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History of steamships

A wooden paddle-steamer, from the 1830s. It was also fitted with sails.During the later 19th century, large sailing ships almost completely disappeared as steam power took over. The first successful steam-powered vessels were built for use on canals and rivers in the early 1800s. On early steamships, the steam engine turned paddle-wheels that moved the ship along, but by the 1850s most ships were using propellers (first fitted to a steamship in 1839), instead. The first ocean-going steamships kept sails, too, because they could not carry enough coal or water for long-distance voyages, and their engines were not very reliable.

A model of John Fitch's steam-powered boat

The first steam vessels

Steam engines, perfected by James Watt in partnership with Matthew Boulton in the 1770s, were soon used to power ships. The first steam vessels were built in the 1780s (including a vessel propelled by oars, invented by American inventors John Fitch and Henry Voight) but their designs were not practical.

French inventor Marquis Claude de Jouffroy d'Abbans built the first boat to be powered by a steam engine. His Pyroscaphe, fitted with two paddle-wheels, ran against the current of the River SaƓne in France for 15 minutes in 1783.

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