The adaptation of steam engines for marine propulsion caused a dramatic shift in naval and commericial ship design during the 19th Century. The transition from sail to steam hastened the demise of several classes of ships and altered shippings routes from the trade winds to great circle routing. The conduct of naval warfare was always influenced by the limits of available propulsion technology. Throughout maritime history, innovative naval commanders sought ways to overrun, outmaneuver, and outlast their opponents. Coincident developments in armaments and armor, facilitated by this “new” propulsion technology, rendered the world’s sailing navies largely obsolete within a relatively brief period of the 19th Century. This presentation highlights the major technological advances in steam propulsion from the early combination of low-speed single-acting reciprocating engines driving paddle wheels through high-speed turbines and reduction gears driving multiple-blade variable-pitch propellers; and, boilers heated by hand-fed wood and coal through nuclear fission.

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