David Welch was born at Grand Island, Erie Co., N.Y., September 23, 1850. Sylvester Welch, his father, was a Vermonter, and his mother, Sarah Eliza (Hess), was a Canadian by birth. From Canada they went to Ohio, in about 1842, moving to Grand Island, Erie Co., N.Y., where Sylvester Welch engaged in farming and lumbering, Grand Island being at that time a mere wilderness. He was a very successful man, and in 1868 he owned, along with Owen Bedell, the Buffalo harbor tug S.M. O'Brian, in addition to which Mr. Welch also owned the Oscar Folsom and Algie O. Thayer, the canal tug Robert J.L. Cooper and the ferryboat Mary, of the Buffalo and Grand Island Ferry Co. He furnished the Western line with all the wood it burned in early days when wood was used. He is now living in Buffalo.
The subject of this sketch was educated at Grand Island, and at the early age of seventeen became engineer on the ferryboat Mary, above mentioned, running on a ferry about two miles above Tonawanda. The following season he was engineer on the Cooper, and was captain of the latter the next season. During 1870-71 he was captain of the Folsom, and of the Thayer during the three seasons following, 1872-73-74. In 1875 he went to Montreal and acted as captain of the Thayer, which was sold during season 1876, and acted as captain, for three years following, of the tug Phillip Becker, which was afterward lost in a storm on Lake Ontario, while in charge of another captain, however. In 1879 Mr. Welch was chief engineer of the Emma Sutton, plying between Elk Rapids and Traverse City, on Lake Michigan, and in 1880 he became captain of the tug William Morse, after which he was captain of the Queen City for three years; he was then captain for four years of the steamyacht Clara McIntyre, owned by J.E. McIntyre. On November 2, 1887, he became master of the fireboat George R. Potter, of the Buffalo Fire Department, and is still retained in that service, presumably as the result of faithful service. Socially, Mr. Welch has been a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen for eighteen years.
Mr. Welch was married, January 1, 1874, to Estella Thompson, and they have the following named children: Nettie V., Sylvester, James, Charles, Thompson and Norman F.
It seems but proper, and in justice to the inventive genius of David Welch, to mention in this connection something in regard to the hydraulic steering gear now in use upon the fireboat George R. Potter and several other tugs in Buffalo harbor, known as Welch's Patent Steering Gear, which was invented and patented by him. It is a perfect hydraulic steerer, taking the water from one end of the cylinder and forcing it into the other end, thus using the same water repeatedly. It is the first hydraulic gear ever invented, and can be used either with wheel or lever, and operated with the little finger. In 1890 Fire Chief Frederick Horning went west to see the Hale Tower, and on his return stopped at Chicago. While there, at the request of Mr. Welch, he examined the steering gear of the harbor tug O.B. Green, and upon his return to Buffalo reported the result of his investigation to the city authorities. They did not favor the use of the Chicago gear, however, because of its high price, which was fifteen hundred dollars. Mr. Welch's inventive genius began immediately to work and the idea of a gear came to his mind from observing the working of a hydraulic jack. He made numerous drawings and experiments, the most puzzling question to decide being whether to use one or two rolling valves. After a short study he formulated a gear, and with the consent of Captain Maytham placed a sample in one of the tugs of that line, which worked successfully from the start. The gear on the Potter is in the engine-room on the starboard side of the boat, but can be placed anywhere that there is space room[sic], and can be used on any steam tug or vessel. It is now in use on the tugs G.W. McGee and Excelsior, of the Maytham line at Buffalo, the William Kennedy, of the V.O.T. line, of Cleveland, the Medina and two tugs at Duluth, of the Singer line, and also on two new tugs on Lake Huron. The gear has been improved very materially since its first use, has been simplified to quite an extent, and will doubtless be in general use on the lakes in a very short time. [Captain Welch has the patent on this hydraulic steering gear, and has made some improvements since the above was written.]
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.