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James Lowe

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James Lowe (1796–1866), inventor of a screw propeller.

Lowe was apprenticed on 2 Nov. 1813 to Edward Shorter, a master mechanic and a Freeman of the City of London, who had in 1800 taken out a patent for propelling vessels, which he had named ‘the perpetual sculling machine.’ In 1816 Lowe ran away and joined a whaling ship named the Amelia Wilson, but after three voyages returned to his master.

1825 He married, on 30 May, the eldest daughter of Mr. Barnes of Ewell, Surrey.

1833 Birth of daughter Henrietta Lowe

Later on he commenced business as mechanist and a smoke-jack maker, and henceforth occupied his spare time in experimenting on screw-propellers for ships. On 24 March 1838 he took out a patent, No. 7599, for ‘improvements in propelling vessels’ by means of one or more curved blades, set or fixed on a revolving shaft below the water-line of the vessel. His propeller was first practically used in the Wizard in 1838, and then in Her Majesty's steamships The Rattler and The Phœnix.

1844 On 16 December he brought an action in the court of Queen's bench against Penn and Co, engineers at Greenwich, for infringement of the patent. The evidence was contradictory, but it was shown that Lowe, although not the original inventor of propellers, was the inventor of a combination never before applied to the propulsion of vessels. This combination consisted of three parts, (1) a segment of a screw, (2) a segment of a screw applied below the watermark, so as to be totally immersed, (3) a segment of a screw applied on an axis below the water. The jury gave a verdict in his favour.

1852 On 19 Aug. he took out another patent, No. 14263, for his propeller.

1855 Patent relating to improvements in screw propellers worked at or near the stem of the vessel.

Lowe spent his wife's fortune of £3,000 in his experiments, reduced himself to poverty, and never succeeded in obtaining any compensation for the use of his invention.

1866 On 12 Oct. he was run over by a wagon in the Blackfriars Road, London, and killed.

1872 His wife died in 1872. Her daughter, Henrietta, who in July 1855 married Frederick Vansittart, of the 14th Light Dragoons, continued her father's experiments, and on 18 Sept. 1868 took out a patent, No. 2877, for a further improvement, which she called ‘the Lowe-Vansittart propeller.’ This was fitted to many government ships, and was found to be a valuable invention.

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