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Louis Philip Brennan

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1909. Four wheel self propelling monorail car.
1910. Brennan monorail car.

Louis Philip Brennan (1852-1932) of the Brennan Torpedo Works.

Mechanical engineer of Gillingham.

1852 Born at Castlebar, co. Mayo, on 28 January 1852, the son of Thomas Brennan, a hardware merchant, and his wife, Bridget McDonnell.

As a child he moved to Australia and in Melbourne he invented the dirigible torpedo for coast defence.

1880 The British government provided him with facilities on the Medway for the development of the weapon.

1885 The torpedo was adopted by the government, which, in November 1886, purchased the exclusive rights for over £100,000.

In 1887 Brennan was appointed superintendent of the government factory at Gillingham, Kent, established for the manufacture of the torpedo, and remained there until 1896.

1892 Married Anna Mary (d. 1931), daughter of Michael Quinn, of Castlebarand they had one son and two daughters.

1896 Left the Torpedo Factory but remained as a consultant

Made a scientific and practical study of the properties of the gyroscope as applied to a true mono-rail system of railway transport. He had first been led to consider the desirability of such a system during his youth in Australia, where the cost of a double track over vast distances was prohibitively great. His scheme included designs for passenger coaches of extra large dimensions, with a continuous line of wheels, on the single track, running throughout the continent without break of gauge.[1]

1906 Elected an honorary member of the Royal Engineers Institute.

1907 Brennan implemented his ideas for a monorail system of transport, first at his home and later showed a model of this arrangement at a conversazione of the Royal Society.

1910 The monorail was used by the public at the Japan–British exhibition at White City, London.

WWI Brennan was employed in the munitions inventions department of the Ministry of Munitions, and from 1919 to 1926 he worked for the Air Ministry at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Hampshire, on the development of helicopters.

He developed a gyroscopically balanced automobile.

1922 C.B., Hon. Mem. R.E. Inst., Inventor of the celebrated Torpedo and of the Gyroscopic Monorail System of Transport; b. 1852; Supt. of the Government Brennan Torpedo Factory, 1887-96; Cons. Engr. to same, 1896-1907.

1932 Following a car accident, Brennan died at the Clinique Florimont, Montreux, Switzerland, on 17 January 1932. He was buried at Kensal Green Roman Catholic cemetery.

1932 Obituary[2]


An inventor of wide reputation died at Montreux, Switzerland, last Tuesday week, in the person of Mr. Louis Brennan, at the age of 80. Mr. Brennan’s name will mainly be connected with the invention of his controllable torpedo for harbour defence, but he was responsible for a number of other developments.

Born at Castlebar, Ireland, he was taken, while quite young, to Australia in 1861, and while there, at the age of 24, took out his first patent in connection with his torpedo. The attention of the British Government being drawn to this by Admiral Wilson, in command of the Australian Squadron, Brennan was invited to come to this country to submit plans of his invention. This he did in 1880, and facilities were provided at Chatham for the inventor to perfect his machine. He was granted a preliminary award of £5,000., with an annual grant of £1,000. for five years, and the exclusive rights were eventually purchased in 1887 for £110,000. Even in these days, such a sum would be considered large, but at the time it was looked upon as a very heavy sum to pay, and the deal aroused a great amount of criticism. The recommendation was made by a Commission, who laid considerable stress on the importance of the Brennan secret not falling into the hands of other Powers. There were at the time a number of other controllable torpedos under consideration by Governments abroad, and Brennan’s was only one of several inventions. Its peculiar feature lay in its method of propulsion which, with the controls, was fully discussed in Engineering in a series of articles in 1887.

Brennan made use of screws revolving in opposite directions, operated by hauling on two reels of wire, one of which was fixed to each propeller shaft. The wires were wound in by a vertical high-speed engine fixed on shore. This engine was fitted with a double winding drum and differential; either drum could be braked, when the other speeded up. By slowing down one propeller and accelerating the other, the direction of the torpedo was controlled.

Mr. Brennan was Superintendent of the Government Brennan Torpedo Factory from 1887 till 1896, and from the latter year until 1907 acted as consulting engineer to this branch. In 1896, on relinquishing his position as Superintendent, he became interested in gyroscope experiments, and in May, 1907, exhibited at the Royal Society Conversazione a gyroscope-controlled monorail car, which was arranged to run over the heads of the spectators in the room. It traversed a span of suspended cable, took 90-deg. angles without difficulty, and followed the line of a cofied rope laid on the platform. The model was 6 ft. long and was driven by accumulators. It was described and illustrated in our issue of May 10 of the year in question. Subsequently, in our issue of June 14 of the same year, we described the general principles of the double gyroscopic control adopted by Mr. Brennan. This model was followed up by a full-size car with which Mr. Brennan gave very interesting demonstrations at Gillingham. This car was 40 ft. long by 10 ft. in width, and ran on two two-wheel bogies. Power was provided by petrol-electric sets on board, and the gyroscopic and other mechanism was beautifully constructed. There is no harm in recounting, at this date, an incident which occurred during one of Mr. Brennan’s demonstrations to a large party of guests. With about 40 people distributed on the car platform, Mr. Brennan invited all to move to one side, when the control caused that side to tilt up to meet the extra load. The crowd was then asked to move to the opposite side, and on doing so rather quickly, the control, in response, tilted the car to such an extent that the stable "limit was exceeded. It is only fair to add that such conditions could be prevented in service, while it is an interesting fact that the car was ultimately righted by means of the gyroscopic apparatus only and some packing, the use of jacks, &c., being unnecessary."

During the war, Mr. Brennan was engaged with the Munitions Inventions Department, of the Ministry of Munitions, and on confidential aircraft research work. After the war, until 1926, he was attached to the Air Ministry on confidential aircraft research work, in which connection he was responsible for experiments on helicopters.

Mr. Brennan was made C.B. in 1892. He was made an honorary member of the R.E. Institute in 1906, but was not otherwise, we believe, connected with professional bodies in this country."

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Obituary of Robert Arthur Bruce
  2. Engineering 1932/01/29