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Fletcher Felter's 1854 paddle wheel patent model

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Fletcher Felter's 1854 paddle wheel patent model
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9713


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1851-1869

Marine Patent Models — Moving Forward

Paddle wheel patent model
Catalog #: 336,894, Accession #: 1979.0324
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Fletcher Felter of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, patented his technique for increasing the efficiency of a paddle wheel by feathering, or turning, its floats.

Physical Description

12" H x 9" W x 9" D.

Date Made:
New Jersey
Perth Amboy
Museum purchase

Paddle wheels remained the preferred method of steamship propulsion on oceans and inland waters alike during the 1850s. Although screw propellers increasingly proved more efficient and more powerful than paddles when powered by comparable engines, their design was far from standardized, and, because they were made of brittle cast-iron, they were prone to drop blades. Seamen and owners generally distrusted them, and there was the feeling among the ever-growing traveling public that wheels and their protective boxes helped dampen a steamer's rolling in heavy seas.

Nevertheless, paddle wheels' deficiencies were widely understood. When entering the water a wheel's floats press downward; on leaving the water, they press upward. These motions waste energy and tend to break the vessel's forward motion. Fletcher Felter was one of many inventors who tried to improve paddle wheel efficiency through mechanisms to feather (turn) the floats.


Fletcher Felter, Feathering Paddle-Wheel, U.S. patent no. 11,992, Nov. 28, 1854.

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