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Steam navigation’s golden age

Steamships originally sailed around the end of the 18th century, mostly on rivers and in sheltered waters. The steam engine ushered in a new age in shipping in the mid-nineteenth century.

Paddle steamers were the earliest ships to be built.

In 1807, American Robert Fulton began a ship passenger service on the Hudson River with the paddle steamer “Clermont.” At the turn of the nineteenth century, the first steamships were launched in Europe, following its lead.

The paddle steamer “Princess Charlotte of Prussia” entered operation in Berlin in 1817, long before the first railroad connection was established.

The ship only had one paddle wheel at the time, which was located in the hull’s center. Paddle steamers were later designed with paddle wheels on the starboard and port sides, or with stern drive, because such ships were extremely difficult to maneuver.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, steamships have been increasingly popular, particularly in the United States. The “Natchez,” a Mississippi-bound paddle steamer, is still famous today. In its height, the port of New Orleans alone moored up to 35,000 steamers per year.

In Europe, paddle steamers were used for mail and passenger transport. For example, in 1880, the Meyer shipyard in Papenburg built the “Salonschnelldampfer Augusta,” which performed regular passenger ship services between Leer and the East Frisian islands of Borkum and Norderney.

The world’s waters are dominated by steamships.
Paddle steamers began to sail the high seas soon after. The paddlewheels, on the other hand, struggled to generate enough push in rough waves. The first paddle steamers crossed the English Channel in 1818, and two steamships made the first transatlantic journey in 1838.

The paddle steamer “Sirius” was one of them, and it set off from Cork, Ireland. The primary issue was still having enough fuel on board at the moment. According to the chroniclers, in order to achieve their target, the crew of the Sirius had to destroy interior furnishings, unnecessary takellage, and, eventually, even a mast.

To make matters worse, the Sirius ran aground just before arriving at its destination, forcing it to wait until the following high tide to enter New York Harbor.

This was exploited by the competition. The steamship “Great Western” departed Bristol four days after the Sirius sailed. The passengers did complain of seasickness, and the stokers were supposed to be so weary from the hard work below deck that they couldn’t keep up.

Despite this, the Great Western only took 14 days to reach its goal. On April 23, 1838, she arrived in New York at the same time as the Sirius, despite starting four days later.

New World shipping lines

In the mid-nineteenth century, regular liner shipping between Europe and the United States became popular. In elite circles at the time, sailing to the United States was considered fashionable and sophisticated. This style of travel became even more enjoyable as the amenities on board increased.

This is something that poor emigrants could only imagine. The emigrants traveled in specially created tween decks, and the amount of cargo dictated the profit. While the first significant wave of emigration to the New World was led by the famine-stricken Irish in 1845, succeeding waves of emigration were primarily led by Italians and persecuted Jews from Eastern Europe.

Travel conditions steadily improved due to increased demand for crossings. The number of steamships increased, and passenger shipping saw its heyday. Many completed goods and raw materials were also transported by steamship over regular transatlantic routes.

Traditional freight sailers were initially able to withstand steamships’ increasing competitive pressure. They were still faster on difficult passages like around Cape Horn, but the end of the tall ship period loomed, especially after the Suez Canal opened in 1869, making the maritime route to Southeast Asia considerably shorter and easier.

The tall ships’ era is coming to an end.
The end of tall ships and the introduction of steam navigation transformed the shipbuilding industry as well as the working environment on ships and in port operations. It was also the time when shipbuilding switched from wood to steel. With the introduction of steel ships and a rise in commercial traffic, entirely new occupations arose, both on board ships and in shipyards and port operations.

Rather than sailmakers, stokers were now required. Mechanical engineers were needed instead of ship carpenters. The steward was now in charge of the well-heeled passengers’ safety.

The shipyard industry faced massive structural upheaval as well, which many shipyards specializing in the construction of wooden boats were unable to cope with. Metalworkers, rather than carpenters and joiners, were in high demand. The significant expansion in cargo volume necessitated the creation of new professions in the port itself: numerous personnel were needed to handle the rapid loading and unloading of products, as well as their subsequent distribution.