Zachariah Allen (1795-1882), scientist and inventor, was born in Providence on September 15, 1795. He graduated from Brown in 1813, studied law in the office of James Burrill, and was admitted to the bar in 1815. He studied at the medical school at Brown, but did not practice. He then ventured into the manufacturing business and the study of mechanics and published a treatise entitled Practical Mechanics. In 1825 he went to Europe to observe woolen manufactures and wrote The Practical Tourist. He published Philosophy of the Mechanics of Nature in 1851 and Solar Light and Heat in 1879.
He invented the automatic cut-off valve, which was patented in 1833. He also built the first hot-air furnace for houses and, as a member of the town council of Providence, was influential in introducing the first fire engine in the city and in constructing the city water-works. He invented several machines of great use to the textile industry, and built a mill and storage reservoirs for the use of hydraulic power in the village of Allendale which he founded. He founded the Manufacturers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company in 1835, introducing his system of basing premiums on the effectiveness of safety equipment. In support of the working man, Allen was instrumental in the founding of the first free evening school in New England in 1840, and in the establishment of the Providence Association of Manufacturers and Mechanics. He wrote and published many articles on scientific subjects and on the treatment of the Indians. His article “On the Volume of the Niagara River” in 1844 provided the first calculation of the volume of Niagara Falls. Throughout his life he had a continuing interest in the University, serving as a trustee from 1826 to 1882. He died in Providence on March 17, 1882.