The Inventor

Britton Chance developed his passion for scientific discovery and instrumentation on his family's yacht, Antares. In the 1930s, he built a device to detect deviations in a ship's course and automatically redirect it. Successful initial tests of the Chance Automatic Ship Steering Device, later given the friendlier name Herman, led to a contract with British General Electric, which allowed Chance to oversee the installation of his device on a cargo ship bound for Australia, the New Zealand Star. Chance's experience with the steering device had a lasting impact that would shape the trajectory of his career.

Click on the images below to learn more about Chance's experience with automatic ship steering.

1. Antares was the Chance family yacht. It was here that he first discovered his love of the sea and instrumentation.
2. Chance devised a method for a ship to keep itself on course using a magnetic compass and a photoelectric sensor, which was used to redirect the ship's steering mechanism. The device pictured here was designed and built by Chance.
3. Having given the device a trial run on the family yacht, Chance was given the opportunity to test it on a much larger vessel, a 20,000-ton cargo ship named the Texas Sun.
4. This draft details the different components that make up the steering device.
5. Chance's detailed report on the Magnetic Compass in Automatic Steering.
6. The success of the steering device's initial testing raised Chance's notoriety and won him a contract with British General Electric. With corporate sponsorship, he embarked on a trip that would take him halfway around the world and change the course of his scientific career.
7. Excited by the prospect of a new journey, Chance left for Australia and New Zealand to test out his new device, which he named Herman.
8. Britton Chance showing off his device aboard the New Zealand Star.
9. Britton Chance explaining the inner workings of his automatic ship steering device.

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