Captain Ole Brude’s Egg Shaped Life Boat

Captain Ole Brude and the Ashtabula Car Ferry:  A Life Saving and Long-Lived Partnership

The restored Urade or “Brude Egg” covered lifeboat displayed outside Alesund Museum. Mariner Captain Ole Brude created the concept of a covered lifeboat in 1904, and this facsimile of the Uraed was built around 1908. Captain Brude’s covered lifeboat design is a maritime standard today.

The seas touching Norway’s shores, and the role of lifeboats combined to shape the life of Ole Brude as surely as his footprints shaped the sand on Norwegian and American beaches. Born on February 12, 1880, in Alesund, a port on the Atlantic coast of southwest Norway, Ole experienced the worlds of Norway and America at a young age. His family immigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota when Ole was still a child and they lived there for three years. His early childhood years in America were lengthy enough to allow Ole to absorb the promise and possibilities of America. The memory of these qualities in the American national character stayed vividly in his mind even when his family moved back to his native land.

Eventually, he would return to America as an adult to pursue American promise and possibilities himself.

Back in Norway in 1896, Ole Brude experienced the sea firsthand at age 16. His adventures as a sailor led him to enroll in a naval college in Alesund and later join the Merchant Marine where he earned captain’s papers. These early experiences and later, two maritime disasters drove the importance of lifeboats home to Ole Brude with the impact of a wooden lifeboat smashing against the hull of a ship.

As second mate of the steamer Athalie, Ole Brude observed firsthand how quickly, and easily stormy seas can destroy a wooden lifeboat. The Athalie encountered a severe storm on a voyage to Newfoundland and Labrador, and the captain ordered the launching of a lifeboat. An enormous wave seized the small wooden lifeboat, crushing it against the Athalie’s hull. Twenty-two-year-old second mate Ole Brude vowed that he would build a better lifeboat. When he arrived safely in Alesund, he set to work designing a better lifeboat.

Another maritime disaster in 1904, deepened Ole Brude’s determination to build an egg-shaped lifeboat that could not be crushed or would not sink. The Danish transatlantic ocean steamer SS Norge ran aground on June 28, 1904. After collecting passengers in Denmark and Norway, many of them emigrants, the Norge set a course across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City.

Caught in foggy weather, the Norge ran aground near Rockall in the North Atlantic and although she quickly reversed off the rock, the impact had torn several holes in her hull and water poured into the hold. Although the crew lowered eight lifeboats only five successfully reached the water, and many passengers jumped overboard and drowned.

The Norge sank twelve minutes after it collided with the Hasselwood Rock on Helen’s Reef. According to author Per Kristian Sebak, more than 635 people died, including 225 Norwegians. Many of them died of exposure in the lifeboats. The sinking of the Norge ranked as the largest civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic Ocean until the Titanic disaster eight years later.

The death of so many of his countrymen and the fact that he passionately believed that his fully covered steel lifeboat that sheltered survivors from the air and sea and used a sail for propulsion could save many lives encouraged Captain Brude to translate his belief into action. He expressed his feelings this way in his account of the creation and voyage of the Uraed.

 “I have been a sailor for ten years and already at a very early stage of my sea faring life I have strongly felt the need of this and taken an interest in finding out the best possible construction for it as I found the lifesaving boats of the present time very defective on account of their open construction. Storms, rough sea, and cold weather very often make it difficult to realize the chief object of the lifesaving boat to come to the aid of the shipwrecked. I came to the conclusion that lifeboats must have an over covering and be constructed in the shape of an egg with rigging, sail, and rudder so that they could be maneuvered and navigated in a fully satisfactory manner. In order to make a trial with this, I sailed from my native town Alesund across the North Sea and Atlantic to America. During this voyage it proved that my life saving boat completely fulfilled her purpose and surpassed all expectations.”[1]

 After some successful fundraising, Ole arranged for Alesund Mechanical Works to build the first model of his innovative lifeboat, which the local press dubbed “The Brude Egg,” because of its oval shape.

Now fully convinced that his new lifeboat which he christened the Uraed, Norwegian for fearless, could save many lives, Ole Brude searched for more funding sources. He got word that France offered a one-million-franc prize for an improved lifeboat, with the judging to take place at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Ole made what he considered an obvious decision. He decided to sail his new lifeboat across the Atlantic Ocean to New York to prove it could conquer the ocean, and then load it on a train to St. Louis. Estimating the trans-Atlantic voyage would take three months, he calculated he and his lifeboat and crew would arrive in St. Louis before the fair closed in December 1904.

Persuading three friends Iver Thorsen, 46, Lars Madsen, 28, and Johan Johannesen, 24, to join him on his epic lifeboat voyage, Captain Brude and his crew readied the Uraed for its trans-Atlantic voyage. They stowed provisions of tinned goods, salt meat, and ships biscuits stowed in the benches. They loaded petroleum to be used for lighting and fuel and five hundred gallons of water. The captain had invented a rain accumulator made of thin sale cloth and shaped like an umbrella that could be hung upside down on the mast. The rain accumulator would prove to be a useful tool on the voyage.

Captain Ole Brude and his crew left Alesund harbor in August 1904. The first month of their voyage featured smooth sailing with comfortable conditions and good weather. Leaving Scotland on the far horizon, the Uraed plowed ahead and reached the halfway point in its journey across the Atlantic.

The crew inside the Uraed enjoyed a snug ride. Their egg-shaped nest measured about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide, and effectively shut out the wind and water. In September, their luck turned. They lost their mast which significantly slowed down their progress even though they rode the waves westward with the help of a replacement sail they fashioned.

The voyagers spent their time chatting, reading, and smoking. Captain Brude described the movements of the Uraed as “those of a sea gull as she kept her horizontal position and lifted herself cautiously and quietly with the seas. The movements were so smooth and comfortable that swinging trays at the tables were superfluous. A glass of water could stand on the table in very rough weather without falling down.”

Although Captain Brude and his crew rode safely inside the Uraed, the weather outside their snug ship produced one of the worst winters in the North Atlantic, with stormy, cold days and rough seas. The voyage of the Uraed lasted five storm-tossed months, and after five months at sea, they landed in St. John’s Newfoundland. Since New York, not Newfoundland and Labrador, was their destination, they sailed back into the winter storms. On January 6, 1905, the waves swept them onto Pavilion Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts, forty miles from Boston. They were a month too late for the St. Louis Fair.

Gloucester Daily Times Gloucester Jan 9, 1905, after a winter storm

At Gloucester, the mariners of the Uraed received a hero’s welcome and created a frenzy of newspaper coverage. Even though they had missed the St. Louis Fair, Ole realized that newspaper coverage, publicity, and connections would be essential in his quest to promote and finance the Uraed. According to the Gloucester Daily Times account of the 2005 commemoration of the Uraed’s arrival, one of Captain Brude’s crew, Iver Thoresen, remained in Gloucester and became an American citizen.[2]

On January 16, 1905, the Uraed arrived in Boston. Captain Brude paid off his crew and headed back to Norway to file his letters of patent for the Uraed. The Marine Review, a Great Lakes maritime publication, recorded under marine patents that in 1906, Ole Brude of Alesund, Norway filed for lifeboat patent number 835,498.[3] 

A story in the Minneapolis Journal datelined Two Harbors, Minnesota, sums up Captain Brude’s voyage by praising his seamanship and noting that the Uraed resembled “a small torpedo boat with a fin.” The story said that one of the crew members was the son of the American counsel in Alesund and the crew encountered contrary winds and severe storms that carried away some of the Uraed’s rigging but that it proved seaworthy. The trip was made in 112 days, and the story claimed that the Uraed was the first ship” that has ever crossed the Atlantic on its own bottom.”[4]

  Optimistic about the future of his unusual egg-shaped lifeboat, Captain Brude established his own company in Alesund and began building lifeboats, but economics and timing were riptide detrimental to his progress. In the early twentieth century, producing one of his lifeboats would cost about 2,000 crowns while a classic open wooden lifeboat could be manufactured for about one hundred crowns. Captain Brude’s ideas were far ahead of his time and pocketbook.

Captain Brude and his Uraed also battled the heads – at times he probably thought lunkheads- of the maritime establishments. After the Titanic sank in April 1912, he unsuccessfully approached the White Star Line with the plans of his lifeboat. Even though the sinking of the Titanic underscored the vital role of the quality and quantity of lifeboats, the loss of life did not change the minds or practices of the White Star or other shipping lines. It seemed like shipyards and ship owners could glimpse the possibilities of his Uraed, but they were not willing to expend the energy and economic investments it took to overcome the resistance of established maritime traditions and make his innovative lifeboat a reality. The captain could sell only about twenty-three of his lifeboats, and he finally went out of the lifeboat manufacturing business.

But Captain Brude still believed in his lifeboat and its life saving potential and he was not about to give up on his idea.

The Egg-Shaped Lifeboat and the Ashtabula Car Ferry

Picture credit Joe DiDonato

The Ashtabula Car Ferry is Born

 The Ashtabula Car Ferry was built in 1906 at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in St. Clair, Michigan. On May 12, 1906, the Ashtabula Car Ferry was launched at Detroit, Michigan. The J.W. Ellsworth Company of Cleveland owned the ferry which could transport thirty railroad cars of coal. After the Ashtabula Car Ferry was launched, it received the finishing touches and then was sent to Ashtabula. The Ashtabula Ferry then was put in service and made her maiden voyage to the Canadian port of Port Burwell. The ferry transported coal for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

The Ashtabula Car Ferry arrived in Ashtabula at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, 1906.

Captain Ole Brude and the Ashtabula Car Ferry with the help of Captain Benjamin T. Haagensen would soon find their destinies intermingled. In 1909, Captain Ole Brude emigrated to America, for a time settling in Hibbing, Minnesota where his parents, Lars and Amelie lived. He worked various jobs to support himself, including farming and running a sawmill, and sailing the lakes, but he vowed to continue to promote and produce his lifeboat.

Once again, Captain Ole Brude’s persistence and salesmanship produced results. A story in the Marine Review of January 1913, reported that a new type of lifeboat had been tested on the Car Ferry Ashtabula in Ashtabula Harbor on Monday, January 6, 1913.

The test results were so favorable that the lifeboat had been adopted as part of the car ferry’s lifesaving equipment.

The story stated that Captain Ole Brude had invented the lifeboat which was the same type as the Uraed that he had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1904. It emphasized that the lifeboat, shaped like an egg and entirely covered over, featured a sliding keel to prevent drifting and rolling. A railing on top provided safe passage to the lookout tower for the helmsman to secure a complete panoramic view through four glazed portholes. The bow of the ship had a double bottom divided into four watertight compartments which could be accessed through manholes. The compartments were used for storing provisions, water, and other necessities. If a sudden disaster occurred with no time to get the boat overboard, it could be released from its tackles and would float on the water as the ship sank.[6]

Encouraged by his success with the Car Ferry Ashtabula, Captain Brude stopped in Lake Erie port cities promoting the advantages of his lifeboat. The Marine Review of January 1914 noted that Captain Ole Brude was in Cleveland trying to interest the lake men in installing his lifeboat.[7]

Captain Brude and Captain Haagensen, both Norwegians, and both friends, combined forces to introduce his lifeboat to mariners who resisted the introduction.

Captain Brude had served with Captain B.T. Haagensen on the Car Ferry Maitland and the two formed a partnership that produced lasting results. A letter from the Marine National Bank of Ashtabula, located on Bridge Street in Ashtabula Harbor, dated March 2,1914, and signed by William B. Hubbard, assistant cashier, attested to the character and accomplishments of Captain Haagensen.

The Marine Review story, the letter of recommendation for Captain Haagensen from the Marine National Bank of Ashtabula Harbor, and an application for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate of Citizenship from Captain Ole Brude, support the newspaper reports that Captain Haagensen served as the representative for Captain Ole Brude’s lifeboat.[8] 

In his application, Captain Brude listed one of the ships he served on as the Maitland and Captain Haagensen had served as master of the Maitland in the time frame of Captain Brude’s campaign for the Lake masters to adopt his lifeboat. The Great Lakes Engineering Yard at Ecorse, Michigan, laid the keel of the Maitland on March 13, 1913, and it was built as a steel, twin screw, cross lake railroad car ferry.

Launched on November 8, 1913, the Maitland was enrolled at Cleveland, Ohio on October 20, 1916, to the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Navigation Company at Ashtabula, Ohio with its home port of Fairport, Ohio. After a brief stint on Lake Michigan, the Maitland began carrying railroad cars between Ashtabula, Ohio and Port Maitland, Ontario. Captain Haagensen and Captain Brude served on the Matiland together and also developed a friendship.[9]

Captain Brude’s Citizenship Application also noted that the District Court at Duluth, Minnesota issued him his naturalization documents on January 28, 1915. Although Captain Brude stated that he lived in Bear Lake Minnesota at the time he filed the application, he made many trips throughout the Great Lakes Region promoting his lifeboat. Reading his application reveals that the Captain measured five feet six inches tall, he had a medium complexion and brown hair and blue eyes. Like a true sailor, he had an anchor tattoo on his left arm.[10]

Thanks to the efforts of Captain Ole Brude, and Captain B.T. Haagensen, the Phoenix Foundry & Machine Company in Ashtabula had built the American prototype of the Uraed in 1912. In a letter to the Brude Company in Norway which he wrote in Swedish, Captain Haagensen told about the building of the lifeboat at Phoenix Foundry & Machine Company in 1913. Authorities in Washington later approved the lifeboat.[11]

The Car Ferry Ashtabula plied Lake Erie between Ashtabula, Ohio, and Port Burwell, Ontario, Canada from 1906 to 1958. After the Maitland and the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 ceased operations in the 1930s, the Ashtabula was the only car ferry on Lake Erie. Ironically, she sank at her own dock when she collided with the steamer Ben Moreell. Too badly damaged to be salvaged, she was scrapped in 1959.

The sinking of the Car Ferry Ashtabula marked the end of an era for the city and its people who flocked to the harbor to witness its coming and goings and watch it settle safely at its dock. The 51-mile trip across Lake Erie took about three hours and 45 minutes and Ashtabula citizens were on hand to watch it depart and return to its home port. Its whistle punctuated daily Ashtabula activities.

Ashtabula maritime museum member Neil Barton holds the name board from the Ashtabula Car Ferry. He is also a former U.S. Coast Guard member and was the Ashtabula Lighthouse keeper from 1957-1959. He was the one on duty from September 18,1958, when the Ashtabula Car Ferry sank in Ashtabula Harbor.

Historian Carl Feather’s You Tube video brings home the impact of the Car Ferry Ashtabula’s sinking to the city of Ashtabula and its people.

Car Ferry Ashtabula

No one is sure what happened to the Brude lifeboat after the Car ferry Ashtabula was scrapped. Brian Hubbard, Executive Director of the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum, remembers playing in the lifeboat with his friends as a young boy and believes that remained in the harbor for several years. But he is not sure about its ultimate fate. It is unfortunately likely that the Brude lifeboat suffered the same fate as the Car ferry it served.

Captain Brude’s Lifeboat Goes to War

Captain Brude’s lifeboat was used by Norwegian and Spanish warships in the First World War. In a newspaper story near the end of his life, Captain Brude recalled with pride that thirty-one men on a Spanish merchant ship traveled three hundred miles to shore and safety in his lifeboat when the Germans torpedoed their ship

Retiring from his sailing career in 1925, Captain Brude left the sea and became an agent for an oil company in Minnesota. He retired in 1945 and left to make his home in Edmonds, Washington.

At the end of the Second World War, in 1948, the townspeople of Alesund celebrated the 100th anniversary of their town and they honored Captain Ole Brude by paying his way to Alesund and back. They held a festival and named a waterfront street in his honor. Captain. Brude also had an audience with the King of Norway and the French government awarded him a porcelain plaque for his lifeboat achievements.

 Captain Ole Brude died in Edmunds, Washington on November 4, 1949. His aunt, Mrs. Marie Weibust of Seattle and his sister Mrs. Peter Cain of Edmunds and a niece, Mrs.Iver Leland of Seattle, survived him. Captain Brude is buried in Alesund, Ovre Cemetery in Alesund, Norway.

 The Alesund Museum exhibits a restored boat of a1908 version of the Uraed and in the 20th and 21st centuries, many mariners rediscovered his lifeboat design and many modern ships carry Brude inspired lifeboats.

 Descendants from the family of Captain Brude’s brother now run the Brude Safety Company, which produces ship safety technology, although it does not hold the patent for the Uraed.

Captain Ole Brude contributed more than his patent to maritime history. His lifeboat gave mariners the gift of surviving and a second chance at life.

With its paint a little worse for wear, but still intact and seaworthy, the Uraed landed in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It is interesting to image the reaction of Gloucester citizens when four uniformed men stepped out of the egg-shaped boat.

Captain Ole Brude (left) and the crew of the Uraed.

The Uraed sailing at sea.

The Uraed ending its Atlantic Ocean voyage.

Captain Ole Brude (left) and Captain Benjamin T. Haagensen.

Captain Ole Brude’s lifeboat.

Captain Ole Brude’s lifeboat on the Car Ferry Ashtabula.


[1] Captain Brude’s Life Saving Boat the Uraed   

 Capt. Brude’s Life Saving Boat the “Uraed”: An Illustrated Description of … – Ole Brude – Google Books

[2] Gloucester Daily Times, January 5, 2005

[3] Marine Review, 1906, p, 34. Patent No. 835,498. Ole Bude, Aalesund, Norway.

[4] Special to the Journal. Minneapolis Journal November 25, 1904, page 2.

[5] Ashtabula Star Beacon, The Twentieth Century in Ashtabula, 1906, Part I. Darrell Hamilton. 2000.

[6] Marine Review, January 1913, p. 34

[7] Marine Review, January 1914, p. 7/

[8] Letter from Ole Michael Ellefsen, Alesund Museum to the Ashtabula Maritime Museum, dated March 18, 2004

[9] In June 1932, the Maitland was laid up at Ashtabula after the Welland Canal opening made direct coal shipments from lower Lake Erie ports to Hamilton, Ontario, possible. In 1936, the Nicholson-Universal Steamship Company of Detroit, Michigan bought the Matiland to carry automobiles across Lake Michigan from Muskegon, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the sale was cancelled in 1937 because of ownership conflicts and the Maitland returned to its former owner and was laid up at Ashtabula, Ohio. The United States Shipping Administration in Washington DC requisitioned the Maitland in 1942 to use engines to power two Ford Motor Col barbes – Lake Pleasant and Lake Sapor for off Lake’s service during the war.  In November 1942, the Hull was sold to Roen Steamship Company in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to replace the barge Transport which had been lost September 22, 1942. In 1973, the Transport Hull was sold to Eder Barge & Towing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1978, it was sold to Bultema Marine Transportation Company in Muskegon, Michigan and in 1980 was it sold for off-Lakes service and left the Great Lakes.  In 1980 it was renamed Trio Trado and operated in Honduras.  On January 10, 1981, it foundered between Yarmouth Nova Scotia and Rockland, Maine in the Atlantic Ocean.

 See history in Great Lakes Ships We Remember III p. 237

[10] records

[11] Letter from Ole Michael Ellefsen, Alesund Museum to the Ashtabula Maritime Museum, dated March 18, 2004