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Model of Joseph Bramah's screw propeller

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Model of Joseph Bramah's screw propeller
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9731


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: before 1850

Marine Patent Models — Moving Forward

Screw propeller

Screw propeller model
Catalog #: 308,534, Accession #: 89,797
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection
Englishman Joseph Bramah was granted Letters Patent by the British crown in 1785 for a “Hydrostatical Machine and a Boiler.” Although basically a rotary pumping engine, Bramah’s machine could also be used, he said, to propel vessels over water. For this purpose he proposed a “wheel with inclined Fans, or Wings,” thus becoming the first person to receive a patent for a propeller design. This simple model of Bramah’s never-used propeller once formed part of the technology displays at the Patent Office. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1926.
Physical Description

The model measures 8 1/2" L x 2" W x 4" H.

Date Made:
after 1785
Transfer from the U.S. Patent Office

Joseph Bramah (1747-1814), a prominent English machine maker, held numerous British patents. He invented improvements to water closets, a fire engine, a beer pump, and many machine tools. He is best known for his bank-note printing machines, a 1784 lock design, the 1785 rotary engine (with its hypothetical propeller), and a 1795 hydraulic press.


Joseph Bramah, Hydrostatic Machine and Boiler, British patent no. 1,478, May 9, 1785.

Bennet Woodcroft, A Sketch of the Origin and Progress of Steam Navigation from Authentic Documents (London, 1848), 17-18.

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