Axel Jacob Petersson

The Swedish engineer Axel Jacob Petersson (1834-1884), was a universal inventor and is famous with several books and articles, and the construction of railways and viaducts, including the famous bridge Järnvägsbron i Minnesund (launched in 1879 and still in use!) in Oslo, steam engines, a rotating camera for photography, military equipment like a bajonett and a repeating rifle and other devices, between them two very interesting calculating machines. First of the machines was presented at the Vienna World's fair in 1873, while the second was presented at the 1876 USA Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In the official report of United States Centennial Commission is mentioned:
The most important exhibits of this class [Mechanical Calculation] were the two calculating machines of Mr. George B. Grant, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the larger one of which is arranged to combine and print functions involving 100 elements. The combination of the several parts is extremely simple; the number of elements can be indefinitely increased, and the machine acts with the greatest certainty. The smaller machine, or arithmometer, is an adding-machine, which successfully rivals the well-known one of Colmar. The adding-machine of Petersson, of Norway, also deserves special mention here.

To the present time survived four of the machines of Petersson, three in Norwegian museums, and one—in the Tekniska museet, Stockholm (see the lower photo).

The machine of Petersson

The machine of Axel Jacob Petersson (© Tekniska museet, Stockholm)

The construction of the machine is based on the stepped drum of Leibniz, mounted in the center of the machine, which can be rotated by a crank. The box is of cylindrical form with diameter 9.5 cm and height 18.5 cm and is made of cast iron, brass and steel. The input mechanism consisted of sliders (5 or 6 in different variants), the output mechanism of dials (12 or 14 in different variants). The machine has also a revolution counter, which is necessary to be used during the multiplication and division. The whole mechanism seems to be simple, but very reliable and easy for manufacturing, and as a whole, it is clear that Axel Jacob Peterson was a remarkable constructor.

Axel Jacob Petersson was born in Öland (the second largest Swedish island), on 4 March, 1834. In 1852-1855 he studied civil engineering at Teknologiska Instituten in Stockholm. From 1855 until 1859 he worked in the Sveriges Kanalbygning (Sweden's Channel Building organization) and in the private Jernbaneanlæg (a swedish railway construction company). In April 1859 he was hired as an assistant of the building of a railway Kongsvingerbanen in Norway, and moved with his wife Thekla Helene Haak-Petersson to Norway.

In 1860 Axel Jacob Petersson settled in Kristiania (modern Oslo), where in 1865 he was appointed as a Head of Construction of railways. Axel Jacob Petersson and his wife Thekla Helene Haak-Petersson (12 Nov. 1838-20 March 1894) had 2 children—on 8 April, 1865, was born their son Axel Tage Petersson, in 1868 (11 October) was born a daughter—Elin Margrete Petersson.

Axel Jacob Petersson occupies a prominent place in the Norwegian railway buildings' history. In particular, he was an ingenious designer of bridges and viaducts with linked span. He brought contemporary attention far beyond Norway's borders through its beautiful solutions to difficult technical tasks.

Axel Jacob Petersson was active until 1881, when as a result of overstrain (which eventually led to mental illness) became seriously ill and he never managed to recover until his death on 15 January, 1884, in Oslo.