Sickels, Frederick Ellsworth

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b. 20 September 1819 Gloucester County, New Jersey, USA
d. 8 March 1895 Kansas City, Missouri, USA
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American inventor of a steam-inlet cut-off valve mechanism for engines and steam steering apparatus for ships.
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Sickels was educated in New York City, where his father was a practising physician. As he showed mechanical aptitude, at the age of 16 he joined the Harlem Railroad as a rod man, and a year later became a machinist in the Allaire Works in New York, studying physics and mechanics in his spare time. He perfected his cut-off mechanism for drop valves in 1841 and patented it the following year. The liberating mechanism allowed the valve to fall quickly onto its seat and so eliminated "wire-drawing" of the steam, and Sickels arranged a dashpot to prevent the valve hitting the seat violently. Through further improvements patented in 1843 and 1845, he gained a considerable fortune, but he subsequently lost it through fighting patent infringements because his valve gear was copied extensively.
In 1846 he turned his attention to using a steam engine to assist the steering in ships. He filed a patent application in 1849 and completed a machine in 1854, but he could not find any ship owner willing to try it until 1858, when it was fitted to the August. A patent was granted in 1860, but as no American ship owners showed interest Sickels went to England, where he obtained three British patents; once again, however, he found no interest. He returned to the United States in 1867 and continued his fruitless efforts until he was financially ruined. He patented improved compound engines in 1875 and also contributed improvements in sinking pneumatic piles. He turned to civil engineering and engaged in railway and bridge construction in the west. In about 1890 he was made Consulting Engineer to the National Water Works Company of New York and in 1891 became Chief Engineer of its operations at Kansas City.
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Further Reading
Dictionary of American Biography, 1935, Vol. XVII, New York: C.Scribner's Sons. C.T.Porter, 1908, Engineering Reminiscences, reprinted 1985, Bradley, Ill.: Lindsay Publications (comments on his cut-off valve gear).
H.G.Conway, 1955–6, "Some notes on the origins of mechanical servo systems", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 29 (comments on his steam steering apparatus).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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