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June 14, 2018

History Lesson: Go Inside the John Ericsson Monument

You probably don’t know much about John Ericsson. In fact you’ve probably walked by his bronze sculpture multiple times and totally missed it. Who exactly is John Ericsson, and what did he do to deserve a monument in the middle of Battery Park, just a short walk from Wagner Battery Park? Let’s find out.

Ericsson was born in Langbanshyttan, Sweden to a mining family. As a child he displayed an interest in the operations of mining machinery and an early talent for engineering. Case in point, he built a miniature sawmill at age 11. His precocious ability caught the attention of the well-known engineer Count Platen, who appointed a 12-year-old Ericsson cadet in the corps of mechanical engineers. By age 14, he was placed in charge of 600 soldier operatives. It would be fair to say Ericsson was gifted, even by New York City standards.

 

In 1836 Ericsson invented and patented the screw propeller, a device that vastly improved steam vessel travel. He was approached by the United States Navy and came to the US in 1839. Once stationed here, he designed a warship called The Princeton, which married his many technological inventions, such as state-of-the art screw propellers, smokestacks, ventilators, optical instruments and gun carriages. With his innovative reputation sealed, he went onto construct the Monitor, an iron-clad war ship designed to take on the Confederacy. Ericsson’s newfangled ship took just 100 days to make and was put to the test in a famous battle against the Confederacy in Virginia on March 9, 1862, where the Union forces defeated the South. Ericsson dedicated his later years to diverse scientific investigations, including experiments with solar power.

Ericsson died on March 8, 1889 in New York City. Less than four years after his death, the sculptor Johnathan Scott Hartley was commissioned by the state to create a larger-than-life bronze portrait of Ericsson, which was dedicated on April 26, 1893 in Battery Park. Ten years later the sculptor, dissatisfied with his first version, crafted a modified statue and dedicated it on August 1, 1903. The sculpture depicts the bearded Ericsson holding a boat model in his hand, thus signifying his lifelong passion of engineering in the heart of New York City.