William Henson

William Henson

Date of Birth: 03.05.1812
Country: USA

Biography of William Henson

William Samuel Henson, also known as "Mad-man Henson," was an engineer and inventor who held patents in various fields. He was born on May 3, 1812, in Chard, England, which was a center for lace production at the time. After completing his education, Henson began working as an engineer, designing and improving machines for lace production.

In 1835, Henson obtained his first patent for an "Improved Lace-making Machine." In 1838, he met John Stringfellow, who was involved in servicing and developing steam engines for the lace machines in Chard. Henson intrigued Stringfellow with his ideas in the field of aviation, and together they patented the "Aerial Steam Carriage" in 1842 (British Patent No. 9478). The carriage, also known as "Ariel," was a monoplane with a wingspan of 46m and a weight of 1400kg. Its wings had an area of 420 square meters, and it was designed to be powered by a 50hp steam engine, which would drive two propellers on the wings. The Ariel could carry up to 12 passengers at a maximum speed of 80km/h for a distance of up to 1600km.

In 1843, Henson, Stringfellow, Frederick Marriott, and D.E. Colombine founded the Aeriel Transit Company. Stringfellow also constructed a six-meter model of the Ariel, equipped with a small 1hp steam engine. From 1844 to 1847, Stringfellow conducted tests on the model, constantly modifying its parameters, redesigning the glider, and increasing the steam engine's power. However, most of the tests ended in failure, with the model only able to fly horizontally for a maximum distance of ten meters while tethered. The tests for takeoff and landing were not conducted. By 1847, despite parliamentary support, it became clear that the Aeriel Transit Company was unable to gather the necessary funds for further development and building of a prototype. Speculations arose in the press, suggesting that the Ariel was a hoax and a fraud. Disheartened, Henson left the project.

While working on the Ariel, Henson also focused on other inventions. In 1847, he patented a safety razor, known as the "T-shaped razor," which is still produced today. Henson's rights to produce the razor were later acquired by the Gillette company, which introduced disposable blades in 1901. On March 4, 1848, Henson married Sarah Ann Jones. Still disappointed by the failure of the Ariel, they decided to emigrate to the United States.

After moving to the US, the couple settled in Newark, New Jersey, where Henson initially worked as a mechanic. However, his talent as an inventor soon resurfaced, and he patented a machine for producing ice, water-repellent fabric, a device for cleaning tanks, and a new modification of the razor. By 1870, he had gained recognition as a respected engineer. During that time, he worked on a breech-loading firearm, which he proposed for the US Navy but was rejected as impractical.

In 1871, Henson published a book on astronomy, reflecting his views on the origin and formation of the cosmos, which align closely with modern astronomy. Henson and his wife lived in Newark until his death in 1888. He was buried in East Orange, a town near Newark.

William Henson is mentioned in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Balloon-Hoax," published in 1841 in the "New York Mirror," as one of the passengers in the balloon.