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USS Monitor’s pumps cited as 'historic'

ASME names them a “historic landmark”


For more than 150 years after the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., the landmark engines and pumps that drove history’s first mechanized warship have been silent. Recently, however, the ship’s Worthington Direct-Acting Simplex Pumps were designated a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in a ceremony at The Mariners’ Museum.

“Landmark status for the Worthington simplex pumps recognizes the contribution of the steam pumps to industrial history and to the progress of mechanical engineering,” said K. Keith Roe, current president of ASME. “The Worthington steam pumps join a roster of more than 250 other ASME engineering landmarks throughout the world.Each represents a progressive step in the evolution of our profession, while exemplifying the innovation and vision embodied in engineers everywhere.”

Invented by 23-year-old New Yorker Henry R. Worthington in 1840, the Direct-Acting Simplex Pump sparked a revolution in naval, hydraulic, and propulsion engineering. Prior to this invention, every steamship boiler in the world lost water and power whenever the engine idled, forcing crews to feed the boilers by hand. That was an especially demanding task for vessels negotiating canals, where they might be forced to idle their engines for long periods while waiting for the locks to drain or fill.

The Monitor’s engine room was equipped with two steam powered Worthington pumps for clearing bilges and acting as boiler water feed pumps.

The Monitor’s engine room was equipped with two steam powered Worthington pumps for clearing bilges and acting as boiler water feed pumps.

Worthington’s pump was driven directly by an engine’s steam, rather than a mechanical connection. Automatically controlled by the boiler’s water level, Worthington’s new feed pump was simple, lightweight and compact. It did its job without the aid of a crank, shaft or flywheel.

By the time the inventor opened a small shop outside the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1845, he had added so many refinements that he began winning contracts from the nation’s growing steam-powered Navy.

Because the pumps were of efficient and reliable, the name “Worthington” became the “gold standard” of pumps. When the visionary naval architect, John Ericsson, began building the Monitor in late 1861, he chose to have two of Worthington’s pumps to feed the boiler of his revolutionary ship. The pumps were completed at Worthington & Baker Works in Greenpoint, New York, on January 10, 1862, and cost $582.22. Ericson had them installed on the Monitor to handle water for boiler, bilge, and fire-fighting needs.


Howard H. Hoege III, interim president and CEO of The Mariners’ Museum, said, “We aredistinctly honored to be awarded the ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark designation for the USS Monitor’s Worthington Pumps. This award is a symbol of the museum’s role in preserving and presenting unique marine engineering inventions such as the Worthington Pumps, allowing us to inspire future generations to create new designs, technologies, and machines which will shape our world’s future.”

Dr. Reginald I. Vachon, past president of ASME, said, “The Worthington steam pumps stood apart for their efficiency and reliability. Their compact size and lightweight design were vital features in marine applications, and the pumps also served as the basis for a variety of other industrial applications.”

Vachon presented a bronze plaque to John V. Quarstein, director of the Monitor Center, and Dr. Paul Ticco, regional coordinator of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, at the August 25 ceremony. Guests were given behind-the-scenes laboratory tours led by Monitor Center conservators.

The Mariners’ Museum embarked on a multi-year project to create a working replica of a bilge pumps from the USS Monitor. Following more than a decade of conservation and the custom casting of new components, USS Monitor Center conservators unveiled a working replica of the famous Civil War ironclad’s Worthington pumps, which are believed to be the oldest surviving examples of the landmark engineering innovation.

The Mariners’ Museum embarked on a multi-year project to create a working replica of a bilge pumps from the USS Monitor.

Recovered from the Monitor’s wreck site off Cape Hatteras, NC, in 2001 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Navy divers, the pumps are believed to be the oldest surviving examples of Worthington’s simplex design. Undergoing conservation at the USS Monitor Center’s Batten Conservation Complex at The Mariners’ Museum and Park, the pumps will go on display at the Museum when conservation is complete.

The Monitor Center has crafted the only fully operational replica of one of the ship’s pumps. Will Hoffman, senior conservator/conservation project manager at the Monitor Center, gave a presentation about the making of the replica and a demonstration.Supporters of the Replica Project were recognized including Curtiss-Wright, Master Machine and Tool, and Hampton Rubber Company. Plans are to take the replica on a road tour that follows the Monitor Historic Trail from New York to North Carolina. When not on the road, the replica will be used for “STEAM” educational programming at the Museum.

The August 25 designation ceremony was sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers-Eastern Virginia Section and Curtiss-Wright.

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