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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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John Ericsson

ERICSSON, John, engineer, born in Langbanshyttan, province of Wermland, Sweden, 31 July 1803. His father, Olof, was a mining proprietor, and his brother, Baron Mils Ericsson, was colonel of engineers, and became chief of the Swedish railways. As a boy, John had ample opportunity of watching machinery connected with mines, and his mechanical talent was early developed. He received his earliest instruction from a Swedish governess, and a German engineering officer who had served under Bernadotte. Before he was eleven years of age he had constructed with his own hands, and after his own plans, a miniature sawmill, and had made numerous drawings of complicated mechanical contrivances. These efforts having attracted the attention of Count Platen, this celebrated engineer appointed him a cadet in the corps of mechanical engineers, and, after six months' tuition, he was made leveler at the grand Swedishship canal, then in course of construction. Two years later, at the age of fourteen, he was employed to set out the work of a section employing 600 soldier operatives, and occupied his leisure in making drawings of every implement and machine connected with the canal.

He entered the Swedish army as ensign in 1820, and was rapidly promoted to a lieutenancy. Shortly afterward he passed with distinction a competitive examination for an appointment on the survey of northern Sweden. Notwithstanding the labor attendant upon his duties as a surveyor, he undertook to make drawings for work oil canals, and to engrave the plates in the style of what was known as machine engraving. He devised a line engraving machine, by means of which, within one year, he completed eighteen large copper plates, which experts pronounced to be of superior merit. When about twenty-two years old he constructed a condensing flame engine of ten horse power, and in 1826 went to England to introduce it; but it was not successful, the flame produced by mineral fuel being far less in volume than that obtained from a pinewood fire, while the intense heat from coal seriously affected the working parts of the engine.

In 1827 he resigned his commission in the army, after being promoted to a captaincy. The failure of the flame engine compelled him to draw upon his mechanical abilities for means to prosecute further experiments, He produced, in rapid succession, an instrument for taking sea soundings, a hydrostatic weighing machine, and numerous other devices, including tubular steam boilers, and artificial draught by centrifugal fan blowers, dispensing with huge smokestacks, economizing fuel, and showing the fallacy of the assertion that the production of steam was dependent on the amount of fire surface. In the steamship " Victory," in 1828, he made the first application to navigation of the principle of condensing steam and returning the water to the boiler, and in the same year submitted to the admiralty his self acting gunlock, the peculiarity being that by its means naval cannon could be automatically discharged at any elevation, notwithstanding the rolling of the ship. Not being able to agree as to the terms of adoption in the British navy, he kept the secret of this invention till 1843, when he applied it to the wrought iron gun of the "Princeton."

In 1829 he produced the celebrated steam carriage "Novelty," built for the purpose of competing with George Stephenson for the historical Liverpool and Manchester railway prize. This engine was planned and completed, and placed on the trial ground within seven weeks; but, although the " Novelty," guided by its inventor, far exceeded all other competitors in lightness, elegance, and speed, attaining the then amazing speed of thirty miles an hour, Stephenson's "Rocket" proved superior in traction, and was awarded the prize. In the " Novelty" he introduced several features, the four most important of which are retained in the locomotive of the present day. This year, also, he invented a steam fire engine, which excited great interest in London, and for which he afterward received, in 1840, the great gold medal of the Mechanics' institute of New York.

In 1830 he introduced "link motion" for reversing locomotive engines, and a modification of this device is now in use in all locomotives. His long cherished plan of a caloric engine was realized in 1833, and was hailed with astonishment by the scientific world of London. Lectures were delivered oil it by Dr. Dionysius Lardner and Michael Faraday, and it was highly approved by Dr. Andrew Ure and Sir Richard Phillips. A working engine of five-horse power was built, in which he placed the "Regenerator," but it was unsuccessful owing to the high temperature essential, which produced oxidation, quickly destroying the valves and other working parts. In 1853 a motor propelled the caloric ship "Ericsson," of 2,000 tons, on the same principle. A sea trial from New York to Washington and back established great economy in fuel, but at a speed too slow to compete with steam. For several years thereafter Ericsson devoted himself to the improvement of the stationary caloric engine and its application to light mechanical purposes, and more than 6,000 of such engines have been built up to 1887, hundreds being employed in New York City in pumping water in private dwellings.

In 1862 the American academy of arts and sciences awarded the gold and silver Rumford medals to Ericsson " for his improvements in the management of heat, particularly as shown in his caloric engine of 1858." This was the second bestowal of the premium in the United States. In 1836 Ericsson invented and patented the screw propeller, which revolutionized navigation, and in 1837 built a steam vessel having twin screw propellers, which on trial towed the American packetship "Toronto" at the rate of five miles an hour on the River Thames. Subsequently the admiralty barge, bearing the lords of the admiralty, was towed at a rapid rate, but the endeavor to convince them of the practicability of the new device was futile, since they thought that, as the power must be applied at the stern, the vessel would not steer.

In 1838 he constructed the iron screw steamer" Robert F. Stockton," which crossed the Atlantic under canvas in 1839, and was afterward employed as a tugboat on the River Delaware for a quarter of a century. In 1839, urged by Com. Robert F. Stockton, U. S. N., Ericsson resigned his office in London as superintending engineer of the Eastern Counties railway, and came to the United States during November. In 1841, under order from the U. S. navy department, he furnished designs for the screw warship " Princeton," the first vessel having the propelling machinery below waterline, out of the reach of hostile shot. This vessel dictated the reconstruction of the navies of the world. Besides its screw propeller, the "Princeton " was remarkable for numerous mechanical novelties devised by Ericsson, such as a direct acting semi cylindrical steam engine of great compactness and simplicity; a telescopic smokestack; and independent centrifugal blowers for ventilation and for promoting combustion in the boiler furnaces, obviating the necessity of exposing the chimney during battle. He also fitted it with wrought iron gun carriages, with mechanism for dispensing with breeching, and taking up the recoil of the twelve inch wrought iron gun, the first of its kind, and up to that time the largest and most powerful piece of ordnance mounted on shipboard; the self acting lock, before referred to; and an optical instrument to enable the commanding officer, by mere inspection, accurately to ascertain the distance of the object to be aim epilate.

The " Princeton" is correctly regarded as the pioneer of modern naval construction, and also as the foundation of the steam marine of the world. During the construction of the " Princeton," and before the end of 1843, numerous propeller vessels were built and furnished with engines by Ericsson, for carrying freight on the rivers and inland waters of the United States, and his propellers were in successful application in more than sixty vessels in this country before a single attempt was made to evade his patent. Up to this period Europe was skeptical regarding the commercial value of the new method of propulsion. In 1851, in the U. S. division of the World's fair held in London. he exhibited several of his inventions, including his instrument for measuring distances at sea; a hydrostatic gauge for fluids under pressure; a gauge for the volume of water passing through pipes ; the alarm barometer ; a pyrometer ; the University of Chili, was made a deputy at an early age, and took some part in the parliamentary debates. In 1860 he was made chief of the province of Santiago, and introduced many reforms. In 1862, during Perez's administration, he became secretary of justice and of public instruction" and in 1865, during the war with Spain, he was secretary of war and the navy.

In 1871 Errazuriz became president of the republic of Chili, and, while in the discharge of this office.' introduced liberal reforms of great importance to the country, tending toward the secularization of public instruction and freedom of worship. He amended the constitution of 1833 by means of a law that was very much discussed in congress, abolished ecclesiastical privileges, and built several railways in the northern and southern parts of the country. He also organized several exhibitions of industry and art, the most important being the "Exposicidn Universal" of 1875, held in a magnificent palace built in the "Quinta Normal de Agricultura" expressly for that purpose. Errazuriz improved the navy by adding to it the two steel menofwar "Cochrane" and "Blanco Encalada." He also improved the condition of the army, and contributed greatly to the material progress and welfare of his country. He died soon after retiring from office.

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