Ancestors of Charles F. Brush
and His Early Years

By Jeffrey La Favre

Charles Brush was the youngest of nine children of Isaac Elbert and Delia Williams Phillips Brush. He was an eighth generation American on his father's side, descending from Thomas Brush, who was born in England about 1610. On his mother's side, Charles was a descendent of Rev. George Phillips, 1593-1644.

Thomas Brush arrived in the colonies sometime before 1653, when he was recorded as owning land in Southold, Suffolk County. In 1656 or 1667 he sold his house in Southold and moved to Huntington, Long Island. In Huntington he owned an Inn and was appointed Constable on April 4, 1670. Thomas Brush married Rebecca Conclyne, daughter of John Conclyne, who was from Nottinghamshire, England and was an inhabitant of Salem, Massachusetts in July, 1640. Thomas Brush was the ancestor of all those with the Brush name from Huntington, and his descendents lived there for many generations.

The Rev. George Phillips came to America in 1630 with the party that founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He became the minister of Sir Richard Saltonstall's settlement in Watertown, near Boston.

 

 
Charles F. Brush
Case Western Reserve University. Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.

Isaac Elbert Brush?
This photo is part of the Brush Collection at CWRU and is labeled "unknown man". On the collar there appears to be the oak leaf insignia of a colonel. Isaac was a colonel in the NY State Militia.

Case Western Reserve University. Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.

  Isaac Elbert Brush (b. August 30, 1803 d. February 4, 1893) married Delia Phillips (b. September 13, 1808 d. March 15, 1876) on May 2, 1827. Isaac was a successful businessman in the woolen manufacture trade. However, his business did not survive the depression of 1837, which precipitated his move to the Western Reserve in Ohio. He spent five years preparing the land and moved his family in 1846 to the Walnut Hills Farm. At the time Isaac and Delia had seven children (5 girls and 2 boys). Another daughter and then Charles were born on the farm, which was located about 10 miles east of Cleveland.

Being the youngest child of nine, Charles probably did not have as many responsibilities on the farm as his older sisters and brothers. Rather than waste his free time on trivial activity, Brush spent it reading about astronomy, chemistry, physics and other areas of science. However, his thirst for knowledge was not satisfied by reading alone. He started to do experiments in the workshop on the farm.



Walnut Hills Farm

Case Western Reserve University. Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.


 

Brush was probably most interested in electricity, a source of energy that was poorly understood during the time of his childhood. When he was 12, Brush constructed his first static electric machine, using a bottle, a piece of leather and amalgam from an old mirror. He also made batteries, electromagnets, induction coils and small motors. The fact that he was able to produce such devices from items around the farm was a testament to his ingenuity. He could not afford expensive insulated wire but this did not deter him from making coils. He used rusty wire and shellacked paper for insulation between layers of wire. The rust on the wire, while not being an ideal insulator, provided enough insulation to make a functional coil.

During this time Brush learned of Humphrey Davy's 1808 experiment with an arc light. Davy attached two carbon electrodes to a battery and found that he could produce an arc between the electrodes. The arc light held special fascination for Charles but he was not able to construct one with the discarded materials found around the farm. For this he would have to wait until high school, where he would have the necessary materials to assemble such a device.

Brush's parents appreciated the talents of their youngest child and realized that he would benefit greatly from a formal education. In 1863 he entered Cleveland's Central High School. The school was too far from the farm for Charles to live at home so his parents sent him to a boarding house downtown. This boarding house was also the temporary home of other young men soon to make their mark in history, including John D. Rockefeller.

Central High provided the environment that Brush needed to develop his interest in science and electricity. It contained the only large public library in the city at the time and there he found printed matter which allowed him to develop his knowledge in frontier areas of science. Furthermore, the science laboratories at the school would provide the facilities he needed to do more advanced experimentation.

During his junior year, Brush fulfilled his boyhood dream of constructing an arc light. Using materials from the school laboratory, he made a zinc-carbon and nitric acid battery and fashioned carbon electrodes from gas retort carbon. He later related that the making of electrodes from retort carbon was quite laborious.

Brush's teachers were very impressed with him and he was placed in charge of supervising the electrical apparatus at the school. This also allowed him to have free access to the physical laboratory, which he used to great advantage.

While in high school, Brush learned of Wilde's pioneering experiments with a dynamo and arc light, which were performed in London in 1866. He would incorporate this knowledge into his speech at commencement in 1867, which covered the conservation of energy, following a path from the sun to vegetation, coal, steam, electricity and finally light. By this time Brush surely had a vision for the future of electricity in commercial applications. He graduated from Central High with honors.

Brush now had a good high school education under his belt but this was not enough. He had a strong desire to continue his education at a higher level. But his parents did not have the means to send him to college. They had already spent all they could for his room and board during the high school years. A brother of Charles' mother agreed to finance his education in the form of a loan. The uncle felt that the University of Michigan was a fine institution, which apparently had some influence on Charles' choice for a higher education.

Brush entered the University of Michigan in the fall of 1867 to pursue a degree in mining engineering. At the time the university did not have a course of study in electricity. Furthermore, it did not seem that one could make a living in the area of commercial electricity at the time. Brush felt that mining engineering would give him the practical education that would provide for employment after graduation--much needed employment for repayment of his loan.

While the university did not have any course work in electricity, the science courses did provide Brush with the necessary knowledge to be successful in his future endeavors. His course work included history, English, botany, French, rhetoric, chemistry (qualitative analysis, assaying & analytical), mathematics (geometry, algebra, differential & integral calculus), geology, mechanics, machine drawing, metallurgy, civil and mining engineering.

Brush was a very busy young man during his stay at the university. He finished his course of study early by taking classes during the summer. Somehow he also found time for membership in the social fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. He graduated from the University of Michigan in June of 1869 with a degree in mining engineering.


The text above is based on information gained primarily from the following sources:

1. Eisenman, Harry J III. 1967. Charles F. Brush: Pioneer Innovator in Electrical Technology. Ph.D. dissertation. Case Institute of Technology, Cleveland, Ohio.

2. Perkins, Charles Brush. 1976. Ancestors of Charles Brush Perkins and Maurice Perkins. Gateway Press, Baltimore.

 

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These pages on Charles F. Brush were authored by Jeffrey La Favre
jlafavre@jcu.edu

© 1998, Jeffrey La Favre, Ph.D.