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Who was John Erickson?

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    Shortly after the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the Confederacy began constructing an ironclad ram upon the hull of USS Merrimack which had been partially burned and then sunken by Federal troops before it was captured by forces loyal to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Nearly concurrently, the United States Congress had recommended in August 1861 that armored ships be built for the American Navy. Ericsson still had a dislike for the U.S. Navy, but he was nevertheless convinced by Lincoln's hard-working Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Cornelius Scranton Bushnell to submit an ironclad ship design to them. Ericsson later presented drawings of USS Monitor, a novel design of armored ship which included a rotating turret housing a pair of large cannons. Despite controversy over the unique design, based on Swedish lumber rafts, the keel was eventually laid down and the ironclad was launched on March 6, 1862. The ship went from plans to launch in approximately 100 days, an amazing achievement.

 

    On March 8, the former USS Merrimack, rechristened CSS Virginia, was wreaking havoc on the wooden Union Blockading Squadron in Virginia, sinking the USS Congress and USS Cumberland. The Monitor appeared the next day, initiating the first battle between ironclad warships on March 9, 1862 at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The battle ended in a tactical stalemate between the two ironclad warships, neither of which appeared capable of sinking the other, but strategically saved the remaining Union fleet from defeat. After this, numerous monitors were built for the Union, including twin turret versions, and contributed greatly to the naval victory of the Union over the rebellious states. Despite their low draft and subsequent problems in navigating in high seas, many basic design elements of the Monitor class were copied in future warships by other designers and navies. The rotating turret in particular is considered one of the greatest technological advances in naval history, still found on warships today.

 

    Later Ericsson designed other naval vessels and weapons, including a type of torpedo and a destoryer, a torpedo boat that could fire a cannon from an underwater port. He also provided some technical support for John Philip Holland in his early submarine experiments. In the book Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition (1877, reprinted 1976) he presented his "sun engines", which collected solar heat for a hot air engine. One of these designs earned Ericsson additional income after being converted to work as a methane gas engine.

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