Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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LAY, John L., inventor, born in Buffalo, New York, 14 January, 1832. He entered the United States navy as 2d assistant engineer in July, 1862, and designed the torpedo by means of which Lieutenant William B. Cushing (q. v.) destroyed the Confederate ram "Albemarle." In October, 1863, he was promoted to 1st assistant engineer, and in 1865, after the fall of Richmond, he was sent up James river in advance of Admiral Porter's fleet to remove obstructions. Subsequently he entered the Peruvian service, and was engaged in preparing fixed mines, and in placing suspended torpedoes in the harbor of Callao, in order to prevent the Spanish fleet from entering. At this time he conceived the idea of a locomotive torpedo, and on his return to the United States in 1867 he invented the submarine torpedo that bears his name, which has since become the property of the United States government. It consists of a cylindrical boat with conical ends, carrying a spar torpedo or containing in its forward end about 100 pounds of some explosive. The motive power is obtained from an engine that is worked by carbon-dioxide gas, and drives a screw propeller. The carbon dioxide, in a liquid form, is stored in the forward section of the cylindrical body. There is a coil of rope in the interior that connects it with the point from which it has been despatched, and the torpedo can be launched from shore as well as from a ship. All its movements are within the control of the operator, who steers it, regulates its machinery, and explodes it by means of a compact electric battery and keyboard. The course of the boat is shown to the operator by a small flag, which rises above the surface of the water, and a speed of nine miles an hour has been attained in experiments.
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