The Caloric Ship of Ericsson

Source : From the New York Daily Times
Title: The Caloric Ship Ericsson
Date: January 12, 1853.

The introduction of a new motive power into the economy of life is an event of far more importance to the world than any political incident however startling, or however vast the interests it may seem to involve. Changes of dynasties, the transformation of civil governments, the rearing or the razing of empires, are transitory and trifling in the interests they affect, compared to the discovery of a new power, and its successful introduction as an ally and an agent in that great war which it is the mission of man evermore to wage with nature.

We look, therefore, upon those columns of this morning’s Times which record the result of yesterday’s experimental trip with the caloric ship Ericsson, as announcing a more important fact than has been brought to the knowledge of the world since the discovery of steam; the fact, namely, that the trial was entirely satisfactory, the experiment perfectly successful, and that heated air stands by the side of evaporated water, among the active forces by which man is hereafter to subdue nature to his uses and his will.

If this were the expression of an opinion upon a scientific subject, it might justly be deemed arrogant and worthless. Comparatively few men are competent to pronounce such judgments upon such topics; and those are the very men who would do it with cautious hesitation. But our task is simply to record a fact—as patent and unmistakeable as the rising of the sun; and that fact involves the whole case.

When Fulton saw the wheel of his small ship turned round by steam, he knew, and all who saw it with him knew, that steam as a ship-propelling power was established. How costly it would prove, how fast it would drive a vessel, how dangerous it might be—these were minor considerations to be settled afterwards. The fact of its power, and of its applicability to the work of driving ships, was the great fact just then of paramount importance to the world. Heated air has passed through that same ordeal, and has achieved at least an equal triumph.

Forty or fifty gentlemen - intelligent, disinterested, unprejudiced - were invited on board the Ericsson, not to give scientific opinions, nor to pronounce judgment upon scientific theories; but to look at an engine driven by heated air, and to observe, as a matter of fact, whether it went or not. And it did most unquestionably go! That immense ship was driven against wind and tide, by machinery far from complete or perfect in its construction, at a steady rate of ten miles an hour; and without referring at all to anything farther, in that fact alone the principle finds its complete and triumphant vindication. The use of caloric as a propelling power is no longer a theory—no longer an experiment; it is a fired fact.

And yet that fact, transcendant as his, includes but a small part of the advantages and merits of the invention. Unless we are very greatly deceived, there can be no doubt whatever, that heated air thus applied, will be found far cheaper, and infinitely safer, than steam. On board the Ericsson the air is heated to a temperature of 450 degrees, giving a working power of twelve pounds to the square inch. This degree of heat is maintained by the use of six tons of coal a day—without unduly heating the metal of the cylinders or furnaces—leaving the fireman’s room, amply ventilated as it is, cool and comfortable; and with cylinders fourteen feet in diameter, giving a power equal to that of the largest and swiftest steamer afloat.

Captain Ericsson, therefore, proposes never to seek a higher degree of heat; but the power of the engine can be indefinitely augmented by increasing the dimensions of the cylinder—the power being in proportion to the square of the cylinder’s diameter. It has been pronounced impossible to construct a cylinder 14 feet across; but as it has been done, the objection loses weight; and Messrs. Hogg & Delamater, the builders of these engines, declare their readiness to make, and to warrant, as many as may be ordered twenty feet in diameter. Any desirable increase of power, therefore, may readily be attained by the easy process of increasing the size of the cylinder; and that is done at comparatively slight cost without greatly increasing the space occupied, and at a very trifling addition to the working expenses.

There are very many persons whose interests will be injuriously affected by the introduction of this new agent. It is natural that they should be reluctant to believe in its feasibility; that they should be fertile in objections, distrustful of evidence, and obstinate in unbelief. But they cannot alter the fact. And they will most effectually protect at once their interests and their reputation, by adjusting themselves to the new power and the changes it must effect, rather than by quarreling with it, and disputing its existence.

Caloric ships will very soon take larger cargoes, at less freight, with lower rates of insurance, than steamers; and that process once commenced, the inevitable result will be close at hand. For one thing alone, if there were no other to recommend it, every man living should hail the advent of this new power with sincere rejoicing. It is free from danger. Explosions are impossible. No human life can be lost through its agency. It is as harmless as the air we breathe. In this fact, aside from its economical advantages, the world may find abundant reason to welcome its introduction as one of the greatest boons ever conferred on the human race.