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Who Really Invented the Ironclad?

Find out the truth behind the invention of the ironclad!

Who Really Invented the Ironclad?

Who Invented the Ironclad?

The Need for a Stronger Navy

The use of wooden ships in naval battles had been commonplace for centuries, but by the mid-19th century, it became clear that wooden ships were no match for new technologies such as steam engines and rifled guns. The vulnerability of wooden ships was demonstrated in the Crimean War, where the Russian navy was virtually destroyed by British and French forces. This led to the development of iron-hulled ships, which proved to be much stronger but were still vulnerable to attack. Enter the ironclad.

The ironclad was a new type of vessel that was heavily armored and virtually impervious to attack by gunfire. It was an invention that was sorely needed in the changing landscape of naval warfare.

The First Ironclads

The first ironclad vessel was the French ship La Gloire, which was launched in 1859. It was a revolutionary design, with a wooden hull covered by 4.5 inches of iron plating. This made it virtually impervious to attack by naval guns. The British soon followed suit with their own ironclad vessel, the HMS Warrior, launched in 1860. Like La Gloire, the HMS Warrior had a wooden hull covered with iron plating, but it was even more heavily armored, with up to 6 inches of iron in places.

The success of La Gloire and the HMS Warrior sparked a new arms race, with other countries quickly developing their own ironclad vessels. The United States Navy also recognized the importance of this new technology and began developing its own ironclad vessels.

John Ericsson and the USS Monitor

One of the most important figures in the development of the ironclad was the Swedish-American engineer John Ericsson. Ericsson had designed several steam-powered vessels for the United States Navy, including the USS Princeton, which was the first ship to be powered by a screw propeller. After seeing the success of the French and British ironclads, Ericsson set out to design a new type of vessel that would be even more revolutionary.

The result of Ericsson's work was the USS Monitor, which was launched in 1862. The Monitor was a radical departure from previous designs, with a low-slung, armored turret that protected the ship's guns and crew. The turret allowed the guns to be aimed in any direction, making the vessel more maneuverable than previous ironclads. The Monitor was also powered by a steam engine, which gave it a top speed of eight knots.

The USS Monitor saw action during the American Civil War, most notably in the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862. In this battle, the Monitor engaged in a fierce duel with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, which had been built using the salvaged hull of the USS Merrimack. The battle was inconclusive, but it was a turning point in naval warfare. It proved that ironclads were here to stay and that the future of naval warfare lay in heavily armored, steam-powered vessels.

In conclusion, the invention of the ironclad was a game-changer in naval warfare. It was the product of changing technologies and a need for stronger, more heavily armored ships. The development of the ironclad was a race between nations, each vying for supremacy in the seas. John Ericsson's USS Monitor was a particularly significant addition to this new technology, providing new ideas and designs that would shape the future of naval warfare. Today, the legacy of the ironclad lives on, with modern naval vessels incorporating many of the same technologies and design principles that were first pioneered in the mid-19th century.

The Impact of the Ironclad

Changing Naval Warfare Forever

The invention of the ironclad, a steam-propelled warship with iron armor plating, changed the course of naval warfare. Prior to the ironclad, ships were primarily made of wood and vulnerable to enemy fire. The ironclad was developed during the mid-19th century, with France and Britain leading the way in its creation.

The first operational ironclad was the French ship La Gloire, which was launched in 1859. La Gloire was equipped with 12 heavy guns and a wooden hull covered in iron plates. It was soon followed by the British HMS Warrior, which was the first iron-hulled ironclad ship. Warrior had a top speed of 14 knots and was armed with 40 guns. These new ships were virtually invulnerable to enemy fire and allowed for new tactics in naval warfare.

The ironclads paved the way for future naval innovations, and their armor plating led to the use of thicker armor on battleships. The development of ironclads also led to the creation of naval torpedo boats and submarines.

Political and Diplomatic Ramifications

The impact of ironclads was not limited to military strategy. They also had political and diplomatic ramifications. With the increased power and importance of ironclads, nations vied for naval supremacy and territory. This led to diplomatic tensions and arms races, particularly between European powers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, France's lack of modern ironclads was one of the factors that contributed to their defeat. The increased significance of ironclads and naval power was also evident during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japan's defeat of the Russian navy helped establish Japan as a major power and led to tensions between Russia and western nations.

The diplomatic and political implications of ironclads continued into the First World War, with the naval arms race being one of the factors that contributed to the outbreak of war. The British and German navies competed for control of the seas, with both sides investing heavily in technological advancements and weaponry.

Legacy and Continued Development

The lasting impact of the ironclad can still be seen today in modern naval technology and the continued development of armored ships, submarines, and other maritime innovations. The principles of armor plating and the use of steam power are still key components of modern naval ships.

As technology has advanced, modern navies now use state-of-the-art materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, and composites for armor. The use of advanced computer systems, sensors, and weapons have also made today's navy an even more formidable force.

The development of the ironclad led to the creation of other types of ships such as gunboats, torpedo boats, and battleships. The use of submarines and aircraft carriers also evolved from the concept of the ironclad. The legacy of the ironclad can be seen in the continued development of modern naval technologies.


The invention of the ironclad was a turning point in maritime history. Its influence on naval warfare, technology, and diplomacy is still felt today. The development of ironclads paved the way for future naval innovations while also leading to diplomatic tensions and arms races. As technology continues to evolve, the principles of the ironclad continue to be used and adapted for modern naval ships.

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