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John Ericsson

By John T. Marck

Remembered in America as the inventor of the ironclad USS Monitor, Ericsson was born in Langbanshytten, Sweden on July 31, 1803. While serving in the Swedish military, at the young age of twenty-three, Ericsson developed a "caloric" hot-air engine that won him international fame in 1826. Throughout his career that spanned the next thirty-five years, he invented many ship engines and designs. When Ericsson came to the United States in 1839, he went into a partnership with an American engineer named Robert F. Stockton. By this time, Ericsson had already developed a high-speed English locomotive called the Novelty as well as a prototype screw-propeller ship design.

Together, Ericsson and Stockton invented an experimental steam-powered warship known as the USS Princeton. In 1844, as they were demonstrating one of the Princeton's new cannons that Stockton had designed alone, it exploded, killing many people including the United States secretaries of state and navy. Although Ericsson had nothing to do with Stockton's cannon, he all the same was blamed, and his career tarnished. Consequently, from this point until the Civil war, Ericsson worked in New York City as an engineer.

Eager to have a ship that could compete with the Confederate's Virginia (Merrimac), which was still in the construction stages, the U.S. Navy announced on August 7, 1861, an interest in finding someone who could design ironclads. At the insistence of a friend of Ericsson's, Cornelius S. Bushnell, Ericsson submitted one of his designs, known then merely as the "ironclad battery."

After being originally rejected, it was considered again and approved on September 15, 1861. With this approval came conditions that it be built within one-hundred days at a cost not to exceed $275,000.00.

Although construction slowed down at times, falling behind schedule, it nonetheless was completed and was placed in the water at New York's Greenpoint Shipyard on January 30, 1862. She was christened the Monitor, a name suggested by Ericsson.

Achieving success against the Confederate Virginia (Merrimac), as well as in other service on the James River, the Monitor was but one of Ericsson's designs. He went on to design other ironclads, and modified them to carry two revolving gun turrets, as well as improved their handling for deeper water.

After the Civil war, Ericsson continued as a successful inventor and engineer. John Ericsson died in New York City on March 8, 1889.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.