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Presentation on the Naphtha Launch planned for August 5

Contributed photo Bruce Trudgen, an engineering authority on the Naphtha Launch, will present information about the Naphtha Launch watercraft (above) on August 5 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Slipping along the sparkling waterways of America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Naphtha Launch watercraft was a unique feature on the water - it was propelled by boiling gasoline.

The history of this fascinating watercraft and its engine will be featured during a special presentation on Thursday, August 5 at 7 p.m. at the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria.

The presenter is Bruce Trudgen, an engineering authority on the Naphtha Launch.

Trudgen's presentation is expected to last about 45 minutes and it's free and open to the public.

Trudgen, a retired automotive engineer, said, "As an engineer, I am very impressed with the simplicity of the Naphtha engine."

Naphtha is a low-grade of gasoline and its vapor is explosive, so it was used in a condensing engine, meaning it required lots of flowing water for cooling. The Naphtha engine was small, no more than 16-horsepower, and for this reason, it was a practical application for powering small boats.

"The thing that makes this subject interesting to just about everyone is the fact that these engines were quite safe, even though they were propelled by boiling gasoline," Trudgen said.

Trudgen's presentation is particularly special because one of the six remaining Naphtha Launches in the U.S. is prominently displayed at the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria.

It is one of only two that exists as built. The "Frieda" is on display at the museum courtesy of owners, Lloyd Ferguson and Mr. and Mrs. James Lawrence.

"I'm really excited about being able to examine and photograph this one," Trudgen said.

Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum Director Bruce Olson said, "We're very excited to have a nationally-recognized expert come and see us in an educational role."

There's never been a book written about the Naphtha Launches. Trudgen is currently writing one and expects to finish it this fall.

Naphtha Launch

More than 100 years ago, there were 3,000 Naphtha Launches putting along America's waterways.

In the late 1800s, fuel for Naphtha engines sold for six or seven cents per gallon.

What did the Naphtha engine sound like? Owners described it as quiet, noisy, sullen roar, throaty roar and the sound of a blowtorch. During their glory days, a 1-horsepower 16-foot Naphtha Launch sold for $500.

About MLMM

The Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum is located at 205 3rd Avenue West in Alexandria. The museum's hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for students (ages 5-17) or $15 per family.

For more information, contact the museum at (320) 759-1114 or visit