The Breathing Ship

Source : New York Mirror of Wednesday evening
Title: The Breathing Ship
Date: January 12, 1853.

But a few centuries ago the Scandinavian, from his barbarous empire on the north seas, was a freebooter of commerce, a piratical sea-king, plundering surrounding nations and tribes at will. Many a heavy and bloody blow lie gave our own fatherland. His rude galleys braved the stormiest coasts, and he shouted his battle song defiant to the world.

What a change! The freebooter is become in time one of the bravest and proudest in the path of peaceful commerce, and in the development of world-blessing science and art. To atone for the devastations of the Sigdurds and Erics of other days, one Eric’s-son, in our day, has given to the descendants of the nation his forefathers plundered, the noblest and grandest agent yet applied to facilitate the enterprise, abbreviate the labor, and increase the industrial capacity of the world.

We allude to the application of the atmosphere we breathe, as a motive power, to propel the mightiest ships over the ocean, and, in due time, to displace steam from its now passing empire, for all purposes of motive power, on both sea and land. This application, almost free of cost beyond machinery, and that one-third less expensive and bulky than steam machinery of the same power, Captain Ericsson, the inventor of propellers, of tubular boilers for locomotives, and the builder of some hundred steamers, has accomplished. He has completely accomplished and triumphantly demonstrated it by a trial experiment with a ship of 2,200 tons burthen, a magnificent craft in model and finish, which yesterday made its second trip in our waters.

The mighty idea, after twenty-five years of patient elaboration, has come forth from the brain of Ericsson complete, save that the machinery is not yet finished, and its cylinders are two feet less in diameter (none larger could be cast at the time) than was desired to give the experimental ship the power and speed of a steamer of the same size.

We feel it a high honor to have stood on the deck of the Ericsson, side by side with her inventor, on her first public trial trip. As the Baltic came steaming up, dashing wreaths of foam from her prow, and we passed her in the Ericsson, quietly breathing her course down the bay, we felt our pulses leap, and our heart thrill, with a proud sense that, brave as steam might be, we had a braver and safer steed, and that the large glory of Fulton was at length eclipsed by the star of Ericsson.

The Baltic boomed forth her cannon, and an eager crowd lining her decks watching our strange ship, without sign of smoke, steam, or sail, made the air ring again and again with their cheers. Our cannon and shouts responded. The steamer passed inland, as though conscious of her coming fate; while the “breathing ship,’’ quietly contracting and expanding her lungs, passed seaward, as though she, too, was conscious of her opening and magnificent destiny.

We are proud to have been one of the party, numbering about one hundred representatives of art, science, invention, and the press, who yesterday witnessed the perfect triumph of Captain Ericsson’s “breathing ship." Skepticism has no longer a loop to hang a doubt on. Ericsson has demonstrated his problem; he has breathed a ship, by force of atmospheric pressure, nine miles an hour, against wind and tide. The thing is done, we saw it done, and it will continue to be done, only more rapidly, until something safer, purer, and cheaper than God’s air can be found.

We shall give no elaborate report of yesterday’s triumph trip of the Ericsson. The party went on board of her at 9 a.m., and she breathed down the bay, and back again, passing the incoming Baltic, as we have said, and at half-past 12 her trip was complete. Enough for her triumph, and for the triumph of her inventor, Captain Ericsson, her commander, Captain Lowber, and the capitalists and counsel, Messrs. Kitching, Lamar, Hutchings, Stoughton, &c., who have nobly forwarded the experiment, that she averaged nine miles art hour, half of the time against wind and tide, and laboring under the disadvantage of unfinished machinery, and imperfect cylinders.

The success could not have been more glorious and perfect. It was sufficient triumph too for her builders, Perrine, Patterson and Stack, and her engine makers, Hogg and Delamater. A nobler or stronger ship does not float, and more simple, ingenious, and perfect machinery could not be desired. During the trip, after an examination of all parts of the ship, the company sat down to a handsomely served breakfast.

Immediately thereafter Capt. Ericsson assembled the party in the after cabin, and, with the aid of a simple diagram, explained the operation of his atmospheric engine, meeting and confuting every possible objection that could be raised. He courted objections. We give a glance at his most interesting explanation.

Mr. E. said the chief principle involved in the operation of this engine was that of using the same heat over and over again. This was effected in a very simple way, through the intervention of what is called a “regenerator” between the valves and cylinder, which is nothing more or less than a mass of 1/16th inch wire compactly interwoven, the whole containing 24 square feet. Upon the heated air passing through this, the caloric is absorbed, and the cold air, in returning, is again heated nearly enough to continue the motion of the engine.

Seventy-five tons of air are drawn through the 100,000,000 meshes of the wire each hour. The resistance to its passage is almost imperceptible. In its passage through the meshes the air is instantaneously heated to 400°, as rapid as the electric flash. The wires are not oxidized by the process.

There is a pair of cylinders on either side of the shaft, each composed of two sections; the tipper, called the supply cylinder, which is 137 inches in diameter, and the lower, or working cylinder, having a diameter of 168 inches, or 14 feet. The atmospheric air is admitted from above in what is termed the receiver, and circulates between the two sections through side pipes, in which is the “regenerator.” Consequently, the pressure above and below,’ leaving out of view the increased area of the working cylinder, is the same. A pair of these cylinders is placed each side of the shaft.

The power can be increased by enlarging the diameter of the cylinder. It was originally intended to have the cylinders of the Ericsson 16 feet in diameter, instead of 14, as at present, but it was thought to be impossible to make them. The increased size would nearly double the power, and give a speed equal to that of any ocean steamer.

Twelve pounds pressure is used to the square inch, and this cannot be exceeded without increasing the temperature, which is objectionable. The furnace fires are five feet from the bottom of the cylinder. One of these furnace bottoms will last five years. Anthracite is the best fuel, as it makes no flame. The cylinder above the fires is 1½ inch in thickness, but is so arched as to have great strength. Even were it to break, the contents of the cylinder would pass off harmlessly. There is consequently no expensive steam boiler to be frequently renewed, and no liability to explosion. If the engineer got asleep, the engine would only stop.

The engine in the E. is of 600 horse power, and not more than 7 tons of coal per day can possibly be consumed. In a steamship of the same power 60 tons per day would be a low calculation. Mr. Ericsson stated further, that this ship was started before she was finished, because it was said to be a dead failure, and the effect was prejudicial to the interests of those concerned with him in the enterprise. But the results had far exceeded his anticipations. But half a pound to the square inch was necessary to start the engines. The weight of the crank alone was sufficient to do this.

As to the comparative expense of running a breathing ship at a high or low rate of speed, Mr. E. stated that it was about as cheap, as far as the engine was concerned, to run ten miles per hour as less.

Mr. E. then proceeded to answer various objections which had been urged relative to the “packing” and “oxidation’ of the cylinder, &c., which he did to the satisfaction of all; and individuals, who had previously been incredulous as to the probable success of the Ericsson, acknowledged that all doubt on their part was dissipated. Mr. Ericss on stated that for twenty-five years he had been maturing this invention. Many difficulties had presented themselves, but time only was required to remove them. Prof. Faraday, Alex. Ure, and others, had long since predicted its success, and he now saw no practical defect in the engine. It would last much longer than the ship—the cylinder bottom was the only part that could wear out.

The current expense of running it he had not estimated, but the difference would be not more than one-fifth compared with the steam engine. The original cost of the engine would also be less. He was quite certain that it would ultimately be applied to locomotion on land, and to various domestic purposes. Its simplicity is one of its most valuable qualities, the number of parts being not more than 1 to 20 compared with those of the steam engine. The wheels are 32 feet in diameter; the buckets 10½ long and 20 inches wide. They are much narrower than usual, but placed closer together. They leave the water very easily. The stock of piston is six feet.

The engine occupies less space than the ordinary one, and is regarded as well adapted to naval vessels, as a clear space (in the E. of 10 feet) is left on either side of it, which would allow room for the management of guns. In the E., the state rooms are continued throughout the entire length of the vessel, and number 64. There are, besides, ample decks for freight, as but little room is required for coal.

To meet the objection, that the new motor would swelter and burn everything on board, it is only necessary to say that, much to the chagrin of Capt. Ericsson, it has been found necessary to heat the ship by steam—this being the only steam used. The ventilation is as free and pure as under the open sky. The fire-man yesterday found a heavy pea-jacket comfortable. Capt. E. is now making a condensing apparatus for the conversion of salt water to fresh, during long voyages, for washing, drinking, &c., capable of producing from 300 to 400 galIons of pure water per day. He will thus do away, not only with large coal-bunkers, but water tanks, and a voyage may be prolonged to almost any desired extent.

During the trip yesterday but one fireman and one engineer were employed. The duty of the former is little else than to grease the cylinder to prevent chafing, and to see that the bearings don’t get hot. Mr. E. said his appropriate name was “greaser.” The fireman has to see that the coal don’t burn out.

At the close of Capt. Ericsson’s explanation, which elicited repeated and hearty applause, and called forth a wish that he might be induced to give a public lecture on the subject, Mr. Dana, of the Tribune, rose to express the sentiments and satisfaction of the company, highly complimenting Capt. Ericsson anti the gentlemen associated with him. Following Mr. Dana’s move, a formal expression of the sense of the company was proposed, and a meeting was organized by appointing H.J. Raymond to the chair and C.D. Stuart secretary.

The chair addressed the company at length upon the importance of the work in band, and the triumph of genius seen in such an enterprise. Messrs. Solon Robinson, Stoughton, Fisher, Erastus Brooks, Jones, and others, also spoke favorably of the great achievement. In the meantime a committee, consisting of Messrs. White, Mapes, and Freeman Hunt, reported resolutions, which were unanimously adopted.

In consequence of a desire to communicate with their papers, several editors of evening and other journals were obliged to leave before the final resolution, which accounts for the absence of their names. We regret this, and we are certain they regret it also.

At the close of these proceedings, the party sat down to a cold collation, at which eloquence, wit, and champagne circulated freely. Speeches appropriate to the occasion were made by Erastus Brooks, esq., Mr. Raymond, Prof. Mapes, Mr. Stoughton, the legal adviser of the Ericsson Company, and a gentleman to whom that noble enterprise owes much, Capt. Lowber, and others. Capt. Ericsson, responding to a personal toast, said he “could make no speech, but he could and would thank the company, the press, and all who had aided him, from the bottom of his heart !“ It was a right joyous and pride inspiring scene.

The “Breathing Ship” is a fixed fact. The Americanized Swede- (an adopted citizen) Capt. Ericsson, has given to the New World the glory of initiating the new motor that is to do away with steam. High honor to Ericsson and the New World. High honor, too, to that fair Sweden, of the “blue-eyed nations,” whose Gustavus, Charles the Twelfth, Swedenborg, Linnaeus, Brahe, Berzelius, Tegner, Ericsson, and Lind, have blazoned her genius to the world, and cast a radiance on the record of noble and immortal names.