Charles Harding Loring

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This photo of Charles H. Loring appeared in Cassier's Magazine in December 1891.

Charles Harding Loring (December 26, 1828 – February 5, 1907) was an American mechanical engineer, Admiral and Chief Engineer at the US Navy, known as President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in the year 1892-93.[1]


Family and early education[edit]

Was born in Flag alley (now 'Change avenue) on the twenty-sixth day of December, 1828, and is descended, in the eighth generation, from two Pilgrim forefathers. His father was William Price Loring, who was born in Boston in 1795, and who was in early life a silversmith, and afterwards served as an officer of the customs. He was also an early California pioneer, where he remained until within a few years of his death, which occurred in Boston in 1878. His mother, whose maiden name was Eliza Harding, was born in Haverhill, Mass., in 1800, and bore her husband four daughters and two sons, of whom the survivors are Mrs. Sarah Agnes Sprague of South Boston, Mrs. Emily Webster Hastings of Boston, and the subject of this sketch.[2]

Charles first attended school in 1833, when he was sent to a private school on Chambers street, taught by Miss Allyne. Afterwards he attended the primary school in the Phillips Church of South Boston, under Miss Lincoln; and in 1838 entered the Hawes School, where his teachers were Miss Braid, and Masters Joseph Harrington, John A. Harris, and Jonathan Battles. He afterward attended school under Master Battles in Franklin Hall, South Boston, in 1840, and in 1842 went to the Mather School, under the same teacher.[2]

Early career[edit]

As his educational period was before the day of technical schools, he followed the usual course of preparation for mechanical engineering and served a regular apprenticeship in the machine shop with Jabez Coney.[2] At its close, in 1851, he entered the Navy as a third assistant engineer, attaining, by competitive examination, the highest place in a class of fourteen.[3]

His entrance was just too late to give him an opportunity for participation in the Mexican War, and by the time the Civil War broke out he had passed through all the junior grades and had become a chief engineer. During his service in junior grades he had been laying the foundation for his more important work when an older man and in higher positions, a portion of his shore duty having been as assistant to the Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, Mr. Samuel Archbold, in which capacity he had charge of the experimental work and tests of engineering devices coming before that office. While engaged in this duty he made a test of the first injector which came to this country.[3]

Civil War[edit]

During the Civil War he was in active service the whole time, and during the first eighteen months was fleet engineer of the North Atlantic Station, being attached to the fine old steamer Minnesota. He was on board this ship during the attacks of the Merrimac on the Northern fleet in Hampton Roads on the eighth and ninth of March, 1862, when the Cumberland was sunk and the Congress burned, and when the Minnesota also was attacked.

A little later he was detached from sea duty and sent to Cincinnati to supervise the construction of three river and harbor monitors and also of some light-draught sea monitors building there. Subsequently, he was made general inspector of all the iron-clad steamers building west of the Alleghanies, having in charge at one time eleven monitors building at Pittsburg, Cincinnati and St. Louis.[3]

During the Civil War a number of excellent engines had been accumulated for hulls which were in process of construction, but with the close of the war all work was stopped, and after a time a board was appointed to recommend the best disposition of these engines which were stored in the various navy yards. It was about this time that the compound engine was coming into general use, and the same board was directed to make a study of the compound engine with a view to its introduction in naval vessels. Of this board Admiral Loring was senior member, and associated with him was the late Chief Engineer Charles H. Baker.[3]

Study of compound engines[edit]

After a very exhaustive study of the subject, they recommended the introduction of compound engines and the abandonment of the simple form, and the conversion of a number of the engines which were on hand into compound engines. Four sets of these simple engines were so converted and were fitted to the Vandalia, Marion, Quinnebaug and Swatara. The tests of these engines were very satisfactory and showed a coal economy for short runs of not much over two pounds of coal per horsepower hour.[3]

This study of the compound engine made it natural that Admiral Loring should be selected as the representative of the Navy Department when, in 1874, he and the late Dr. Charles E. Emery made an elaborate series of trials of the engines of the revenue cutters Rush, Dexter, Dallas and Gallatin, to determine by actual test the relative economies of compound and simple engines, designed for the same work in similar hulls, and also to secure reliable and authoritative data with respect to the economy of steam jacketing. These tests were the first of the kind conducted under circumstances of entire reliability, with the result that the report of the trials was republished all over the world and is still quoted in all the text books on steam engineering.[3]

Fleet engineering[edit]

Admiral Loring's next tour of sea duty was as a fleet engineer of the Asiatic Station on the U.S.S. Tennessee, where he had as his chief assistant, George W. Melville, who later became his successor as chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. There was nothing especially eventful in this cruise, and at its end, in 1880, he was assigned as the head of the steam engineering department of the New York Navy Yard.[3]

This was the period of greatest inactivity in the history of the Navy, and there was little to do, even for a very active man, except routine work. During this tour, however. Admiral Loring was senior member of a board that made a test of the machinery of the Anthracite, a little yacht with a triple-expansion engine working with 600 pounds pressure. The experiments were valuable as showing that, with the form of apparatus on board the Anthracite, there was no such gain in economy as to warrant the tremendous pressure carried, while it involved numerous practical difficulties.[3]

In 1881 he was a member of what is known as the "First Naval Advisory Board," appointed by Secretary Hunt to formulate a shipbuilding program for the Navy which he might submit to Congress. The personnel of this advisory board was distinguished in all its branches, and the work they did made possible our splendid fleet of today, as they definitely decided to abandon wooden hulls for those of iron and steel, and for general progress in every respect. In 1882 he was a member of another important board known as the "Navy Yard Board," of which Admiral Luce was senior member. The duty of this board was to visit all the navy yards of the country for the purpose of determining which of them might with advantage and economy be closed. It was a delicate task, but the report, when finally approved, gave general satisfaction, and its recommendations were carried out.[3]

Bureau of Steam Engineering[edit]

On the retirement of Engineer-in-Chief Shock only two successors were thought of, one of whom was Admiral Loring, and his merit and thorough qualification for the position were so well recognized that the appointment came to him entirely unsought. This was in 1884, during the administration of President Arthur. Secretary Chandler was presiding over the Xavy Department at this time, and it was under his supervision that the four vessels commonly known as the Roach cruisers, the Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dolphin, were built.[3]

Part of the scheme of building the new navy was the organization of what was known as an "Advisory Board," composed of two civilians and a number of naval officers. Owing to this regime the bureaus were not given the same free hand that has obtained since the advisory board was discontinued, although they did valuable work in the details of designs. Forced draft was used on these new vessels, after having been tried on two others — the Alliance and Swatara — under Admiral Loring's direction.[3]

In 1885, with the advent of a new administration, there was a general spirit of unrest about the Navy Department from what seemed to be a prevailing belief that whatever was, was wrong. The air was filled with rumors of intended changes, among them one which promised to cause a violation of the contract labor law, as it was actually seriously under consideration to import a British engineer and put him in charge of the design of machinery. From this intent and other indications it became evident to Admiral Loring that he did not enjoy the Secretary's confidence, and he tendered his resignation.[3]

After leaving the Bureau of Steam Engineering he was made senior member of the Experimental Board of Naval Officers at the New York Navy Yard, which board, under his direction, conducted many exceedingly valuable experiments. Among the most important were the competitive tests of water-tube boilers to determine the type that should be used on the coast-defence vessel Monterey, and it may be well here to call attention to the fact that this was the first case on record where a boiler had ever been run for twenty-four hours when burning more than fifty pounds of coal per square foot of grate.[3]

Another very important series of experiments conducted by Admiral Loring were those on the boilers of the torpedo boat Cushing, to determine the economy of evaporation with different air pressures and rates of combustion. These experiments have proven of the greatest interest, and form a very valuable collection of engineering data. A number of clever devices had to be schemed out to carry on these tests, and the whole success was a great credit to Admiral Loring and the board.[3]

After retirement[edit]

Having reached the age limit in December, 1890, he was placed on the retired list; but having always been a man of very vigorous physique, he did not give up active employment and was for a time consulting engineer to the United States and Brazil Mail Steamship Company. During the late war with Spain he was recalled to active duty and assigned as inspector of engineering work in New Yoric City.[3]

This record shows the active naval work of Admiral Loring, but to those who knew him well, this side of his character was less important than the social one. Although a man of great dignity, he was what is now called "a good mixer," being most companionable and a delightful associate. He wrote well and was a good speaker, but he was perhaps at his best in a party of moderate size where his keen sense of humor, his genial personality and his remarkable skill as a raconteur made him a most enjoyable associate.[3]

He was for two years president of the Engineers' Club of New York, which is* a sure test of popularity and wide acquaintance in the engineering world. He was also president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the highest honor which his branch of the profession could confer. He was a vice-president of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers from its formation until his death, and, as long as his health permitted, was very active in its council and general meetings. He was a member of our own Society from the beginning. He had also been very active in the Army and Navy Club of New York, filling various offices and acting as its secretary for several years.[3]

Time had dealt gently with his appearance, and although in his seventy-ninth year when he died, he did not look much over sixty. Until the last few years he had been very robust, but he had been ailing for some time and finally succumbed to an attack of paralysis.[3]

Admiral Loring's career covered almost the whole period of progress in marine engineering from the side-wheel engine and box boilers down to the triple-expansion engine and steam turbine, forced draft and the water-tube boiler. In nearly all of this progress he played an important part, and he could justly feel that he had not only done his duty but had been a factor in the continued advancement of the profession and the service he loved so well.[3]


  1. ^ American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1907). Proceedings of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Vol. 28, 1907, Nr. 2. p. 1104.
  2. ^ a b c Arthur Wellington Brayley (1894), Schools and Schoolboys of Old Boston: Historical Chronicle of the Public Schools of Boston from 1636 to 1844, to which is Added a Series of Biographical Sketches, with Portraits of Some of the Old Schoolboys of Boston. p. 426
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s W. M. McFarland. "Charles Harding Loring," in: Proceedings of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Vol. 28, 1907, Nr. 2. p. 270-6.

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from: Arthur Wellington Brayley (1894), Schools and Schoolboys of Old Boston. and W. M. McFarland. "Charles Harding Loring," (1907).