Family Stories

Milton Barlow Biography


Milton Barlow was born at Flemingsburg, Fleming County, Kentucky, February 6, 1818.  The family to which he belongs is of French origin, having left France with the Huguenots, after the revocation of he edict of Nantes, and settled first in England, coming thence to America at an early period.  his grandfather, William Henry Harris Barlow, resided at Lynchburg, Virginia, and immigrated to Kentucky from that state with the earliest settlers.  He located near Millersburg, in Nicholas County, where he took up a large tract of land, and erected a block-house.  He was surrounded by hostile savages, and his primitive dwelling was often used as a citadel of defense against their attacks.  He married Elizabeth Kimbrough, daughter of another early settler in that locality, and had a family of seven children, of whom the sons were Samuel, William, James, Thomas H., John and Harrison.  Betsey became the wife of Lawson Bell, and Sarah, of his brother, Hosea Bell.  Thomas H. Barlow was the father of Milton, and was born in the year 1787.  He was reared upon his father’s farm, and in early life enlisted in Johnson’s regiment during the War of 1812, being present at the battle of Thames.  He subsequently engaged in farming; and being possessed of great mechanical ingenuity and skill turned his attention to the building of steam mills, and at Augusta, Kentucky, built a steamboat.  He erected a steam mill at Cynthiana, Kentucky, and later established a foundry and machine shop at Lexington, where he chiefly manufactured saw-mill machinery and steam engines.  He made the machinery for the Red River furnace, and in May, 1826, exhibited at Lexington a small locomotive which he had designed and made from his own model, without having seen one.  About the year 1838 he built a steam mill in Lincoln County, which he operated for a time in conjunction with his son Milton, and later returned to Lexington, where he engaged successfully in the preparation of hemp for naval rope-making purposes – his son being also associated in this enterprise.  Soon after he began work upon an instrument, afterward called a planetarium, which was an ingenious mechanical device, designed to illustrate, in a practical way, the motions of the heavenly bodies, an showing the relation which they sustained to each other at difference seasons of the year, as well ass to the sun and moon.  After three years of study and experiment, assisted by M. Van Dalsem, Professor Dodd, president of the university, and his son, to whom its mechanical construction and perfection was assigned, the instrument was completed, and pronounced a wonderful invention by those public educators of the country to whom it was shown.  It was adopted by the United States Congress for West Point and Annapolis Academies, for which a complimentary prize of $4,000 was paid.  New Orleans, Mississippi University, St. Louis and Washington Lee Universities and many of the leading institutions of learning of this country were supplied with fine planetariums prior to the late war, which suspended the manufactory.  In 1843 father and son conceived the idea of building a rifle-cannon, and after careful experiments completed it, and procured a patent on it in January, 1855.  On August 30, 1856, an appropriation of $3,000 was made by Congress to furnish a gun to the government which was tested, accepted and the patent adopted for general use.  Thomas H. Barlow died in Cincinnati near the close of the late Civil War.  He was pre-eminently a man of genius and great usefulness, and left the impress of his intellectual strength upon the men and institutions of his time.  His wife was Keziah West, and hi children, Milton, Samuel and Elizabeth.  Milton Barlow, at the age of twelve years, was set to work in his father’s shop.  When about fourteen years of age he manufactured a low pressure steam engine with glass air pump and condenser for Rev. Benjamin O. Pears, who was the head of an excellent private school in Lexington, and by way of payment received $150 and three sessions of schooling.  Upon the breaking out of the war between Texas and Mexico he enlisted under General Gaines in Captain Carter’s company at Lexington, Kentucky (for Fort Sabine), the expedition for the protection of our southwestern frontier; and upon the disbandment of his regiment returned home by way of New Orleans as a river engineer.  He subsequently worked in the machine shop of Bridgeford & Hanson at Louisville, then engaged in milling in Lincoln County with his father, and finally manufactured silver-ware in Lexington for several years.  He was the operative constructor of the planetarium, to which reference has been made, and prior to the opening of the war engaged in its manufacture at Lexington, disposing very readily of eighty-two of them in the United States.  He exhibited it at the great Crystal Palace exhibition in New York in 1855.  The breaking out of the Civil War sadly disarranged all of his plan.  Being opposed to both secession and coercion it was his intention to remain neutral, but having been place under arrest by the Federal authorities in Lexington, and subjected to indignities, he espoused the cause of the South, and served in the Confederate Army, first under General Abe Beauford, and later as captain of ordnance under Morgan.  After the close of the war he resumed his residence in Kentucky.  The planetarium was selected by the Kentucky Legislature as Kentucky’s most suitable contribution to the International Exhibition at Paris, France, in 1867, contributing $1,500 to defray expenses, etc.  During the exposition Mr. Barlow visited France, patented the planetarium and caused a manufactory to be established in Paris.  At the close of the exhibition the planetarium was awarded the highest premium given to any illustrative apparatus.  Thus Kentucky has furnished the world with the best illustrative astronomical apparatus.  Returning to the United States Mr. Barlow located at Richmond, Kentucky, where he built a residence and large flouring-mill, which he is now successfully operating.  He inherited his father’s inventive genius, and has always been engaged in the conception or manufacture of some mechanical contrivance.  He recently petitioned Congress to allow him to make a large gun for the government coast defense, to demonstrate the advantages of a new improvement he has designed, and which he thinks will prove efficacious against any ship that can be sent against us.  Mr. Barlow was married on May 20, 1845, to Anastasia C., daughter of Lewis A. Thompson, of Lexington, Kentucky, and has nine children, of whom seven are living, viz.:  Margaret, Virginia, Carie, Milton V., Richard A., Robert E. Leo and Florence Barlow.

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