Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GRIFFITHS, John Willis, naval architect, born in New York City, 6 October, 1809; died in Brooklyn, New York, 29 April, 1882. His father, John Griffiths, was a shipwright in New York. After working at various occupations, the boy was apprenticed to his father's trade, and when nineteen years of age laid the lines of the frigate "Macedonia." In 1836 he published in the Portsmouth, Virginia. "Advocate" a series of articles giving his ideas on naval architecture, and in 1842 gave in New York and other cities the first lectures on that subject ever delivered in the United States, also opening a free school for instruction in ship-building. He favored many improvements, suggested the clipper model of the fast ships built for the China trade, and, on the discovery of gold in California, and as early as 1835 proposed the ram for the bow of war-ships. He made the calculations for the Collins steamers, and in 1850 sent to the World's exhibition in London a steamship model that attracted much attention. In 1853 he began to build for William Norris of Philadelphia, a steamer intended to cross the Atlantic in seven days, and though, from the failure of Norris, it was not completed according to his designs, it made the fastest time on record between Havana and New Orleans. In 1856 Mr. Griffiths became part proprietor and co-editor of the "Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal," but it was suspended in 1858 on his acceptance of an appointment from the government as special naval-constructor to build the United States gunboat " Pawnee," which he fitted with twin screws, a drop bilge, to increase the stability at the least expenditure of propulsion-power, and other new features. The "Pawnee" was the widest and lightest-draught vessel of her displacement that was ever built, and, although drawing only ten feet of water, carried a frigate's battery. In 1864 he invented a timber-bending machine, which he first used in building the ship " New Era" in Boston in 1870. Every frame timber that required curvature was bent from the straight log, and the futtocks were extended in one stick from the keel to the rail. The use of iron in ship-building supplanted this method. In 1871-'2 he erected improved timber-bending machinery for the government, and in 1872 built the United States ship " Enterprise" at Portsmouth, New Hampshire His machines received two prize medals at the Centennial exhibition in 1876. He was the originator of the idea of life-boat steamers, and also showed a model and plans for such steamers at the Centennial. In 1879-'82 Mr. Griffiths edited in New York City a weekly journal entitled the "American Ship." Although many of Mr. Griffiths's innovations in ship-building were opposed by more conservative architects, experience has usually proved the wisdom of his views, and no architect in the United States has been as generally followed by young ship-builders. Other inventions by him are iron keelsons for wooden ships (1848); bilge keels, to prevent rolling (1863) ; triple screws for great speed (1866); and improved rivets (1880). His most important work is his " Treatise on Marine and Naval Architecture" (New York, 1850; 4th ed., 2 vols., 1854), which was republished in England, and had a wide sale through Europe. Its publication did more to advance American ship-building than any other single influence, and it brought its author orders for models and drawings from nearly every maritime nation. He also published "The Ship-Builder's Manual" (2 vols., 1853); and "The Progressive Ship-Builder" (2 vols., 1875-'6).
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