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Benjamin F. Isherwood
|Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering|
March 26, 1861 – March 16, 1869
|Preceded by||Post established|
|Succeeded by||James Wilson King|
Benjamin Franklin Isherwood
October 6, 1822
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 19, 1915 (aged 92)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1844–1884|
Benjamin Franklin Isherwood (October 6, 1822 – June 19, 1915) was an engineering officer in the United States Navy during the early days of steam-powered warships. He served as a ship's engineer during the Mexican–American War, and after the war did experimental work with steam propulsion. Rising to the rank of rear admiral, as Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy during the Civil War, he helped to found the Navy's Bureau of Steam Engineering.
Isherwood was born in New York City. He worked for the Utica and Schenectady Railroad and trained under William C. Young, one of the most prominent engineers of that period. Isherwood then worked on the Croton Aqueduct, followed by an engineering job on the Erie Canal. Designing and constructing lighthouses for the Treasury Department was Isherwood's last employment before joining the Navy.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, Isherwood was appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, and so important were his services considered that the Bureau of Steam Engineering was created under his direction.
When the Civil War began, the Navy had 28 steam vessels, and during the war, the number grew to 600. Isherwood conducted the design and construction of the machinery necessary to accomplish this. He designed ships that were fast enough to pursue the blockade runners.
In 1863 and 1865, Isherwood published the first and second volumes of Experimental Researches in Steam Engineering, which were translated into six languages and became a standard engineering text upon which future steam experimentation was based.
Immediately upon the conclusion of the war, Isherwood was principally involved with organizing a new scientific curriculum for steam engineering at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. By 1874, naval engineers refined this curriculum to the point that it served as the model for mechanical engineering education at most American universities.
In 1869 Isherwood ran afoul of former Spitfire shipmate Admiral David Dixon Porter. During the war years Isherwood led a campaign to increase the rank and influence of engineering officers in the navy. Porter opposed this change in the service's class structure. After the presidential inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant, Isherwood's longtime patron, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, could no longer protect him. Admiral Porter banished Isherwood to the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco.
Despite his diminished stature, Isherwood continued to produce technical innovations. In 1870 and 1871, Isherwood conducted experiments that resulted in a propeller that was used by the Navy for the next 27 years.
He was a pioneer in the production of fast cruisers, producing this class against strong opposition. Following a tour of European dockyards, he became president of the Experimental Board under the Bureau of Steam Engineering until his retirement on October 6, 1884.
Isherwood died in New York City at the age of 92.
The Navy has recognized Isherwood's contributions in various ways. Isherwood Hall, built in 1905 on the campus of the United States Naval Academy, was the home of the Department of Marine Engineering. It was razed in 1982 to make space for the Academy's new Alumni Hall. Isherwood's name lives on as the new hall's Isherwood Entrance.
The Rear Admiral Benjamin F. Isherwood Award is awarded by the Navy to recognize "innovation and expertise in the effective assessment, development, execution, or deployment of technological solutions for operational Fleet needs."
In a 1941 article in the United States Naval Institute's Proceedings, George W. Dyson stated that Isherwood might possibly be the greatest engineer the United States Navy had developed.
The revolutionary engineering program initiated by Isherwood at the U.S. Naval Academy became the template for professional American mechanical engineering education. That basic curriculum designed at Annapolis in the late 1860s and early 1870s still serves as the core of university mechanical engineering pedagogy.
- Engineering Precedents for Steam Machinery; Embracing the Performances of Steamships, Experiments with Propelling Instruments, Condensers, Boilers, Etc., Accompanied by Analysis of the Same, Vol. II. New York: Bailliere Brothers, 1859.
- Experimental Researches in Steam Engineering Vol. I. (Philadelphia: 1863).
- 'Notes on the Steamer Bibb.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 52 (1851): 250–255.
- 'Investigation of the Comparative Merits of the Perpendicular and Radial Paddlewheels for Sea-Going Vessels.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 50 (August 1850): 134–139.
- 'Investigation of the Comparative Merits of the Perpendicular and Radial Paddlewheels for Sea-Going Vessels.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 50 (September 1850): 181–188.
- 'Reply to the Objections of ‘M’ (Published in the October Number, page 260) to a Comparison Between the Radial and Perpendicular Paddle Wheels for Steamers.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 50 (December 1850): 378–383.
- 'Remarks on Nystrom's Screw Propeller.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 52 (July 1851): 42–49.
- 'Trial Trip of the U.S. Screw Propeller Steamship of War, San Jacinto.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 52 (November 1851).
- 'Notes on the Indicator Diagrams from the U.S. War Steamer Spitfire.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 51 (February 1851).
- 'Notes on the U.S. War Steamer Spitfire.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 51 (March 1851).
- 'Performance at Sea of the U.S. Steamship Fulton.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 53 (February 1852).
- 'Remarks on H.B.M. Screw Steam Frigate Arrogant.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 53 (May 1852).
- 'Performance of the U.S. Screw Steamship San Jacinto, from Norfolk, Va., to Cadiz, Spain, during the month of March, 1852.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 53 (June 1852): 393–397.
- 'The French Line-of-Battle Screw Steamship Charlemagne.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 57 (February 1854).
- 'Notes on the Application of Lamb and Sumner's Boilers to the U.S. Steamer Vixen.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 58 (1854): 267–269.
- 'An Account of some Experiments on a Mixture of Saturated and Surcharged Steam (Wethered's patent) made under the direction of E.K. Collins, Esq.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 57 (April 1854): 257–267.
- 'An Account of some Comparative Experiments made at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, April, 1854, on the ordinary mode of setting Land Boilers, and on the mode patented by Henry F. Baker.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 58 (September 1854): 193–201 and Vol. 58 (October 1854): 259–269.
- 'Disquisition on the Laws regulating the Slips of Screw Propellers in Function and Form of Dimensions; based on a digest of the Experiments made in 1845 by M. Bourgois, Engineer de Vaisseau, at the French Government Manufactory at Indret.' Journal of the Franklin Institute Vol. 59 (March 1855): 156–163, Vol. 59 (April 1855): 219–231, Vol. 59 (May 1855): 295–304, and Vol. 59 (June 1855): 361–368.
- Historic American Buildings Survey. "U.S. Naval Academy, Isherwood Hall, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, MD". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
- "History of the Mechanical Engineering Department". US Naval Academy. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
- Killand, Taylor Baldwin (2007). A Walk in the Yard: A Self-guided Tour of the U.S. Naval Academy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 147. ISBN 9781591144366. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
- Arbuthnot, Nancy (October 11, 2012). Guiding Lights: Monuments and Memorials at the U.S. Naval Academy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9781612512426. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Bennett, Frank M., The Steam Navy of the United States: A History of the Growth of the Steam Vessel of War in the U.S. Navy, and of the Naval Engineer Corps. Pittsburgh: W. T. Nicholson Press, 1896.
- Sloan, Edward, Benjamin Franklin Isherwood Naval Engineer: The Years as Engineer in Chief, 1861–69. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1965.
- Index to the Journal of the Franklin Institute for the One Hundred and Twenty Volumes from 1826 to 1885. Philadelphia: Franklin Institute, 1890.
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