My mother worked at the US Naval Station in Brunswick Maine for over 30 years and I grew up hearing everything about the Navy. One of the most colorful people my mom always talked about was Admiral Rickover. Last year I read this great book that was written in his own words called “The Never-Ending Challenge of Engineering: Admiral H.G. Rickover”. It was an amazing book and it really discussed a depth of engineering that I have always been fond of.
One story that the Admiral talks about in one of his speeches is about the Chief Engineer of the USS Oregon named Robert Milligan who served during the Spanish war of 1880’s. He talks about how Milligan changed the way engineers were treated in the Navy – before his tenure they were nothing more then part of the crew, but after that, they are part of the thinking officers on the ship.
As the story goes, the captain of the Oregon listened to Milligan while working the blockade and let him keep the boilers slowly burning so they could get to full speed fast! This allow them to catch the fastest of the Spanish ships as it tried to out race the entire US Navy.
Another story about Milligan on the Oregon was when they were going from California to Cuba as quickly as possible, the Captain asked Milligan to use the limited fresh water for the crew and use seawater for the boiler. Milligan asked if he could speak freely and recommended using the boiler feed water for the crew and fresh water for the boilers. His changed allowed the ship to do the massive trip in 66 days (this was before the Panama canal and had to go around South America). This forged the relationship between the two men and allowed engineering to have a larger role in the ship decisions.
The best thing about this description of Milligan was the engineer’s engineer as Rickover describes him. The statement about walking down the engine room and hearing every noise knowing if the equipment is working correctly exemplifies that mindset- that was also a trait of Rickover when he was coming up in the Navy. People from other ships would ask his opinion because he knew equipment so well.