Steamboats


Steamboats
   / Steamships
   As revolutionary a development for transportation over water as the advent of the railroad for transportation over land. In combination with railroad transportation, in fact, shallow-draft steam-driven riverboats that could negotiate narrow waterways with or against the current were as vital in opening up the interior of the United States on rivers such the Mississippi and the Ohio as in penetrating the African continent by way of the Congo and Nile. The first successful steamship, the Charlotte Dundas, towed barges on the Forth and Clyde Canals starting in 1801. Without either the vast interior or an interconnecting river network of the United States, however, Britain took the lead in building ocean-going steamships. The first passenger steamer crossed the English Channel from Brighton to Le Havre in 1816, and, in 1825, the 120-horse power Enterprize made Calcutta in 113 days.
   The Royal Navy was initially unimpressed with the implications of steam power, so that the commercial development of it initially outstripped its military use. At the time of its ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912, the White Star Line’s Titanic displaced 50,000 tons and could make 25 knots; when the Vickers shipyard completed Kongo - 36,000 tons and 27 knots - for sale to Japan, the gap had long since been closed. In the interim armed shallow-draft, steam-driven vessels called “gunboats” carried imperial firepower upriver into Burma in the name of the East India Company in the 1820s and were critical to Britain’s victory in the Opium Wars of the 1840s. The era of “gunboat diplomacy” for all the imperial powers lingered in various manifestations until World War I. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 put an end to the age of sail clippers for commercial use, both because steam engines had become more efficient in the use of coal while steamships could now reach any far eastern port faster than sail. In 1860, the Royal Navy launched H.M.S. Warrior, the first iron-hulled battleship, twice the length of Nelson’s Victory and propelled 5,200 horsepower engines to a speed of 14 knots. The U.S.S. Monitor, a turreted warship launched the same year, introduced another revolutionary development. The combination of steel hulls, gun turrets, and ever-improving steam power propelled warship development through the predreadnought era of the Russo-Japanese and Spanish-American Wars toward the next revolutionary change with the launch of H.M.S. Dreadnought in 1906.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Headrick, Daniel. The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981;
    Herman, Arthur. To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World. New York: Harper Collins, 2004;
    Spector, Ronald H. At War at Sea. Harmondworth: Penguin, 2001.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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