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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 or call the Library at 310-548-7618 for more information.

History of Sail

i Mar 13th No Comments by
Scanned image of a color postcard, circa 1920.

Shipping Scene in San Pedro cropped version of a scanned image: color postcard, circa 1920.

The Age of Sail is known in European terms to cover about 300 years, between the late 1400s to the late 1700s. It is the history of sailboats and ships as propelled by wind power, rather than by human power on boats with oars or paddles. Most notably, it marks the period when people and goods were transported and battles were fought on sailing ships. The most advanced sailing technology of each era constantly changed over the centuries, from the lugsail-rigged Chinese junk (about 200 C.E.) to square-rigged ships merchant ships (about 1860).

Two kinds of history books

1. Commentaries on this history provide insight on the intricate relationship between the nations’ economies, their sovereignty and relative power on the world’s stage.

American and the Sea

America and the Sea : a Maritime History / Benjamin W. Labaree. Published by Mystic Seaport, 1998. This book is about ships and the maritime history of the United States. It has a very broad and formal outline of “the relationship of America to the sea”, see Introduction. In this book you will hardly find ships plans or technical details about ship design, but rather an account of what happened in each era of the development of the United States in four parts. The first part begins with a description of native American use of boats, followed by European explorers; the fourth part describes ships and the maritime history of commerce and the military in the twentieth century.

See more on America and the Sea at

See more on The Way of the Ship at

The Way of the Ship

The Way of the Ship: America’s Maritime History Reenvisioned, 1600-2000. / Alex Roland, W. Jeffrey Bolster, Alexander Keyssar. Published by John Wiley and Sons, New York, 2008. The Way of the Ship charts the growth of maritime America and its strength in overseas trade and inland transport. There is also a glossary of shipping terms, chapter notes, and an index.

Is the book suitable for ready reference, or quick answers? Yes, to the extent that the book is chronologically arranged and its sections are listed with specific chapter headings. However, the subject requires reading essays to gain a sense of the history. So it is significant for the careful consideration by the authors in specific historical eras. The detail provided in this book of forty-six essays makes it a valuable resource for not only maritime but also social and economic history.

For more illustrations a visual encyclopedic reference can be found in Ship: the Epic Story of Maritime Adventure: it’s a reference work, a book you can open to any page for visual reference to historical fact.

2. Design and engineering reviews of ships in terms of their capacity to hold goods or achieve speed or to defend a nation provide visual and textual content that accurately describe ships at particular eras of change in hull and or motive power.

The History of American Sailing Ships

The History of American Sailing Ships ./ Howard Chapelle; with drawings by the author, and George C. Wales and Henry Rusk. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 1935.

The History of American Sailing Ships by Howard Chapelle is considered a classic text on the history of ships. The author has provided line illustrations of the wide variety of wooden sailing ships. There are 81 plans and lines, the naval architectural drawings of ketches, sloops, revenue cutters, schooners, yachts; and plates, folded out drawings of frigates, packets, schooners and barkentines.


The American Sailing Navy

The History of American Sailing Navy. / Howard Chapelle. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 1949.

The History of American Sailing Navy by Howard Chapelle continues the author’s expertise in shipbuilding history and technology. Model builders consult Chapelle’s books for details not easily available otherwise.

See more books on the History of Sail at

Journal on Diving

i Feb 28th No Comments by
Cover of Issue No.2 Historical Diver, Winter 1993

Historical Diver

The Journal of Diving History publishes histories of international diving and divers written by diving enthusiasts and practitioners. The journal began with the Summer Issue, 1993 with the title Historical Diver, a title that remained until 2008 when it became The Journal of Diving History.

Articles in Historical Diver feature biographies, events and milestones in diving history from the 19th century as well as articles on famous divers. Hans Hass is featured in Issue No. 9, Fall 1996, “Hans Hass Pioneer Swim Diving”. His innovations are highlighted subsequent issues and the Summer 2013 issue of The Journal of Diving History ran a feature-length article on his life and work. See the Library’s blog on Hass.


“Sea Hunt: Television’s Epic Underwater Adventure” is the main article in Issue 16, summer 1998 of Historical Diver. “Zale Parry: the First Lady of American Diving” and “Lotte Hass Diving’s International Leading Lady” are two articles highlighting the achievements of women divers.

Cover of The Journal of Diving History, Vol. 16, Issue 2

The Journal of Diving History

Jacques Cousteau is also featured in Historical Diver with a Jacques Yves cousteau Commemorative Issue published in Fall 1997. In Spring 1998, Historical Diver ran the feature “Cousteau and Hass, an Early Timeline”. “100 Years of Jacques Yves Cousteau” is celebrated in the Summer 20120 issue of The Journal of Diving History.

The Library also holds a collection of books on deep diving and diving history. Please see the online catalog for a listing or call the Library more information at 310-548-7618.

Deep Diving

i Feb 28th No Comments by

Deep diving is a form of professional or commercial diving. It requires the use of a breathing apparatus or surface supplied air in order to descend and ascend a depth of 200 feet or more below the water surface.


20,000 Divers Under the Sea : a History of the Mediterranean and Western Atlantic Sponge Trades with an Account of Early Deep Diving. / by Torrance R. Parker. Published by Sub-Sea Archives, 2013.

The Library’s collections cover the history of deep diving and some of its technical aspects. The recently-published book on sponge diving was added to our collections.

Other histories of diving focus on deep diving, ocean engineering, underwater exploration, diving in the navy, and offshore oil well drilling. Our collection contains a variety of resources such as books by well-known authors and practitioners Torrance Parker, Jacques Cousteau, and translations from French authors, symposium proceedings, and technical manuals. The Library also holds a complete series of The Journal of Diving History. Please call the Library for more information at 310-548-7618.

Deep Diving History: See our online catalog for books on the subject of deep diving.