AskDefine | Define steamboat

Dictionary Definition

steamboat n : a boat propelled by a steam engine

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A boat or vessel powered by steam.
    1870 ''By and by the steamboat intruded. Then for fifteen or twenty years, these men continued to run their keelboats down-stream, and the steamers did all of the upstream business, the keelboatmen selling their boats in New Orleans, and returning home as deck passengers in the steamers. — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi'', Chapter 3.


Extensive Definition

A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving a propeller or paddlewheel.
The term steamboat is usually used to refer to smaller steam-powered boats working on lakes and rivers, particularly riverboats; steamship generally refers to steam-powered ships capable of carrying a (ship's) boat. The term steamwheeler is archaic and rarely used.
Steamships gradually replaced sailing ships for commercial shipping through the 19th century, and they were overtaken by diesel-driven ships in the second half of the twentieth century. Most warships used steam propulsion until the advent of the gas turbine. Today, nuclear-powered warships and submarines use steam to drive turbines, but are not referred to as steamships or steamboats.
Screw-driven steamships generally carry the ship prefix "SS" before their names, meaning 'Steam Ship' (or 'State Ship' (U.S.)), paddle steamers usually carry the prefix "PS" and steamships powered by steam turbine may be prefixed "TS" (turbine ship). The term steamer is occasionally used, out of nostalgia, for diesel motor-driven vessels, prefixed "MV".

Early development

The French inventor Denis Papin, after inventing the steam digester, a type of pressure cooker, built a model of a piston steam engine, the first of its kind in 1690. He continued to work on steam engines for the next fifteen years. During a stay in Kassel, Germany, in 1704, he also constructed a ship powered by his steam engine. The engine was mechanically linked to paddles. This would then make him the first to construct a steam boat.
In 1736, Anetta Johnson took out a patent in England for a Newcomen engine-powered steamboat, but it was the improvement in steam engines by James Watt that made the concept feasible. William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, having learned of Watt's engine on a visit to England, made his own engine and in 1763 attempted to put it in a boat. The boat sank, and while he made an improved model he does not seem to have had much success, though he may have inspired others.
In France, by 1774 Marquis Claude de Jouffroy and his colleagues had made a 13 metre (42 ft 8 in) working steamboat with rotating paddles, the Palmipède. The ship sailed on the Doubs in June and July 1776, apparently the first steamship to sail successfully. In 1783 a new paddle steamer, Pyroscaphe, successfully steamed up the river Saône for fifteen minutes before the engine failed, but bureaucracy thwarted further progress.
From 1784 James Rumsey built a pump-driven (water jet) boat and successfully steamed upstream on the Potomac river in 1786; the following year he obtained a patent from the State of Virginia. In Pennsylvania, John Fitch, an acquaintance of Henry, made a model paddle steamer in 1785, and subsequently developed propulsion by floats on a chain, obtained a patent in 1786, then built a steamboat which underwent a successful trial in 1787. In 1788, a steamboat built by John Fitch operated in regular commercial service along the Delaware river between Philadelphia PA and Burlington NJ, carrying as many as 30 passengers. This boat could typically make 7 to 8 miles per hour, and traveled more than during its short length of service. The Fitch steamboat was not a commercial success, as this travel route was adequately covered by relatively good wagon roads. The following year a second boat made 50 km (30 mile) excursions, and in 1790 a third boat ran a series of trials on the Delaware River before patent disputes dissuaded Fitch from continuing.
Meanwhile, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, near Dumfries, Scotland, had developed double-hulled boats propelled by cranked paddlewheels placed between the hulls, and he engaged engineer William Symington to build his patent steam engine into a boat which was successfully tried out on Dalswinton Loch in 1788, and followed by a larger steamboat the next year. Miller then abandoned the project, but ten years later Symington was engaged by Lord Dundas, and in March 1802, Charlotte Dundas towed two 70 ton barges 30 km (19 miles) along the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow. This vessel, the first tow boat, has been called the "first practical steamboat", and the first to be followed by continuous development of steamboats. Although plans to introduce boats on the Forth and Clyde canal were thwarted by fears of erosion of the banks, development was taken up both in Britain and abroad.
Steamboats on major American rivers soon followed Fulton's success. In 1811 the first in a continuous (still in commercial passenger operation as of 2007) line of river steamboats left the dock at Pittsburgh down the Ohio River and on to New Orleans. Mark Twain, in his Life on the Mississippi, described much of the operation of these vessels. For most of the 19th century and part of the early 20th century, trade on the Mississippi River would be dominated by paddle-wheel steamboats. Their success led to penetration deep into the continent, where Anson Northrup in 1859 became first steamer to cross the U.S.-Canadian border on the Red River. They would also be involved in major political events, as when Louis Riel seized International at Fort Garry, or Gabriel Dumont was engaged by Northcote at Batoche. Very few such craft survive to the present day. Most were destroyed by boiler explosions or fires. One of the few surviving Mississippi sternwheelers from this period, Julius C. Wilkie, is a museum ship at Winona, Minnesota. For modern craft operated on rivers, see the riverboat article.
The cartoon Steamboat Willie introduced steamboat pilot Mickey Mouse to the public.
The Belle of Louisville, out of Louisville, Kentucky is the oldest continually operating steamboat on the inland waterways of the United States: she was laid down as Idlewild in 1914.
In Canada, the city of Terrace, British Columbia, celebrates "Riverboat Days" each summer. The Skeena River passes through Terrace and played a crucial role during the age of the steamboat. The first steamer to enter the Skeena was Union in 1864. In 1866 Mumford attempted to ascend the river but was only able to reach the Kitsumkalum River. It was not until 1891 Hudson's Bay Company sternwheeler Caledonia successfully negotiated Kitselas Canyon and reached Hazelton. A number of other steamers were built around the turn of the century, in part due to the growing fish industry and the gold rush. For more information, see Steamboats of the Skeena River.
Sternwheelers were an instrumental transportation technology in the development of Western Canada. They were used on most of the navigable waterways of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C and the Yukon at one time or another, generally being supplanted by the expansion of railroads and road access. In the more mountainous and remote areas of the Yukon and British Columbia, working sternwheelers lived on well into the 20th century.
The simplicity of these vessels and their shallow draft made them indispensable to pioneer communities that were otherwise virtually cut off from the outside world. Because of their shallow, flat bottomed construction, (the Canadian examples of the western river sternwheeler generally needed less than three feet of water to float in) they could nose up almost anywhere along a riverbank to pick up or drop off passengers and freight. Sternwheelers would also prove vital to the construction of the railroads that would eventually replace them, and were used to haul supplies, track and other materials to construction camps.
The simple, versatile locomotive-style boilers fitted to most sternwheelers after about the 1860s could burn coal in more populated areas like the lakes of the Kootenays and the Okanagan region in southern B.C. or wood in the more remote areas such as the Yukon or northern B.C.
The hulls were generally wooden, (although a few steel and composite hulls were built after about 1898) and were braced internally with a series of built-up longitudinal timbers called keelsons. Further resilience was given to the hulls by a system of "hog rods" or "hog chains" that were fastened into the keelsons and led up and over vertical masts called "hog-posts" and back down again.
Like their counterparts on the Mississippi and its tributaries and the vessels on the rivers of California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, the Canadian sternwheelers tended to have fairly short life-spans. The hard usage they were subjected to and inherent flexibility of their shallow wooden hulls meant that relatively few of them had careers longer than a decade.
In the Yukon Territory there are two vessels preserved, the S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse and the S.S. Keno in Dawson City, plus many other derelict hulks can still be found along the Yukon River.
In British Columbia, the SS Moyie, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1898, was operated on Kootenay Lake in south-eastern B.C. until 1957. It has been carefully restored and is on display in the village of Kaslo, while the S.S. Sicamous of 1914 has been preserved in Penticton at the south end of Okanagan Lake.
The SS Samson V is the only Canadian steam-powered sternwheeler that has been preserved afloat. It was built in 1937 by the Canadian federal Department of Public Works as a snagboat for clearing logs and debris out of the lower reaches of the Fraser River and for maintaining docks and aids to navigation. The fifth in a line of Fraser River snagpullers, the Samson V has engines, paddlewheel and other components that were passed down from the Samson II of 1914. It is now moored on the Fraser River as a floating museum in its home port of New Westminster, near Vancouver, B.C.
Some good reference works on the history of these vessels include Art Downs' British Columbia-Yukon Sternwheel Days (1992 Heritage House Publishing Company, Surrey, B.C.), Robert D. Turner's Sternwheelers and Steam Tugs (1998, Sono Nis Press, Victoria, B.C.), Edward Affleck's A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon and Alaska (2000, Alexander Nicolls Press, Vancouver, B.C.) Graham Wilson, Paddlewheelers of Alaska and the Yukon (1999,Wolf Creek Books, Whitehorse,Yukon) and Robin Sheret's Smoke, Ash and Steam (1997, Western Isles Cruise and Dive Co. , Victoria, B.C.).
There are six major commercial steamboats that currently operate on the inland waterways of the United States. They are the steamers Belle of Louisville, Delta Queen, Julia Belle Swain, Mississippi Queen, Natchez, and American Queen. Three of these boats are overnight passenger vessels operated by Majestic America Line, formerly the Delta Queen Steamboat Company of New Orleans, LA.

Thames steamboats

There are not many genuine steamboats left on the Thames. However a handful still remain:
S.L Nuneham - This is a genuine Victorian Steamer originally built in 1898. Operates on the non-tidal upper Thames.

Lake, loch, estuary and sea-going steamers

The first steamship to operate on the Pacific Ocean was the Beaver, launched in 1836 to service Hudson's Bay Company trading posts between Puget Sound and Alaska. The side-wheel paddle steamer SS Great Western was the first purpose-built steamship to initiate regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic crossings, starting in 1838. The first regular steamship service from the west to the east coast of the United States began on February 28, 1849 with the arrival of the SS California in San Francisco Bay. California left New York Harbor on October 6, 1848, rounded Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and arrived at San Francisco, California after a 4-month 21-day journey. SS Great Eastern was built in 1854–1857 with the intent of linking Great Britain with India, via the Cape of Good Hope, without coaling stops; she would know a turbulent history, and was never put to her intended use.
As early as the 1820s, side-wheel steamers plied the waters of Narragansett Bay, Buzzard's Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and Long Island Sound between the ports of southern New England and New York City. Eventually most of the steamship lines that traversed "The Sound" came under the control of J. P. Morgan who consolidated them into the New England Steamship Company, probably better know by the name of its most famous route, the Fall River Line, which transported Astors, Vanderbilts, and the elite of the Eastern Establishment between New York City, Boston, and their palatial summer 'cottages' at Newport, Rhode Island. The last of the great paddle steamer fleet was put out of business by a combination of competition from railroads and automobiles, labor troubles, and the Great Depression ecomomy in 1937; however, service on "The Sound" between Providence, and New York City continued with screw steamers, until brought to an end in early 1942 by the menace of WWII German U-boat attacks.
Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States used steamships (such as the USS Mississippi) to help force Japan to open its ports up to American trade in 1853. This was a contributing factor to the Meiji Restoration.
By 1870, a number of inventions, such as the screw propeller and the triple expansion engine made trans-oceanic shipping economically viable. Thus began the era of cheap and safe travel and trade around the world.
RMS Titanic was the largest steamship in the world when she sank in 1912; a subsequent major sinking of a steamer was that of the RMS Lusitania, as an act of World War I. Launched in 1938, RMS Queen Elizabeth was the largest passenger steamship ever built. Launched in 1969, RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was the last passenger steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a scheduled liner voyage before she was converted to diesels in 1986. The last major passenger ship built with steam engines was the Fairsky, launched in 1984.
SS Explorer is the last remaining steam trawler in Britain. She was built in Aberdeen, including the last steam engine built there, and was launched in 1955 as a fishery research vessel. Accommodation was provided for researchers, including a computer cabin. Currently she is berthed at Edinburgh Dock, Leith, by Edinburgh, and is subject of a restoration project.
SS Delphine is a classic 1920's yacht commissioned by Horace Dodge, co-founder of Dodge Brothers of automobile fame. The yacht was launched on April 2, 1921, and spans . The Delphine can reach under power from her two quadruple steam expansion engines, each of . Interactive images including those of her original engines can be viewed here: VR Panoramic images of The SS Delphine After a full restoration she now cruises the Mediterranean under charter. A full history can be viewed on the official website
The turbine steamship Royal Yacht Britannia, now retired from service, is berthed nearby at Ocean Terminal, Leith.

Steamboat images


  • Ian McCrorie, Clyde Pleasure Steamers, Orr, Pollock & Co. Ltd., Greenock (ISBN 1-869850-00-9)
  • Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers
  • G H Pattinson, The Great Age of Steam on Windermere (ISBN 0-907796-00-1)

External links

steamboat in Azerbaijani: Buxar gəmisi
steamboat in Bosnian: Parni brod
steamboat in Bulgarian: Параход
steamboat in Czech: Parník
steamboat in Danish: Dampskib
steamboat in German: Dampfschiff
steamboat in Modern Greek (1453-): Ατμόπλοιο
steamboat in Spanish: Barco de vapor
steamboat in Esperanto: Vaporŝipo
steamboat in French: Bateau à vapeur
steamboat in Scottish Gaelic: Bàta-smùid
steamboat in Croatian: Parobrod
steamboat in Indonesian: Kapal uap
steamboat in Italian: Nave a vapore
steamboat in Dutch: Stoomboot
steamboat in Japanese: 蒸気船
steamboat in Norwegian: Dampskip
steamboat in Norwegian Nynorsk: Dampbåt
steamboat in Polish: Parowiec
steamboat in Portuguese: Barco a vapor
steamboat in Russian: Пароход
steamboat in Simple English: Steam boat
steamboat in Slovenian: Parnik
steamboat in Serbo-Croatian: Parobrod
steamboat in Finnish: Höyrylaiva
steamboat in Swedish: Ångfartyg
steamboat in Ukrainian: Пароплав

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

boat, canoe, carry sail, circumnavigate, coast, cross, cruise, go by ship, go on shipboard, go to sea, make a passage, motorboat, navigate, ply, row, run, sail, sail round, sail the sea, scull, seafare, steam, steamer, steamship, take a voyage, traverse, voyage, yacht
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