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Patent model for James Rees's steering apparatus

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Patent model for James Rees's steering apparatus
Photo by Hugh Talman, Negative #: 2006-23072


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1881-present

Marine Patent Models — Who's Inventing?

Marine Patent Models — Steering the Way

Patent drawing for James Rees's steering apparatus
Patent drawing for James Rees's steering apparatus

Steering apparatus patent model
Catalog #: 1978.2282.05 (337,075), Accession #: 1978.2282
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Pittsburgh steamboat owner and builder James Rees developed a way to reduce the amount of force needed to steer riverboats, an idea he patented in 1882. In place of the usual practice-attaching a tiller directly to the top of the boat's rudder-he moved the tiller's pivot point forward and its connecting point to the rudder aft, which improved the tiller's leverage and eased steering. This model demonstrates his invention applied to a three-rudder system.

Physical Description

The model is fashioned of wood with metal fastenings. It measures 11 1/2" W x 9" L. The two outer rudders are "knuckle rudders"-curved inward on their rear edges-and the center one is a "balance rudder." The curves allow the rudders to clear the hull and any paddle wheel that might be mounted above them.

Date Made:
Found in collection

This model was found in the Smithsonian collections in the 1970s. It matches the drawings and specifications for James Rees's 1882 steering apparatus patent, but no information has yet been found to indicate how it came to the museum. Patent Office records state that no model was received for this invention. (And none was required: its application was submitted after models were generally no longer accepted.) Either the patent records are in error, or this was a demonstration model that came to the Smithsonian through Rees's descendents or associates.

It is very likely the tiller arrangement demonstrated in this model was used commercially, as James Rees (1821-89) was an active owner and builder of river steamers, and his firm supplied engines for many vessels on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri river systems. As he described the problem he hoped to solve through this invention, "The ordinary method of connecting the tiller involves the necessity of applying great force to the tiller for the purpose of manipulating the rudder, and often requires the pilot to throw the rudder into the desired position prior to any back movement of the vessel, otherwise it would be almost impossible to manipulate it when backing the vessel." His apparatus, by contrast, worked "with ease in either a backing or forward movement of the vessel."

Rees and his wife, both Welsh immigrants, had five sons and five daughters. He is credited with helping popularize the use of stern wheels on the western rivers.


James Rees, Steering Apparatus, U.S. patent no. 253,226, Feb. 7, 1882.

1880 United States Census, NARA film no. T9-1094, 434D.

Dictionary of American Biography, 1930, vol. XV, 464-65.

The Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny for 1875-76

Frederick Way, Jr., Way's Packet Directory 1848-1983 (Athens, Oh., 1983), 539 et al.

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