Henson, William Samuel

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 3 May 1812 Nottingham, England
d. 22 March 1888 New Jersey, USA
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English (naturalized American) inventor who patented a design for an "aerial steam carriage" and combined with John Stringfellow to build model aeroplanes.
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William Henson worked in the lacemaking industry and in his spare time invented many mechanical devices, from a breech-loading cannon to an ice-machine. It could be claimed that he invented the airliner, for in 1842 he prepared a patent (granted in 1843) for an "aerial steam carriage". The patent application was not just a vague outline, but contained detailed drawings of a large monoplane with an enclosed fuselage to accommodate the passengers and crew. It was to be powered by a steam engine driving two pusher propellers aft of the wing. Henson had followed the lead give by Sir George Cayley in his basic layout, but produced a very much more advanced structural design with cambered wings strengthened by streamlined bracing wires: the intended wing-span was 150 ft (46 m). Henson probably discussed the design of the steam engine and boiler with his friend John Stringfellow (who was also in the lacemaking industry). Stringfellow joined Henson and others to found the Aerial Transit Company, which was set up to raise the finance needed to build Henson's machine. A great publicity campaign was mounted with artists' impressions of the "aerial steam carriage" flying over London, India and even the pyramids. Passenger-carrying services to India and China were proposed, but the whole project was far too optimistic to attract support from financiers and the scheme foundered. Henson and Stringfellow drew up an agreement in December 1843 to construct models which would prove the feasibility of an "aerial machine". For the next five years they pursued this aim, with no real success. In 1848 Henson and his wife emigrated to the United States to further his career in textiles. He became an American citizen and died there at the age of 75.
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Bibliography
Henson's diary is preserved by the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in the USA. Henson's patent of 1842–3 is reproduced in Balantyne and Pritchard (1956) and Davy (1931) (see below).
Further Reading
H.Penrose, 1988, An Ancient Air: A Biography of John Stringfellow, Shrewsbury.
A.M.Balantyne and J.L.Pritchard, 1956, "The lives and work of William Samuel Henson and John Stringfellow", Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society (June) (an attempt to analyse conflicting evidence; includes a reproduction of Henson's patent).
M.J.B.Davy, 1931, Henson and Stringfellow, London (an earlier work with excellent drawings from Henson's patent).
JDS

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

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