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John Henry: The Steel Drivin’ Man

The Steam Drill


As hard as the shakers and steel drivers worked, their progress was slow. Addressing this problem, rock drilling technology improved. Between 1850 and 1875, American inventors patented more than 100 mechanical drills. The Burleigh compressed air steam drill was among them, and possibly was the drill confronted by John Henry.

Steam drills gained favor as they became more reliable and as they gained portability and the flexibility to drill in multiple directions and positions. Manufacturers marketed their contraptions as savers of time and money with demonstrations on the job site.

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