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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Commander Ellsberg – Commander, Diver, Engineer, Inventor, Fencer, Writer (part 1 of 3)

[Got any impossible missions? You’ve come to the right place. Edward Ellsberg didn’t know the meaning of the word. He was a naval commander, deep sea diver, engineer, inventor and expert fencer. Did I mention that he was also a best-selling writer?
Read more after the break.]



Commander Edward Ellsberg, c. 1938
Commander Edward Ellsberg, c. 1938

Commander Edward Ellsberg, c. 1934
Commander Ellsberg, c. 1934

Edward Ellsberg was born on November 21, 1891 in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1893, his family moved to Denver, Colorado where he grew up.
We lived in Denver with the Rocky Mountains practically in my backyard. One of my most vivid memories still is of a ride up Clear Creek Canyon when at the age of five I was scared stiff watching the outer wheels of our wagon threaten every second to go sliding over the edge of a narrow mountain road and down the precipice.
Growing up, my brothers and I had the plains around Denver as a hunting ground; our main game was only prairie dogs, which however, for boys with .22 rifles was quite ideal. The principal drawback to any hunting trip in summer was the inability ever to find a place afterwards to cool off, for in either the Platte River or Cherry Creek (the two nearby streams) you could wet only half yourself at once, and as for swimming in them, an alfalfa field was just as practicable. It may have been this lack of water which gave me an interest in the sea, and I read avidly all the boys’ books I could find with a nautical background.
He went to high school in Denver and thought about becoming a mining engineer – one of the reasons being that the nearby Colorado School of Mines had the best football team in the area. His father wanted him to study law instead, and this was a source of family friction. However, in his last year in school, the Mines football team was beaten by every team in the conference, and he entered Colorado University at Boulder to study law.
He had just settled in as a freshman when a newly joined Colorado Congressman, Edward T. Taylor, announced that he had two appointments to be made to the Naval Academy and he would test those who submitted their qualifications to him. Ellsberg applied and finished top of the list in the test.
I had to stretch one-quarter of an inch and gain four pounds to meet the physical requirements. But I ate a lot and exercised and made it. I remember the first thing they did was put us in a 10-oared cutter and made us row all over Chesapeake Bay. It was hotter than hell and I wished I’d never left Denver...
Over the objections of his parents, he joined. He was one of the few Jews to get admitted. He graduated at the head of his class in 1914 and won several medals. He was a medal winner in seamanship, navigation and international law and won medals in fencing, dueling and two or three more for English essays.


Cadet Edward Ellsberg, c. 1910
Cadet Edward Ellsberg, c. 1910

Graduating as an ensign, he joined the new battleship, Texas. After two years of duty on the Texas, in 1916, he was detached from duty and sent to the Postgraduate school at Annapolis. From there, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a degree in Naval Architecture, which was interrupted by the entry of the US into World War 1 in 1917. He published his first story in the Youth’s Companion in 1916.
The US Navy in World War I was mainly providing the ships to get the men and material to France. He rebuilt the Kaiser Wilhelm II, and commanded her on the trial run. His next major assignment was to build and launch the Tennessee. At this time, he got engaged to Lucy Knowlton Buck, a graduate of Wellesley College. A year later, he married her.
In 1920, he completed his degree and was attached to the Boston Navy Shipyard. In 1921, his daughter, Mary Phillips, was born. At this time, Ellsberg was trying to solve the problems of evaporators used for distilling fresh water from sea water. Fresh water was rationed to half a bucket daily per person because of the fuel it cost then to operate the distillation system. He worked day and night on the problem, and talked about it at home to the extent that his daughter’s greeting to him became “Daddy, how are your evaporators?”.
He realized that the problem was scale formation from the salt in sea water, and worked on an alternate system that used the waste steam from the boilers instead. The first test for Ellsberg’s system was on the cruiser Denver, which had come to the yard for repairs. It worked well, and his design became standard for all naval vessels. He didn’t patent this invention, since it was Navy work on Navy time. This success led to his transfer to Brooklyn Navy Shipyard, with the right to live on the base, in 1924.
His next problem was the reconversion of the Leviathan from a military troopship to a luxury cruise liner. Eight million dollars had already been spent on this work, which included conversion from coal to oil burning, and on the trial cruise it was found that the first class quarters were too hot. One stateroom showed a reading of 130⁰ F. He found that, as a coal burning ship, the heat had escaped through smoke stacks. This had been changed during conversion so that the heat was no longer removed.
He fitted the ship with air blowers that took away the surplus heat. This work took three months, and then the ship went on another trial cruise. This time, Ellsberg was on board, and when he went down to the stateroom where the high temperature was seen earlier, the couple there complained of the cold! His work had been successful, and he got a free cruise for himself and his family as a result.
 
Part 2

To be continued...

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