John Ericsson was a Swedish-American inventor, active in England and the United States, and regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers ever. Ericsson collaborated on the design of the steam locomotive Novelty, which competed in the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, won by George Stephensons Rocket. In America he designed the US Navys first screw-propelled steam-frigate USS Princeton, in partnership with Captain Robert Stockton, a new partnership with Cornelius H. Johan Ericsson was born at Långban in Värmland, Sweden. He was the brother of Nils Ericson, a distinguished canal and their father Olaf Ericsson had worked as the supervisor for a mine in Värmland. He had lost money in speculation and had to move his family to Forsvik in 1810, there he worked as a director of blastings during the excavation of the Swedish Göta Canal. The extraordinary skills of the two Ericsson brothers were discovered by Baltzar von Platen, the architect of the Göta Canal and they were dubbed cadets of mechanics of the Swedish Royal Navy, and engaged as trainees at the canal enterprise. At the age of fourteen, John was already working independently as a surveyor and his assistant had to carry a footstool for him to reach the instruments during surveying work. At the age of seventeen he joined the Swedish army in Jämtland, serving in the Jämtland Field Ranger Regiment, as a Second Lieutenant, but was soon promoted to Lieutenant. He was sent to northern Sweden to do surveying, and in his time he constructed a heat engine which used the fumes from the fire instead of steam as a propellant. His skill and interest in mechanics made him resign from the army, however his heat engine was not a success, as his prototype was designed to burn birchwood and would not work well with coal. Notwithstanding the disappointment, he invented several other mechanisms instead based on steam, in 1829 he and John Braithwaite built Novelty for the Rainhill Trials arranged by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It proved considerably faster than the other entrants but suffered recurring problems. Two further engines were built by Braithwaite and Ericsson, named William IV and Queen Adelaide after the new king and these were generally larger and more robust than Novelty and differed in several details. The pair ran trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway but the railway declined to purchase the new designs, an engine Ericsson constructed for Sir John Franklins use failed under the Antarctic conditions for which, out of Franklins desire to conceal his destination, it had not been designed. At this stage of Ercissons career the most successful and enduring of his inventions was the steam condenser and his deep sea lead, a pressure-activated fathometer was another minor, but enduring success. The commercial failure and development costs of some of the machines devised, at this time he also married 19-year-old Amelia Byam, a disastrous match that ended in the couples separation until Amelias death. His only formal education was an officers education and training during his time in the Swedish Army. On March 27,1822, John passed an examination in Stockholm
Image: John Ericsson 2
Novelty, Braithwaite and Ericsson's entry for the Rainhill Trials. Illustration from The Mechanics Magazine, 1829.
German drawing (1833) of the steam locomotive ''Wilhelm IV with scale in feet, built by "Braithwaite und Ericsson".