9.2.1808 Hythe/UK - 12.2.1874 London/UK
As a boy Francis Pettit Smith showed much skill in constructing model boats, mainly in devising their means of propulsion. He maintained this interest into adult life and in 1835 made a model propelled by a screw driven by a spring. He was convinced that the screw propeller offered a better method of propulsion than the paddle wheels that were then in general use. In 1836 Smith granted a patent for the screw-propulsion of vessels. This idea was not new, for it had mooted as early as in the 17th century and was later perfected by Josef Ressel (1793-1857). Quite independently John Ericsson (1803-1889) had invented in 1836 the screw propeller some weeks after Smith, but Smith was unaware of this and pursued his own device.
Smith then constructed a 10 ton boat driven by a screw and powered by a steam engine of 6 HP. He made tests at sea, from Ramsgate round to Dover and Hythe, returning in stormy weather. The screw performed well in both calm and rough water. Despite the engineering world seemed opposed to the new method of propulsion, the Admiralty gave cautious encouragement in 1839 by ordering that the 237 ton Archimedes be equipped with a screw. It was superior to the Vulcan, one of the fastest paddle-driven ships in the Navy. The ship was put to Bristol, where Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was constructing his Great Britain, the first large irongoing vessel. Brunel was so impressed by the Archimedes that he adapted his ship with screw propulsion. The Admiralty in the meantime ordered further trials, fitting Smith's four-bladed propeller to the Rattler; the trials were a complete success and caused to the decision to equip twenty ships with screw propulsion, under Smith's supervision. The superiority of screw propulsion was generally accepted and virtually universally adopted. Yet Smith gained little financial reward for his invention and in 1850 he retired to Guernsey. In 1860 financial pressures compelled him to accept the position of Curator of patent models at the Patent Museum in South Kensington, London, a post he held until his death. Finally, Smith was rewarded from the government and honored with knighthood.
Anonymous (1996). Smith, Sir Francis Pettit. Biographical dictionary of the history of technology: 651-652, L. Day, I. McNeil, eds. Routledge: London.
Smith, E.C. (1939). The first 20 years of screw propulsion. Trans. Newcomen Soc. 19: 145-164.
Smith, F.P. (1856). Biographical sketch of Francis Pettit Smith, first practical introducer of the screw propeller. Greenwich. P

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