Biography of Francis A. Pratt
Connecticut Biographies





FRANCIS A. PRATT, HARTFORD: President the Pratt & Whitney Company, Manufacturers of Machine Tools, Gun Machinery, etc.

The name of Pratt occurs among the earliest of English surnames, and the family, in many of its branches, held stations of influence and power in the British Empire. The first American ancestor of Francis A. Pratt was John Pratt, who came to America from the southern part of England, and settled in Dorchester, Mass., where he was made a freeman May 4, 1632. His grandson, John Pratt, 3d, and subsequent descendants for several generations, were natives or citizens of Reading, Mass., from which place the family ultimately removed to Reading, Vt. The subject of this sketch is of the nmth generation from the original John Pratt above mentioned. The later ancestors of Francis A. Pratt, for several generations, have been natives and residents of Vermont, in which state, in the town of Woodstock, he was born Feb. 15, 1827. His father, Nathaniel M. Pratt, a leather merchant, and a noted temperance agitator, was a native of Reading, Vt., where he was born in the year 1800. His grandfather, Charles Pratt, also a native of Reading, died at the advanced age of ninety-four, in Michigan, to which state he removed from Reading in 1834. They were both men of great mental and physical strength, of the true New England type of that period.

From his childhood Francis A. Pratt possessed mechanical inclinations which indicated genius. Whether inherited or not, they were manifested at a very early age, when the boy was found repeatedly stealing away from his companions to construct and put in operation a water-wheel, or a turning lathe, or a steam engine. The time after school or on holidays, which other lads devoted to play, he employed with his jackknife and such rude tools as he could command, in giving shape and form to mechanical designs which had been evolved from his busy brain during school hours or while lying awake in bed at night; mechanical schemes even then, as later in life, often effectually banishing sleep. It is related of him that when he was ten or twelve years old he would set up a train of simple machinery, including perhaps a wood lathe, to be driven by a belt from the grindstone; and by some inducement would tempt his younger brother Rufus to turn the grindstone while he fashioned a top or a ball-club with his rude turning lathe, keeping poor Rufus at the fountain of power till his back seemed breaking, by his special pleading or by the tender of some favorite toy.

Mr. Pratt's parents moved from Woodstock to Lowell, Mass., when he was but eight years old. His schooling, begun in his native town, was continued in Lowell, and here at an early age he was apprenticed to the machinist trade with Warren Aldrich, a machinist of good reputation at that time as to his products, and a kind master, who is now living at an advanced age. The indifferent facilities which the machine-shops of that day were supplied with, furnished just the incentive which the mind of this young apprentice needed to bring into exercise his expanding inventive genius ; and the lack of an appropriate tool was often the father (as necessity is said to be the mother) in his case of an invention which eventually supplied it. In 1848, when twenty years of age, he went to Gloucester, N. J., where he was employed in the Gloucester Machine Works, first as a journeyman and afterwards as a contractor. The leading partners in the concern, Messrs. Melchor and Ranlett, were both New England men. Associated with him in his contract work for the Gloucester concern, was a Mr. Samuel Batchelder, who, leaving New Jersey soon afterwards and coming to Hartford, Conn., became connected with the pistol factory of Samuel Colt. Through his influence, in 1852, Mr. Pratt followed him to Hartford and took a position in the same establishment, where he found and became acquainted with Amos Whitney. While he was there an application came from Lincoln's Phoenix Iron Works for a good foreman, and Mr. Pratt was selected and recommended for the position. He accepted the situation, and afterwards became superintendent of the works. Later on, when another important opening was to be filled under his direction, he selected Mr. Whitney for the place, and the two worked together in this establishment until x861. The year before closing their connection with the Phoenix Iron Works, the young men resolved to unite their fortunes and open a. shop of their own, and accordingly hired a room on Potter street, doing some of their first work for the Willimantic Linen Company. The next February their shop was destroyed by fire, but a month later they were settled in new quarters, where they continued to grow until all the available space in the building was occupied by them. In 1862, Pratt & Whitney took into the partnership Monroe Stannard of New Britain, each contributing $1,200. In 1865, the firm erected the first of the present group of buildings, and from time to time others have been added till the plant now occupies about four acres. In 1869, under a charter from the state, the Pratt & Whitney Company was incorporated with a capital of $350,000, afterwards increased from earnings to $500,000. The story of the financial and other struggles of the early partners, Messrs. Pratt and Whitney, in laying the foundations of the present great corporation, sounds almost like a romance. Nobody but the parties themselves can ever understand or appreciate the nature or the magnitude of the obstacles they encountered, the sacrifices involved, and the unceasing and gigantic efforts employed, in surmounting them one after another as they presented themselves. The end sought, and finally obtained, would never have been successfully pursued if the two young men had not possessed a reserve fund of determination, pluck, and endurance, which gave them a sublime faith in themselves and a confidence which cannot suffer defeat.

Of the present company F. A. Pratt is president, and has been from the outset the leading spirit. He has made no less than eight trips to Europe, principally in the interests of the company, traveling in England, Germany, France, Austria, and Italy, and has first and last secured foreign business for the company amounting to between two and three millions of dollars. The European features of the company's business is entirely the result of Mr. Pratt's suggestion and efforts; and the value of the connection thus formed, and of the reputation thus made for the Pratt & Whitney company all over the civilized world is beyond computation in dollars and cents. Mr. Pratt entertains a broad and comprehensive view of business, believing that for his company the world is the field, and that it is only necessary to seek business in a liberal and intelligent way to command it in the open market every time.

Mr. Pratt has been a prominent and leading representative of the industrial enterprises of Hartford for thirty years. He has also acquired a high reputation among scientific men at home and abroad, and is regarded as an expert in pretty much all branches of mechanical art. He has recently been appointed by the secretary of the treasury of the United States as one of the board of commissioners for the expert examination of the treasury vaults; the other members of the commission being Theodore N. Ely, superintendent of motive power of the Pennsylvania railroad, and Professor R. H. Thurston of Cornell University. He has served the city of Hartford four years as member of the board of water commissioners, and four years as alderman. He is a director of the Hartford board of trade, the Pratt & Cady Company, president and director of the Electric Generator Company, and is officially connected with various industrial corporations. He is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and of the Masonic fraternity a master mason and member of St. John's Lodge of Hartford.

Mr. Pratt was married, Oct. 31, 1850, to Miss Harriet E. Cole of Lowell, ex Alderman Asa S. Cook of Hartford marrying an older sister at the same time and place. There have been eight children, five of whom died in infancy; and one son, Melvin D., dying in 1883, at the age of twenty six years. Of the two surviving children, the elder, Carrie Louise, was married, in 1885, to J. E. Spalding of Hartford, and they have one son. The younger, Francis C. Pratt, recently graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, is in business with his father.

From:
Illustrated Popular Biography
Of Connecticut
Compiled and Published by J. A. Spalding
Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co.
Hartford, Conn. 1891


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