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John Louis Lay
Born (1833-01-14)January 14, 1833
Died April 17, 1899(1899-04-17) (aged 66)
Place of birth Buffalo, New York
Place of death New York City
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1862–1865
Rank 1st Assistant Engineer
Battles/wars American Civil War

John Louis Lay (January 14, 1833 - April 17, 1899) was an American inventor, and a pioneer of the torpedo.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Lay was born in Buffalo, New York.[1] He was appointed 2nd assistant engineer in the Union Navy in July 8, 1862, and was promoted to 1st assistant engineer on October 15, 1863.[2] He designed the spar torpedo which was used by Lieutenant William B. Cushing to destroy the Confederate ironclad ram CSS Albemarle at Plymouth, North Carolina, on October 27, 1864. After the fall of Richmond in 1865, Lay was sent in advance of Admiral David D. Porter's fleet to remove obstructions from the James River.[1] Lay resigned from the navy on May 22, 1865,[2] and was then was employed by the Peruvians to fortify the harbor of Callao with fixed mines and suspended torpedoes, in order to prevent the Spanish fleet from entering. Lay returned to the United States in 1867, where he began work on the design and building of a locomotive (self-propelled) torpedo.[1]

The Lay torpedo

Lay's first design, the Lay Torpedo or Lay Dirigible (1872) was a surface running cylindrical vessel with conical ends, powered by a reciprocating engine fuelled by compressed carbon dioxide gas. Two cables were paid out from the torpedo to the controlling ship or shore station which allowed the operator to steer it by means of electrical signals.[1][3] In 1880, he produced an improved version — the Lay-Haight Torpedo. This used a 3-cylinder Brotherhood engine fuelled by carbon dioxide. The Lay torpedo was one of several designs tested at the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island.[3]

Lay torpedoes were also acquired by Peru for use in the War of the Pacific, but proved unsuccessful. On 28 August 1879 at Antofagasta the ironclad Huáscar, while engaging shore batteries and the ships Abtao, Magellan and Limarí launched a Lay torpedo only to have it reverse course. The ship was saved when an officer jumped overboard to divert it.[4]

Lay's inventions made him a rich man, but he lost it all in speculation, and he spent his final years in poverty. He died at Bellevue Hospital, New York City, in April 1899.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Rossiter, Johnson, ed (1906). Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. VI. Boston: American Biographical Society. p. 359. http://archive.org/details/biographicaldict06johnuoft. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Callahan, Edward William (1901). Officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps: 1775-1900. New York: L. R. Hamersly. http://www.history.navy.mil/books/callahan/reg-usn-l.htm. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jolie, E.W. (1978). A Brief History of U.S. Navy Torpedo Development. Newport, Rhode Island: Weapons Systems Department, Naval Underwater Systems Center. http://www.hnsa.org/doc/jolie/part1.htm#page013. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  4. Avaroa, Eduardo (2013). "El Huáscar Muralla Móvil Del Perú". Universidad Nacional Jorge Basadre Grohmann. http://www.unjbg.edu.pe/libro/Basadre/la_Verdadera_epopeya/epopeya_cap2.pdf. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  (Spanish)

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Gray, Edwyn (2004). 19th Century Torpedoes and Their Inventors. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-341-1. 

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