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By Roger Chartier

 

Late 1800's Patrick Cunningham
Torpedo Inventor and Exploder of Buildings

Patrick Cunningham

Lived first in Ireland where he was a shoemaker.

He decided to immigrate too New Bedford and along with his partner Bernard Cogan invented a whaling gun, and patented it in 1877.

It was called the "Iron Cunningham and Cogan Whaling Gun".

Here is where his story gets good!

In 1892 Patrick built a 17 foot long torpedo

That was 15 1/2 inches across the forward section. It's warhead was made from copper, and could hold 125 pounds of explosive. It was made from 1/4 inch iron and could travel at 50 feet a second. It had helical ribs on it causing it to spiral through the water. This was different form the finned and propelled torpedoes.

It was propelled by four copper chambers that were packed with 242 pounds of slow burn powder. The powder was packed into the chambers at ten tons per square inch.
He was the president of the company that owned the explosive.

In 1893 he brought the torpedo to the American Navy's testing area and after the test the Navy decided that it wasn't good for more than a short distance and not accurate enough so it became a "no go" for Patrick's sales to them.

The Flying Devil - Patrick Cunningham! Notice the torpedo and on the right, the rear end of the launching tube.

Here is the big bang!

In October of 1896, during the Mc Kinley presidential election festivities in New Bedford he was not pleased as he was a pro-William Jennings Bryan presidential fan. He decided that to support his favored candidate he had to fire the torpedo.

Apparently under the influence of alcohol, he got it out of his building and sat on it to ride it down the street and using a roll of newspaper, he tried to ignite it. His son pulled him off of it, so he managed to ignite it with matches.

It managed to hiss with fire shooting from the tail and portholes. It went off hissing down the street and managed to scorch two horse drawn wagons, chasing people who ran from it's onslaught.

After hitting a tree stump it veered sideways and destroyed a store though some say it was a butcher shop.
It then finally exploded severely damaging five houses. The explosion was heard several miles away.

Four people were thrown by the blast onto a pile of debris and not really injured, but the one minor casualty was a man who was hit by metal shrapnel and lost half of his handlebar mustache.

The explosion threw shrapnel and debris all over the area.
A 75 pound chunk of it was thrown over the roofs of local buildings and found in the next street.

He got arrested and charged with maliciously destroying a building. That didn't seem to stop him from his interest in torpedoes. He gained the nicknames, "Wild Irishman" and "Flying Devil."

He built more torpedoes... He eventually bought a Schooner called "Freeman" and outfitted it with torpedoes.
On his test run the first fired but ended up 40 feet away and stuck in the mud in the bottom of buzzards bay.
The second exploded destroying the bottom of the "Freeman" and sinking it.
No person was hurt but of course he lost the schooner and what ever else of value was aboard.

What a character!

Well he quit the torpedo business at that point, but years later his designs were brought back and became an important asset as a weapon.

 

 
 
 
 

 


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