How Ocean Liners Used Technology to End The Golden Age of Sail

How Ocean Liners Used Technology to End The Golden Age of Sail

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The mighty sailing ship. For centuries,  ships like this had plied the world’s   oceans ferrying passengers and cargo  to far-flung corners of the globe.   But then, in the 1800s  something remarkable happened- Technology rocketed forward at an enormous rate  and the way people travelled the world’s oceans   was forever changed. Now voyages that had once  taken months could take only weeks or days and   people could enjoy comfort and luxury in  an environment that once spelt terror and   danger. What technological leaps forward  created this huge change in standards?  

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m your friend Mike  Brady and this is the incredible story of   how the ocean liners used technology to end  the days of sail and revolutionize travel. We’ve come a long way since the early days of  oceangoing travel. In just 80 years in the 1800s,   technology jumped so far forward that as aq  shipping company it was almost impossible to   keep up. Today let’s look at five aspects that  changed in those short few decades - we’ll look   at the ships that changed the game and how they  did it. We’ll consider Comfort. Size. Safety.   Power (Campania) - and how the technological   advancements were combined to create some  of history’s greatest passenger ships. But  

first - we need to understand where it all began. Once upon a time if you needed to go somewhere  you had a few limited choices - if it was across   country you’d book a carriage if you could  afford it, or even join a wagon train. But   traveling internationally was different entirely;  there was only one option and that was by ship.   Today we can just jump on a jet  in England, fly 20 hours and end   up in Australia but not too long ago that was  a 3 to 6 month trip and the voyage was brutal. 

The ocean is a wild, deadly place; waves can  run mountains-high, whipped up by winds that   could strip paint off the side of a house.  Sailing ships were the vehicle of choice for   humankind for centuries, relying on the wind  to fill their sails and drive them along.   But technological development was slow in  the world of sail and these were h-ard times.  

Sailing ships, for one thing, were made  mainly out of wood for hundreds of years;   advanced metal-working techniques hadn’t  yet been discovered or applied to the   shipping world - and wooden ships can only be  built so big. It meant that for a long time   we could only travel in tiny, wooden ships  and the conditions aboard were horrendous.   Imagine 6 months at sea with hundreds of people  crammed inside. The ships would leak and the   water inside would stagnate and mix with vomit  from the dozens of passengers who were seasick.   The gloomy inside was only lit by dim oil  lamps. There was nothing to do for weeks   on end except endure the rolling  and pitching of the ship and wait.

Then a few important things happened - iron-hulled  ships were developed that could be built much   stronger and bigger. Suddenly ships could take  more stress at sea and passengers got a little   bit more comfort, but not much. Ships were still  driven by the wind but the biggest development was   still to come. Scientists and inventors had been  experimenting with steam power for a long time,   making contraptions that could power mills  and factories but in 1783 the French marquis   de Jouffroy d'Abbans demonstrated a steam-powered  boat, the Pyroscaphe. This changed everything;   by the early 1800s steam engines were being  mounted on boats and ships of different sizes and   it was the American ship Savannah which famously  crossed the Atlantic ocean first in 1819 even   though she was essentially just a sailing ship  with a steam engine and paddlewheels bolted on.

It was the brilliant British industrialist  Isembard Brunel who combined steam engines and   an iron hull in 1845 with the SS Great Britain,  the first of its kind to cross the Atlantic ocean.   This ship was truly ahead of its time; powered  by a propeller instead of a paddle-wheel,   it could cross the ocean in just 14 days.  Without having to rely on fair winds all   the time and with an engine powerful enough  to drive it on forward, a new breed of ship   that could maintain regular, reliable crossings  was born. It was the world’s first ocean liner.

From there things took off  - but for the longest time,   sailing ships and clippers remained a  favourite of seafarers and shipping companies.   Steam engines weren’t to be trusted; they were  seen as unreliable and even worse - dangerous.   They could cause fire at sea and burn a ship to  the waterline. It would take a while for steam to   become the main choice of propulsion. Enter the  SS Atlantic, operated by the White Star Line. The year was 1870 and the company had  some stiff competition on its hands.  

At the time there was a great migration boom and  companies jostled to take control of the market;   offering regular, reliable sailings was very  important. The ships that were used by lines at   the time were small and very uncomfortable. The  leaking, creaky wooden-hull ships were gone but   passenger amenities were still very basic. This is  where Atlantic and her sisters changed the game.   They were the Oceanic class; a class of initially  four smart liners powered by sail and steam   engines that were built to a size and style of  comfort never before seen at sea. They were so  

influential White Star even ordered two more be  built. The first major stepping stone for ship   owners was to entice the general public to go to  sea in the first place; for too long people had   been suffering in small, dimly-lit packet ships  being tossed around like a cork. White Star Line   knew that to court more passengers, a new standard  of comfort and luxury would have to be set.  On the old ships, if you were a well-to-do  passenger you’d have been allotted a small   room with a tiny cot to squeeze into. There  were no public rooms; if you were lucky you’d   be invited to take meals with the captain in  the great cabin at the stern of the ship but   otherwise your only areas to explore would be your  cabin and the ship’s upper deck. Atlantic and the   other five Oceanic class steamers were like a  space-age leap forward. Across two passenger  

decks were spread a small variety of rooms for  Cabin-class or first class passengers to enjoy;   amidships was an ornate dining saloon with  comfortable seating that during the day   could serve as a lounge; it even had a pair of  bookcases and two working marble fireplaces.   Ladies had their own boudoir and toilets  and faucets with running water and within   convenient walking distance were neat,  well-appointed single or double cabins   that were a remarkable step forward  when compared to the older ships.   Fascinatingly, the bathrooms were even  steam-heated. These were some of the first ships   to have such a system set in place. Hot water was  even available, heated by steam from the boilers.   If you needed to get a steward’s attention you  could ring an electric bell and summon him.

The Migrant Class were berthed in dormitories  forward of and behind the Cabin class rooms. They   were provided with four hospital compartments,  and available bedding ; something that many   other ships had simply never offered. The Oceanic  class’s design allowed for substantially better   ventilation than what would have been seen  on ships previously, and far better lighting.   These ships had dozens of abnormally  large portholes to allow natural light in,   a revolutionary and thoughtful step in an era when  steerage passengers were previously simply locked   away below deck in ships that had no portholes  cut into the hull, and practically forgotten   about until the voyage was over. Not only that  but up on deck the big cargo hatch covers were  

fitted with massive skylights that could allow  even more natural light to flood in from above.   Even if berthed on the tween deck, the lowest  deck for passengers, plenty of natural light   would still be let in. With that much bright  light a passenger could easily forget that they   were even so far down within the ship. Early  on, Atlantic’s migrant passengers had nowhere   to take their meals; they simply ate on small  benches at the ends of their bunks but then   after a 1872 refit Migrants were given their own  benches to eat at. It doesn’t sound like much but   it was a big deal for the time when migrants  were often considered little more than cattle. Atlantic and her sister ships were industrial  wonders when they were introduced from 1871. The  

contemporary press described them as being more  like “an imperial yacht than a passenger liner”.   The White Star Line had wanted to  capture the market’s attention by   focusing on comfort - and they did  just that. But comfort was not all   and even great passenger ships are at  the mercy of the world’s vast oceans.  

In 1873 the Atlantic met a violent and terrifying  end… but that’s a tale for another day. If you’re enjoying learning about this fascinating  technology you’ll enjoy this. It took a lot of   skill in those early days to figure out how to  make steam ships as safe and efficient as they   could. Complex math and engineering completed on  the drawing board would be translated into raw   steel, formed into plates and forming the hulls  of history’s magnificent ships. Now you can learn   skills that can help you shape the world around  you and it's never been easier. Let me introduce  

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some fun - then once you’ve found out how  awesome it is get a full 20% off a year’s   subscription. You’ll be designing your own  ocean liners in no time! I’ll see you on there! Atlantic and the other Oceanic class ships  were still early steamers, relying heavily on   sails to draw speed. These were still the early  days of iron-hulled shipbuilding too; for the   ocean liner to truly triumph over the sailing  ship, passenger vessels would need to be bigger   and allow more space and amenities. Size was  important; it meant ships would handle the wild   oceans easier and meant passengers would be drawn  to what they thought was a bigger and safer ship.

Just 13 years after White Star Line had introduced  Atlantic and the Oceanic class, their competition   Cunard was hard at work planning a new generation  of liner to capture the public’s imagination.   The result was the RMS Umbria and her sister  Etruria - largely forgotten to history now but   game-changers in their own right. Atlantic had  been revolutionary in her day at 3,700 tons but by   Umbria’s day ships had grown in size. The  Cunard liner was 7,100 gross registered   tons and a hundred or so feet longer. This  increase in size didn’t come out of nowhere;   a huge technological jump forward had made  it possible; the introduction of steel.

When designers and builders figured out they  could build a ship’s hull from iron it had   been a Eureka moment; ships could be built much  larger and withstand a greater strain thanks to   the sheer strength of the metal. But iron, a  core element found in the earth, is strong at   the expense of its weight. But in the mid-1800s  a new building material had been introduced that   changed everything and made iron in ship’s  hull construction almost redundant; steel.   This metal is an alloy that combines the  properties of iron and carbon to create a   much stronger, lighter material. It's less likely  to fracture under stress and more of it can be   used in a ship’s construction without gaining  much weight. Back in Umbria’s day when steam   engines were relatively underpowered, this  was important; you could build a much bigger   ship and still go as fast as you needed  to maintain a regular sailing schedule.  

Umbria’s hull was made of steel and when she was  launched in 1884 she was a marvel; Umbria was the   largest ship afloat and in service and with an  increase in size came a few massive benefits. = A steel hull meant that Umbria could be only  1 fifth longer than Atlantic but with almost   twice the internal volume, meaning Cunard could  install a huge variety of rooms and amenities   for passengers that would make the Oceanic  class seem like they were a century old.   Instead of relying on a single main saloon serving  a variety of functions, Umbria’s first class got   access to a suite of spaces including a smoking  room, music room and ladies’ private saloon.   Even second class got their own smoking and  ladies room and at last, unlike on Atlantic,   their own dining room. The spaces were richly  and ornately decorated with carvings and heavy   velvet furnishings; in this age passengers  could at last forget, even momentarily,   that they were on a ship and might be forgiven  for thinking they were actually in a hotel.  

There was another huge change too; Atlantic and  ships like her were still lit by oil-burning   lamps; but Umbria and her sister ship  were lit throughout by electric bulbs,   eliminating the fire risk and enhancing  the image of comfort and modernity at sea. From the outside though there was another  huge visual change that conveyed sheer power.   Umbria still could rig sails - she and Etruria  were the last to be rigged as barques - but   clearly they didn’t just need to rely on sail  any more. Steam had proven itself at last,  

and while ships still kept sails as an  auxiliary or backup, they didn’t depend on them.   Just looking at Umbria’s layout you can tell  that sails were no longer the main event;   instead onlookers would have been drawn to the two  enormous smokestacks in the middle of the ship.   These two funnels gave the ship an air of size,  power and confidence and highlighted the fact that   the Umbria was powered by a reliable steam engine.  The relationship between funnels and giving an  

impression of size and speed was born in this era  and we’ll get back into it later in this video. But size brought other benefits; bigger ships  could carry more coal, more boilers and larger   engines. Not only that but a longer hullform  is more efficient at moving through the water.   Umbria was fast for her day, capturing the  transatlantic speed record at 19 knots,   but she still carried old compound steam engines  like the Atlantic had - and also like that older   ship she used only a single propeller. For ships  to go faster while getting bigger, this would have   to change - and so too would safety standards. The  next huge leap forward would see the liners focus   on safety at sea that would help prevent  ships from being sunk by minor incidents   and that would tempt the general public  to be brave and sail away with confidence. The year is 1888 - just a short four years since   Umbria was introduced and already the next  generation of ocean liner had been born.  

Once steel had become the main ingredient  for building ships the sky was the limit;   suddenly there were no restrictions on the  size of a ship because weight and strength   of ships’ hulls had at last caught up. Enter the  SS City of New York and her sister City of Paris,   two of the most beautiful ships to ever sail  and absolute gamechangers for their time.   Umbria had been a smash hit back in 1884 but City  of New York, conceived by the British Inman Line,   dwarfed her. Umbria had been 7,100 gross  registered tons; but City of New York was an  

enormous 10,500 GRT. We already know that a bigger  ship means more space for passengers; but City of   New York wasn’t just big. She was fast; this 560  foot long giant could steam along at 20 knots and   she and her sister stole the speed record from  the Umbria and Etruria. The secret to their   success was simple; another technological leap  forward that would change the ocean liner forever.

Umbria and Atlantic had both employed an early  type of engine called a Compound Steam Engine.   This type of engine dated all the way back to  the 1700s and worked by pushing steam through   massive cylinders in two stages. This meant  your engine could capture the power of the   steam as it entered the first cylinder at high  pressure before it was blasted into the next   cylinders in the engine at lower pressure. City  of New York’s engines improved on this concept;   these were bigger triple expansion steam  engines that introduced a third stage,   capturing the power of steam at high, medium  and low pressures. This type of steam engine  

became the standard for passenger ships right  up into the 20th century, powering monstrous   ocean liners like Olympic and Titanic that were  four or five times larger than City of New York.   But that was a long way off; back in 1888 the City  of New York’s triple expansion engines were a big   deal; but not just in and of themselves. City of  New York’s real secret was below the waterline   outside the hull because instead of just one  propeller, the new Inman ship boasted two.   This was the first time a pair of  propellers was mounted to an express liner.   Ships with single propellers had been prone  to shaft failure; it meant they had to carry   all those extra sails and rigging in case the  propeller shaft broke. But a twin-propeller ship   doesn’t need to worry about that; City of New  York didn’t need to carry sails for propulsion.  

From the outside she still looked a little  old fashioned with the three masts and the   bowsprit - the long spar that emerged from the  ship’s bow, a relic from the days of sail. But   these features were just mainly for looks  - City of New York was every bit a modern   liner and the twin propellers coupled  to the powerful triple expansion steam   engines meant this massive ship could steam  faster than the smaller, more lithe Umbria. Of course the new Inman ships brought even greater  enhancements to passenger luxury and comforts;   but aside from their size and powerplant  the real major developments were to safety   at sea. In the early days, a breach  in the hull meant a ship was doomed;   the outer skin was only a single layer thick and  the interior of ships weren’t split into sections   meaning any water flowing in could have its run  of the ship. Ships like City of New York changed   all that. She was fitted with a full length  double-bottom, then a revolutionary feature.   It was essentially a second inner-skin that would  protect the ship from any damage on grounding,   a fairly common accident type at the time. The  inside of the ship’s hull was then subdivided  

into 16 watertight compartments by tall steel  bulkheads that rose up inside the ship’s hull.   Thanks to disasters like the sinking of Titanic  we’re all well aware of how these worked and where   they might fail, but at the time this kind of  technology was essentially brand new and untested.   In fact City of New York’s bulkheads were even  better-designed than that of future ships like   Titanic; they went as high in the hull as the  upper decks, meaning that closing the watertight   doors would completely prevent water from spilling  over the top. Then the ship was divided lengthways   as well; a midline bulkhead separated  all the boiler and engine rooms into two.   If one side of the ship was pierced in a collision  then the water was contained only to that boiler   or engine room. With the others undamaged and  dry it could still move under its own power.   The extensive, almost obsessive subdividing of  City of New York and her sister ship City of   Paris would come in very handy. In 1890 the latter  was steaming for Liverpool when her engines raced  

and then disintegrated. The force was like  an explosion; chunks of engine block pierced   the hull and water roared in but the watertight  bulkheads kept her safe and she was towed to port.   9 years later City of Paris was off Cornwall  when a navigational error resulted in the   ship grounding hard on rocks. Less than a year  earlier the steamer Mohegan had hit these same  

rocks and sank with the loss of 106 lives. City  of Paris suffered extensive damage and was thought   to be a writeoff, but thanks to her intricate  construction she was salvaged and towed to Belfast   where she was completely repaired and returned to  service. This kind of damage would have, and did,   sink ships from earlier decades but the huge  technological jumps forward in such a short amount   of time meant that passenger ships were much, much  safer by the time City of New York was around. With the introduction of Inman’s two glamorous  and technologically advanced City ships, the ocean   liner could flaunt an impressive safety suite -  but their engines were still relatively fragile;   City of Paris’ had exploded in 1890, after all.  For the steamship to truly win out designers would   need to refine the marine steam engine and get  rid of sails for good. In 1892 two special ocean  

liners were built by Cunard Line that brought  this change; they were named Campania and Lucania. RMS Campania was a smartly proportioned liner  launched just four years after City of New York   but she was the largest passenger ship afloat at  the time of her launch at 12,950 gross registered   tons, but ships were getting bigger all the  time. Campania’s real technological leap was   down in the engine room. RMS Umbria had used  a two-stage compound steam engine and the City  

of New York had been propelled with a pair  of triple-expansion steam engines. Campania   set out to sea with the largest triple  expansion steam engines ever fitted to   a Cunard steamship. These babies were some  of the largest of their kind ever built;   five cylinders in total, putting out some 31,000  indicated horsepower. They stood 47 feet high,   about the height of a 3 story building -  so tall in fact that they reared up from   the bottom of the ship right up to about the  level of the superstructure on the upper decks. The engines turned twin propellers and their sheer   power could drive the ship through the  ocean at a record-breaking 23.5 knots.  

In Campania the ocean liner could now cross the  Atlantic in 5 days and 12 hours. Just fifty years   earlier it would have taken you two weeks in the  fastest steamship and a month in a sailing ship. Campania looked the part, taking what Umbria had  started with her twin funnels and evolving it to   almost freakish proportions; the ship boasted  two enormous smokestacks that conveyed a sheer   sense of power and stability. Not only that  but the sails and multiple masts were gone;  

here at last was a very modern-looking steamship  and the pattern had been established. Future ocean   liners like Lusitania and Mauretania would look  almost identical to Campania; just much larger and   with more funnels. The ships still sported masts  but these now served a different purpose, being   used to support cargo-carrying derricks that could  aid in loading the ship full of valuable freight.   Campania and Lucania relied on their powerful  engines to drive them to Atlantic glory;   between them they held the prestigious Blue  Riband prize for the fastest Atlantic crossing   for about 5 years. Then in 1898 a ship  came along that took the world by storm.

So far we’ve looked at four special ships  that epitomized a technological development   that drove the ocean liner to seagoing  supremacy - Atlantic for her comfort,   Umbria for her size, City of New York for  her safety and Campania for her power.   Six years after Campania was introduced on the  transatlantic run a ship came along that combined   all these developments into one and dominated  the waves. This ship created a stir and set a   new standard for each of those four areas  of oceangoing travel. Unlike the last four   ships she wasn’t British, but German. She took  the Blue Riband from Campania and Lucania in   one fell swoop and shocked the British public;  the ship was named Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. This ship has gone down in ocean liner legend  as revolutionary - but it might be fairer   to say that it was actually evolutionary,  drawing on lessons and technology refined   by the grand ships that had come before it.  In Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse the ocean liner  

of the 19th century had reached its peak. Less  than 80 years earlier sluggish paddle steamers   had chugged their way through the ocean  crossing the Atlantic in a couple of weeks.   Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse could do the  trip in 5 days flat but that wasn’t all. She was infinitely more luxurious than  Atlantic had been just 30 years prior.   Inside the Kaiser boasted palatial saloons  and lounges with a first class dining room   two stories tall. Atlantic’s passengers  had been content with one saloon but  

on the Kaiser they could choose between  drawing and smoking rooms, a Vienna cafe,   a library and stretch their legs on multiple  promenades. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was   the first liner to boast suites, with  adjoining bedrooms, parlours and baths. Umbria had entered service with  a steel hull and enormous tonnage   for her time but the Kaiser was more than two  times bigger with all the associated benefits. City of New York had pioneered a new standard of  safety at sea and the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse   incorporated all of these developments; watertight  bulkheads and doors and a double bottom. But the   Kaiser boasted an additional safety feature;  lining the ship’s upper deck were 20 lifeboat   stations to the City of New York’s 12 - even  though she carried only 100 more people. The Campania’s enormous engines had captured  the Blue Riband but the Kaiser’s power triple   expansion steam engines and her  increased length made her faster.  

The ship captured the Blue Riband from Campania  and her sister Lucania in March 1898. Campania and   Lucania had proudly carried two immense funnels  to convey size and power but Kaiser Wilhelm der   Grosse upped the ante. She was the first liner to  carry four. These carried smoke from the boilers   and weren’t just for looks - four funnels provided  the optimal draft required to efficiently heat the   boilers. The result was terrific; the world was  impressed by the sight of a four-funneled ship  

and the idea immediately caught on. To build and  launch passenger liners on the transatlantic run   that had less than four funnels from then  would appear weak. Overnight every liner   that had been built and launched before this  German superliner seemed incredibly outdated. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was impressive  - and its four funnels definitely changed the   game. But it was pioneering ships like Atlantic,  Umbria, City of New York and Campania that had   tested new technologies and helped secure the  future of oceangoing travel for the ocean liner.   The humble sailing ship was left far behind;  soon they would be all retired from service,   their crews laid off and desperate to forget  life-learned skills like sail-making and rope   knotting for steam-oriented ones; coal trimming  and engineering. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse’s speed  

record saw out the 19th century; in that short  100 years ships had developed so quickly and   rapidly that regulations had little time to keep  up. Anything seemed possible; a 20,000 ton ship, a   50,000 ton ship. It was all achievable thanks to  the efforts of the older ships - but it had been   perfected by Germany’s new superliner. Across  the world shipping companies looked at the  

Kaiser’s four golden funnels and set urgently  to work on designing their own four-stacker   superliners to challenge the throne. A new  technological arms race had begun that would   define the early years of the 20th century and  see some of history’s greatest ever ships built;   it was the era of the four-funnel liner  but that is a story for another day.

2023-05-03 23:31

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