Jehu Hatfield – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Jehu Hatfield – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Jehu Hatfield was an inventor during the 19th century. While he was working with spittoons, pottery, and Lucifer matches, his friend gave him a pair of friction matches. Hatfield was blown away by the small tools, and wanted to know how they were made. He asked some local chemists for help, but ultimately decided to experiment by himself (even though he was not a chemist). Hatfield successfully figured out the chemical formula for the friction matches — the very first ones made in the USA. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a patent in time, so Hatfield moved on to other inventions — particularly, his new machine for calculating interest. He did get a patent this time, and even got a second patent for a later invention, his machine for making paper boxes.

Who Was Jehu Hatfield?

Jehu Hatfield was an American inventor known for producing an incredible calculator used in money calculations. On May 6, 1844, he took out a US patent №3574 for a machine for computing interest, measuring lumber, and for other purposes. It is unknown how many devices were produced, but at least one managed to survive until our time.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Jehu Hatfield
June 16, 1806
April 23, 1871
Mary E. (1835), Charles Berryhill (1838), and Ann Eliza (1842)
Fields of Expertise
Machine for Computing Interest
Jehu Hatfield’s Machine for Computing Interest (photo: Renee Lando).

Early Life 

Jehu Hatfield was born on June 16, 1806, in Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. He was the 6th child of John Hatfield, Jr. (1745-1813) and his third wife, Nancy Berryhill (1766-1850).

His father was a dairy farmer in Dauphin County. Unfortunately, he died in 1813. His wife and thirteen children were left behind. John Hatfield sired five children from the first marriage, two from the second, and eight from the third. Although some people think Jehu Hatfield might be closely related to Aaron Hatfield from Pennsylvania (who invented a machine for adding numbers), they are not connected.

Jehu stayed on the family farm for some years before relocating to New York State when he reached adulthood.


Spittoon and Pottery Making Business

Jehu Hatfield worked in a spittoon and pottery-making business in Mechanicville around 1830. As he was working in the industry, Jehu and his friend Joll Farnam saw a business opportunity with some French fire-sticks offered for sale on the New York docks. They also decided to establish a massive match-making operation in the USA. 

Jehu cracked the chemical formula that ignited the friction matches and was even granted a patent in this area (US Patent №219, 1837). With his friend Farnam, they claimed to have invented the first friction matches in the USA, widely known as “locofocos”. 

However, Jehu’s invention was ultimately unsuccessful because of a minor technical filing error. Although he had received a patent for his mode of dipping the matches, the second patent he needed was rejected. Jehu went ahead and made the matches anyway, but unfortunately, another inventor was able to get a patent for friction matches. So, Jehu had to give up his match idea and move on to something else.

Match Ignition Close Up
Jehu Hatfield was a clever and innovative inventor who figured out how to make a friction match, even though he wasn’t a chemist.

What did Jehu Hatfield Invent?

Machine for Computing Interest

On May 6, 1844, Jehu Hatfield had an invention idea; hence, took out a US patent №3574 for a machine for computing interest, measuring lumber, and other purposes. Hatfield wanted to provide a machine with a quick calculating mechanism. It is unknown how many devices were produced, but at least one managed to survive today.

Jehu Hatfield
Jehu Hatfield’s Machine (the patent drawing). The machine indicated interest sums, principal dollars, cents, and the days of the month.

The device sits in a pine case with a mahogany veneer, much like many 1840s shelf clock cases. It has a door with glass on the top side and blue-colored paper on its lower half. 

Hatfield’s machine has a vertical revolving cylinder (marked with A) with vertical parallel columns of figures on its outer surface. The numbers represent the interest in the several sums shown in a stationary column on a surrounding case. The machine has a vertical circular scale or dial placed at its front point (similar to a clock face), which indicates the days of the month with an index hand or pointer. They are all operated by the cylinder and connected by mitre wheels.

On the left side of the case, there is a calculating mechanism, operated by a turned wooden knob. As the knob is turned, the dial’s pointer directs to different “Months” and “Days.” Simultaneously, the hand in the upper section of the case rotates the vertical cylinder in the lower case, displaying “Principal Dollars” and “Principal Cents.” The outcomes can be seen through the opening covered by blue paper on the door.

Jehu Hatfield
Hatfield’s Machine with open front door (photo: Renee Lando). The cylinder in the lower case displayed “Principal Dollars” and “Principal Cents”.

Jehu Hatfield: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life

Net Worth

Nothing is known about Jehus’ net worth. 


Jehu Hatfield married Harriet Hatfield at an early age. Later, he married Phebe Ann Wood (1804-1897) in Rensselaerville, New York. They settled in Mechanicville, New York.


Jehu and Harriet Hatfield had a daughter, but in April 1833, they obtained a divorce through the Pennsylvania legislature. No information was disclosed regarding the reason behind their decision to separate.


Jehu had one daughter in his first marriage. He later had three children with Phebe Ann: Mary E. (1835), Charles Berryhill (1838), and Ann Eliza (1842).


Jehu Hatfield died on April 23, 1871, in Troy, New York.

Jehu Hatfield: Awards and Achievements

No award is linked to Jehu Hatfield.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Jehu Hatfield?

Jehu Hatfield was among the best American inventors to produce the effective calculating machine.

What did Jehu Hatfield invent?

Jehu invented the Machine for computing interest. The machine consisted of a vertical revolving cylinder (marked with A), having on its outer surface vertical parallel columns of figures, representing the interest on the several sums shown in a stationary column on a surrounding case.

How did Jehu Hatfield invent his Machine for computing interest?

Hatfield’s Machine was made of simple Mahogany wood. He added a cylinder to control the operations of the calculator. Also, He provided a wooden knob to control the calculating mechanism, where one could rotate the figures and perform different calculations. Finally, he produced a blue-colored paper on the device to show results.

When was Jehu Hatfield born?

Jehu Hatfield was born on 16 June, 1806, in Middle Paxton township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, as 6th child from the third marriage of John Hatfield, Jr. (1745-1813) and his third wife Nancy Berryhill (1766-1850).

When did Jehu Hatfield die?

Jehu Hatfield died on 23 April 1871, in Troy, New York.

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