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Samuel Swett, Jr.'s crank paddle patent model, 1841

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Samuel Swett, Jr.'s crank paddle patent model, 1841
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9699


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: before 1850

Marine Patent Models — Moving Forward

Patent drawing for Samuel Swett, Jr.'s crank paddle
Patent drawing for Samuel Swett, Jr.'s crank paddle

Paddles for Propelling Steam and Other Boats
Catalog #: 336,893, Accession #: 1979.0310
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This model demonstrates an apparatus for propelling steamships in which the paddles oscillate up and down as they sweep the water. Samuel Swett, Jr., of Chelsea, Massachusetts, received a patent for it in 1841.

Physical Description

Swett's model takes the form of a simple four-legged wood box in which two paddle frames, each containing three paddles, are made to oscillate up and down by turning a crank on the side of the box. The model is 19" L x 6" W x 7" H.

Date Made:
Museum purchase

Paddle wheels were the most common propelling apparatus for steamboats in the early 1840s. Those few boats that did not employ them used screw propellers instead. Samuel Swett, Jr., imagined, as other inventors did, that paddle wheels could be replaced by smaller sets of paddles locked into rectangular frames. These frames would be plunged into the water, swept backward, and then lifted clear for another pass, in a manner akin to the use of hand-held paddles or traditional oars. Although such a device might require less space aboard ship than a full wheel, its upright paddles broke the vessel's forward motion every time they entered the water. Swett proposed solving this problem by making the paddles tilt forward and backward. "They will be made to enter the water at an inclination from the perpendicular toward the bow of the vessel," he wrote, "and to leave it at a like inclination toward the stern."


Samuel Swett, Jr., Paddles for Propelling Steam and Other Boats, U.S. patent no. 2,089, May 11, 1841.

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