History of Ships and Navigation

Shipping Scene in San Pedro Harbor, Calif.

Cropped view of postcard: Shipping Scene in San Pedro Harbor, Calif.

The Library’s collections contain histories of sail and steam that focus on ships and their designs.

Books in the Library offer information for the model builder and information on maritime history, American history, and international maritime concerns. Material is available in the Library for research projects from beginning to advanced researcher. If researching maritime history, check the page listing books in the collection.

The collections also contain commentaries that review the age of sail or the age of steam, the political and economic climate that propelled each technology, and the people who were engaged in them.

On this page discover ways to gain a basic history of sail and steam: resources include ships registers, periodicals and essays covering over 2 millenia of maritime history. Steam, motor, diesel and other vessels, ships in the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marines are available in book and periodical titles (magazines or journals) and offer technical illustrations and photographs or paintings that help characterize a period in history. If you don’t see what you are looking for, please call the Library 310-548-7618 or see our online catalog at LibraryThing.com.

General Histories

Sailing ships from ancient Egyptian or Greek sailing vessels to American Clipper ships and full-rigged vessels:

Works on sailing ships focus on the early means of propulsion for transporting goods, passengers, and navies. The ancient to modern history of sailing shows the evolution from navigation knowledge in the ancient world to the engineered relationship between vessel sail and vessel hull when industrialization began in Europe and the Americas.

Steam ships were the latest technology for about 150 years, until after World War II when nuclear propulsion became the most up-to-date technology.

Steam engines, from Robert Fulton’s ferries about 1803, until the last steam engines which utilized diesel fuel around 1930, burned a variety of fuels that powered all sizes of ships: small vessels, ocean liners, and later, battleships. At first, vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean carried enough coal for part of the journey under steam, but also relied on their sails

See History of Sail and History of Steam for more books in the Library’s collections.