24th Congress.]

No. 622.

[1st Session.



Mr. Jarvis, from the Committee on Naval Affairs; to whom was referred the memorial of Uriah Brown, relative to "a system of defence for the bays and harbors of the United States, by means of impregnable and irresistible fire ships, reported:

That they have examined carefully, and with much interest, the subject referred to their consideration. It appears that, during the late war with Great Britain, the inventive powers of Mr. Brown were directed to the construction of a steam vessel, which should be proof against cannon shot, and from which, by means of an ejecting apparatus of great power, there should be thrown upon the ships of the enemy a liquid fire, possessing the property of being nourished instead of being extinguished by the application of water. Several satisfactory experiments of the efficacy of the fire were made in the presence of a vast concourse of the citizens of Baltimore, and a model of the boat was examined by a number of eminent citizens, by officers of the army and navy, naval architects and civil engineers, by whom the project was recommended to the patronage of the citizens of Baltimore, as "presenting in all probability the means of insuring to their waters an absolute exemption from the hostile visits of the enemy's ships." A subscription was accordingly opened for the purpose of procuring the necessary


funds for the construction of one of these machines; a sum nearly sufficient was subscribed in Baltimore, and one would have been built if the return of peace had not, in the opinion of many of the subscribers, rendered the expenditure unnecessary.

The merits of this invention have heretofore occupied the attention of the House of Representatives and of this committee. On the 6th of December, 1814, the memorial of Uriah Brown was, by an order of the House of Representatives, referred to the Secretary of the Navy, who made a favorable report on the 23d of the same month.* On the 23d February, 1827, the Secretary of War transmitted to the House a report from the chief engineer, and another from General Bernard, both of which are favorable to the invention. On the 28th of March, 1828, the Committee on Naval Affairs having examined the system, recommended that experiments should be made to test its practical utility for harbor and coast defence, and reported a bill which did not receive the final action of the House. The same committee had the subject again under consideration during the last session of Congress, and were only prevented from making *a favorable report by the advanced stage of the session.

The committee concur with their predecessors, and with the Engineer and Navy Departments, in the favorable opinions they have expressed with regard to this invention, and they earnestly recommend that the necessary experiments should be made for testing its practical utility. If the result should be successful, an economical and invaluable element in our system of coast defence would be acquired, which, though it would not supersede the necessity of ships and fortifications, would unite with them, rendering us perfectly secure from any hostile attack upon our shores. The sum required for the experiment, according to a detailed estimate, furnished by Mr. Brown, would be eight thousand dollars, of which rather more than six thousand dollars would be necessary for testing the security of the vessel against cannon shot, and the balance for testing the efficacy of the liquid fire; a sum utterly insignificant, when we consider the great national benefits which may be derived from its expenditure.

Tour committee therefore report a bill, authorizing the President of the United States to cause experiments to be made, which shall test the practicability and utility of the fire ship, invented by Uriah Brown.

Washington, February 1, 1829.


In answer to your inquires I would observe that I have carefully and minutely examined the model of a fire ship invented by Uriah Brown, Esq., for the purpose of sea-coast and harbor defence, and am perfectly satisfied of the following facts, viz:

1. That, in consequence of the inclination of the several planes composing this vessel, every shot striking upon any part of it, whether fired from a ship of the line or smaller vessel, will be reflected off without producing any injury.

2. That the vessel can be propelled by the power of steam with a velocity equal to that of our swiftest steamboats, and with as much certainty, her power consisting of two engines of one hundred horse power each.

3. That the inflammable liquid can be projected to a sufficient distance to ensure the destruction of any vessel attacked, without hazard to the fire ship or her crew; there is no doubt it can be projected at least three hundred feet, and most probably more than five hundred feet.

4. This vessel cannot be taken by the boats of an enemy's squadron, because the crew, the machinery, and the means of steering her are all below deck, and therefore getting possession of the deck does not give possession of the vessel. All these who would attempt to board her would either be destroyed by liquid fire, hot water from the boiler, or become prisoners themselves, instead of becoming masters of the vessel, at the option of the commander of the fire ship.

5. It is better calculated than our best steamboats to live in a rough sea, being two hundred feet in length, seventy-five feet in breadth, and of great strength, the sides being two feet thick, of solid oak timber, fastened by strong iron bolts.

6. It cannot be set on fire, as it is proposed to cover every part exposed with thick sheet iron.

7. Simple and efficient means are devised for ventilating it, and also for discovering the direction of, and measuring the distance from, the object to be attacked; while the observer himself is below deck and entirely safe from the enemy's fire.

8. That the inflammable liquid will instantly set on fire any combustible substance on which it strikes, is proved by repeated experiments made in Baltimore in 1814, in presence of the city authorities and thousands of the citizens.

9. The machinery, as well as the crew, are in my opinion better protected from the fire of an enemy in this vessel than in the steam vessel built in New York during the war, and which has met the decided approbation of the government. I have examined the model in company with a large number of gentlemen well qualified to judge, and I do not recollect one who, after such examination, did not express himself satisfied that it would answer every purpose proposed by the projector. With so much probability, then, in its favor, I would ask whether Congress would not be fully warranted in appropriating the small sum of eight thousand dollars, which is all the projector asks, to make such experiments as will remove all doubts on the subject? for should the opinions which have been formed of it be confirmed by such experiments, I presume there is no one who will deny that it would be the cheapest and most efficient means of harbor and sea-coast defence that has ever been devised in any age of the world. A single vessel, stationed in any one of our bays or harbors, would keep it entirely clear of an enemy's ships, or would raise a blockade should that be attempted.

I am, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. John C. Weems, House of Representatives.

* See American State Papers, Naval Affairs, vol. 3, No. 367.


Washington, January 12, 1835.

Sir: The House of Representatives having, by a resolution of the 2d instant, "instructed the Committee on Naval Affairs to inquire into the expediency of reporting a bill authorizing the President of the United States to cause such experiments to be made, by a board of engineers, to be by him selected, as shall test the practical utility of a fire ship, invented by Uriah Brown, for harbor and coast defence, and making the necessary appropriation for that purpose," I do myself the honor to lay before the committee sundry official reports and documents, in support of the invention, accompanied by a specification, drawings, and estimates of the cost of building, and the annual expense of maintaining in actual service, in time of war, a vessel upon the plan proposed. I have the honor, also, to submit to the committee a brief history of the invention, and the motives which have induced me, once more, to solicit the attention of my government to this interesting subject.

During the late war with Great Britain, apprehending serious consequences might result to us from the formidable maritime strength of the enemy, my attention was early directed to the subject of devising some new mode of warfare, by which I hoped that greater equality might be produced in the hostile power of belligerent nations, and the strong deprived of the means of longer committing wanton aggressions upon the legitimate rights of the feeble.

I had often indulged the belief that the long-lost secret of preparing the celebrated Greek fire might again be recovered; and that by its adaptation to a steam vessel, so constructed as to be invulnerable to cannon shot, an engine of war might be produced, possessing irresistible powers of annoyance, and defying any known means of assault.

Actuated by this conviction, and an anxious desire to benefit my native country, I immediately commenced a series of expensive and highly interesting experiments, having for their end the attainment of this important object.

In the course of these investigations, I had the satisfaction to meet with a success equaling my most sanguine expectations. The plan of a vessel was produced, in acknowledged accordance with the principles of nautical and military science, and admitted by all to be capable of resisting any attack from an enemy's squadron.

To test the efficient properties of the fire, experiments were made by me, upon an extensive scale, in the presence of thousands of the citizens of Baltimore, and such was the acknowledged conviction produced upon their minds, by the astonishing effects of this terrible agent of destruction, that all doubts of the complete practical success of the project were instantly dispelled—a large sum unhesitatingly subscribed to build the proposed vessel, and nothing but the near prospect of peace arrested the progress of the enterprise.

This proposed system of defence has undergone the most scrutinizing investigation, and its practicability and utility sustained by several enlightened theorists and practical engineers. It has, on former occasions, been the subject of the deliberate consideration of the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of War, and of the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House of Representatives, by each of whom it has been viewed as of national importance, and supported by their approving reports, as will be seen by a reference to the accompanying documents.

I cannot refrain from expressing to your honorable committee, that twenty years' mature reflection upon the subject has only tended to establish my conviction as to the following facts:

That, with such a gigantic arm of power, we could, at a comparatively trifling expense, effectually defend our extensive water frontier against the combined navies of Europe.

That it would afford the sure means of keeping our bays and harbors constantly open to the free egress and ingress of our commerce, and thereby furnish our navy a better opportunity of protecting our trade and defending our national honor on the high seas.

Finally, that it would be found the cheapest and most formidable means of sea-coast and harbor defence that has ever been devised in any age of the world; and that its moral influence upon our foreign relations could not fail in causing the most powerful nations to desire our friendship—the most unprincipled to respect our rights.

With such evidences of its utility and importance in our national defence, I respectfully solicit of your honorable committee, (not for my present benefit,) to turn your attention to this interesting subject, and take the measures necessary to bring my discovery to the test.

With the aid of eight thousand dollars—in the disbursement of which I desire no agency—I shall be able to test, by actual experiment, all the principles involved in the invention, and prove, by a public exhibition in the face of Congress and the country, the efficiency of my rediscovered Greek fire as an agent of destruction. I therefore respectfully solicit that a bill may be reported, appropriating eight thousand dollars, to be expended under the direction of such authority as you may be pleased to designate, in making the experiments as contemplated in the resolution. And I further solicit that the Secretary of the Navy be directed, in said act, in case the board of engineers, constituted for the purpose of superintending these experiments, shall be satisfied of the practicability of the plan, to cause a vessel to be built upon the principles suggested—proof against cannon shot—for the purpose of conveying this destructive fluid, and throwing it upon an approaching enemy. And, so confident am I of the practicability of my plan, that I am prepared to hazard my life in a vessel built according to my direction, in destroying, by fire, any combustible floating object, though protected by any force or number of guns.

Having given the highest evidence of my own confidence, which it is in the power of man to give, I fondly hope that the pittance necessary to put so important a matter to the test will at length be granted from an overflowing treasury, confident, as I am, that it will be the means of saving to our country millions of property and thousands of lives.

With sentiments of the highest consideration,

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. C. P. White, Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs, H. R.

P. S.—I shall be happy to be indulged with an opportunity of appearing before your committee, for the. purpose of illustrating more fully the principles of my invention, whenever it may best suit their convenience, and of which they may be pleased to notify me. I will also furnish them a model of the vessel, should that be desired.

U. B.


Estimate of the expense of making such experiments, under a board of engineers, to be selected by the President of the United States, as shall test the correctness of the principles involved in a fire ship, invented by Uriah Brown, for harbor and coast defence.

1. For testing the security of the vessel against the effects of cannon shot:

1,200 cubic feet best white oak timber, to construct a plane for a course of experiments in firing, at 25 cents

$300 00

2,800 lbs. iron bolt, for securing the timbers of the above plane, at 5 cents

140 00

4,000 lbs. quarter inch rolled iron, for covering the above plane, at 12 1/2 cents

500 00

200 lbs. spikes, for the above plane

20 00

One cross-barred grating, for the above plane, weight 3,445 lbs., at 12 1/2 cents

443 12

1,650 lbs. powder, (150 rounds of cartridges,) at 25 cents

412 50

4,800 lbs. 32-pound balls, at 5 cents

240 00

Cost of labor, &c, in constructing the above plane, say

45 00

Total cost of this part of the experiment

$2,100 62

2. For ascertaining the speed with which a vessel of the plan proposed can be propelled by steam,
including the cost or charter of a vessel suitable for the purpose, condensing pumps, propelling wheel, and other necessary

4,175 00

3. For the purpose of testing the efficiency of the rediscovered Greek fire:

Cost of ejecting-engine, pipes, stop-cocks, &c., say

$750 00

Ingredients for 1,000 gallons inflammable liquid, at 75 cents

750 00

Total cost for this part of the experiment

1,500 00

For all other incidental and contingent expenses

224 38


$8,000 00

Respectfully submitted.