Main content

American Swedish Historical Museum John Ericsson collection


Held at: American Swedish Historical Museum [Contact Us]1900 Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19145

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the American Swedish Historical Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

"John Ericsson was born July 31, 1803, in Långban, Värmland, Sweden. He had less than a year of formal schooling, receiving most of his education from tutors. At thirteen he became a cadet in the corps of mechanical engineers working on the construction of the Göta Canal. In 1820, Ericsson joined the Swedish army where he made topographical surveys.

"While in his teens Ericsson became interested in "flame engines" (hot air or caloric engines). In 1826, he went to London to promote his flame engine. It was while in England that Ericsson conceived the inventions that were later to give him world renown, including the screw propeller.

"Ericsson's first propeller-driven boat was tried on the Thames with most of the senior British Naval officers aboard. It passed all the paddle-steamers. Notwithstanding, the naval experts refused to believe that a propeller driven boat could be steered. An American, Commodore Robert F. Stockton, thought otherwise and commissioned a small steam ship for use on canals in America. In April 1839 that ship was the first propeller-driven steamer to cross the Atlantic. Later the same year, the US Navy invited Ericsson to America to build ships. Ericsson designed the USS Princeton, the first US naval vessel to be driven by a screw propeller. His propeller-driven steam ships were used for traffic on the Great Lakes long before such ships became important to world trade.

"Ericsson advocated placing warship engines and boilers below the water line where they were protected from shots which could cause the boiler to explode or scald the crew in the steam. In 1854 Ericsson designed a warship similar to the Monitor. He offered the design to Napoleon III but was turned down. During the Civil War, President Lincoln formed a committee to develop an armored ship. Ericsson submitted the design of a Monitor-type vessel. It was accepted and the Monitor was built between October 25, 1861 and January 30, 1862. Ericsson built several Monitor-type vessels that saw service during the balance of the War.

"Ericsson also designed ordnance. Recognizing the need for something more powerful than naval guns, he developed an underwater torpedo and ships called "destroyers," which were a combination of the modern torpedo boat and destroyer. In his later years Ericsson worked almost exclusively on the development of solar engines. However, these were not commercially practical.

"On March 8, 1889, John Ericsson died in his home in New York City. In August 1890, his remains were returned to Sweden in a US naval vessel for honorable burial in his homeland."


Quoted material from exhibit text, American Swedish Historical Museum. Viewed March 6, 2012.

The core of this collection is an extensive set of letters, writings, project documentation, legal papers, and miscellaneous documents that were microfilmed in 1970 and described in a pamphlet by Esther Chilstrom Meixner, "Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the John Ericsson Papers" (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Swedish Historical Foundation, 1970). However, there are additional financial records, newspaper clippings scrapbooks, photographs, drawings/sketches of inventions, and other materials that were not microfilmed or listed in the published finding guide. The American Swedish Historical Museum also possesses materials from the John Ericsson Society and the Delamater-Ericsson Memorial Committee that relate to John Ericsson and his legacy.

The microfilmed portion of the Ericsson collection includes over 700 letters in four groupings: those in Ericsson's own hand, those written by his secretary (Samuel W. Taylor) and signed by Ericsson, letters received by Ericsson, and separate correspondence carried on by Taylor. Correspondents include: John Sargent, a lawyer, journalist, and close friend to Ericsson; Cornelius H. DeLamater, Ericsson's friend at whose Iron Works many of his constructions were completed; members of the President's Cabinet, especially Gustavus Vasa Fox; Ericsson's son and brother; and many others. The microfilmed portion also includes 531 papers dealing with the legal battles and controversies relating to inventions and proposed projects and patents, such as court transcriptions and legal documents. The miscellaneous papers in the microfilmed portion include newspaper clippings, Ericsson's military record, inventories of his personal possessions, testimonials and accounts.

A significant portion of the John Ericsson collection was not microfilmed. Ten newspaper clippings scrapbooks compiled by Ericsson, 1862-1882, and mostly relating to the United States Army and Navy, are part of this section. There are also numerous financial records, including account books kept by Samuel W. Taylor (1864-1871), cancelled checks, and receipts. Photographs of Ericsson and his family and friends, as well as photographs of Ericsson's memorial and funeral, were also not microfilmed. An item-level inventory of most of the photographs and prints relating to Ericsson exists on-site.

The collection also includes materials from groups dedicated to John Ericsson's memory. There are letters, invitations, clippings, reproductions of photographs, and other materials relating to the John Ericsson Society, 1927-1938. There is a DeLamater-Ericsson Memorial Committee financial ledger (1919-1922), as well as a small amount of materials kept by H. F. J. Porter, who was heavily involved with the DeLamater-Ericsson Memorial Committee (circa 1915-1925).

The American Swedish Historical Foundation secured its collection of John Ericsson correspondence and other items from a number of sources. The principal collectors and donors to the Foundation were the United Engineering Trustees, The John Ericsson Society, and The American Society of Swedish Engineers.

American Swedish Historical Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Access Restrictions

Contact American Swedish Historical Museum for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest