Patent Model of a Steam Steering Apparatus, 1860

Patent Model of a Steam Steering Apparatus, 1860

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This patent model accompanied Frederick Ellsworth Sickels’ patent application for an “improvement in modes of steering vessels” that was awarded patent number 29,200 on July 17, 1860. "The principle and character of my invention," Sickels wrote in 1860, "consists in bringing to the aid of the steersman the power of steam, so arranged as to alternately move and hold the rudder of the vessel in any required position, according to the action of the steersman."
Ocean-going vessels grew heavier and larger during the second half of the nineteenth century, making them increasingly difficult to steer by manpower alone. As the steam engine became more common at sea, many inventors thought to bring surplus steam to the helmsman's assistance.
Mechanical engineer Frederick Sickels (1819-1895), already famous in the 1840s for developing a valve that revolutionized the operation of steam engines, patented a steam steering engine in 1853. By 1860, when he submitted this model to the Patent Office, he had refined the form and details of his device, a process he continued into the 1880s. Sickels's model depicts a ship's helm connected by crankshaft to a pair of steam cylinders. The small handle mounted on the front of the device controls the valves for admitting and venting steam from the cylinders. The traditional steering wheels are provided for control when the steam engine is disengaged. A foot-operated friction brake is mounted below the mechanism.
Currently not on view
Object Name
steam steerer, model
patent model, rudder, steam
Object Type
Patent Model
Other Terms
patent model, rudder, steam; steam steerer; Maritime
Date made
patent date
Sickels, Frederick E.
Sickels, Frederick E.
associated place
United States: New York, New York City
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Patent Models
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Work and Industry: Maritime
America on the Move
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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