Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Swedish inventor John Ericsson, creator of the ship propeller,
was born July 31, 1803 in Langbanshyttan, Wermelandia, Sweden.
He was a born artist, gifted at the drawing board, and his
talent in this area lead him eventually to explore engineering.
He and his brother, Nils, were highly intelligent and were
noticed by colleagues of their father, Olof, when they were
teenagers. They were asked to assist in designing a canal,
a project for which Olof served as a director of blastings.
By age 14 then, John was a topographical surveyor.
At age 17, Ericsson joined the Swedish army. He became a lieutenant
relatively quickly. He continued to do surveying for the army,
and also, in his spare time, designed a heat engine that used
fumes from fire instead of steam as a propellant. He left
the army and moved to England in 1826. His heat engine did
not succeed, but he continued to work on engine-related mechanisms.
He worked on a variety or projects, including new types of
steam boilers, condensers for marine steam engines, a steam
fire-engine, and a steam locomotive. He joined a competition
with one of his steam train designs in 1829, but he did not
win. He was losing money, but was undeterred.
Ericsson had been working on a ship propeller when American
ship captain Robert Stockton became intrigued by his ideas
and asked him to design a propellor steamer for him and bring
it to the United States. Ericsson did so, and moved to New
York in 1839. His propellor was successfully installed in
the SS Princeton, completed in 1843. The vessel subsequently
won a race against what had been regarded as the fastest steamer
in the world, the SS Great Western, in the fall of that year.
In 1839, Ericsson's propellers were introduced into vessels
for inland waterways. That year he also began working on building
a large frigate for the U.S. Navy ‚ the USS Monitor. This
ship incorporated a steam-propelled screw propeller, low in
the water. It also had a revolving gun turret, and used iron
construction rather than wood. The screw propeller is still
the main form of marine propulsion. The Monitor was completed
in 1862 and is credited with having helped the Northern states
stay protected during the Civil War.
Ericsson began working on the hot air engine in 1852. Though
the engine never gained commercial success, he was awarded
the Rumford medal for his achievement. He also worked with
torpedo inventions, solar engines (which he called "sun
engines" ‚ and were 100 years ahead of their time), and designs
for ships and submarines. After working and living there for
more than fifty years, he died in the United States in 1889.