Indian Legends and Other Poems - Eben Norton Horsford

Eben Norton Horsford


Eben Norton Horsford (1818-1893)

Eben Norton Horsford, born 27 July 1818, was the son of Mary and, U.S. Congressman, Jerediah Horsford. Jerediah was also a missionary to the Seneca Indians of New York and became an expert in their language. Eben Norton Horsford took a different direction in his occupation and received a civil engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1838. In 1840 E.N. Horsford became a professor of Mathematics and Science at the Albany Female Academy, where he would meet his future wives, Mary Gardiner and her sister Phoebe Gardiner.

In 1844, Horsford moved to Giessen Germany to study with renowned chemist Justus von Liebig. This education led to a position at Harvard University where he was chosen as the Rumford Professor and Lecturer on the Application of Science to the Useful Arts. For sixteen years he taught chemistry and conducted research at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard where he published articles in major scientific publications on such topics as phosphates, condensed milk, fermentation, and emergency rations.

Upon his acceptance as a Harvard professor, Mary L’Hommedieu Gardiner's father consented to the marriage of his daughter to Eben. They were married in 1847 and had four daughters: Mary Leila (Lilian) in 1848, Mary Catherine (Kate) in 1850, Gertrude Hubbard in 1852, and Mary Gardiner (Mamie) in 1855. Mary died a few months after the birth of Mamie and E.N. Horsford then married Mary’s sister Phoebe in 1857. E.N. and Phoebe had one daughter, Cornelia Conway Felton, in 1860.

E.N. joined forces, in 1854, with businessman George F. Wilson and started the company Rumford Chemical Works, which would commercially produce Horsford’s chemical inventions. Horsford is most widely remembered for creating baking powder and changing the culinary landscape. In 2006 this discovery was designated as a (U.S.) National Historic Chemical Landmark. E.N. also produced acid phosphate, yeast powder, and developed a process for manufacturing condensing milk. These developments have awarded him the moniker “Father of American Food Technology". Horsford was also involved in the American Civil War and tried to develop an “improved army ration” with dehydrated meat. In 1864 he wrote The Army Ration: How to diminish its weight and bulk, secure economy in its administration, avoid waste, and increase the comfort, efficiency, and mobility of the troops. Although his ideas were lauded, nothing came of his suggestions.

As a father of five girls and a husband to consecutively highly educated wives, Horsford was an adamant supporter of female education. He became a strong supporter of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1877 he was president of the Wellesley College Board of Visitors and an honorary member of the Class of 1886. He donated money for books, scientific apparatus, and began a pension fund for the college.

Later in his life the theory of Vikings in America captured his interest. He spent significant time, and money, on searching for the “lost” city of Norumbega, which he believed was a settlement of Viking explorers located in present Weston, Massachusetts. He also commissioned the statue of Leif Ericson that still stands on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. E.N. wrote endlessly on the topic of Vikings discovery and settlement in America, but historians give little credit to his “discoveries" today. On 1 January 1893, Eben Norton Horsford died at his home in Cambridge.

UPEI's copy of, Indian Legends and other Poems, was written by E.N. Horsford's first wife, Mary Gardiner Horsford. It was published in 1855, the same year that Mary died (25 Nov 1855), so we know this is not her signature, as the inscription is dated May 10, 1856. The signature does match her husband's, Eben Norton Horsford, as proven by numerous U.S. Passport applications. Eben gave the book, as a gift, to his Harvard University colleague, Benjamin Apthorp Gould. The inscription reads:

Dr. B.A. Gould, With the affectionate regards of Horsford.


American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks. Development of Baking Powder.
(accessed October 5, 2015)

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