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Frederick Sickel's steam steering gear patent model, 1853

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Frederick Sickel's steam steering gear patent model, 1853
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9743


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: before 1850

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1851-1869

Marine Patent Models — Steering the Way

Frederick Sickel's steam steering gear patent model, detail of the steering apparatus.
Frederick Sickel's steam steering gear patent model, detail of the steering apparatus.

Steam steering gear patent model
Catalog #: 252,595, Accession #: 49,064
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection

Mechanical engineer Frederck Sickels devoted his career to improving steam engines and advancing their use at sea. He was particularly interested in developing steam-assisted steering, a topic dear to many inventors as ships became larger and heavier through the middle of the nineteenth century. This patent model demonstrates Sickels’s idea for a steering apparatus where steam pressure in a pair of cylinders would both control the side-to-side motion of a vessel’s rudder but also hold the rudder stationary against the force of the surrounding water.

Physical Description

Sickels’s model places his steering engine in context by installing it on the deck of a complete miniature steamboat. The boat is complete with paddle wheels, smokestack, two decks, and a walking beam to simulate the presence of a main propelling engine. The rudder appears aft, linked by rope to the steering engine far forward. The engine itself comprises two cylinders arranged to form an inverted V. An aft-facing handle operates a pair of valves, which admit or release steam from the cylinders to move the rudder. The cylinders are shown in section to reveal the pistons and the valve action. A traditional ship’s wheel is provided on the forward side of the steering mechanism for controlling the vessel when the engine is disengaged. The model measures 26 1/4” L x 12 1/2” H x 6 5/8” W

Date Made:
New York
Transfer from the U.S. Patent Office

Frederick Ellsworth Sickels (1819-95) was a prominent American mechanical engineer. The holder of numerous patents, he is best known for developing the first successful steam-engine cut-off valve, patented in 1842. Refined versions of his steam steering gear were installed on a number of U.S. naval vessels. Sickels lived in New York City at the time of his 1853 steering-gear patent.


Frederick E. Sickels, Operating and Controlling the Rudders of Steam Vessels, U.S. patent no. 9,713, May 10, 1853.

"Steering Ships by Steam," New York Evening Telegram, Oct. 18, 1881.

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