Three Rudder Steering Device, Patent Model

Three Rudder Steering Device, Patent Model

Pittsburgh steamboat owner and builder James Rees developed a way to reduce the amount of force needed to steer riverboats, an idea he patented in 1882. In place of the usual practice-attaching a tiller directly to the top of the boat's rudder-he moved the tiller's pivot point forward and its connecting point to the rudder aft, which improved the tiller's leverage and eased steering. This model demonstrates his invention applied to a three-rudder system.
This model was found in the Smithsonian collections in the 1970s. It matches the drawings and specifications for James Rees's 1882 steering apparatus patent, but no information has yet been found to indicate how it came to the museum. Patent Office records state that no model was received for this invention. (And none was required: its application was submitted after models were generally no longer accepted.) Either the patent records are in error, or this was a demonstration model that came to the Smithsonian through Rees's descendants or associates.
It is very likely the tiller arrangement demonstrated in this model was used commercially, as James Rees (1821-89) was an active owner and builder of river steamers, and his firm supplied engines for many vessels on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri river systems. As he described the problem he hoped to solve through this invention, "The ordinary method of connecting the tiller involves the necessity of applying great force to the tiller for the purpose of manipulating the rudder, and often requires the pilot to throw the rudder into the desired position prior to any back movement of the vessel, otherwise it would be almost impossible to manipulate it when backing the vessel." His apparatus, by contrast, worked "with ease in either a backing or forward movement of the vessel."
Currently not on view
Object Name
rudder, model
Object Type
Patent Model
Other Terms
Rudder; Maritime
Date made
patent date
Rees, James
Associated Place
United States: Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (fastenings material)
overall: 11 1/2 in x 9 in; 29.21 cm x 22.86 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Patent Models
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
America on the Move
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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