Students to Build Replica of Little Juliana Steamboat

4/9/2014

In 1804, Colonel John Stevens launched his boat, Little Juliana, a 25-foot Whitehall style vessel he used to demonstrate his high-pressure steam boiler, twin screw propeller configuration, and novel engine. Little Juliana successfully navigated the Hudson River and amazed onlookers by travelling without a visible means of propulsion.

The boat, named for Stevens’ daughter, and its power/propulsion system was the precursor of the modern steam propeller drive ship that carries 90% of the world’s goods today. Its twin screws, high-pressure boiler and advanced propeller design were decades ahead of their time. Stevens' experimental boats, including Little Juliana, pioneered steam navigation in America and attracted significant attention.

Now, students at Stevens Institute of Technology are building a replica of the Little Juliana, the historic boat that John Stevens built over two hundred years ago.

According to Michael Bruno, Feiler Chair Professor and Dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science, the endeavor is in many ways a "dream project", one that combines the learning of engineering and design principles with a very meaningful lesson on the history of steam transportation and the specific contributions of the Stevens family.

“This kind of project requires the students to build the components with their own hands, test and evaluate each and every aspect of the system, and work as members of a single team toward a very, very challenging goal,” says Bruno.

Project lead, Raju Datla, research associate professor of civil, environmental and ocean engineering, acknowledges the maritime traditions of the Stevens family and their contributions to the field. “This project will establish a link to this maritime legacy by bringing our naval and mechanical engineering students together to work on recreating this historic steam boat built by John Stevens,” he says.

Working with Emmy-award winning documentarian and adjunct professor Carl Kriegesotte, naval and mechanical engineering students Leandro Avelar Matos, Ryan Siefert, Tyler Mackanin, Victoria Thomas, Patrick Cleary, John Flaherty, and Richard Thomas are conducting research into building the hull and mechanical systems. 

“From a naval engineering perspective, this project is quite challenging,” says naval engineering student Tyler Mackananin.  “We’ve been assigned the task of recreating a boat as close as possible to the original with only a photograph to start with.”

Interpreting measurements taken from the original engine currently housed at the Smithsonian, the students will soon develop working drawings, make foundry patterns, and pour the molten bronze for parts of the replica engine.

“The other Naval students and myself had to dig more information, as well as become familiar with the wood construction of boats,” says Mackanin. “The biggest challenge that lies ahead will be fitting the large and heavy components into the boat and having it perform to the best of its abilities.”  

For the hull, they plan to collaborate with Rocking the Boat, a Bronx based nonprofit organization that uses the medium of boatbuilding, sailing, and water-based environmental science to empower severely disadvantaged youth.

“It is our hope that we can leverage the design, fabrication, and operation of the new boat to make a positive impact on both Stevens and Rocking the Boat students,” says Kriegesotte.

In addition to visiting the Smithsonian, the students also traveled to Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, which has the largest collection of nineteenth century Whitehall style boats in the world, the same type of boat hull John Stevens used for Little Juliana. The Seaport gave the students permission to examine, measure and photograph their Whitehall boats, and also provided them with two sets of plans that are very close in appearance to the boat used by John Stevens.

Junior Victoria Thomas, a mechanical engineering major, cites this fieldwork as the most exciting aspect of the project, thus far.

“We had the pleasure of traveling to the Smithsonian archive, somewhere I probably would have never had the opportunity to visit,” says Thomas. “We also visited Mystic Seaport, and hope to visit a working hull manufacturing facility and a foundry.”

In addition to the fieldwork, sophomore Patrick Cleary appreciates the historical focus of the project.

“This particular project is giving us a peek into the past to see how mechanical engineering got started, how our forefathers engineered the boat,” says Cleary.

Little Juliana certainly made a large impact on the advancement of marine engineering, explains Kriegesotte, principles still applied today. In fact, it took another 50 years for boat builders and marine engineers to fully understand and embrace the innovations that John Stevens built in his boat.

According to naval engineering student Leandro Avelar Matos, “Little Juliana is a pioneer on the steamboat construction.” “So, having the opportunity to work on this project is a remarkable experience for me and for my career,” he says.

After completion of the four-semester project, the Little Juliana replica will undergo a series of sea trials and then will be exhibited at antique and wooden boat shows as an example of the Stevens legacy of innovation.