William Samuel Henson

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William Samuel Henson (3 May 1812 - 1888) was a pre-Wright brothers aviation engineer and inventor.

Henson was born on 3 May 1812[1][2] (some sources incorrectly say 1805), in Nottingham, England. Henson was involved in lace-making in Chard, which increasingly was mechanized at that time, and he obtained a patent on improved lace-making machines in 1835. Henson is best known as an early pioneer in aviation, but patented many other inventions, some of which are in wide use today.

Aeronautical inventions[edit]

Starting c. 1838, Henson became interested in aviation. In April 1841 he patented an improved lightweight steam engine, and with fellow lacemaking-engineer John Stringfellow in c. 1842 he designed a large passenger-carrying steam-powered monoplane, with a wing span of 150 feet, which he named the "Henson Aerial Steam Carriage". He received a patent on it in 1843 along with Stringfellow.

1843 engraving of the Aerial Steam Carriage

Henson, Stringfellow, Frederick Marriott, and D.E. Colombine, incorporated as the Aerial Transit Company in 1843 in England, with the intention of raising money to construct the flying machine. Henson built a scale model of his design, which made one tentative steam-powered "hop" as it lifted, or bounced, off its guide wire. Attempts were made to fly the small model, and a larger model with a 20-foot wing span, between 1844 and 1847, without success.

Henson grew discouraged, married and emigrated in 1849 to the United States, while Stringfellow continued to experiment with aviation.

Henson appeared as a character in a fictional newspaper story by Edgar Allan Poe, which recounted a supposed trans-Atlantic balloon trip, in which Henson was one of the passengers on the balloon.[3]

Henson and Stringfellow are frequently mentioned in books on the history of aviation.[4] The Royal Aeronautical Society holds annual "Henson-Stringfellow" lectures; as of 2008 they have held 52. A glacier in Antarctica is named after him due to his work in aviation (Henson Glacier: 64'06'S, 60'11'W[5]).

Aerial Design[edit]

The Aerial's wings were rectangular, and were formed by wooden spars covered with fabric, and braced, internally and externally, with wires. The Aerial Steam Carriage was to be powered by two contra-rotating six-bladed propellers mounted in the rear in a push-type system. The design follows earlier "birdlike" gliders, and the ideas of George Cayley, and Henson corresponded with Cayley in an attempt to obtain funding after the efforts to obtain the support of Parliament and sell stock failed.[6] The Aerial Transit Company never built the largest version of the Aerial Steam Carriage because of the failed attempts with the medium-sized model. Henson, Stringfellow, Marriott and Colombine dissolved the company around 1848.

Advertising[edit]

The Aerial Transit Company's publicist, Frederick Marriott, commissioned prints in 1843 depicting the Aerial Steam Carriage over the pyramids of Egypt, in India, and over London, England, and other places, which drew considerable interest from the public. The prints have appeared on several stamps of various countries. Marriott later became himself an aviation pioneer in California.

Other inventions and innovations[edit]

Henson obtained a number of patents in widely varying areas. Major patents include:

  • Lace-making decoration, 1835
  • Lightweight steam engines, 1841
  • Flying machine, 1843
  • T-handled safety razor, 1847

Henson invented the modern form of the razor, the 'T' shaped safety razor, and patented it in 1847: "the cutting blade of which is at right angles with the handle, and resembles somewhat the form of a common hoe."[7] While a major improvement on the previous form of safety razor, an additional improvement was needed to make safety razors common. In 1901, Gillette combined Henson's T-shaped safety razor with disposable blades, and produced the modern razor.[8]

Henson published a pamphlet on astronomy in 1871 suggesting that the solar system formed from cold dust and gas, and discussed how it could condense into meteors and comets, and further condense into planets, moons and the sun, in the process heating up. He also discusses how this would lead to the planets orbiting in the ecliptic and rotating in the same general plane.[9]

Henson created inventions in other areas as well. Among them were ice-making machines (1870), fabric waterproofing, and cistern-cleaning.[10] He patented and submitted a proposal for an improved low-recoil breech-loading cannon design to the US Navy in 1861; it was rejected as impractical.[11]

Emigration and life in the United States[edit]

In 1849 William Henson and his wife, Sarah, left England and moved to the United States, joining his father and settling in Newark, New Jersey. Henson never did any further aviation research while in the United States and worked as a machinist, civil engineer and inventor.[12][13] He had 7 children, only 4 of whom lived to adulthood.

Henson died in 1888 in Newark. He and most of his family were buried in East Orange, New Jersey.

The Henson Aerial Steam Carriage[edit]

  • Small model, wingspan unknown
  • Medium model, wingspan 20 feet
  • Full-size aircraft, wingspan 150 feet (never built)

Timeline[edit]

  • 3 May 1812 Birth in Nottingham, England
  • 1835 UK Patent #4405 on ornamental lace-making improvements ("William Henson of Chard, machinist" - could be William Samuel Henson's father, who was also an inventor)
  • 1840 UK Patent #6207 on making fabrics ("William Henson of Lambeth, engineer")
  • 1841, 1842/1843 UK Patents on lightweight steam engine and flying machine[14] (#unknown and #9478) ("William S. Henson of Lambeth, engineer")
  • 17 Jul 1847 Patent on the T-handled safety razor
  • 1849 Emigration to the United States
  • 1850 US Census in Newark, New Jersey as machinist
  • 2 Mar 1852 US Patent on improvement to knitting looms[15]
  • 5 Nov 1861 US Patent #33646 for "Improvement in Breech-loading Ordinance".[16]
  • 13 Oct 1868 US Patent #83060 for an improvement to a steam engine governor
  • circa 1869-1870: working in Peru in the mining industry[17]
  • 26 Jan 1869 US Patent #86264 for improvements to centrifugal screw pumps
  • 1870 US Census in Newark, New Jersey as civil engineer, US patent #108816 on ice-making machine[18]
  • 1871 Publication of book on Astronomy; listed as a Master in the Newark Masons lodge
  • 14 Jul 1874 US Patent #152914 for ice-making improvements
  • 15 May 1883 US Patent #277486 for cleaning cisterns
  • 1888 Death in Newark, New Jersey

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Henson's personal journal, from Henson & Stringfellow, Aeronautical Pioneers, published 1943(?) Original preserved at the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in the US
  2. ^ FreeReg, transcription of baptism record
  3. ^ Edgar Allan Poe, Balloon Hoax, New York Sun, 1844
  4. ^ Google book search for William Samuel Henson
  5. ^ Henson Glacier)
  6. ^ "Henson and StringFellow", M. J. B. Davy, 1931
  7. ^ Origins of the Safety Razor
  8. ^ The Origins of Everyday Things (book)
  9. ^ The Medical Eclectic, 1874 issue, book review of "THE GREAT FACTS OF MODERN ASTRONOMY"
  10. ^ Fly South Aviation History
  11. ^ Henson family documents in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum archives and the Library of Congress AIAA collection
  12. ^ US Census records
  13. ^ Aeronautics, Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, issue circa 1950
  14. ^ "Patents for inventions. Abridgments of specifications", Patent office, London, 1869
  15. ^ "Journal of the Franklin Institute", Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA 1852
  16. ^ "Report of the Commissioner of Patents, Volume 1", US Patent Office, 1863
  17. ^ Harald Penrose, An Ancient Air: A Biography of John Stringfellow of Chard, The Victorian Aeronautical Pioneer (Shrewsberry, England: Airlife Publishing, Ltd., 1988), 183p., illus. ISBN 1-85310-047-1
  18. ^ "Commissioner of Patents Annual Report for the Year 1870", Washington, US Printing Office, 1872

External links[edit]