History of Steam

i Mar 17th No Comments by

Book and periodical titles in this list are selected which offer technical illustrations and photographs or paintings to accompany descriptions of historical ships. Ships registers and reference books feature steam, motor, diesel and other vessels, ships in the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marines.

 Steam at Sea by Dennis Griffiths

Cover of Steam at Sea by Dennis Griffiths

Steam at Sea : Two Centuries of Steam-Powered Ships / Denis Griffiths. Conway Maritime Press, London, England, 1993

Steam at Sea: Two Centuries of Steam-powered ships provides an introduction to steam powered vessels and how the engine works. The book has black and white illustrations and photographs of steam engines and ships. Its 16 chapters are mainly concerned with the motive power of steam and how steam engines were designed for the variety of steam boats and ships: merchant ships, fighting ships and passenger liners. Included are a Glossary of steam power terms, and a General Index and Index of Ships named in the text.

View books on steamship history in the Pacific Ocean.

Title page scan of The Engine Powered Vessel

Title page of The Engine Powered Vessel

The Engine Powered Vessel; from Paddle-wheeler to Nuclear Ship. / W. A. Baker and Tre Tryckare. Grossett & Dunlap, New York, 1965.

The Engine Powered Vessel; from Paddle-wheeler to Nuclear Ship is an excellent resource for the history and illustrations of steam ships in historical sequence, from 1783 with Pyroscaphe (French) to Andorra (Dutch) in 1964. The book is world-wide in scope, naming the earliest proponents of steam-powered vessels from French, British and American sources.

Though the very first steam boats were tried on inland waterways, the intent to build larger and more powerful engines became a reality with ocean-going Savannah (American) in 1818, a ship which used sails for most of its Atlantic crossing and its steam engine for only 1% of the journey. Shipwrights and entrepreneurs sought to exploit the power of steam as the new technology to replace sailing ships. Ships eventually used wind-power less often (City of Paris, 1865) and later the paddle-wheel was replaced by screw propulsion. Eventually battleships and ocean liners were built with steam engines as the sole method of propelling the new iron hulls.

Scanned cover of Merchant Ships edited by John LaDage.

Cover of Merchant Ships edited by John LaDage.

Merchant Ships; a Pictorial Study. / John H. La Dage with Charles L. Sauerbier and others. Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge, Maryland, 1955

Divided into seven parts, Merchant Ships; a Pictorial Study gives details for the merchant seaman or candidate on types of ships, what it was like to live aboard ship, the structure of the ship, cargo handling, deck and engineering aspects of ships and a description of how ships were built and repaired.


Scanned cover of Ocean Steamers

Cover illustrated by stacks for the book Ocean Steamers.

Ocean Steamers: a History of Ocean-going Passenger Steamships 1820-1970. / John Adams. New Cavendish Books, London, England, 1993.

Ocean Steamers: a History of Ocean-going Passenger Steamships’ many illustrations include deck plans, sketches of life aboard, engravings and line drawings of ships underway, photographs in black and white for the first half of the book from 1820 to 1880; color illustrations representing postcards, posters, flags and photographs enhance the chapters dealing with the 1880s to 1970. Ships are illustrated and noted for innovations they represented. As the author details each aspect of steamship history, ship structure and propulsion wooden hulls versus steel, paddlewheels and iron screw propellers are seen for the major improvements they signified. In the twentieth century, steam had proven value and relative safety for oceanic travel, and fueled by oil and allowing ever greater ship length and luxury to its passengers. Yet another engine modernization, the diesel engine, closed the steamship era for passenger ships, beginning about 1961.

Since this book covers only passenger and not cargo or battleships, the detail is considerable in depicting ship profiles for the early years of steam, and the color illustrations of twentieth century ships. Brief paragraphs, rather than tables or lists of specifications, give the facts about each ship noted. The author intended the book to have coffee table appeal, but with information available at a glance this is a reference book for information on passenger steamships.

The Story of the P&O

The Story of the P&O

The Story of P & O: The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Revised Edition. / David Howarth and Stephen Howarth. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, England, 1994.

The Story of P & O: The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company is a history of one steamship company from about 1837 for the ensuing almost 160 years of its life. The Story of P & O presents a close look at the development of a shipping line that happened to be at the heartbeat of British colonial administration. The P & O’s passenger and mail cargo voyages from the British Isles to the West Coast of Africa and later to India made up the backbone of the company’s business with its routes directly involved with British commerce in the Far East. Included are portraits of chairmen of the board. Written by two experts in maritime history, the book is profusely illustrated. Due to the nature of the story, the book is not organized for ready reference, but is best taken chapter by chapter.


Scanned cover of the book The World's Merchant Fleets .

Cover of the book The World’s Merchant Fleets

The World’s Merchant Fleets, 1939 : the Particulars and Wartime Fates of 6,000 Ships / Roger W. Jordan. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1993.

The World’s Merchant Fleets, 1939 : the Particulars and Wartime Fates of 6,000 Ships offers the most detailed statistics of oceanic fleets in 1939. Just prior to World War II ships still used steam propulsion, fueled by oil. Listings for United States ships begin alphabetically with Alcoa Steamship Co, Inc. and end with Wisconsin Steamship Co, Inc. for each line, in addition to individual ship’s specifications (year built, tonnage, dimensions and speed, etc.) are given the funnel and hull colors (for image recognition) and areas of service. There follows a chapter entitled “Losses”, and extensive index; some black and white illustrations accompany the text.


Scanned cover of magazine Steamboat Bill, Fall 2004.

Scanned cover of magazine Steamboat Bill, Fall 2004.

Steamboat Bill is a long-running periodical or journal in the collections of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library. The Library holds consecutive issues from 1944 to 2007. There are indexes to the issues published by the Steamship Historical Society of America.


Scanned cover of magazine Power Ships, Winter, 2014.

Scanned cover of magazine Power Ships, Winter, 2014.

Power Ships is the continuation of Steamboat Bill. The Library holds issues from 2012 to the present.


The Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library maintains collections on steamship history. Please see the online catalog of books at LibraryThing.com or call the Library at 310-548-7618 for more information.


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