Frederick Upham Adams – Ingenious Inventor of Machinery

Boston Born Author and Ingenious Inventor of Machinery

A brief look at the life and career of Frederick Upham Adams who became known as one of the most ingenious designers of machinery in the West.

Frederick Upham Adams was a member of the illustrious Boston Adams family, and was born in Boston on December 6, 1859. His father, John S. Adams, was an inventor believed by many to be a genius in his field. His son obviously inherited some of the father’s talents and began early in life to show an interest in innovating. He received his earliest education in Elgin, Illinois, where the family had moved at the end of the Civil War. A healthy and athletic child, he was educated in the public schools of Elgin. He served a two-year apprenticeship in a machine shop while studying machinery design and drafting on his own. A stint as a reporter at a local paper came next, which was followed by a position as draftsman for a noted Patent Office attorney in Chicago.

Mechanical Inventions

Adams was early recognized as one of the most ingenious designers of machinery, and for five years he struggled with the problems inherent in harvesting machinery, marine engines, hydraulic dredges and the many steps in successful mechanical progress. However, in 1884 he was faced with the potential loss of his eyesight, which forced him later to abandon the field in which he had already achieved so much success.

Adams’ theories were tested in the summer of 1885 when he proved that a small locomotive could break existing records for time between Baltimore and Washington; the same locomotive made a trip of five miles in the unheard speed of three minutes. For his knowledge and firm grip of mechanical subjects he was appointed to the position of superintendent of the Department for the Suppression of the Smoke Nuisance in Chicago. The recommendations and reports he wrote were translated into various languages and were considered authoritative and official.


Adams left the position of superintendent to pursue a life-long ambition to be a writer. During his writing career he published very popular books, including “John Burt,” ” President John Smith,” “The Kidnapped Millionaire,” and a series of papers, “Colonel Monroe’s Doctrine.” This was accomplished after a career in the world of invention that brought him great acclaim as a mechanical wizard. His failing eyesight, possibly due to overwork, made it impossible for him to continue in this area, but he was able to take on a new career in midlife and achieve considerable success. Adams retired to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and died at Larchmont, New York, on August 28,1928.

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