Office of John Ericsson Designer of USS Monitor – Id’d to Personal Secretary of Ericsson
Image – Office of Engineer John Ericsson Designed USS Monitor – Id’d to Personal Secretary to Ericsson – This large albumen, mounted on its original heavy card mounting, shows the office of Civil War engineer, John Ericsson, who designed the USS Monitor, as well as several other ironclad, Monitor class vessels, doing much of the work in the office depicted in this rare image. On the front of the mounting card, is inked, by hand, “Work Shop of Capt. John Ericsson 36 Beach St. NY Where the plans of the ‘The Monitor’ were Drawn”. On the back of the mounting card are the following, hand-inked inscriptions:
“To my Friend, Carl J. Olson From Frank H. Taylor”
“Work Shop of Capt John Ericsson Where Plans of the Monitor Were Made” “FHT”
“My Father Samuel W. Taylor Was Private Secty. To Capt. John Ericsson for 30 yrs. & gave me this Photo. as being the room where all the plans were made by Ericsson for the Monitor and many other inventions made by this wonderful engineer Frank H. Taylor”
This extremely rare image was given by Samuel Taylor’s son, Frank, to his friend. During his later years, Ericsson, until his death, retained Samuel W. Taylor, as his secretary. Ericsson became so accustomed to Taylor’s clear handwriting, that when he received a typewritten letter, he read it only when copied, in Taylor’s hand. Ericsson remained ensconced in his New York City, Beach St. home, rarely leaving, but constantly assisted by Taylor.
The image is in fine condition; the mounting card and the image have been framed, by Perry Adams Antiques, in a period, walnut frame, with viewing panels on both sides of the image and card. Measurements are as follows: Frame – Ht.: 15.5”; W: 17.5”; Image – Ht.: 7.5”; W: 9.5”.
John Ericsson was born in the province of Vermland, Sweden, on July 31, 1803. The son of a mining engineer, Ericsson showed an early interest in mechanics. By the age of ten, he had designed and constructed a miniature sawmill and by 13, he was a cadet in the Swedish navy. By the age of 17, he entered the Swedish army, joining as an ensign in the 23rd. Corps, a specialized engineering unit for the army. While serving in the army, Ericsson became interested in steam engines and developed the theory for his caloric engine, which operated on the principle that air heated to very high temperature could be used to drive engines.
In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he demonstrated his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Although the engine failed in the demonstration, Ericsson impressed the English engineer John Braithwaite. Braithwaite was impressed with the young Swede’s determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser.
By 1836, Ericsson had patented a design for the screw propeller. An American naval officer, Robert Stockton, was impressed with Ericsson’s propeller and persuaded him to immigrate to the United States. In 1839, with Stockton’s influence, Ericsson was awarded a contract to build a screw-propelled warship for the United States Navy. Launched in 1843, the USS Princeton was the first warship in naval history to be designed and built as a screw-powered ship. During the ship’s trials in 1844, one of the guns exploded killing several dignitaries on board. Efforts by the Navy to assign the blame to Ericsson, led the engineer to redirect his creativity into civilian fields.
By June 1862, Confederate forces started the conversion of the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, countered with the creation of a board to build an ironclad vessel. After presentations and negotiations, Ericsson’s design of the USS Monitor was accepted. Monitor’s successful battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, made Ericsson a hero in the North. Throughout the rest of the Civil War, Ericsson was involved in the design and construction of a number of ironclad monitor type vessels of the United States Navy.
After the Civil War, Ericsson continued his work on maritime and naval technology. He designed ships for foreign navies, experimented with submarines and self-propelled torpedoes, and worked on technologies as exotic as solar energy. Ericsson continued to work on his invention until his death in New York City on March 8, 1889. In August 1890, following a memorial service at New York, his body was placed on board the cruiser Baltimore, which carried him across the Atlantic to his native Sweden for burial.
Samuel W. Taylor was Ericsson’s personal secretary for twenty-seven years, beginning in 1862 as a copy clerk and then becoming his private secretary in 1864. Taylor and Ericsson became very close, with Taylor acting as gateway to the outside world as Ericsson became increasingly reclusive. Nearly all communication from Ericsson to others went through Taylor. Likewise, Taylor alerted Ericsson to events of the outside world that would interest him.