Ericsson, John, 1803-1889

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1803-07-31
Death 1889-03-08
Swedes

Biographical notes:

Swedish-born engineer and inventor; emigrated to the United States in 1839.

From the description of John Ericsson papers, 1821-1890 (bulk 1842-1886). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980081

Swedish-born engineer John Ericsson designed the first screw-driven steamship to cross the Atlantic and the first propeller-driven steam warship for the US Navy. In 1861 he contracted with the Navy to build an ironclad warship, Monitor, which successfully fought the Confederate ironclad Virginia (originally Merrimack) at Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. After the Civil War, he pursued his interests in torpedo-armed vessels, and in a variety of scientific and engineering subjects, including solar energy.

From the description of John Ericsson Collection, 1831-1893 (bulk 1862-1888). (New-York Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 479722455

John Ericsson designed the MONITOR, developed the first propeller powered vessel and the first surface vessel capable of firing torpedoes from its bow.

From the description of Letter, December 9, 1858. (Naval War College). WorldCat record id: 17974191

John Ericsson was born in the province of Vermland, Sweden, on July 31, 1803. The son of a mining engineer, Ericsson showed an early interest in mechanics. By the age of ten, he had designed and constructed a miniature sawmill and by 13, he was a cadet in the Swedish navy. By the age of 17, he entered the Swedish army, joining as an ensign in the 23rd. Corps, a specialized engineering unit for the army. While serving in the army, Ericsson became interested in steam engines and developed the theory for his caloric engine, which operated on the principle that air heated to very high temperature could be used to drive engines.

In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he demonstrated his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Although the engine failed in the demonstration, Ericsson impressed the English engineer John Braithwaite. Braithwaite was impressed with the young Swede's determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser.

By 1836, Ericsson had patented a design for the screw propeller. An American naval officer, Robert Stockton, was impressed with Ericsson's propeller and persuaded him to immigrate to the United States. In 1839, with Stockton's influence, Ericsson was awarded a contract to build a screw-propelled warship for the United States Navy. Launched in 1843, the USS Princeton was the first warship in naval history to be designed and built as a screw-powered ship. During the ship's trials in 1844, one of the guns exploded killing several dignitaries on board. Efforts by the Navy to assign the blame to Ericsson, led the engineer to redirect his creativity into civilian fields.

By June 1861, Confederate forces started the conversion of the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, countered with the creation of a board to build an ironclad vessel. After presentations and negotiations, Ericsson's design of the USS Monitor was accepted. Monitor's successful battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, made Ericsson a hero in the North. Throughout the rest of the Civil War, Ericsson was involved in the design and construction of a number of ironclad monitor type vessels of the United States Navy.

After the Civil War, Ericsson continued his work on maritime and naval technology. He designed ships for foreign navies, experimented with submarines and self-propelled torpedoes, and worked on technologies as exotic as solar energy. Ericsson continued to work on his invention until his death in New York City on March 8, 1889. In August 1890, following a memorial service at New York, his body was placed on board the cruiser Baltimore, which carried him across the Atlantic to his native Sweden for burial.

From the description of John Ericsson letter on caloric engines, 1858 January 25. (The Mariners' Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 775010820

Swedish American inventor, designer, marine engineer.

Ericsson is chiefly remembered as the designer of the famed MONITOR which defeated the Confederate ship MERRIMAC.

From the description of John Ericsson letters, 1864-1866. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 493895963

John Ericsson was born in the province of Vermland, Sweden, on July 31, 1803. The son of a mining engineer, Ericsson showed an early interest in mechanics. By the age of ten, he had designed and constructed a miniature sawmill and by 13, he was a cadet in the Swedish navy. By the age of 17, he entered the Swedish army, joining as an ensign in the 23rd. Corps, a specialized engineering unit for the army. While serving in the army, Ericsson became interested in steam engines and developed the theory for his caloric engine, which operated on the principle that air heated to very high temperature could be used to drive engines.

In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he demonstrated his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Although the engine failed in the demonstration, Ericsson impressed the English engineer John Braithwaite. Braithwaite was impressed with the young Swede's determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser.

By 1836, Ericsson had patented a design for the screw propeller. An American naval officer, Robert Stockton, was impressed with Ericsson's propeller and persuaded him to immigrate to the United States. In 1839, with Stockton's influence, Ericsson was awarded a contract to build a screw-propelled warship for the United States Navy. Launched in 1843, the USS Princeton was the first warship in naval history to be designed and built as a screw-powered ship. During the ship's trials in 1844, one of the guns exploded killing several dignitaries on board. Efforts by the Navy to assign the blame to Ericsson, led the engineer to redirect his creativity into civilian fields.

By June 1861, Confederate forces started the conversion of the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, countered with the creation of a board to build an ironclad vessel. After presentations and negotiations, Ericsson's design of the USS Monitor was accepted. Monitor's successful battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, made Ericsson a hero in the North. Throughout the rest of the Civil War, Ericsson was involved in the design and construction of a number of ironclad monitor type vessels of the United States Navy.

After the Civil War, Ericsson continued his work on maritime and naval technology. He designed ships for foreign navies, experimented with submarines and self-propelled torpedoes, and worked on technologies as exotic as solar energy. Ericsson continued to work on his invention until his death in New York City on March 8, 1889. In August 1890, following a memorial service at New York, his body was placed on board the cruiser Baltimore, which carried him across the Atlantic to his native Sweden for burial.

From the description of John Ericsson letter, 1864 July 13. (The Mariners' Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 775010562

John Ericsson was born in the province of Vermland, Sweden, on July 31, 1803. The son of a mining engineer, Ericsson showed an early interest in mechanics. By the age of ten, he had designed and constructed a miniature sawmill and by 13, he was a cadet in the Swedish navy. By the age of 17, he entered the Swedish army, joining as an ensign in the 23rd. Corps, a specialized engineering unit for the army. While serving in the army, Ericsson became interested in steam engines and developed the theory for his caloric engine, which operated on the principle that air heated to very high temperature could be used to drive engines. In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he demonstrated his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Although the engine failed in the demonstration, Ericsson impressed the English engineer John Braithwaite. Braithwaite was impressed with the young Swede's determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser. By 1836, Ericsson had patented a design for the screw propeller. An American naval officer, Robert Stockton, was impressed with Ericsson's propeller and persuaded him to immigrate to the United States. In 1839, with Stockton's influence, Ericsson was awarded a contract to build a screw-propelled warship for the United States Navy. Launched in 1843, the USS Princeton was the first warship in naval history to be designed and built as a screw-powered ship. During the ship's trials in 1844, one of the guns exploded killing several dignitaries on board. Efforts by the Navy to assign the blame to Ericsson, led the engineer to redirect his creativity into civilian fields. By June 1861, Confederate forces started the conversion of the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, countered with the creation of a board to build an ironclad vessel. After presentations and negotiations, Ericsson's design of the USS Monitor was accepted. Monitor's successful battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, made Ericsson a hero in the North. Throughout the rest of the Civil War, Ericsson was involved in the design and construction of a number of ironclad monitor type vessels of the United States Navy. After the Civil War, Ericsson continued his work on maritime and naval technology. He designed ships for foreign navies, experimented with submarines and self-propelled torpedoes, and worked on technologies as exotic as solar energy. Ericsson continued to work on his invention until his death in New York City on March 8, 1889. In August 1890, following a memorial service at New York, his body was placed on board the cruiser Baltimore, which carried him across the Atlantic to his native Sweden for burial.

Samuel W. Taylor was Ericsson's personal secretary for twenty-seven years, beginning in 1862 as a copy clerk and then becoming his private secretary in 1864. Taylor and Ericsson became very close, with Taylor acting as gateway to the outside world as Ericsson became increasingly reclusive. Nearly all communication from Ericsson to others went through Taylor. Likewise, Taylor alerted Ericsson to events of the outside world that would interest him.

From the description of John Ericsson and Samuel Taylor Letters, 1887. (The Mariners' Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 760314014

Biographical Note

  • 1803, July 31: Born, Vermland Province, Sweden
  • 1815: Commissioned to make drawings for the Gota Canal Co.
  • 1815 - 1820 : Assistant leveler and leveler at various stations of the Gota Canal Co.
  • 1820: Ensign, 23d Regiment Rifle Corps, Swedish army
  • 1821: Commissioned second lieutenant
  • 1825 - 1826 : Constructed a condensing flame engine of ten horsepower
  • 1826: Went to London, England
  • 1827: Commissioned captain and later resigned from the Swedish army
  • 1828: Designed steam fire engine for which he received the gold medal of the Mechanics Institute of New York in 1840 Made the first application to navigation of the principle of condensing steam and returning water to the boiler in the ship Victory Designed self-acting gun lock later applied to wrought iron gun of the Princeton
  • 1829: Designed and constructed the steam locomotive Novelty
  • 1830: Introduced "link motion" for reversing locomotive engines
  • 1833: Introduced the "caloric" engine
  • 1833 - 1834 : Experimented with submerged propellers
  • 1836: Invented and patented the screw propeller Married Amelia Byam
  • 1837: Built steam vessel with two screw propellers
  • 1838: Constructed the Robert F. Stockton, an iron screw steamer
  • 1839: Came to the United States
  • 1841: Furnished designs for the first screw-propelled warship, the Princeton, commissioned in 1844
  • 1851: Exhibited inventions at United States division of the World's Fair in London Developed design and plans for the Ericsson, a ship propelled by "caloric" engines, completed in 1853
  • 1854: Developed plans for a submerged armored vessel with guns in revolving shot-proof cupola placed centrally on deck
  • 1861: Built Monitor, an armored ship embodying the features designed in 1854
  • 1869: Constructed thirty steam gunboats for the Spanish government
  • 1881: Devised the Destroyer, a submarine torpedo boat
  • 1883: Erected "sun motor" which ran on solar energy at New York
  • 1889, Mar. 8: Died, New York, N.Y.

From the guide to the John Ericsson Papers, 1821-1890, (bulk 1842-1886), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

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Subjects:

  • Floating batteries
  • Solar energy
  • Pyrometers
  • Warships--Turrets
  • Marine engines--Patents
  • Mathematics
  • Propellers
  • Ordnance, Naval
  • Caloric engines--Design and construction
  • Shipbuilding
  • Armored vessels--Design and construction
  • Fourth of July celebrations
  • Hydrometer
  • Pumping machinery
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Shipbuilding--Equipment and supplies
  • Heat
  • Astronomy
  • Anti-submarine warfare
  • Marine engines--Design and construction
  • Ships, iron and steel
  • Warships
  • Destroyers (Warships)
  • Marine engineering
  • National Academy of Sciences
  • Armored vessels
  • Naval architecture
  • Exposition
  • Photography
  • Scientific publications
  • Smithsonian Exchange

Occupations:

  • Inventors
  • Designer
  • Engineers
  • Swedish Americans
  • Marine engineers

Places:

  • Europe (as recorded)
  • New York (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)