British inventors were active in this same period. Both Rumsey and Fitch ultimately sought to advance their steamboats by going to England, and Robert Fulton spent more than a decade in France and Britain promoting first his submarine and later his steamboat. In 1788 William Symington, son of a millwright in the north of England began experimenting with a steamboat that was operated at five miles per hour, faster than any previous trials had accomplished. He later claimed speeds of six and a half and seven miles per hour, but his steam engine was thought too weak to serve, and for the time his efforts were not rewarded. In 1801
Symington was hired by Lord Dundas, a governor of the Forth and Clyde Canal, to build a steam tug; the Charlotte Dundas was tried out on that canal in 1802. It proved successful in pulling two 70-ton barges the 19 1/2 miles to the head of the canal in six hours. The governors, however, fearing bank erosion, forbade its use on that route, and British experiments failed to lead further for some years.
Instead, Robert Fulton, an American already well-known in Europe, began to gain headway in developing a steamboat. British historians have tended to deny his contributions and assign them to his supposed piracy of British inventions. It has been shown that he could not have pirated the plans of the Charlotte Dundas, but the record remains largely uncorrected. Fulton's "invention" of the steamboat depended fundamentally on his ability to make use of Watt's patents for the steam engine, as Fitch could not. Having experimented on steamboats for many years, by the first decade of the 19th century Fulton had determined that paddle wheels were the most efficient means of propelling a boat, a decision appropriate to the broad estuarine rivers of the Middle Atlantic states. Fulton had built and tested on Aug. 9, 1803, a steamboat that ran four times to the Quai de Chaillot on the Seine River in Paris. As it operated at no more than 2.9 miles per hour-slower than a brisk walk he considered these results at best marginal.
Fulton returned to the United States in December 1806 to develop a successful steamboat with his partner Robert Livingston. A monopoly on steam boating in New York state had been previously granted to Livingston, a wealthy Hudson Valley landowner and American minister to France. On Aug. 17, 1807, what was then called simply the "North River Steamboat" steamed northward on the Hudson from the state prison. After spending the night at Livingston's estate of Clermont (whose name has ever since erroneously been applied to the boat itself) the "North River Steamboat" reached Albany eight hours later after a run at an average speed of five miles per hour (against the flow of the Hudson River). This was a journey of such length and relative mechanical success that there can be no reasonable question it was the first unqualifiedly successful steamboat trial. Commercial service began immediately, and the boat made one and a half round-trips between New York City and Albany each week. Many improvements were required in order to establish scheduled service, but from the time of this trial forward Fulton and Livingston provided uninterrupted service, added steamboats, spread routes to other rivers and
sounds, and finally, in 1811, attempted to establish steamboat service on the Mississippi River.
The trial on the Mississippi was far from a success but not because of the steamboat itself. Fulton, Livingston, and their associate Nicholas Roosevelt had a copy of their Hudson River boats built in Pittsburgh as the New Orleans. In September 1811 it set sail down the Ohio River, making an easy voyage as far as Louisville, but as a deep-draft estuarine boat it had to wait there for the flow of water to rise somewhat. Finally, drawing no more than five inches less than the depth of the channel, the New Orleans headed downriver. In an improbable coincidence, the steamboat came to rest in a pool below the Falls of the Ohio just before the first shock was felt of the New Madrid earthquake, the most severe temblor ever recorded in the United States. The earthquake threw water out of the Ohio and then the Mississippi, filling the floodplain of those rivers, changing their channels significantly, and choking those channels with uprooted trees and debris. When the New Orleans finally reached its destination it was not sent northward again on the service for which it had been built. Steamboats used on the deeper and wider sounds and estuaries of the northeastern United States were found to be unsuited to inland streams, however wide. Eventually boats drawing no more than 9-12 inches of water proved to be successful in navigating the Missouri River westward into Montana and the Red River into the South; this pattern of steam boating spread throughout much of interior America, as well as the interior of Australia, Africa, and Asia.
Commercial steam navigation
From the onset of successful inland steam navigation in 1807, progress was quite rapid. Fulton's steamboats firmly established Livingston's monopoly on the Hudson and adjacent rivers and sounds. Another experimenter, John Stevens, decided to move his steamboat Phoenix from the Hudson to the Delaware River. In June 1809, a 150-mile run in the ocean between Perth Amboy, N.J., and Delaware Bay was the first ocean voyage carried out by a steamboat. Subsequently other coasting voyages were used to reach by sea the south Atlantic coast of the United States to Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. Slowly and tentatively voyages along narrow seas were undertaken, and more countries became involved with steam navigation.
The first commercial steam navigation outside the United States began in 1812 when Henry Bell, the proprietor of the Helensburg Baths located on the Clyde below Glasgow, added a steamboat, the Comet, to carry his
customers from the city. It was followed soon after by others steaming to the western Highlands and to other sea lochs. One of these, the Margery, though built on the Clyde in 1814, was sent to operate on the Thames the next year; but so much difficulty was encountered from established watermen's rights on that stream that the boat was transferred in 1816 to French ownership and renamed the Elise. It competed with Jouffroy's Charles-Philippe in service on the Seine. Because of the generally more stormy nature of Europe's narrow seas these steaming packets were generally small and cramped but capable of crossing waters difficult for the American river steamboats to navigate.
The early 19th-century steamboat experiments were aimed primarily at building and operating passenger ships. Endowed with the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system, the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system, the Columbia and its tributaries, and the Colorado system, North America had virtually ideal conditions for the creation of an extensive, integrated network of inland navigation by shallow-draft steamboats. There was a strong geographic expansion under way in Canada and the United States that would be more quickly advanced by steamboats than by land transportation. North American transportation before the late 1850s was by river in most regions. This was not a unique situation: most areas subject to 19th-century colonization by Europeans such as Siberia, South America, Africa, India, and Australia had a heavy dependence on river transport.
There were some mechanical improvements that encouraged this use of steamboats. Higher-pressure steam made craft more efficient, as did double- and triple-expansion engines. Improved hulls were designed. It was, however, the general level of settlement and economic productivity that tended to bring steamboat use to an end in inland transport. A demand for shipments of coal finally made the railroad the most economical form of transport and removed steamboats from many streams
The first Atlantic crossings It was on the North Atlantic that most of the advances in steam shipping took place. Because river line and narrow-seas steaming was first to gain commercial importance, and shallow-water propulsion was easily accomplished with paddle wheels turning beside or behind the hull, that method of driving a ship was also the first to be used at sea.
Oceanic steam navigation was initiated by an American coastal packet first intended entirely for sails but refitted during construction with an auxiliary engine. Built in the port of New York for the Savannah Steam Ship Company in 1818, the Savannah was 98.5 feet long with a 25.8-foot
beam, a depth of 14.2 feet, and a displacement of 320 tons. Owing to a depression in trade, the owners sold the boat in Europe where economically constructed American ships were the least expensive on the market and were widely seen as the most advanced in design. Unable to secure either passengers or cargo, the Savannah became the first ship to employ steam in crossing an ocean. At 5:00 in the morning on May 24, 1819, it set sail from Savannah. After taking on coal at Kinsale in Ireland, it reached Liverpool on July 20, after 27 days and 11 hours; the engine was used to power the paddle wheels for 85 hours. Subsequently the voyage continued to Stockholm and St. Petersburg, but at neither place was a buyer found; it thus returned to Savannah, under sail because coal was so costly, using steam only to navigate the lower river to reach the dock at Savannah itself.
The next voyage across the Atlantic under steam power was made by a Canadian ship, the Royal William, which was built as a steamer with only minor auxiliary sails, to be used in the navigation of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The owners, among them the Quaker merchant Samuel Cunard, of Halifax, N.S., decided to sell the ship in England. The voyage from Quebec to the Isle of Wight took 17 days. Soon thereafter, the Royal William was sold to the Spanish government. The ability to navigate the North Atlantic was demonstrated by this voyage, but the inability to carry any load beyond fuel still left the Atlantic challenge unmet. Copyright (0 1994-2002 Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
The "Atlantic Ferry
At this point the contributions of Isambard Kingdom Brunei to sea transportation began. Brunei was the chief engineer of the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London, which was nearing completion in the late 1830s. A man who thrived on challenges, Brunei could see no reason his company should stop in Bristol
just because the land gave out there. The Great Western Railway Company set up a Great Western Steamship Company in 1836, and the ship designed by Brunei, the Great Western, set sail for New York City on April 8, 1838. Thus began a flow of shipping that earned in the second half of the 19th century the sobriquet "4he Atlantic Ferry" because of its scale and great continuity.
The Great Britain (1843), the first steamship with an iron hull. The Great Western Steamship Company, though the first major company organized, did not earn the pride of place one might have expected. Its next ship, the Great Britain of 1843 (see photograph), was the first with an all-iron hull; it has survived, now in the dry dock in which it was constructed in Bristol's Floating Dock, to this day. It was Cunard's steamboat company, however, that won the British government contract to establish a mail line across the North Atlantic. In 1840 the Cunard Line launched four paddle steamers with auxiliary sails - the Britannia, Acadia, Columbia, and Caledonia - which with their long line of successors became the leaders in a drive for speed and safety on the North Atlantic. From 1840 until the outbreak of the American Civil War the competition lay largely between the British lines and the American lines. During the war American shipping was greatly reduced as Confederate raiders, mostly constructed in Britain, either sank Union ships or drove them to operate under other registries. For a short period in the 1860s the United States went from being the world's largest merchant marine power to merely an importing shipping nation.
By the mid-1860s Britain had abandoned the paddle steamer for the Atlantic run, but the recently organized Compagnie Generale Transatlantique (known as the French Line in the United States) in 1865 launched the Napoleon III, which was the last paddle steamer built for the Atlantic Ferry. Early in the history of steam navigation the Swedish engineer John Ericsson had attempted unsuccessfully to interest the British Admiralty in the screw propeller he had invented. The U.S. Navy did adopt the propeller, however, and Ericsson moved to the United States. While there he also did pioneering work on the ironclad warship, which was introduced by the Union navy during the Civil War.
During the last third of the 19th century, competition was fierce on the North Atlantic passenger run. Steamship companies built longer ships carrying more powerful engines. Given the relatively large space available on a ship, the steam could be pressed to do more work through the use of double- and triple-expansion engines. That speed appealed greatly to the first-class passengers, who were willing to pay premium fares for a fast voyage. At the same time, the enlarged ships had increased space in the steerage, which the German lines in particular saw as a saleable item. Central Europeans were anxious to emigrate to avoid the repression that took place after the collapse of the liberal revolutions of 1848, the establishment of the Russian pogroms, and conscription in militarized Germany, Austria, and Russia. Because steamships were becoming increasingly fast, it was possible to sell little more than bed space in the
steerage, leaving emigrants to carry their own food, bedding, and other necessities. Without appreciating this fact, it is hard to explain why a speed race led as well to a great rise in the capacity for immigration to the United States and Canada.
Steamship transportation was dominated by Britain in the latter half of the 19th century. The early efforts there had been subsidized by mail contracts such as that given to Cunard in 1840. Efforts by Americans to start a steamship line across the Atlantic were not notably successful. One exception was the Collins Line, which in 1847 owned the four finest ships then afloat - the Arctic, Atlantic, Baltic, and Pacific - and in 1851 the Blue Riband (always a metaphorical rank rather than an actual trophy) given for the speediest crossing of the New York-Liverpool route passed from Cunard's Acadia to the Collins Pacific, with the winning speed averaging 13 knots. The Collins Line, however, did not survive for long. Collision removed the Arctic from the line in 1854, and other losses followed. The contest was then mostly among British companies
Most ships on the Atlantic were still wooden-hulled, so that the newer side-lever steam engines were too powerful for the bottoms in which they were installed, making maintenance a constant problem. Eventually the solution was found in iron-hulled ships. The size of ships was rapidly increased, especially those of Brunei. Under his aegis in 1858 a gigantic increase was made with the launching of the Great Eastern, with an overall length of 692 feet, displacing 32,160 tons, and driven by a propeller and two paddle wheels, as well as auxiliary sails. Its iron hull set a standard for most subsequent liners, but its size was too great to be successful in the shipping market of the l860s.German ships of this period tended to be moderately slow and mostly carried both passengers and freight. In the late 1890s the directors of the North German Lloyd Steamship Company entered the high-class passenger trade by construction of a Blue Riband-class liner. Two ships were ordered - the 1,749-passenger Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (655 feet long overall; displacement 23,760 tons), with twin screws, and the Kaiser Friedrich, which was returned to the builders having failed to meet speed requirements. When the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse won the Blue Riband on the eastbound leg of its third voyage in the fall of 1897, a real race broke out. North German Lloyd handled 28 percent of the passengers landed in New York City in 1898, so Cunard ordered two superliners, which represented the first steamers to be longer than the Great Eastern.
Passenger liners in the 20th century
The upper limits of speed possible with piston-engined ships had been reached, and failure in the machinery was likely to cause severe damage to the engine. In 1894 Charles A. Parsons designed the yacht Turbinia, using a steam turbine engine with only rotating parts in place of reciprocating engines. It proved a success, and in the late 1890s, when competition intensified in the Atlantic Ferry, the question arose as to whether reciprocating or turbine engines were the best for speedy operation. Before Cunard's giant ships were built, two others of identical size at 650 feet (Caronia and Carmania) were fitted, respectively, with quadruple-expansion piston engines and a steam-turbine engine so that a test comparison could be made; the turbine-powered Carmania was nearly a knot faster. Cunard's giant ships, the Lusitania and the Mauretania, were launched in 1906. The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine in 1915 with a great loss of life. The Mauretania won the Blue Riband in 1907 and held it until 1929. It was perhaps the most popular ship ever launched until it was finally withdrawn in 1934.The British White Star Line, which competed directly with Cunard, also had commissioned two giant liners. The Olympic of 1911, displacing 45,324 tons, was then the largest ship ever built. The Titanic of 1912 displaced 46,329 tons, so vast as to seem unsinkable. The Titanic operated at only 21 knots, compared with the Mauretania's 27 knots, but its maiden voyage in 1912 was much anticipated. The ship collided with an iceberg off the Newfoundland coast and sank within hours, with a loss of about 1,500 lives.