John (“Johan” until he moved to England) was born in
Långban, Värmland, Sweden on July 31, 1803, the youngest
of three children of Britta Sophia Yngström and Olof
Ericsson. The family moved to Västergötland where Olof
was employed as an engineer on the construction of the
Göta Canal from about 1810. In 1815 a technical school
was started on the site to teach practical canal
construction. John and his older brother, Nils, were
enrolled. At age of 12 he started working in the drafting
office and by the age of 15 he was directing the staking
out of the eastern canal line.
John Ericsson's Home at
Persåsen, Östersund, 1821-1827
In 1820 he joined the Swedish Army in Östersund,
Jämtland, received officers education and training,
and worked as a military engineer and cartographer. While in
the army he began developing a hot air “caloric”
engine as an alternative to the steam engine. He applied
for a Swedish patent in 1826 and continued to develop
improvements and new models throughout his life. In 1826
Ericsson was granted a leave of absence from the army and emigrated to England. He was commissioned a
Captain in the Army of Sweden on October 3, 1827 while
he was in England, and used the title for the rest of his
life although he resigned from the army almost
immediately. He did not return to Sweden during his
In England he formed a partnership with John
Braithwaite. Together they built the steam locomotive
“Novelty” and a steam fire extinguisher that was
purchased by Berlin, Germany, and received an award from
the City of New York. Ericsson continued his work as an
inventor and received many patents including a depth
finder accurate to 600 feet, a “regenerator” for his
caloric engine, a rotary steam engine, and the marine “screw” propeller. He
developed and built the “Robert F. Stockton”, the first
marine “screw” propeller-driven iron steamship to cross
the Atlantic Ocean, in 1839. Following this success he
departed for the United States, arriving in New York,
November 23, 1839, where he resided for the rest of his
In 1840 Ericsson met with
Cornelius H. (“Harry”) Delamater, a partner in the
Phoenix Foundry in Brooklyn. Ericsson worked with the
Iron Works, successor to Phoenix Foundry, for the rest
of his life. There, he built models and full-scale
versions of his inventions. New York shipbuilders
ordered two small screw steamers from Ericsson and soon
there were twenty-four boats of various sizes powered by
his engines and propellers.
Ericsson designed the
USS Princeton, the first propeller-driven steam
warship of the US Navy and supervised construction of the
hull and engine. Construction began in 1842 at the
Philadelphia Navy Yard. He continued to work on his "hot
air" caloric engine and in 1851 he patented a new design
on which his caloric ship, the Ericsson, was
built. In trials, in 1853, the Ericsson could not match the
speed of existing steam powered vessels and was later
converted to conventional steam power. In spite of this,
Ericsson long referred to the caloric engine as his most
John Ericsson is
perhaps best known and memorialized for his design of
the ironclad warship, Monitor, for the US Navy.
The ship was launched successfully on January 30, 1862
within 100 working days of signing of the contract for
its construction. The Monitor had many innovative
features: it was semi-submerged and it had a revolving
turret which allowed its two cannons to be trained on
a target without turning the ship. Ericsson personally
supervised its complete assembly in Greenpoint,
Brooklyn. On March 9, the Monitor stopped the
Confederate ironclad Virginia (better known by
its original US Navy name, the Merrimack) off Hampton
Roads, VA during the Civil War. For this, the Congress
of the United States passed a resolution praising
"Captain John Ericsson for his enterprise, skill and
energy in the construction of the Monitor that so
opportunely came to the service of the fleet at Hampton
Roads" and thanked him for service rendered to the
country. He was hailed as a hero by people from all walks of
On December 31, 1862
while being towed in rough weather, the Monitor
sank off Cape Hatteras with a loss of sixteen men. In
spite of this misfortune many Monitors were built in later years for the United
States and navies of other countries. Sweden's first
Monitor, named the John Ericsson, was completed in
1865. Ericsson later designed a naval vessel called
Destroyer that was equipped with his invention, the
torpedo. The only Monitor remaining today, Sölve, is in the Maritime Centre in
the harbor of Gothenburg, Sweden. Ericsson gave much
time to designing instruments of war in the belief that
he could construct weapons so lethal that they would end
all wars and force people to live in peace.
his research and invention activities related to engines
and maritime propulsion systems. He explored such energy
sources as solar, tidal, wind and gravitational
power, explorations with relevance to the enduring energy
needs of society. In 1876 he compiled and had printed
"Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition", a book to
describe his many contributions to scientific and
technological progress. He believed that he had been
slighted when he was invited to display only one of his
many inventions at the Philadelphia Centennial
While in England Ericsson received recognition for his work
but he also experienced financial reverses. On May2, 1832 he was imprisoned for debts and was forced to
give up all of his English patent rights in payment.
However, in 1851 and residing in New York, he exhibited
eighteen inventions in the London Crystal Palace Exposition
and received a prize for his distance finder.
He married Amelia Byam in England on October 15, 1836. She made
several trips to New York and lived with him there for
some years. Although they were on good terms,
corresponded regularly, and he supported her, they lived
apart for most of their married life. She died in
England in 1867 at the age of 49 years. They had no
children. John Ericsson had a son, Hjalmar, born 1824,
who was reared by Ericsson’s mother. Hjalmar was
enrolled in a military school in Gothenburg in
preparation for infantry exam., according to Ericsson’s
plan. But the boy, like his uncle Nils, John
Ericsson’s elder brother, became head of the Swedish
Railways. John and Hjalmar met briefly in New York in
1876 when John was 69 and Hjalmar, 48 years of age.
Hjalmar died, July 12, 1887 and John, March 8, 1889.
once wrote to his brother Nils "My success and happiness
in the world demanded that I would not be bothered by a
wife and children, who had full rights to live with me".
emigrated in 1826 but he remained
in touch with Sweden. He
corresponded with friends and family members, subscribed
to several Swedish publications, and read the daily
newspaper "Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning". He had translations of his articles published in Sweden
and personally checked the quality of the translations. Some of the
translations were made by his son.
From an early age Ericsson was devoted to
his work. He was never easygoing but in his early years
he was said to enjoy food, drink, theatre, and good
company on occasion. He had friends whose company he
enjoyed and with whom he corresponded over the years. In
England he formed a successful partnership and in
America he worked with Harry Delamater from the year
after his arrival until the end of their lives, both in 1889. Samuel W.
Taylor, an immigrant from Scotland, was his secretary for
Draftsmen and copyists worked for him for many years but
over time he became something of a recluse.
John Ericsson believed in physical fitness, he exercised
daily, took long walks in the evening and maintained a
regular daily schedule: He arose at 7 am; allowed 20
minutes for breakfast at 8:30 and 45 minutes for dinner
at 4:30; bedtime at midnight. "Apart from the two meals
there is no deduction from the 17 hours of activities. No alcoholic drinks, only ice water, except on social
occasions when others are present to prevent the charge
of being a teetotaler.” He ate copiously, not unusual at
that time: He never ate fish or had soup.
New York City was proud of John Ericsson.
On July 31, 1883, his 80th birthday, a chorus
serenaded him from the street. On four occasions New
York City arranged parades down Broadway in his honor
after his death on
March 8, 1889;
March 11, 1889: The funeral cortege
went from his house at 36 Beach Street to Trinity Church for funeral
rites and then to Marble Cemetery for his temporary
August 23, 1890: His remains were taken from
Marble Cemetery in cortege to Battery Park for transfer
to Sweden by the new cruiser "Baltimore". There
was a naval salute and great pageantry in the harbor;
April 26, 1893: A lively procession from Union
Square down Broadway to Battery Park for unveiling of a
bronze statue of Captain John Ericsson, with elaborate
naval exercises in the harbor;
August 1, 1903: The sculptor Jonathan Scott Hartley,
remodeled the first statue. There was a parade and full unveiling ceremonies
naval salute and maneuvers.
on July 31,
is still commemorated and a wreath is
placed at his monument in Battery Park, New York City.
He rests in the John
Ericsson Mausoleum in Filipstad, Sweden.
Mausoleum, Filipstad, Sweden
John Ericsson: A
John Ericsson's Cradle
and Family Tree in the Långban Museum, Sweden
1803: July 31, born in Långban, Värmland, Sweden.
1815: At 12 years of age he began working on the
construction of Göta Canal, making maps in the drawing office.
At the age of 15 (1818) he directed the staking out of the
eastern canal line in Norsholm.
1820: He joined the Swedish army. Worked as a
military engineer and cartographer.
1822: March 27, passed surveyor’s examination in
1824: He built his first hot air “caloric” engine.
1826: Applied for Swedish patent for caloric engine;
Went to England;
Formed partnership with John Braithwaite.
1827: October 3, commissioned as Captain in the Swedish
Resigned from the army.
Invented a depth finder, accurate to a depth of 600 feet;
Built engines for the ship Victory, which British
explorer John Ross sailed in an attempt to locate the Northwest
Passage (1829-33). The engines were equipped with the first
tubular surface condenser used successfully in a marine steam
October, Braithwaite & Ericsson’s steam locomotive Novelty
performed well in the Rainhill locomotive trials, but broke down
at the end.
Berlin, Germany, purchased a Braithwaite & Ericsson steam fire
On May 2 Ericsson was imprisoned for debt of almost £ 15,000. He
was released near the end of the year, but surrendered all of
his patent rights to clear the debt.
Patented a “regenerator” for his caloric engine.
Patented the marine “screw” propeller;
October 15, married Amelia Byam.
First ship built with an Ericsson propeller, the Francis B.
Ogden, was completed, renamed the Flying Devil, and
demonstrated for Robert F. Stockton.
and built a ship to Stockton’s specifications. After successful
trials, on April 13, The Robert F. Stockton left England,
the first screw-driven iron steamship to cross the Atlantic
Ocean. Ericsson departed for the United States, arrived November
23 in New York City where he lived for the rest of his life. He
lived first at the Astor House;
The Braithwaite & Ericsson steam fire extinguisher received an
award from the City of New York.
1840 - 1850:
He met Cornelius H. (“Harry”) Delamater, a partner in the
Phoenix Foundry in Brooklyn. Ericsson worked with the Delamater
Iron Works, successor to Phoenix Foundry, for the rest of his
New York shipbuilders ordered two small screw steamers from
Ericsson and soon there were twenty-four boats of various sizes
powered by his engines and propellers;
He built nine experimental models of his caloric machine,
increasing size and efficiency;
The caloric engine that successfully pumped water for New York
City high-rise buildings was completed.
Construction of the USS
Princeton began at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It was a
propeller-driven steam warship for the U.S. Navy, Stockton’s
dream. Ericsson designed the ship and supervised construction of
the hull and the engine.
He moved to 93-95 Franklin Street where he lived until 1864.
One of the Princeton’s guns exploded during a
demonstration cruise on the Potomac, killing six people.
Ericsson responded to an
advertisement from the Navy for a steam warship with a design
that anticipated his design for the Monitor in 1861. He
did not win the contract.
Ericsson became a U.S. citizen.
He exhibited eighteen inventions
at London’s Crystal Palace Exposition and received a prize for
his distance finder;
Patented a new design of the caloric engine.
Completed construction of the caloric ship
Ericsson, following the plan of the 1851 patent.
January 11, trial of Ericsson. The trials were successful
but the Ericsson could not match the speed of
conventional steam warships or commercial ships. Eventually it
was converted to steam.
He offered a Monitor-like design to French Emperor
Napoleon III for use in the Crimean War and received a gold
medal for the design, but no contract to build the ship.
began improving and selling small caloric engines that provided
income for Ericsson and Delamater for the rest of their lives.
In October, he signed a contract to build the Monitor for
the U.S. Navy.
January 30, Monitor was launched successfully;
commissioned on February 25; fought the Confederate ironclad
Virginia (originally the Merrimack) on March 9 at
Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras
while under tow in rough weather on December 31, with the loss
of sixteen men;
The Navy built many more monitors in succeeding years, and
Ericsson built them for navies of other countries.
Ericsson moved to 36 Beach Street, NYC.
Sweden’s first monitor, the John Ericsson, was ready for
Amelia Ericsson died in England.
Ericsson built a rotating solar observatory on the roof of his
Manhattan town house.
1868 – 1875:
He built seven “sun motors” powered by steam or hot air and
fuelled by solar energy.
He published “Contributions to the
Centennial Exhibition”, in which he described his many
contributions to scientific and technological progress.
March 8, John Ericsson died. Harry Delamater had died one month
August 23, John Ericsson’s remains left the U.S. aboard the
USS Baltimore, and arrived in Stockholm on September 14. His
final resting place is a mausoleum in Filipstad, Värmland,
Statue of John Ericsson unveiled in Battery Park, NYC.
1907: John Ericsson Society,
New York was founded.
The U.S. Congress allocated $35,000 to create a John
Ericsson memorial in Washington, D.C.
May 29, John Ericsson’s monument
unveiled in the presence of President Calvin Coolidge and
Sweden’s Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf.
Ericsson Society, New York was incorporated under the laws of
State of New York 1934.
John Ericsson inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame,
On June 11, a full size replica of USS Monitor was christened at
The Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia. The USS Monitor
Museum at the Mariners Museum will open on March 9, 2007.
John B. Hightower, Clive Cussler and Nancy Petters