Excerpt from Pages 211 to 212Published May 11, 2017
The objections to Gibbs at Brown & Sharpe were not merely professional, however. In spite of the diplomatic efforts of young Charles Willcox, who went with him, Gibbs did not get along well with the people there. He was opinionated, tactless, and at a time of great political tension, outspoken in his southern views. As early as March, 1858, Lucian Sharpe was complaining to a New York friend about the “long-nosed vegetarian who invented the sewing machine.” Gibbs’ manner was stiff and condescending to the people in Providence, whom he considered to be mere workmen rather than technical innovators on a level with himself. Corp remembered him as being “very tall and straight,” and that he was thought to have a West Point training. Nobody seems to have dared to ask him if the rumor was true. His tobacco-chewing disgusted the orderly Yankees: “He chewed tobacco,” Corp said, “and had the most enormous spittoon ever made. It was always full of ‘cuds’ and was the bane of Mr. Viall’s life. No other man in the Works was permitted to chew during working hours.”
It seemed to Lucian Sharpe that Gibbs could work on his machine just as effectively at James Willcox’s in Philadelphia, and during the spring and summer of 1858 he and Willcox sent letters back and forth explaining why it would be best for Gibbs to stay with the other. But since Gibbs’ wife and family were no longer in Philadelphia, having gone back to Virginia in the spring, Willcox had the stronger case. It seemed logical for the inventor and manufacturer of the machine to work together. Furthermore, since Gibbs and Charles Willcox were collaborating on the technical development, Charles would have to go to Philadelphia if Gibbs did, and Sharpe soon discovered that Charles was indispensable.