When the first Marshalls (and Garretts as well) joined William Penn arriving in the New World in the 1680s, the industrial revolution was yet to occur. Historians have defined a series of innovative periods or “waves” where advances within a short period of time created a disruptive influence on society. These advances are primarily of a technology or industrialization nature and are each different by virtue of what was occurring at that point in time.

Before the 1600s, man lived in an agricultural society. Generations of New World settlers, like John Marshall after arriving in 1681 and settling in the former Blockley Township west of Philadelphia, raised family and survived off the land his family hunted and toiled. When John Marshall’s grandson, also named John, purchased ‘Joshua Taylor’s Mill’ in Kennett Township, Chester County, PA in 1759, the early beginnings of the first innovative cycle preceding the industrial revolution were beginning to take hold. During this period water power was harnessed as well as machinery for making clothing and grinding grains allowing a small group of people to provide for many. John Marshall, like his neighbor downstream along the Red Clay, John Garrett, harnessed the Red Clay Creek for the power the never-ending piedmont foothills stream offered. John Marshall purchased an existing saw mill on the Red Clay and eventually added a grist mill after the Garrett family turned to the manufacture of snuff.

Historians studying industry and technology advancement define six eras where innovative invention profoundly disrupted society while rapidly advancing cultural evolution as well. A visit to the Marshall Steam Museum reveals numerous examples of how the Marshalls lived and made use of the multiple industrial and technological advancements during several of these disruptive yet innovative cycles of society.

Various Marshall family members directly contributed to the industrial revolution in multiple ways. Uncles of Israel Marshall, the builder of Auburn Heights, commercially produced the first coated iron sheet. Another uncle discovered commercial kaolin deposits off Yorklyn Road. While Israel and his brother Elwood did not invent the world’s first plastic material, vulcanized fibre, they revolutionized the manufacture of the material by transforming production from handmade to machine made. Clarence, Israel’s son not only patented a form of vulcanized fibre material, he improved the automobile’s internal combustion engine’s fuel economy.

The Marshall Steam Museum is the only museum where a complete and detailed history of the American steam car may be experienced. What other exhibits in the Museum can you identify as fitting one or more of the six innovative eras?

Historians generally recognize the first innovative period lasting from 1785 until 1845 when water power reigned supreme. Strong, reliable water power was crucial for Oliver Evans to invent the world’s first fully “automated,” continuous process, grist mill at Faulkland, DE. Evans’ milling technology greatly increased milling quality and speed giving rise to larger and more efficient American mills. These milling improvements were not lost on John Marshall who added a grist mill on the family homestead at Marshallvale at the start of the 1800s.

John’s son Robert converted the grist mill, now known as “The Homestead Mill,” to the manufacture of paper in the mid-1850s. Later Israel Marshall perfected the manufacture of special industrial rag paper required to produce vulcanized fibre. While there are no exhibits in the museum related to this period of Marshall history, perhaps the best exhibit is the museum’s picturesque setting alongside the Red Clay Creek which powered the Homestead Mill. The Homestead Mill, standing today much the same way it was built, but converted to a private residence, reminds us of the Red Clay’s milling heritage. The Red Clay Creek has been critical for the disruptive innovations that occurred along its banks to occur.

The Magic Age of Steam, the Marshall Steam Museum’s theme, recognizes the second innovative period, sometimes referred to as simply The Industrial Revolution. Between 1845 and 1900, steam power was adopted to mills supplanting water power. More importantly, the new steam engine could be located anywhere for powering a manufacturing site so industry migrated away from streams. While we do not know if the Marshall Paper Mill had a steam engine added when the Marshalls renovated the mill in 1890, general ledger entries document a steam engine and DC generator was added for lighting in 1896 to allow night shift operations to meet paper demand.

The second era also gave rise to people crossing vast distances quickly in comfortable coaches pulled on iron rail by steam locomotives and crossing the oceans in steam-powered ships. To cross rivers and streams the old wooden covered bridges gave way to iron truss bridges of which multiple examples are preserved at the Park. The understanding and mastery of electricity towards the latter half of the era brought with it the telegraph and eventually the telephone permitting communications over great distances. The Marshall mansion was constructed with DC lighting in 1897. The mansion’s Kellogg phone, as well as the paper mill office’s wall phone are on display in the museum and operate exactly as they did when installed in 1900.

Vulcanized fiber, invented in the second era, is on display in the museum. State hosted Paper Mill Tours (the last Saturday of the summer months) reflects the fact that the Marshall family were first papermakers. As America transitioned from the second to the third wave, the Israel Marshall saw an opportunity to revolutionize fibre manufacture by automating the process. Within a few short years the Marshalls’ fibremaking business had become the premier maker of the material considered the world’s first plastic as well as the world’s first laminated product.

This year’s special museum display, Bikes, Tricycles, & Tandems, examines how developments related to the bicycle contributed to the third wave and the development of steam and motor carriages. Bicycles and tricycles became the testbeds for automotive development with the Stanley steam car representing the application of steam power for providing personal transport. The Raush & Lang electric car, and Model T among other exhibits, represent the third wave occurring during the first half of the 20th century. Soon, the internal combustion engine replaced steam power and Henry Ford expanded on Oliver Evans’ continuous process grist mill with the creation of the continuous production automotive assembly line.

Nylon and other materials eventually replaced vulcanized fiber although there are still applications where vulcanized fiber must be used. Electricity, no longer just for lighting our homes and businesses as part of the second wave of disruptive innovation, now powered compact and efficient electric motors in the third wave as an alternate to the internal combustion engine or a steam engine. Our financial systems were refined during the third wave as represented by the National Bank Notes signed by T. Clarence Marshall on display along with a clock from Kennett National Bank where Clarence was President for nearly a quarter century.

The fourth and fifth waves of innovation are harder to discover in the museum. They perhaps exist more in the infrastructure of the museum than as actual displays. Lasting from 1950 until 1990 and from 1990 to 2020 respectively, such technological advances as electronics, computers, and satellites allow online purchases and financial transactions at the gift shop. The museum is both temperature and humidity controlled using a heat pump; a device Oliver Evans foresaw and defined in the first era (Evan’s also wrote about what we call the submarine and coaches pulled on defined pathways – the railroad).

Camera and alarm technology within the museum and the mansion provide continuous monitoring. In the 21st century, the electric vehicle is returning to American roads much advanced from when electric cars, like the 1914 Rauch & Lang that was recently restored, were the most popularly registered personal transportation vehicle in America until 1918.

Such disruptive innovation is not only on display in the Marshall Steam Museum or the Auburn Heights mansion. Oversee Farm, built during the agrarian age, has mostly resisted being “modernized” with disruptive innovation. Oversee Farm’s farmhouse and barn are constructed using wooden trunnels (pegs) in place of nails, a common construction technique before the iron rolling mills, such as the one at Wooddale made nails in the first era of innovation.

A trip through Marshall Brothers Mill uncovers items such as a paper beater that was originally powered by either the turbine water wheel of the first era or the steam engine of the second era of disruptive innovation. A rather primitive electric motor of the third era now supplies power to the beater’s leather belt driving the beater’s huge wheel but standing alongside the motor is an electronic drive of the fourth era to control the motor’s speed. A mill elevator between the first and second floors of the mill, originally powered by belts and shafts connected to a water wheel or steam engine, now sports a nearby electric motor driving the very mechanical lifting mechanism.

Historians recognize that we are living in the sixth wave of innovation and technological disruption. We are entering the age of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Involved in this era or wave will be the application of robots and drones to activities usually performed by humans. Personal mobile devices of the fifth era will become our teachers and mentors in the sixth era as AI technology-based conversation is supported by VR visuals supporting the spoken narrative. How this present era, as well as items representing the closing of the fifth era will disrupt society, and the Marshall Steam Museum, is left to future historians and writers to analyze. Science fiction is left to provide educated predictions as to what the seventh wave of disruptive innovation holds for mankind.