That from which anything springs or starts.
(HwStr: l. 60'; b. 9'; dr. 2'; s. 9 k.)
Germ, a small experimental steamer, was built privately at Gosport Navy Yard in 1841, apparently through the cooperation and assistance of the Navy Department. Designed to illustrate Lt. William W. Hunter's idea of propelling a ship by submerged horizontal paddle wheels, she made a trial trip around Norfolk harbor in March 1841. Locally, it was reported that the efficacy of Hunter's horizontal wheels was "practically proven." After two test voyages to the Dismal Swamp Canal during June, she steamed to Washington, where she was examined during the summer by interested government officials. She returned to Norfolk, then steamed to Philadelphia, New York City, and via the Erie Canal to Lake Ontario. In July 1842 Germ was reported as "running successfully as a packet" on Albermarle Sound, N.C.
Apparently convinced that Hunter's idea merited a full-size trial, the Navy Department detailed Hunter to superintend the construction of Union (q.v.). Launched at Norfolk 12 May 1842, she was propelled by a refined version of the two submerged horizontal paddle wheels. Subsequently, the Navy built the steamer Water Witch (q.v.) and the steam gunboat Alleghany (q.v.) on the same principle; but by 1849, the Navy had abandoned Hunter's wheels as an inefficient method of ship propulsion.