John Ericsson

John Ericsson

Swedish-American inventor and mechanical engineer
Date of Birth: 31.07.1803
Country: Sweden

Biography of John Ericsson

John Ericsson, a Swedish-American inventor and mechanical engineer, is best known for his designs of the 'Novelty' locomotive in partnership with engineer John Braithwaite and the famous ironclad ship 'Monitor'. Ericsson also participated in the construction of the warship 'Princeton', which tragically exploded during its launch, resulting in the death of eight people.

John Ericsson

Early Life and Career
John Ericsson was born on July 31, 1803, in Värmland, Sweden. His father, a mine supervisor, lost a considerable amount of money in speculative ventures, and the family was forced to move to Forsvik in 1810. In Forsvik, Ericsson's father was responsible for the explosive works during the construction of the Göta Canal, while Ericsson and his brother Nils underwent internships at the canal's managing company. By the age of 14, Ericsson had already developed a strong understanding of geodesy.

John Ericsson

In 1820, at the age of 17, Ericsson joined the Swedish army in Jämtland, where he quickly rose to the rank of second lieutenant. He was assigned to northern Sweden, where he engaged in geodetic surveying and, in his spare time, constructed a thermal engine that used combustion products instead of steam as fuel. His mechanical talents and achievements played a decisive role in his desire to leave the army and move to England in 1826.

Inventions and Achievements
Upon arriving in England, Ericsson's thermal engine did not succeed as it required birchwood instead of coal, the primary fuel in England. However, this setback did not deter Ericsson, who went on to invent several other mechanisms with improved heating processes. In 1829, he and John Braithwaite constructed the 'Novelty' locomotive for trials organized by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Although the locomotive proved to be significantly faster than others, boiler problems led to the victory of English engineers. Subsequently, Ericsson and Braithwaite built larger and more reliable engines, such as the 'William IV' and 'Queen Adelaide'. Despite being tested on the same railway, the railway company declined to purchase their designs.

On February 5, 1830, a steam fire engine created by Ericsson and Braithwaite demonstrated its exceptional performance in extinguishing a fire at the Argyll Hotel. It operated for five hours while all other devices failed due to the low temperatures. However, Ericsson's most successful project at this stage of his career was a steam condenser that allowed the desalination of seawater for boiler operations on steamships.

Later Life and Legacy
In 1839, Ericsson arrived in New York to oversee the development of a new class frigate. However, due to insufficient government funding, only a 700-ton sloop funded by the government was realized, which transformed into the warship 'Princeton'. The ship was launched on October 29, 1843. During a demonstration of one of its guns, an explosion occurred in the gunroom, resulting in the death of Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, and six others. Ericsson faced blame for the incident and subsequently became disillusioned with the United States Navy.

In addition to the construction of specialized naval vessels such as the first U.S. Navy ironclad 'Monitor', Ericsson developed other military ships and weapons, including a type of torpedo and a torpedo boat called the 'Destroyer', capable of firing guns at submerged targets. He also provided technical support to John Philip Holland in his early work on submarine design.

Throughout his career, Ericsson continued to experiment with new sources of heat energy, and in his book 'Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition' in 1877, he presented his 'solar' devices for collecting solar heat in engines. These devices used a special mirror, and one of his inventions from this series was named the 'Solarmaschine'. These projects enabled Ericsson to earn some income, which he used to further his experiments with a methane-powered gas engine.

Despite none of Ericsson's inventions being widely adopted by major industries, he is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers of all time. John Ericsson passed away on March 8, 1889, on the anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads, in which his ironclad 'Monitor' participated.