Edward Wellman Serrell Aeronautical Papers

Collection ID:
Serrell, Edward Wellman
bulk 1865-1867
Physical Description:
0.13 cubic feet
(1 box)

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of a draft of Serrell's report on his activities and on the design of the Valomotive, February 10, 1865; his undated memorandum on the design of the Valomotive; Serrell's undated notes for a pamphlet "On the Subject of Navigating the Air by Steam;" a drawing of rotors and machinery of the Valomotive; and a drawing of a flying machine designed by F. H. Raffey. Also included is a draft of an agreement or contract between Serrell and an unnamed correspondent, dated March 26, 1866. Correspondence in the collection includes eleven letters to Serrell from Mortimer Nelson (January to August 1866), an early aeronautical researcher who patented an "Aerial Car" in 1861; two letters from F. W. Brearey, the secretary of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain; a letter from aeronautical pioneer F. H. Wenham of the Aeronautical Society to Brearey; and a photocopy of a letter to Serrell from P. T. Barnum, dated May 10, 1866, in which Barnum proposes exhibiting Serrell's Valomotive. The collection also includes several invoices or receipts from Serrell's project.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Edward Wellman Serrell (1826-1906), a civil engineer and Union army general, was born in London on November 5, 1826. His family immigrated to the United States in 1831, settling in New York City. Serrell became a civil engineer, working in railroad and bridge design and construction. He worked at times for the Erie Railroad, the Northern Railroad of New Hampshire, the New Jersey Central Railroad, and the Union Pacific Railroad. He also assisted in the 1848 Panama Survey. Serrell prepared plans and supervised the construction of several bridge projects: the Niagara River suspension bridge at Lewiston in 1850, the St. John, New Brunswick bridge, and the St. Lawrence bridge at Quebec. He served as chief engineer of the Hoosac Tunnel (1855-56)
Biographical / Historical
At the beginning of the Civil War, Serrell organized the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers (1NYVE). In October 1861, Serrell was appointed as a lieutenant colonel of the 1NYVE and was promoted to full colonel, commanding the unit, in February 1862. The 1NYVE took part in the 1862 South Carolina campaign, beginning with the expedition to Port Royal, October 21 to November 7, 1861. Serrell served as chief engineer of the 10th Corps and of the Army of the James, and also served as chief of staff of the Army of the James as a brevet brigadier general. While at Port Royal, General Ormsby Mitchell, commanding the 10th Corps, became interested in the possibilties of aerial reconnaissance. Serrell demonstrated a wind-up toy helicopter to Mitchell, and proposed building a full sized flying machine. Mitchell died soon thereafter, but Serrell later demonstrated in 1864 an improved toy to Major General Benjamin Butler, commanding the Army of the James. Serrell's toy helicopter reached an altitude of over one hundred feet. Butler ordered Serrell to build a full-sized machine. Moving to New York, and with funding provided by wealthy oilmen, Serrell designed a fifty-two foot cigar-shaped craft, equipped with a high-pressure steam boiler and "gliding planes" (wings), and four "fans" -- two for lift and two for propulsion. The rear fan was designed to swivel, thus serving as a vectored thrust propeller. The craft, variously called the "Valomotive" and the "Reconoiterer," was assembled in Hoboken, New Jersey. Serrell contacted with the firm of Bennett and Risley of New York City to build a powerful but light steam engine; the design and construction of their engine was delayed until the Confederate surrender in April 1865 ended Army interest in Serrell's project, though he continued to correspond on the project into 1866. After the war, Serrell worked as a consulting engineer to many corporations, and served as president of the Washington County Railroad. Edward Wellman Serrell died on April 25, 1906, at Rossville on Staten Island, New York.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
No restrictions on access.
Preferred Citation
Edward Wellman Serrell Aeronautical Papers, Accession 2011-0040, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
Conditions Governing Use
Material is subject to Smithsonian Terms of Use. Should you wish to use NASM material in any medium, please submit an Application for Permission to Reproduce NASM Material, available at Permissions Requests

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Aeronautics Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Steam-engines Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Serrell Helicopter (1861)l Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Invoices Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Notes Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Air and Space Museum Archives
14390 Air & Space Museum Parkway
Chantilly, VA 20151