George W. Melville
Rear Admiral George Wallace Melville, USN (Jan. 10, 1841 - March 17, 1912) was an
engineer of the United States Navy. He served with distinction during the Civil War and
eventually became chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. Melville is best known for
his Arctic explorations and his mechanical and engineering talents.
Early Life and Career
Melville was born in New York City on Jan, 10, 1841. After graduating from Brooklyn Collegiate
and Polytechnic Institute, he entered the U.S. Navy on July 29, 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, Va., area working with torpedo boats and as an engineer on the gunboat
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.
Melville's Arctic Explorations
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 onboard the USS Jeannette on Aug. 7, 1879
to seek an ocean passage to the Atlantic by way of Siberia. 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
June 12, 1881 - leaving the crew stranded on the ice floes in mid-ocean in three small boats and with
Melville was the only boat commander to bring his crew to safety in Lena Delta, 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 onboard the Jeannette and again went
to the Arctic onboard Thetis in 1884 for the Greely Relief Expedition.
Bureau of Steam Engineering
Rear Admiral George W. Melville
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 Aug. 9,
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 were the water-tube boiler, the triple-screw
propulsion system, vertical engines, the floating repair ship, and the "distilling ship."
Melville, between 1890 and 1910
Promoted to Rear Admiral on March 3,1899, he was appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy Dec. 6, 1900.
Admiral Melville succeeded in completing an extensive reform of the entire U.S. Naval Engineering department,
putting Navy engineers on a professional rather than an artisan footing.
Engineering Experiment Station
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.
Fuel Oil Testing Plant
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 Nov. 18, 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 (Building 47) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This facility, the Fuel Oil Testing Plant,
eventually grew into the Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station (NAVSSES).
Melville left active duty on Jan. 10, 1903. He is recognized as one of the founders of the Naval Surface Warfare
Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) laboratory, as well as being founder of the Naval Postgraduate School.
Rear Admiral Melville spent his last years in Philadelphia where he died on March 17, 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.