The Civil War Connections Blog

Swedish Engineer, 51, Loses Digit in Iron Foundry!

another blast from the past from our old friend Josh Graml – originally posted here on December 7, 2006:


I believe it was noted hippie songstress Joni Mitchell who noted that we never know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Now, don’t get worried; I’m not here to lament the paving of paradise or the building of a boutique and a swinging hot spot. I’m just assuming that, like most people, I really take my fingers for granted and would really miss them should they ever be violently torn from my hand.

Just like poor old John Ericsson had to endure back in 1854. It was a brisk Thanksgiving Day and Ericsson was overseeing some work at the Delamater foundry when a careless worker put his hand up to a vibrating connecting rod in order to steady it. I should point out that, though having never worked at an iron foundry, even I know enough not to touch a vibrating connecting rod with my bare hand! In pushing the man’s hand out of the way, Ericsson sacrificed his own digit: the middle finger of his right hand.

Tough old bird that he was, Ericsson pocketed the lost finger, put some tape on the stump to stop the bleeding and got right back to work. A surgeon sent by some concerned friends came by Ericsson’s house later that night, and although Ericsson insisted that everything was kosher, the surgeon removed the infected portion of the stump and cleaned him up. I’d like to point out that this was all done without the aid of ether, a delightfully effective anesthetic in vogue at the time.

Ericsson survived without a middle finger for several more decades, and even taught himself to write with his left hand, thinking that his right might not make it. The experience left Ericsson with a profound dislike for the holiday of Thanksgiving (join the club, Captain Ericsson!) and a sort of weird superstition about working on that day. And, no doubt, Ericsson probably thought twice before sticking his neck out to save anyone again.