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.