Searching for Information on Ericsson Flame Engine

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We recently heard from Sean Moir, librarian at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, who is searching for information on the Ericsson Flame engine, as described in the following paragraph. A patron of the Museum owns one of these engines and would like to learn more about it. In the hope that one of our readers can help Sean, we are reprinting here a short history of the flame engine and biographical information on John Ericsson, supplied by E. H. Bergman, 5212-51 Ave., Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada T9A 0V4. If you happen to have additional information you think would be useful, please share it with Sean Moir at Reynolds-Alberta Museum, P.O. Box 6360, Wetaskiwin, Alberta Canada T9A 2G1. His phone number is 800-661 -4726; fax 403-361-1239.

Flame Engine

This is an original John Ericsson Flame Engine, made sometime between 1820-1825.

John Ericsson's father worked on these engines from 1790 to 1810, but he never got one to run. His son John was very fascinated by these engines all his life. In 1819 he succeeded in getting one to run.

This engine has no valves or ports, no intake or exhaust of any kind. It has leathers for piston rings. When it was built, there were no oil wells, no electricity, no railways or roads, only wagon trails.

This is the cleanest running piston engine ever made. These engines became obsolete with the advent of the internal combustion engine about the turn of the century.

I have done 10 years of research on these old engines, and I have run into a few. The ones I have found all have the joined connecting rods, and one bearing on the crank shaft. They all have the American standard screw thread. (Standardized in 1864 but was probably widely used a few years before that.) They have oil cups, and grooves for leather belts.

The European screw thread was standardized in 1841, and was probably used some years before that.

The screw thread on this engine does not fit any known standard, and when it was built oil cups did not exist.

The air pump was probably used for a jeweler's blow pipe.

This engine has been in our family since 1858 when my grandfather purchased it at an estate sale; it looked just the same as it does now, only it had a sheet metal, and cast iron stand. It is one of man's first faltering steps into the mechanical age. I believe it is the oldest piston engine in existence today (other than steam).

This engine is in perfect running order.

NOTE: The stand is not antique, it can be taken apart, and the bottom tubes removed from the engine. It can be packed in a small suitcase, so it can be taken on a plane under the seat in front of you.

John Ericsson

John Ericsson was born in Sweden in 1803, and had good schooling for that time. All his spare time was spent on the Flame Engine. He was in the Army Engineering Corps and was a Lieutenant a few years.

He built, or had some of these engines made in 1820-25, some with 16 inch cylinders.

He moved to England in 1825, and took two large engines with him. He intended to use them to pump water out of coal mines.

They worked all right when he used the soft wood in Sweden, but when he used the hot coal fires in England they simply melted down.

While in England he got into ship building, and invented the ship propeller that proved to be far superior to the paddle wheel. Steam was widely used then, (invented by Watts in 1744).

In 1837 he sold a ship to Captain Stocton, U.S. Navy, who was so impressed with its performance that he invited Ericsson to come to the United States, so he moved to New York in 1838 where he worked for the United States Navy for 40 years.

He designed scores of vessels for the United States Navy, among them the Monitor, the world's first turret battleship, that defeated the south's iron-clad Merrimac, in the Civil War in 1863.

He is credited with nearly 2000 inventions, among them a device to measure sea depth from a moving ship.

In his later years, Ericsson studied solar energy; some of his experiments are of some use today.

Anyone interested in these old engines can read a book in two volumes, called The Life of John Ericsson, by U. C. Church, published in 1890.

Ericsson died in 1889. The United States government sent his remains back to Sweden in the most modern cruiser they had at that time. There are statues of Ericsson in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Chicago.