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Charles Haynes Haswell

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Charles Haynes Haswell (1809-1907)


1907 Obituary [1]

CHARLES HAYNES HASWELL died at his residence, 324 West 78th Street, New York City, on the 12th May, 1907, from the effects of a fall. Had he lived ten days longer he would have attained the age of 98 years. Mr. Haswell was the doyen of the engineering profession in America, and was probably the oldest engineer in the world actively engaged in the practice of his profession.

The son of Mr. Charles Haswell, of Dublin, the subject of this notice was born in New York City on the 22nd May, 1809. He received a classical education at schools in New York, and in 1828 he entered the steam-engine works of James P. Allaire, then the largest establishment of its kind in the country.

In 1835 he was entrusted by the Commissioners of the U.S. Navy with the design and construction of the engines and machinery of the steam-frigate "Fulton," and on completing this work, he went to sea in the vessel as chief engineer.

He was next assigned the duty of designing the steam-frigates "Missouri," "Mississippi" and "Michigan"; and subsequently wits appointed chief engineer of the first-named vessel. Before her departure it was most unwisely proposed to substitute for her vertical smokestack 7 feet in diameter two horizontal smokestacks each 35 feet in diameter. This was of course found quite ineffectual, and the original smokestack was subsequently replaced, but the warmth of Mr. Haswell’s protest against such unscientific procedure and his refusal to apologize for what he considered the performance of a public and professional duty had led to his suspension. He was, however, later restored to active service and was entrusted with the responsible duties of Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy.

In 1843, at the instance of Mr. Haswell, the Act of organization of the Engineers corps was altered and the warrant of Engineer-in-Chief was replaced by a commission from the President, which was then conferred upon Mr. Haswell and confirmed by the Senate. He discharged the duties of this office for a period of 8 years, during which time he entirely reorganized the corps, which dates its greater efficiency from the reforms initiated during his term of office.

In 1848, when marine engineering was in its infancy in the United States, Mr. Haswell gave signal proof of his ability by furnishing, without assistance, not only the first designs but the entire working-drawings of the steam-frigate "Powhattan," in which he introduced a number of practical improvements.

He subsequently superintended the construction of this vessel, which did long and efficient service in the United States Navy. Political influence exerted against him led to his retirement from the position of Engineer-in-Chief in 1851, and shortly afterwards he left the service.

Returning to New York City Mr. Haswell engaged in consulting practice as a civil and marine engineer. He designed and built a number of merchant steamships and smaller vessels, including the earliest steam-launches and steam-yachts. He became a member of the Board of Councilmen of the city, and in 1858 he served as president of that body. He acted as engineer to several public bodies in New York, and was a trustee of the Brooklyn bridge during its erection.

When the Civil War broke out, Mr. Haswell, as a prominent citizen of New York, bore his full share in that momentous struggle. He acted as representative of a committee of his fellow citizens at Washington, and litter he saw active service under General Burnside in the expedition against Roanoke Island, where he commanded a gunboat. At the bombardment of Fort Bartow on the island, he ran his boat under the fire of the fort and hauled off the U.S.S. "Ranger," which had grounded on a shoal.

Mr. Haswell continued to practise his profession up to the day of his death. In 1898 he was appointed by the Board of Public Improvements to design and direct the grading and adaptation of Riker’s Island for the service of the Department of Correction, and in 1902, at the age of 93, he was appointed Assistant Engineer to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment of New York City, in connection with which appointment he attended his office in the city for several years with the utmost regularity.

Many valuable contributions to engineering literature proceeded from his pen. His "Engineers’ and Mechanics’ Pocket-Book," commenced in 1840, passed its seventieth edition before the death of its author.

In 1860 he published a work on "Mensuration," and in the same year he commenced his interesting "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian of New York City," published in 1897. He also contributed Papers to several of the technical societies on both sides of the Atlantic, of which he was a member, among the most recent of these communications is that which he presented to The Institution in 1905, entitled "Note on a Method of Condensing Steam by the Use of Moderate Quantities of Water." An earlier Paper by Mr. Haswell, "On Formulas for Pile-Driving," was published in 1894.

Mr. Haswell was an Honorary Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of the American Society of Naval Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, the Society of Municipal Engineers of New York, the New York Academy of Science, and the Engineers’ Clubs of New York and of Philadelphia. He was an honorary member of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, snd Dean of the Union Club of New York City. He was also a Member of the Institution of Naval Architects. He married in 1829 Miss Ann Elizabeth Burns, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. He retained his general good health and an erect figure until the last, whilst his intelligence was alert and his memory clear and reliable as in earlier years. He was a member of the American reception committee on the occasion of the visit of members of The Institution to the United States in 1904, and he took an active part in the excursions and meetings which were then arranged. His death removes a picturesque and unique personality from the ranks of the engineering profession in general and is an especia loss to his colleagues and friends in America.

Mr. Haswell was elected a Member of The Institution on the 5th May, 1885.



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