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Engineer commemorated

PUBLISHED: 16:16 09 April 2008 | UPDATED: 11:11 12 August 2010

A PLAQUE marking the former home of engineering pioneer has been erected. English Heritage unveiled the blue plaque at the former Sydenham Hill home of Sir Francis Pettit Smith who led the way in using the screw-propeller on steamboats. Sir Francis, who

A PLAQUE marking the former home of engineering pioneer has been erected.

English Heritage unveiled the blue plaque at the former Sydenham Hill home of Sir Francis Pettit Smith who led the way in using the screw-propeller on steamboats.

Sir Francis, who lived at 17 Sydenham Hill from 1864 until 1870, is lauded for ensuring the screw-propeller overtook the paddle-wheel as the standard method of steamship propulsion.

Though his idea was not unique, Pieter van der Merwe of the National Maritime Museum described his work as having led to an 'epoch-making change'.

In 1835, Kent-born Smith demonstrated the method of propulsion, invented in the 17th century, was possible to integrate in a steam engine with a driveshaft that would work effectively and remain watertight where it passed through a ship's hull.

In 1836, Smith built a six-ton launch, the Francis Smith, which was fitted with a 32-inch two-turn wooden screw and a single cylinder engine.

During the trials, half the screw broke off and they discovered that with a shorter propeller the vessel's speed actually increased.

Fitted with a shorter propeller, the Francis Smith steamed around the Kent coast and its excellent performance in stormy weather attracted the attention of the Admiralty, who persuaded Smith to build a larger ship, The Archimedes, which was launched in 1838.

In 1840, the Admiralty ordered the construction of HMS Rattler, the Navy's first screw-driven warship and 20 years later, some 2,300 Navy and merchant ships had been fitted with the screw.

Despite its apparent success, Smith and his backers derived little profit from his invention, receiving a one-off payment by the authorities to all propeller designers.

Initially sales in his system were very low, but his reputation among colleagues meant that he received a national testimonial in 1857.

In 1860, he was appointed curator of the Patent Office Museum in South Kensington and he was knighted in 1871, three years before his death.

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