Ericsson, John, 1803-1889

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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)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Isaac Newton Jr. family. Isaac Newton Jr. family papers, 1829-1932. The Mariners' Museum Library
creatorOf John Ericsson Papers, 1821-1890, (bulk 1842-1886) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Autograph File, E, 1564-1961. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard
referencedIn Naval History Society. Naval History Society Collection, 1721-1993 (bulk, 1781-1936). New-York Historical Society Library
referencedIn Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. [The Civil war ; miscellaneous materials about the American civil war.]. Angelo State University Library, Porter Henderson Library
referencedIn Gustavus Vasa Fox Collection, 1823-1919 (bulk 1860-1889) © 2011 New-York Historical Society
creatorOf Dahlgren, John Adolphus Bernard, 1809-1870. Autograph telegram signed : [Washington], to Capt. John Ericsson, 1862 Aug. 12. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn New York Historical Society. John Ericsson Papers.
creatorOf Thurston, Robert Henry, 1839-1903. Robert Henry Thurston papers, 1859-1902. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Ida Dudley Dale family papers, circa 1860-1947 American Swedish Historical Museum
referencedIn John Ericsson Collection, 1831-1893 (bulk 1862-1888) @ 2011 New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Robert Henry Thurston papers, 1859-1902. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson letter, 1864 July 13. The Mariners' Museum Library
referencedIn American Swedish Historical Museum John Ericsson collection, Bulk, 1859-1890, 1838-1938 American Swedish Historical Museum
referencedIn Mariners' Museum (Newport News, Va.). Battle of Hampton Roads articles / [compiled by the Mariners' Museum]. The Mariners' Museum Library
referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Church, William Conant, 1836-1917. William Conant Church papers, 1862-1924. Library of Congress
creatorOf Harding, Charlotte, 1873-1951,. Charlotte Hanes Harding autographs collection, 1744-1928. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson letter on caloric engines, 1858 January 25. The Mariners' Museum Library
referencedIn Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883. Gustavus Vasa Fox Collection, 1823-1919 (bulk 1860-1889). New-York Historical Society Library
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson Collection, 1831-1893 (bulk 1862-1888). New-York Historical Society Library
referencedIn The Naval History Society Collection, 1721-1995 (bulk 1781-1936) © 2011 New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive);, 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. Papers. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 33: Office Of The Secretary, Outgoing Corres..
referencedIn John Lorimer Worden collection, 1862-1899 Brooklyn Historical Society
referencedIn Sir James Paget correspondence, 1784-1932, 1784-1932 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson letters, 1864-1866. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Notes about John Ericsson. State Historical Society of Iowa, Library
creatorOf Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883. Letter signed : Navy Department, to John Ericsson, 1863 Apr. 9. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Paget, James, Sir, 1814-1899. Correspondence, 1784-1932. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883. Autograph telegram signed : Washington, to Capt. John Ericsson, 1863 Mar. 12. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. Letter, December 9, 1858. Naval War College, Henry E. Eccles Library
referencedIn Ogden, Francis Barber, 1783-1857. ALsS, 1837-1856, to Aaron Ogden Dayton. Rosenbach Museum & Library
creatorOf Sargent, John Osborne, 1811-1891. John O. Sargent papers, 1831-1912; bulk: 1831-1893. Massachusetts Historical Society
creatorOf Doolittle, Sylvester. Vandalia. Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee County Federated Library System
referencedIn Beach, Ella, d. 1938. Beach family papers, 1811-1962 (bulk 1833-1933). Library of Congress
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson papers, 1821-1890 (bulk 1842-1886). Library of Congress
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn U.S. History mss., 1612-1977 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. John Ericsson and Samuel Taylor Letters, 1887. The Mariners' Museum Library
creatorOf Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883. Telegram signed : "Navy Department", to Capt. John Ericsson, 1863 Jun. 11. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 26: Office Of The Secretary, Incoming Corres..
referencedIn United States. District Court (New York : Southern District). Equity dockets and case files, 1791-1846 [microform]. Hagley Museum & Library
creatorOf Ericsson, John, 1803-1889. Autograph letter signed, 1860 Sept. 22 to unknown recipient. Independence Seaport Museum
creatorOf Welles, Gideon, 1802-1878. Telegram signed : "Navy Department", to Capt. John Ericsson in New York, 1863 Jan. 27. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Oversize Manuscripts Collection, Bulk, 1648-1934, 1648-1998 © 2011 New-York Historical Society
referencedIn American Swedish Historical Museum. [Contact repository for more information].
creatorOf Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883. Telegram signed : "Navy Department", to Capt. John Ericsson, 1862 Dec. 15. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Latham, Jean Lee. Man of the monitor : the story of John Ericsson : production material. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Woodward, Ashbel, 1804-1885. Ashbel Woodward biography collection, undated. Connecticut Historical Society
referencedIn Novak, Stephen E. Papers of John Ericsson, 1831-July 1865 / compiled by Stephen E. Novak. Naval War College, Henry E. Eccles Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
correspondedWith Adlersparre, A. person
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873 person
associatedWith American Swedish Historical Museum (Philadelphia, Pa.). corporateBody
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associatedWith Cuvier, Georges, Baron, 1769-1832 person
correspondedWith Dahlgren, John Adolphus Bernard, 1809-1870 person
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correspondedWith Delamater, Cornelius Henry, 1821-1899 person
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associatedWith Edison, Thomas A., (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
correspondedWith Elworth, Hjalmar person
correspondedWith Ericson, Nils person
correspondedWith Ericson, Nils person
associatedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865 person
associatedWith Fitch, John person
correspondedWith Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883 person
associatedWith Genth, F. A., (Frederick Augustus), 1820-1893 person
correspondedWith Gould, Charles person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872 person
correspondedWith Griswold, John A. (John Augustus), 1818-1872 person
associatedWith Harding, Charlotte, 1873-1951, person
associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
correspondedWith Haswell, Chas. H. (Charles Haynes), 1809-1907 person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
correspondedWith Horsford, Eben Norton, 1818-1893 person
correspondedWith Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899 person
associatedWith Isaac Newton Jr. family. person
correspondedWith Jones, William Gore person
associatedWith Kitching, John B. person
associatedWith Latham, Jean Lee. person
associatedWith Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, collector. corporateBody
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correspondedWith Myers, Felix person
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associatedWith Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727 person
associatedWith Novak, Stephen E. person
correspondedWith Ogden, Francis Barber, 1783-1857 person
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correspondedWith Paulding, Hiram, 1797-1878 person
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correspondedWith Sargent, Epes, 1813-1880 person
correspondedWith Sargent, John Osborne, 1811-1891 person
associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
correspondedWith Seward, William Henry, 1801-1872 person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
correspondedWith Smith, Joseph, 1790-1877 person
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
correspondedWith Stockton, Robert Field, 1795-1866 person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
associatedWith Taylor, Samuel W. person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith Thurston, Robert Henry, 1839-1903. person
associatedWith United States. District Court (New York : Southern District). corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Navy corporateBody
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
correspondedWith Welles, Gideon, 1802-1878 person
associatedWith Woodward, Ashbel, 1804-1885. person
associatedWith Worden, John Lorimer, 1818-1897 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Europe
New York
United States
United States
United States
United States
Subject
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
Occupation
Inventors
Designer
Engineers
Swedish Americans
Marine engineers
Function

Person

Birth 1803-07-31

Death 1889-03-08

Swedes

Information

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