The son of Dennis and Olive Hatch, Frank Newell Hatch was born in Sanford, Maine, on June 25, 1845. At age 16 he volunteered for the Civil War as a private in Company A of the 5th Maine Infantry. After two years of action pneumonia forced him to take a medical discharge and return to working at his father’s blacksmith shop in Maine.
In 1867 a desire to see the West caused him to move to Waterloo, Iowa. There he married Miss Emmagene Rice on July 26, 1868. The couple went on to raise five children.
In 1872 the family began a journey to California. They stopped for a year in Blue Rapids, Kansas, and the following year intended to do the same in Osborne. But when the townsfolk found out that Frank was a blacksmith they begged him to stay a while longer.
So over the next 18 years Hatch went into business with a drive and vigor that was impressive even then in the rapidly-growing frontier town. He cut and dressed the limestone and erected four of the most imposing structures in Osborne up to that time – an eight-sided stone flour mill, then located where the Sunflower Hotel now stands in 2012; a two-story stone building to house his blacksmith shop; another two-story stone building for the hardware store he operated with his partner, Emanuel Smith, and a three-story stone building next to those, which served as the location for two other businesses and as the Hatch family home.
By 1883 Hatch had rebuilt the two 2-story buildings, combining them into one structure, and made the second floor into the Osborne Opera House. In between the traveling companies that entertained at the Opera House the second floor was used as a roller skating rink.
Hatch’s first invention of note was an improvement on the popular Grasshopper plow. Used specifically for the plowing of virgin sod for houses, his plow would cut the ground 3 inches deep by a foot wide. Frank sold a large number of these during the 1870s and 1880s.
His second invention of note made him even more popular and gave him an indelible footmark inKansashistory. In the summer of 1887 he glanced around his blacksmith shop and taking a small vapor engine, a flatbed wagon, some parts of a still, and other items, created the first self-propelled vehicle ever built in Kansas.
“In 1887 there lived in Osborne a man by the name of Frank Hatch, a genius of the first water, and among his inventions was the automobile, as every Osborneite can inform you . . . He ran it through the streets of Osborne and also made several excursions into the country. I don’t see any use of letting some Frenchman with a name like a Chinese puzzle have the honor of inventing this machine when it belongs to the short grass country out in Western Kansas.” – Charlie Scott, writing to the newspaper the Concordia Kansan in April 1900.
“The steam wagon so successfully manufactured and run by Frank Hatch still draws it’s fair share of attention when he chooses to sail around the streets without a team. The steering gear is peculiarly simple and effective, Frank being able to run the engine and guide the chariot without overexerting himself in the least.” – Osborne County Farmer,June 2, 1887.
In 1891 Frank made his third invention when, on a dare, he and two assistants cast their own cannon. It was used at celebrations in Osborne until 1901 and then was given to the courthouse museum. In 1910 the cannon disappeared from the courthouse and was rumored to be residing in a barn in Russell County.
In 1901 Frank at last moved his family to the West Coast, settling in Washington State. There he ran a lumber mill and two shingle mills. Frank died on March 14, 1906 at Fir, Washington, and was buried in the Anderson Cemetery at East Stanwood, Snohomish County, Washington.
A blacksmith, a stonemason, a miller, a lumberman, and an inventor, Frank Newell Hatch is a striking example of the self-reliant frontier settler of 19th Century America.