About George Wallace Melville
Rear Admiral George Wallace Melville, USN (10 January 1841 – 17 March 1912) was an engineer, Arctic exploration and author. As chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, he headed a time of great expansion, technological progress and change, often in defiance of the conservative element of the Navy hierarchy. He superintended the design of 120 ships and introduced the water-tube boiler, the triple-screw propulsion system, vertical engines, the floating repair ship, and the "distilling ship." Appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy, Melville reformed the service entirely, putting Navy engineers on a professional rather than an artisan footing.
Melville also established the Engineering Experiment Station (EES) near the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis laboratory was a brainchild of Melville. As Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, he fought hard to get an appropriation of $400,000 for an experiment and testing laboratory to be located at Annapolis. He argued that such a facility would be a dependable means for testing machinery and equipment before its installation in Navy ships and aid training engineering officers. Both, he surmised, would increase the efficiency of the Navy. When the Navy offered to have this facility named after him, Melville refused with characteristic modesty.
Melville made his first trip to the Arctic in 1873, when he volunteered to help rescue 19 survivors of the Polaris expedition. Six years later, he volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Commander George W. DeLong on board the USS Jeannette to the Bering Strait in search of a quick way to the North Pole. Jeannette became icebound and was eventually crushed; Melville and the others in his small boat were the only survivors. Despite the extreme length and hardships of the trip, he returned in search of DeLong and others who might possibly still be alive. He found none but retrieved all records of the expedition. The United States Congress awarded Melville the Congressional Gold Medal for his gallantry and resourcefulness; the Navy advanced him 15 numbers on the promotion list. He wrote of the DeLong expedition in his book, In the Lena Delta, published in 1884.
Birth and Civil War
Melville was born in New York City on 10 January 1841. After graduating from Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute, he entered the U.S. Navy on 29 July 1861 and became an officer of the Engineer Corps, with the rank of Third Assistant Engineer. His first year afloat was spent on the Great Lakes' gunboat Michigan, during which time he was promoted to Second Assistant Engineer. Melville served in the sloops of war Dacotah and Wachusett from mid-1862 until late in 1864, taking part in the capture of CSS Florida in October 1864. He finished the Civil War in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area working with torpedo boats and as an engineer on the gunboat Maumee.
In the years after the Civil War's conclusion, First Assistant Engineer Melville served aboard several ships, among them the experimental cruiser Chattanooga, gunboat Tacony, steam sloop Lancaster and Asiatic Squadron flagship Tennessee.
In 1873 he volunteered for duty as Chief Engineer of Tigress for her rescue in Baffin Bay of 19 survivors of the Polaris expedition to the Arctic.
In the summer of 1879, he was an eager and daring volunteer when an Arctic expedition under Lieutenant Commander George W. DeLong left San Francisco on board the USS Jeannette on 7 August 1879 to try to find a quick way to the North Pole via the Bering Strait. Jeannette became icebound in September and, after two years of effort to save her, was crushed by ice floes in the Laptev Sea and sank 12 June 1881 — leaving the crew stranded on the ice floes in mid-ocean in three small boats and with scanty provisions.
Melville was the only boat commander to bring his crew to safety in the Lena delta in Siberia. Later, he set out in search of DeLong and his men, traveling over a thousand miles in the deadly cold of the Arctic winter only to find them dead. However, he was able to recover and bring back all the records of the expedition. The third boat, under the command of Charles W. Chipp, was never found and Chipp and seven other men were presumed dead.
The United States Congress rewarded Melville for his gallantry and resourcefulness by advancing him 15 numbers on the promotion list and awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal. The incredible hardships of the expedition are described in his book, In the Lena Delta, published in 1884.
Melville was promoted to the rank of Chief Engineer during his time in the Jeannette and again went to the Arctic in Thetis in 1884 for the Greely Relief Expedition.
Bureau of Steam Engineering
Melville was an Inspector of Coal in 1884–1886, then performed his final seagoing duty in the new cruiser Atlanta. President Grover Cleveland appointed Melville Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering 9 August 1887, with the relative rank of Commodore. During more than a decade and a half in that post, he was responsible for the Navy's propulsion systems during an era of remarkable force expansion, technological progress and institutional change. Melville superintended the design of 120 ships of the "New Navy". Among the major technical innovations that he helped introduce, often in defiance of the conservative opinion within the naval establishment, were the water-tube boiler, the triple-screw propulsion system, vertical engines, the floating repair ship, and the "distilling ship."
Promoted to Rear Admiral 3 March 1899, he was appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy 6 December 1900. Melville entirely reformed the service, putting Navy engineers on a professional rather than an artisan footing.
The Annapolis laboratory was a brainchild of Melville. As Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy, he fought hard to get an appropriation of $400,000 for an experiment and testing laboratory to be located at Annapolis. In 1903, he finally was successful in obtaining the appropriation for the Engineering Experiment Station (EES).
His primary argument for the establishment of an experiment station was that it would increase the efficiency of the Navy. His idea was to establish a dependable means for testing — before installation — machinery and equipment designed for Navy ships. His secondary argument was that it could aid in training engineering officers, and therefore, it should be located in Annapolis near the Naval Academy. With characteristic modesty, Melville refused to have EES named in his honor.
Prior to his retirement, Melville headed a committee tasked with studying how to use fuel oil in Navy boilers instead of coal. They strongly recommended that a testing plant be developed to test methods of burning fuel in Navy boilers. On 18 November 1910, the Secretary of Navy authorized "... the construction and equipment, at an estimated cost of $10,000.00, of a structure simulating a naval fireroom, for the purpose of instigating the subject of fuel oil burning in connection with the design of proposed oil burning battleships" in an existing building (Bldg. 47) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This facility, the Fuel Oil Testing Plant, grew into NAVSSES.
Leaving active duty on 10 January 1903, Rear Admiral Melville spent his last years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he died on 17 March 1912.
The U.S. Navy has named two ships in honor of George W. Melville: Melville (Destroyer Tender #2, later AD-2), 1915–1948; and the oceanographic research ship Melville (AGOR-14), 1969–present.
The Navy's George W. Melville Award recognizes outstanding engineering contributions in the applications of knowledge toward research and development of materials, devices, and systems or methods; including design, development, and integration of prototypes and new processes.
The Melville Medal is awarded periodically by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in honor of the best original paper from its transactions.