James Lowe and the screw propeller

2004/02 p6

 

 

In the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Ewell, there is a memorial to James Lowe with an epitaph which reads: ‘Sacred to the memory of James Lowe Esquire, who was born May 18, 1798, and met his death from an accident the 12th October, 1866. He was the inventor of the segments of the screw propeller, in use since 1838; and his life, though unobtrusive, was not without great benefit to his country’.

 

James Lowe is sometimes referred to as the inventor of the screw propeller, but in fact screw propellers were in use before 1838: he invented a propeller with a special configuration of the blades. I was reminded of this on a recent visit to the Science Museum: they have a model of a Lowe propeller, and the caption is so clear that I thought it was worth recording. The device is described as:

 

A propeller consisting of one or more blades, each a portion of a curve, which, if continued, would produce a screw.

 

The arrangement is equivalent to a pair of two-bladed propellers superposed one behind the other on a single shaft, except that the blades in each pair are in different transverse planes, each blade being on a separate boss.

 

The Lowe propeller seems not to have had any widespread use, in spite of valiant efforts made on its behalf by Lowe’s daughter, Henrietta, after his death.

 

Charles Abdy