Brennan, Louis

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b. 28 January 1852 Castlebar, Ireland
d. 17 January 1932 Montreux, Switzerland
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Irish inventor of the Brennan dirigible torpedo, and of a gyroscopically balanced monorail system.
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The Brennan family, including Louis, emigrated to Australia in 1861. He was an inventive genius from childhood, and while at Melbourne invented his torpedo. Within it were two drums, each with several miles of steel wire coiled upon it and mounted on one of two concentric propeller shafts. The propellers revolved in opposite directions. Wires were led out of the torpedo to winding drums on land, driven by high-speed steam engines: the faster the drums on shore were driven, the quicker the wires were withdrawn from the drums within the torpedo and the quicker the propellers turned. A steering device was operated by altering the speeds of the wires relative to one another. As finally developed, Brennan torpedoes were accurate over a range of 1 1/2 miles (2.4 km), in contrast to contemporary self-propelled torpedoes, which were unreliable at ranges over 400 yards (366 in).
Brennan moved to England in 1880 and sold the rights to his torpedo to the British Government for a total of £110,000, probably the highest payment ever made by it to an individual inventor. Brennan torpedoes became part of the defences of many vital naval ports, but never saw active service: improvement of other means of defence meant they were withdrawn in 1906. By then Brennan was deeply involved in the development of his monorail. The need for a simple and cheap form of railway had been apparent to him when in Australia and he considered it could be met by a ground-level monorail upon which vehicles would be balanced by gyroscopes. After overcoming many manufacturing difficulties, he demonstrated first a one-eighth scale version and then a full-size, electrically driven vehicle, which ran on its single rail throughout the summer of 1910 in London, carrying up to fifty passengers at a time. Development had been supported financially by, successively, the War Office, the India Office and the Government of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had no rail access; despite all this, however, no further financial support, government or commercial, was forthcoming.
Brennan made many other inventions, worked on the early development of helicopters and in 1929 built a gyroscopically balanced, two-wheeled motor car which, however, never went into production.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Companion of the Bath 1892.
Bibliography
1878, British patent no. 3359 (torpedo) 1903, British patent no. 27212 (stability mechanisms).
Further Reading
R.E.Wilkes, 1973, Louis Brennan CB, 2 parts, Gillingham (Kent) Public Library. J.R.Day and B.C.Wilson, 1957, Unusual Railways, London: F.Muller.
PJGR

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

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