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Babcock & Who? The Battleship Missouri has eight Babcock & Wilcox M-type boilers, that began with a commitment to innovation.

by Nov 17, 2019

The Battleship Missouri has eight Babcock & Wilcox M-type boilers, that began with a commitment to innovation.

Stephen Wilcox, Jr. (left) was born in 1830 in Westerly, Rhode Island. He began inventing at a young age. Eventually he turned his attention to steam boilers and in 1856, he created an innovative safety water-tube boiler.

George H. Babcock (right) was born into a family of inventors and mechanics in Unadilla, New York in 1832. He moved to Brooklyn in 1860 and attended evening classes at “Cooper Institute” (The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art).

During the Civil War, Babcock worked at Mystic Iron Works in Connecticut, building US Navy ships. He later became Chief Draftsman at the Hope Iron Works in Providence, Rhode Island. It was there that the two inventors met and began working together on improving boiler designs.

Wilcox’s 1856 boiler design was the forerunner of an improved design that the partners submitted to the US Patent office in 1867 (Patent Number 65,042). With their new patent in hand, the two inventors formed a business partnership that same year with a commitment to innovation.

In 1894 they established a Marine Department and signed contracts with the U.S. Navy for purchase of Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired water-tube boilers. In short order, B&W was recognized as the leader in marine boiler production.

In 1899, future B&W President, William D. Hoxie introduced a revolutionary combustion process for a completely redesigned marine boiler that helped establish the water-tube boiler as the standard aboard ships and reaffirm B&W’s commitment for innovation.

In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet was powered by B&W boilers and during WWI, B&W produced upwards of 500 boilers for the US Navy and Merchant Marine fleets.

During the following years, as Navy ships converted from coal to oil firing, the US Navy again contracted with Babcock & Wilcox to make the change aboard all major ships in the fleet.

B&W’s Pre-World War II boiler production averaged two to three boilers a week. By the end of WWII production, that output had increased to almost 30 boilers a week, with more than 4,000 of 5,000 major vessels constructed for the war effort equipped with Babcock & Wilcox boilers.

Today Babcock & Wilcox is a world leader in the power generation industry and is a major operating unit of McDermott International, a worldwide energy services company.

Over the years, Babcock & Wilcox’s commitment to innovation and resulting patent production has kept pace with the ongoing expansion of their business. Between 1935 and 1943 alone “the Babcock & Wilcox Company was awarded nearly 500 patents. Of those 70 have “boiler” in the title.” according to Ms. Amy Saus, a researcher at the company.

The patent model below offers a glimpse of the innovative spirit of George H. Babcock and Stephen Wilcox, Jr.

Steam Generator Patent Model

submitted to the US Patent Office by George H. Babcock and Stephen Wilcox, Jr., in 1876, patent number 175548. Model in the collections of the American History Museum, accession number: 89797.

Patent model description

by Frank A. Taylor for the Catalog of the Mechanical Collections of the Division of Engineering, United States Bulletin 173:

“The model represents the typical elements of an inclined tube, horizontal longitudinal drum boiler upon which are shown the mode of mounting and supporting such boilers and the provisions for making the connections of the parts that are the subject of the patent.

The drum of the boiler is represented as having cast-iron ends, each of which is formed with a stout horn near the top adapted to receive a suspension link from a cross girder resting upon columns at the sides of the boiler.

Each end casting is further provided with a series of holes near the bottom properly adapted to receive tubes joined thereto by the process known as expanding.

These tubes are joined at the front and back to the vertical tubes rising from the water-tube headers by means of hollow castings in which hand holes are provided that permit both sets of tubes to be expanded in the openings in the castings.”

It gets complicated from there.