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Cram's Fan Chair : drawing and description

Enclosed in a 1786 letter to Benjamin Rush, Charles Willson Peale sent this drawing and description of the "Fan Chair," invented and made for him by "the very Ingenous Mr. Cram (Musical Instrument Maker)." Peale, the patriarch of a family of artists and museum entrepreneurs, had been elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society (APS) that July. Rush, then a Councillor of the APS, was perhaps the most prominent physician in the former British colonies, and a frequent correspondent with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, among others.

Before the national patent system was established in 1790, the Society was a sort of national repository of plans and models for improved or new devices designed to improve life and extend human control over nature. Inventors and mechanics wishing to have their ideas recognized and disseminated communicated with the APS in the hopes this would be effected. In the case of Cram's chair, Peale's letter, along with the description, was presented by Benjamin Rush to a meeting of the Society on 18 August 1786. In the presence of seventeen members, the secretary recorded:

[a] letter from Mr. Peale accompanied with the drawing and description of a Fan Chair invented, and made for him by Mr. Cram an ingenious mechanic in this City was presented by Dr. Rush; and read.

Also presented during this meeting was a drawing and description of a "Tide Mill."

The "Ingenous Mr. Cram" referred to by Peale was almost certainly John Cram, listed in a 1785 Philadelphia Directory as an "instrument maker," with a shop in Lombard Street between Second and Third. While he is occasionally mentioned in some of Peale's correspondence, not much more in known about Cram. However, at least one similar chair is still in existence. Charles Wood III, in an article entitled "Mr. Cram's fan chair," describes and provides a photograph of the "eagle's wing chair" at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

Currently on exhibit

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