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Guide to the John Ericsson Collection
1831-1893 (bulk 1862-1888)
  MS 439.16

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Celia Hartmann

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on August 12, 2014
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes original correspondence to and copies from John Ericsson (the latter predominantly in the hand of his secretary, Samuel W. Taylor, and a few autograph) as well as telegrams, invoices, receipts, writings, clippings, articles, an account book, and a volume listing his articles on torpedo warfare. The materials were a gift in 1912 to the Naval History Society from Ericsson's biographer William Conant Church, and the correspondence is annotated and underlined throughout in various colors, perhaps by him as part of his research for "The Life of John Ericsson" (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1890). Undated materials appear to have been from Church's research and papers, and include separated and unidentified documents. The materials are mostly in English, with some in Swedish and German. The collection has been digitized and is available online to on-site researchers and to users affiliated with subscribing institutions via EBSCOhost.

The collection documents many aspects of Ericsson's engineering interests and projects: the building and testing of ironclad warships to his specifications for the United States (USS Monitor, 1862) and other governments (Peru: May 1862; Greece: January 1869; Spain: May 1869; China: October 1880, spring 1883); the costs of construction through his extensive contact with Delamater and other ironworks and foundries as well as negotiations with Congress (1864-1865); applications and renewals of patents (1830s, 1840s, December 1864, July 1866); experiments with solar energy (1868, July 1872); design and testing of torpedo warships, including detailed expenses for   Destroyer (January 1873, September 1874, April 1875, 1878-1882, January 1889) and reports on its trials (October 1883); as well as various complete lists of ironclads built to Ericsson's specifications (May 1866, December 1867, July 1877).

Highlights of the collection include copies of Ericsson's January 20, 1862, letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox (see Series 17), proposing the name Monitor for his ironclad vessel; and his January 30, 1873, letter to President Ulysses S. Grant explaining that the torpedo systems currently in use are inadequate for the country's defense.

The Ericsson Collection forms Series 16 of the Naval History Society Collection, comprising 53 individual collections named for famous naval figures and ships, as well as the records of the Naval History Society itself, and donated to the New-York Historical Society by the Naval History Society in 1925.

An extensive collection of Ericsson's papers is housed at the Library of Congress.