll received only a grade school education; however,
he was a whiz at mechanics with a natural flair for the subject.
His innate talent for the workings of different mechanisms
and his ingenuity are the qualities that enabled him to achieve
success and subsequent glory, through his pioneering and practical
inventions. His story is a lesson in grit and determination
as well as in innovation and resourcefulness. He was inducted
into the Mining Hall of Fame in 1992, as a tribute to his
leadership and technological contributions.