Screw Propellors Essay Research Paper 1 The

Screw Propellors Essay, Research Paper

1. The Screw Powered Warship

1.1 Topic Introduction

The development of the screw powered warship began in 1839 when a Swedish-American inventor, John Ericsson revolutionized maritime engineering1 with the invention of the screw propeller. However, Ericsson s invention didn t develop until early 1860 s, when Abraham Lincoln ordered the US Navy to build an ironclad. 2 The US Navy were not on good terms with Ericsson and doubted his design of the USS Monitor, so why was Ericsson awarded the contract to build? The Civil War stimulated the development of warships.

1.2 Purpose Of This Case Study

The purpose of this case study is to make the case that war and competition stimulates technological developments. Analysing Naval actions of the American Civil War during the 1860s will show that the competition of the Civil War brought the demand of new warships. This relates to Kranzberg s fourth law: Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions. 3 Studying Ericsson s travels, inventions and life will demonstrate that technology is a very human activity , Kranzberg s sixth law.3 And following the differences in the USS Princeton and Ericsson s later warship designs demonstrates that invention is the mother of necessity , Kranzberg s second law. 3

1.3 Scope

This analysis will only address the Naval actions of the Union during 1861-1862 of the Civil War, with a brief mention of the ironclad CSS Virginia of the Confederates. The main issue will be the Battle of Hampton Roads. It will follow Ericsson s warships and the invention of the Screw propeller from late 1830s. Different designs of the screw propeller in other countries will not be examined or considered, as Ericsson is thought to be the inventor since he took out a patent for his submerged steamship screw in July 1836, and different screw designs began in 1840s.4

1.4 Methods Of Investigation

This analysis will be evidenced by books about the Civil War and Fighting Ships obtained from various libraries and reliable internet websites dedicated to Ericsson and the Civil War. This Information will be helpful in the investigation of the decision making process of the Naval actions needed, in order to state that the Civil War directly contributed to the development of screw powered warships. Biographies will help in the discussion of the human activity of Ericsson s travels, how he became accepted and what changes where made to the first screw powered fighting ships.

2. The Beginning of Screw Propulsion

2.1 History In Brief

The USS Princeton (1843 V 1849) was the first steamer to be fitted with screw propulsion, amongst her three designers was John Ericsson,5 the inventor of the screw propeller. However, the interest for further development of the warship didn t arise until Abraham Lincoln felt threatened by the Confederates during the Civil War. Hence, in 1862, the USS Monitor was built to battle the CSS Virginia, the first ironclad battle. This abortive Monitor-Virginia battle furthered Ericsson s developments as the Monitor raised questions and provided many improvable features, allowing Ericsson to develop the construction design of his ships. 7

2.2 History Of The Process

The Transmission Before The First Screw Propeller

Roughly 40 years before the screw propeller was first introduced, the fighting ship was driven by the use of steam power and its transmission through paddle wheels. The engines were heavy, unreliable, inefficient and dangerous. The clumsy and inefficient paddle wheels, were a vulnerable target, due to its large size, which increased fire risk, they also upset the sailing qualities of the vessels. Hence, a better form of transmission was desperately needed. 4

John Ericsson And The Accident Onboard The USS Princeton

John Ericsson was born in 1803, in the Swedish province of Vermland. In 1829 Ericsson sought his fortune in London, he worked with compressed air and marine engines. 6 In 1839 he travelled to America to promote the screw propeller since the British took no interest. His first screw powered warship USS Princeton was commissioned in September 1843. In 1844 an explosion of the Peace-Maker, one of the two cannons onboard the Princeton during a demonstration, mortally wounded seven and injured about twenty people. 6 This accident caused much conflict between Ericsson and many prominent naval officials, because he was considered at fault, since the Peace-Maker was one of his designs. The Princeton was taken back to the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1849, her timbers were rotten, so she was broken up and her engines were used to construct the new USS Princeton. 8 Ericsson had been at odds 8 with the United States ever since the accident, until the Monitor proved his capabilities after the Battle of Hampton Roads.

The Pressure On The US Navy To Build An Ironclad

The Union felt threatened by the rebuilt USS Merrimack, the ironclad, which was christened CSS Virginia. Upon receiving information on the Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln issued orders given to the US Navy to build a ship that could stand up against the Virginia. On August 3, 1861, the US Navy s Ironclad Board, placed advertisements in the Northern newspapers inviting designers to submit plans for ironclad warships.8

The Presentation Of the USS Monitor

In 1861, after the US Navy received orders from Abraham Lincoln to build an ironclad, Cornielus Bushnell, sought Ericsson for advice on an ironclad Galena. After some discussion on the Galena, he was presented with a model and plan for the Monitor, which was to be made almost entirely of iron and most of the ship would actually be below the waterline. Excited by the model, Bushnell offered to present the model and plan on Ericsson s behalf to the Naval Board. Upon failing to convince the board, Bushnell organised a board meeting in which Ericsson will present his plans himself. In order to do so, he lied to Ericsson about the acceptance of his design, which shocked Ericsson when the truth came out. Ericsson faced many obstacles with the Navy, (influenced by the Princeton incident and the strangeness of the design of the Monitor, which resembled a large round can sitting on a raft), the Navy refused to cooperate and rejected his design, there was a question about the stability of his design and the department felt that they were about to father another Ericsson failure. 8 After another hour s worth of lecture and persuasion the board finally agreed and even extended the completion time from the proposed 90 to 100 days.

The Relevance Of The Battle Of Hampton Roads

Since the Union secretary of the Navy Welles first heard of the newly converted Merrimack to the ironclad CSS Virginia. Welles needed an ironclad to oppose the Confederates. The USS Monitor, commissioned on February 25, 1862, was the answer to the CSS Virginia. The Battle of Hampton Roads came to a draw on the second day of battle, March 9, 1862, when the Virginia had been unable to defeat the Monitor and the Monitor likewise. This led the Union to place an order for more Monitor-type vessels. Two months later, the Confederates blew up the Virginia to keep her from being captured by the Union, and the Monitor was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras. But the loss did not affect the Union, since she was quickly replaced by her new and improved versions, which were being built in great numbers. After the Battle of Hampton Roads, the Confederates were unable to threaten the Union seriously again. 9

3. Analysis

Ericsson s Travels V Human Activity

Technology is a very human activity and so is the history of technology. 3 Ericsson travelled from Sweden to London in pursuit of his fortune, he worked with compressed air and marine engines, he also invented a deep-sea sounding device, superheated steam engines and desalting apparatus. 10 He then travelled to America because the British had shown no interest in his invention of the screw propeller. Ericsson s travels and perseverance in promoting his designs have been a very human activity, without his love for bettering the world of engineering, there would not be this history of screw propellers, or any of the inventions he promoted during his travels. His developments took much of his time, since his wife went back to England, he did not see her for the last 50 years of his life. 6 Ericsson obviously dedicated his whole life to technology. Further discussion of this issue: the warships that Ericsson designed would hardly be of any significance, if it did not make much difference to Naval Warfare. The ships would have been useless if the Navy were in no need of them, or if there was no need of a Navy at all. The warships were men-driven as much as they were engine-driven. Without this interaction between the ship and humans, this innovation would not be as important as it is today.

USS Princeton/Monitor And Better Designs Of The Monitor

Invention Is The Mother Of Necessity. 3 Ericsson patented his submerged steamship screw in 1836, and later designed the USS Princeton. But it was the USS Monitor in 1862, which demonstrated its superior design-steam-propelled screw propeller, low in the water, a revolving gun turret, and iron construction rather than wood, by bringing the Battle of Hampton Roads to a draw and leading the federal government to place an order for more Monitor-type ships.

This stable invention of the screw propeller allowed Ericsson to develop other features of the warship. Development is a continuous activity unless the innovation ceases to be of any use. An example of a specific feature, which needed attention, was the guns in the case of the Monitor. The Monitor did not defeat the Virginia because its ammunition was exhausted, the Virginia no longer fired since the gunnery officer explained I can do as much damage by snapping my fingers every three minutes . 7 In this case, a better form of ship-destroying gun was required. A much later example of alternative ship-destroying devices designed by Ericsson was constructed in the ship christened The Destroyer, commissioned in 1878, which could launch submarine torpedoes. This demonstrates that Ericsson s invention of screw transmission was only the beginning of a better warship. The screw propeller allowed many other technological possibilities, providing efficiency and opening gates to better weight ratios, velocities, armament and so forth.

War And Competition Stimulates Technological Development

Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions. 3

Upon receiving news about the Confederates new ironclad Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the US Navy to build an ironclad for battle. The Ironclad Board advertised for designs of ironclad warships, thereby, stimulating technological development. Ericsson s first screw-powered ship was commissioned in 1843, giving a significant gap of 19 years before the next was built. The United States were obviously in no demand for a better ship until the Civil War struck. The Monitor was an obvious solution, although the board had little faith in Ericsson due to the accident onboard the Princeton, the construction time and plans were very attractive. With pressure from the President and the Civil War, the board opted for the Monitor, survived the Battle of Hampton Roads and ordered more monitor-type ships with improvements. This fully demonstrates that, without the influence of the war and competition between warships, there would not have been the sudden demand for an ironclad warship and the ships that followed.

4. Conclusion

After much research and analysis, it is clear that the Civil War did promote the development of the screw propelled warships. This relates to our time, where war and commercial competition stimulates technological innovations . There is a continuous growth of new weapons to be brought into use in the armies. Commercial companies are continuously competing in the creation of innovations, for example, Sony Memory Sticks and Compact Flash Cards. The worries of cheaper versions of products also drive companies to bring out newer and better designs. Previous discussion of John Ericsson s proposal of the USS Monitor demonstrated that the process of the development of the actual ships was very much a human activity, especially since his contract did not come easily. Studying the designs of the first warships proved that there was much to improve and better ships to design. Likewise with modern day technology, there is never a perfect design, but only a design that was implemented while the engineers work on something that is closer to perfection.


1 John Ericsson Society of New York , Internet website,

2 The Mariner s Museum , 1997, Internet website,

3 Melvin Kranzberg Technology & the West , The University of Chicago Press

4 Richard Hough A history of Fighting Ships , Octopus Books limited, 1975 p. 100-102

5 Department of the Navy V Naval Historical Center, USS Princeton , Internet website,

6 John H. Lienhard The Engines of Our Ingenuity 1997, No. 695: John Ericsson.

7 Richard Hough A history of Fighting Ships , Octopus Books limited, 1975 p. 105-108

8 Jeff Johnston, Building the USS Monitor , Monitor Nation Marine Sanctuary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

9 Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, The Military History of Civil War Naval Actions , Franklin Watts, Inc. 1961, p. 39 V 50

10 Inventure Place, John Ericsson: Propelling Steam Vessels , NetForce Development, Inc., Internet Website,



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