Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Tiffany Refrigerator Car Company

The Tiffany Refrigerator Car Company was born in 1877 at Chicago, Illinois, out of the patented design of Joel Tiffany. The “SUMMER and WINTER CAR” logo was in use at least as early as June 1877, and remained in use through 19___.

Tiffany 1879 Advertisement
Tiffany advertisement from the 1st edition (1879) of the Car-Builders’ Dictionary. The same advertisement had appeared in the 1878 edition of Poor’s Manual of Railroads and probably in other publications as well.

Tiffany is often credited with being a pioneer in the design of refrigerated railroad cars, but though his patent [Pat. No. 193,357 (24 July 1877)] describes an insulated and ice-cooled car in great detail, all that is claimed for protection by the patent is “A refrigerated-car having its sides and top provided with an external jacket, forming horizontal air-passages extending the entire length of the car, said passages having openings at each end, provided with stoppers for converting the passages into dead-air chambers, in combination with dead-air or packed chambers constructed within and surrounding the body of the car... ” In other words, Tiffany did not patent the idea of a refrigerated car; only a means of circulating a variable amount of air to cool the already-insulated chamber within. Insulation was provided in ways already recognized: dead air spaces created by thin boards and felt paper, and then stuffed with hair or sawdust.

Tiffany’s earliest design—illustrated below—had an “ice tank” in something like a clerestory above the carlines of the roof. The car was cooled by a combination of contact with the bottom of this galvanized iron “ice chamber” and of air passed through pipes or flues under the ice within the ice container and then through enclosed spaces in the insulated walls of the car, and thence into the inner chamber. The force to move “dry, sweet, clean, cool air” through these pipes or flues into the car and “warm, foul air” out was provided by “wind-sails” [air scoops] either on top of, or built into the end of, the clerestory (the opening like a window in the illustration below).

Early Tiffany Refrigerator Car
This engraving of Tiffany’s original “Summer and Winter Car” appeared in the Railroad Gazette just before Tiffany received his refrigerator car patent. Though not part of the patent’s claims for protection, the external “ice tank” in its clerestory is very prominently featured.

Within 18 months after the patent was issued, there were 95 Tiffany cars in service in the United States and 7 more in Europe. {277}

By this time the distinctive clerestory had been abandoned, replaced by a shallow, full-length ice bunker mounted directly under the carlines of the roof. This overhead ice bunker would remain one of the hallmarks of the Tiffany car throughout the life of the company and was one of the features that made it so successful. These v-shaped bunkers sloped gently toward the ends of the car, where a tank collected the melt-water. A drip-pan mounted slightly below the bunker caught any condensation and carried it too to the collection tank.

The merit of the overhead bunker was proven by the comparatively small amount of ice needed. Tiffany claimed that on a trip between Chicago and Boston during the hottest part of the summer Tiffany cars used just ½ the ice needed by end-bunker cars. Indeed, this makes sense, as putting the ice at the highest (and hottest) point of the car provides for natural circulation of air, as the warmer air rises from the floor and the cooled air descends naturally to the floor. Cars with end-bunkers do not have this natural circulation, and thus either require some sort of artificial circulation or else cool the car’s contents much better at the ends, adjacent to the bunkers than in the middle.

Icing of the Tiffany cars was accomplished through several hatches mounted flush in the car roof [which has caused no end of anguish among participants in Colorado & Southern discussion groups speculating how ice could be got into the tiny narrow gauge Tiffany cars of that line].

It is interesting that the overhead bunker became so identified with the Tiffany cars, as they were not the first to use the idea, not were they the last. The first appears to be a car built by the Sacramento Shops of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1870 that had 10 ice bunkers suspended from the ceiling of the car at intervals by iron rods. This car successfully carried fruit from California to New York, and there were plans to build more like it. {472}

Despite resistance to the idea, overhead bunkers were part of Charles P. Jackson’s patented car of 1880, and were central to an 1883 patent issued to Theodore N.  Ely, John W. Cloud and Edward B. Wall, three important mechanical officials of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Yet neither of these efforts was successful. {473}

With few exceptions, we don’t know who built Tiffany cars, as we have been able to find nothing about a Tiffany plant or works of any kind. It would appear that the Tiffany organization was a management concern built on the financial and management expertise of Charles F. Pierce, having cars built by others which it leased to the railroads, and licensing the patent(s) to those that wanted to build for themselves.

In May 1879, Tiffany had 10 cars built with iron tube underframes by the National Tube Works of Boston. The wooden bodies were built to Tiffany’s design, while the iron tube underframes were built to the design of Bernard J. LaMothe, developed almost 20 years earlier. {474} There is nothing to indicated the success or failure of these cars, but neither is there anything to suggest their duplication.

By 1880, Tiffany reportedly had 400 cars in service. {278} By the summer of 1883 there were 1,000 Tiffany cars in service. {279} And less than four years later (1887) there were 3,000 in service. {280} They were running on the Erie, the Grant Trunk, the Milwaukee Road, the North Western, and the Union Pacific. {475}

In 1886 the Santa Fe Railroad had 10 cars built for it according to the Tiffany patent by Missouri Car & Foundry. {476}

The National Despatch Refrigerator Line, a private car line founded by the Grand Trunk, Vermont Central, Rutland and Boston & Lowell railroads in 1869, was a loyal patron of the Tiffany Refrigerator Car Company. In February 1880 it had 100 Tiffany cars in service and another 100 on order. {477} By the fall of 1881, it had 300 Tiffany cars carrying dressed beef between Chicago and Boston. {478}

National Despatch and its associated lines ran Tiffany cars until the late 1890s, {479} but the Tiffany design appears to have gone out of favor by then, as it is no longer illustrated in the 1898 edition of the Car Builders Dictionary.

Cast of Characters

Joel Tiffany (1811-1893) seems to have been the quintessential Renaissance Man. He was a practicing attorney and student of the law, teacher, author, abolitionist, inventor, religionist and much involved with the early Republican party.

Tiffany was born at Barkhamstead, Connecticut, of a family with colonial heritage going back to the 1600s. He may have attended Amherst Academy [high school] before, at age 20, entering the law office of William G. Williams in 1831. {260}

Tiffany moved to Medina, Ohio, the following year, where he continued his study of the law and was admitted to the Bar in 1834. After marrying Cornelia Maria Tyron (or Tryon),  he moved to Elyria, Ohio, where he entered into the practice of law. {260}

While practicing law, he conducted a private school in a building called the Franklin Hotel. His family lived on the 1st floor, while he used the 2nd as a school room. He advertised a new method of teaching arithmetic and grammar that did not require learning rules. His idea was that as pupils progressed, the rules would suggest themselves. He reportedly had more than 60 pupils ages 15-22. {261}

During the period 1838-1839 Tiffany also served as Prosecuting Attorney. {270}

It was apparently during this period of his life that Tiffany began to become an abolitionist. He moved his growing family to Painesville, Ohio, and in 1849 his first work was published, entitled A Treatise on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery. {262} Tiffany's argument was basically that the second amendment right to bear arms applied to everyone, and that an armed person could not be enslaved by another.

In 1849/50, Tiffany was appointed one of the trustee of the newly established Homeopathic Hospital College in Cleveland. {263}

In 1850, little more than three weeks after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, a meeting of Cleveland citizens appointed Tiffany to a committee of Resolution. The resolution they developed demanded the law be repeal and called on citizens to resist its application.{264}

At some point, Tiffany developed an interest in Spiritualism. This interest began to make itself manifest as the 1850s wore on. During the winter of 1851, he gave a series of lectures on that topic at the Prospect Street Church in Cleveland, including such subjects as the phenomena and philosophy of development, individualism, spirit, immortality, mesmerism, clairvoyance, spiritual manifestations, Christianity, and progress. These lectures he privately published under the title Lectures on Spiritualism. {269}

In 1855, at Warren, Ohio, he debated with Church of Christ representative Isaac Erret the subject of Spiritualism vs. Christianity. This debate became the subject of a book published by the George Adams Co., 1855. {265}

In 1856, Tiffany spoke at the Friends of Human Progress Meeting held at the Progressive Friends meeting at Harmonia (Ohio?)  along with Sojourner Truth, Joseph A. Dugdale, Henry C. Wright and Andrew T. Foss. {266}

He also gave a series of 12 lectures before the New York Conference of Spiritualists that were published under the title Spiritualism Explained (New York, NY: Graham & Ellinwood, 1856). {269}

Cover of Tiffany's Monthly

And also in 1856, Tiffany began publishing Tiffany's Monthly, a journal “Devoted to the Investigation of the Science of Mind in the Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Planes Thereof.” The first issue reportedly carried articles such as “What is Truth?,” “The Doctrine of Plenary Inspiration [of the Bible],” “Modern Spiritual Manifestation,” “Free Love,” “Spiritualism and its Opponents,” “Modern Mysteries Explained and Exposed,” and “Spiritual Manifestations Not Incredible.”

A single article seems to have made the name of this journal immortal: “Mormonism--No. II,” a 1859 interview of Martin Harris regarding the creation of the Book of Mormon. Part of a three-part series on Mormonism, this article seems to be quoted with approval or disapproval by virtually everyone writing for or against the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. {267} The Library of Congress catalog entry for this journal indicates a belief that it ceased publication with the July 1859 issue published just months after the interview.

Tiffany apparently moved his family to New York before mid-1857, as a Chicago history describes a meeting of Spiritualists at which “Joel Tiffany of New York” lectured. {276}

In 1859, Tiffany’s first wife died. A year later he married Margaret Mason in Rochester, New York, {260} and they moved to Syracuse. Interestingly, on the 1860 census schedule his occupation is given as “Teacher.” {268}

In 1863, Tiffany moved his family to Albany, New York, where he became Reporter for the New York Court of Appeals, a position he held through 1869. During this time he had several works published, in addition to volumes 28 to 39 inclusive of the New York reports. {270} These included —

o   The Law of Trusts & Trustees As Administered in England and America, (Albany, NY: W.C. Little, 1862). [With E.F. Bullard.]
o   The New York Practice; A Treatise Upon Practice and Pleadings in Actions and Special Proceedings in the Courts of Record of the State of New York. 2 vols. (Albany, NY: Weare and Little, 1865). [With Henry Smith.]
o   The Political Status of the Rebellious States and the Action of the President in Respect Thereto, (“...Lately appearing in the Albany Express, and is understood to be from the pen of the reporter of the N.Y. Court of Appeals.”-p.1), 1865?
o   A Treatise on Government and Constitutional Law. (Albany, NY: W.C. Little, 1867).

Early in 1870, Tiffany moved his family to Illinois. At the taking of the 1870 census they were living in a hotel at Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago. He was apparently practicing law, as he gave that as his occupation. {271} They apparently settled a bit closer to Chicago, in the town of Hinsdale, with a population of 500, for when it was incorporated in 1873, Tiffany became its first President. {   }

For some reason, about this time Tiffany became interested in the preservation of foodstuffs. That this interest coincided with an economic interest of the railroads to find a better way to supply meat to the east coast than to ship live animals, may have had something to do with it, or may just be coincidental. But in 1877, 66 year old lawyer, scholar and Spiritualist Joel Tiffany applied for and received a U.S, Patent on a refrigerated railroad car (Pat. No. 193,357, dated 24 July 1877). He would later receive five others, but this is the only one involving a railroad car. {272}

[The numbers of two of these are 250,016 (22 Nov 1881) and 258,505 (23 May 1882). If you can give us the numbers of any of the other three won’t you please contact us?]

Interestingly, these were not Joel Tiffany’s first patents, In 1853, while living at Cleveland, he was issued a patent on a device to automatically remove a shingle from a single dressing machine, turn it over and reinsert it for the second side to be dressed, then remove it from the machine and toss it aside [Pat. No. 9,614, issued 8 March 1853]. Two years later, while living at Painesville, he was issued another patent improving shingle dressing machinery [Pat. No. 13,958, issued 18 December 1855]. An individual named Milo Harris was co-inventor of this device.

In 1880, Tiffany had a book published entitled “Man and His Destiny.” {273} That same year Freethinker Robert Ingersoll had a lecture published entitled “What Must We Do To Be Saved? ” Spiritualist Joel Tiffany responded with an open letter in the Chicago Tribune of September 26. He followed this on October 10th at the Grand Opera House with a lecture entitled “What Must Ingersoll Do to be Saved?” The announcement of the lecture said, “He will take the position that the teachings of Jesus are in accord with the needs of the soul, and must be obeyed by Col. Ingersoll if he would obtain full salvation.” {274} But the public must not have been interested in Col. Ingersoll’s salvation, as few showed up and the lecture was cut short. {275}

In 1881, Tiffany applied for at least two more patents having to do with refrigeration and cooling/heating.

Whatever else Tiffany did during his declining years, we do not know. Nor do we know yet how active he may have been in the business that bore his name. We do know that at least one authority {272} gives major credit for the success of that business to its young Manager, Charles F. Pierce.

Charles F. Pierce (1846-1891+) was ...

For More Information

“The South Park’s Tiffany Refrigerator Cars - Study The Details,” Outdoor Railroader, April/May 1995, page 72.

The Tiffany refrigerator cars owned by the narrow gauge Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad are probably the best-known, most-talked-about of all Tiffany cars. While this article appears in a model railroad magazine, it is about the actual “prototype” cars.

11 April 2006

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