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Great Engineers - John Ericsson - the Inventor of Ships Propeller - Part II

written by: johnsinit•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 4/6/2009

In his 40s, he would be accused of killing the U.S. Secretaries of the Navy and State, but by the time of his death, John Ericsson would be a beloved New Yorker whose life would be remembered even 100 years after his death.

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    The explosion

    As was stated in part I of his biography, John Eriksson was born in Sweden and was a very talented young man - and engineer. His ideas - sometimes way ahead of his time - were recognized, among others, by the US NAVY - and he was one of the chief designers of the USS Princeton. Unfortunately, during a demonstration cruise, a ship’s gun exploded, killing several notable people, including two cabinet secretaries. John Ericsson was accused of creating an unsafe design. While the malfunctioning gun was not under Ericsson’s supervision, and though he was later cleared of any responsibility for the disaster, the incident was another damaging stain on his reputation.

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    The comeback

    Years passed and the creative mind of Ericsson enable him to make another comeback, designing and building the USS Monitor, which was completed in 1862 during the American Civil War. The Monitor was credited with protecting the northern states during the war, particularly after blocking the Confederate Virginia (also known by its original U.S. Navy name, the Merrimack) off the coast of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Now Ericsson was back in the good graces of the American military. Sadly, the Monitor sank off the coast of North Carolina on the last day of 1862, but many other Monitor-type ships (the so-called “Ironclads") were built for the U.S. Navy and for the navies of other countries.

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    Never stop

    Later, John Ericsson also explored what are now called alternative energy sources, such as solar power, tidal, and wind power, putting him a good century ahead of his time. Of course, most of his ideas were considered impossible then - but they provide another proof of the great engineering mind John had.

    In his life John Ericsson was a disciplined man, exercising daily, eating regularly, and abstaining from alcohol except for on special social occasions. By the time he was 80, John Ericsson was a favorite son of New York City, and after he died in 1889, the city arranged a parade down Broadway in his honor.

    A few years later, a bronze statue of Ericsson was unveiled in Battery Park, and even now, on John Ericsson’s birthday, July 31, a wreath is placed at his monument.

    His son, Hjalmar Ericsson (born back in Sweden and raised by John’s mother) grew up to be a railway engineer - and a brilliant one as well.