William Samuel Henson

William Samuel Henson (1812-1888), also known as "Mad-man" Henson, was a pre-Wright brothers aviation engineer and inventor.

Henson was born in 1812 (some sources say 1805), probably in Chard, Somerset, England, a centre of lace-making, or perhaps LeicesterFact|date=February 2008. Henson was involved in lace-making in Chard, which increasingly was mechanized at that time, and obtained a patent on improved lace-making machines in 1835.

Aeronautical inventions

Starting c. 1838, Henson became interested in aviation. In April 1841 he patented an improved light-weight steam engine, and with fellow lacemaking-engineer John Stringfellow in c. 1842 he designed a large passenger-carrying steam-powered monoplane, with a wing span of 150 feet, which he named the "Henson Aerial Steam Carriage". He received a patent on it in 1843 along with Stringfellow. Henson, Stringfellow, Frederick Marriott, and D.E. Colombine, incorporated as the Aerial Transit Company in 1843 in England, with the intention of raising money to construct the flying machine. Henson built a scale model of his design, which made one tentative steam powered "hop" as it lifted or bounced, off its guide wire. Attempts were made to fly the small model, and a larger model with a 20 foot wing span, between 1844 and 1847, without success. Henson grew discouraged, married and emigrated to the United States, while Stringfellow continued to experiment with aviation.

Henson appeared as a character in a fictional newspaper story by Edgar Allan Poe, which recounted a supposed trans-atlantic balloon trip. Henson was one of the passengers on the balloon. [Edgar Allan Poe, [http://www.poestories.com/text.php?file=balloonhoax Balloon Hoax] , New York Sun, 1844]

Henson and Stringfellow are frequently mentioned in books on the history of aviation. [ [http://books.google.com/books?um=1&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=%22william+samuel+henson%22&btnG=Search+Books Google book search for William Samuel Henson] ] The Royal Aeronautical Society holds yearly "Henson-Stringfellow" lectures; as of 2008 they've held 52 of them.

Advertising

The Aerial Transit Company's publicist, Frederick Marriott, commissioned prints in 1843 depicting the Aerial Steam Carriage over the pyramids in Egypt, in India, and over London, England, and other places, which drew considerable interest from the public.

Design

The wings were rectangular, and were formed by wooden spars covered with fabric, and braced, internally and externally, with wires. The Aerial Steam Carriage was to be powered by two contra-rotating six-bladed propellers mounted in the rear in a push type system. The design follows earlier "birdlike" gliders, and the ideas of Cawley. The Aerial Transit Company never built the largest version of the Aerial Steam Carriage because of the failed attempts with the medium sized model. Henson, Stringfellow, Marriott and Colombine dissolved the company around 1848.

Other inventions and innovations

Henson obtained a number of patents in widely varying areas. Major patents include:
* Lace-making decoration, 1835
* Lightweight steam engines, 1841
* Flying machine, 1843
* Safety razor, 1847

Henson invented the modern form of the razor, the 'T' shaped safety razor, and patented it in 1847: "the cutting blade which of which is at right angles with the handle, and resembles somewhat the form of a common hoe." [ [http://www.razorandbrush.com/perkam.html Origins of the Safety Razor] ] While a major improvement on the previous form of safety razor, an additional improvement was needed to make safety razors common. In 1901, Gillette combined Henson's T-shaped safety razor with disposable blades, and produced the modern razor. [The Origins of Everyday Things (book)]

Henson published a pamphlet on Astronomy in 1871 suggested that the solar system formed from cold dust and gas, and discussed how the it could condense into meteors and comets, and further condense into planets, moons and the sun, in the process heating up. [The Medical Eclectic, 1874 issue, book review of "THE GREAT FACTS OF MODERN ASTRONOMY"]

Henson created inventions in other areas as well. Among them were ice-making machines, fabric waterproofing, cistern-cleaning, and razors. [ [http://www.flysouth.co.za/prime/history/flights_of_fancy.shtml Fly South Aviation History] ] He submitted a proposal for a breech-loading cannon design to the US Navy; it was rejected as impractical.Henson family documents in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum archives]

Emigration

In 1849 William Henson and his wife, Sarah, left England and moved to the United States, and lived in Newark, New Jersey. Henson never did any further aviation research while in the United States and worked as a machinist, civil engineer and inventor. [US Census records] [Aeronautics, Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, issue circa 1950]

Henson died in 1888. He and his family were buried in East Orange, New Jersey.

The Henson Aerial Steam Carriage

*Small model, wingspan unknown
*Medium model, wingspan 20 feet
*Full-size aircraft, wingspan 150 feet (never built)

Timeline

*May 3rd 1812 Birth in England
*1835 Patent on lace-making improvements
*1841, 1843 Patents on lightweight steam engine and flying machine
*1847 Patent on the T-handled safety razor
*March 4th 1848 Marriage to Sarah Ann Jones
*1849 Emigration to the United States
* in Newark, New Jersey as machinist
* in Newark, New Jersey as civil engineer
*1871 Publication of book on Astronomy
*1888 Death in Newark, New Jersey

ee also

*Aerial Steam Carriage

References

External links

* [http://www.chardmuseum.co.uk/Powered_Flight/ Chard Museum]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1591057.stm BBC: William Henson]
* [http://www.flyingmachines.org/hens.html Flying Machines: William Henson]
* [http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/stringfellow.html Hargrave: William Henson]


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