What Is a Paddle Steamer? How Does It Work?
Paddle steamer is a ship or boat propelled by large rotating paddle wheels, either one on each side of the hull or one at the rear. The first system was most popular on early steamships, because one paddle wheel could be reserved while the other turned forward, making the ship very maneuverable.
Put simply, water is heated in a boiler until it evaporates, producing steam. The steam is transferred through pipes into a cylinder where it expands under pressure to push a piston in the cylinder. This provides the motion which is transferred from the piston to a drive shaft (crank) which turns the paddle wheels. The task is then to ensure that as much power as possible is obtained from as little fuel as possible in the boiler.
The invention of the screw propeller in 1835 led to a rapid end of paddle ships, because the screw, being totally underwater, is much more efficient and less vulnerable to accidental damage. A few paddle steamers survive, however, and are used for pleasure cruises at holiday resorts.
Throughout its history the steam engine has evolved with engineers discovering and incorporating more efficient means of achieving their objectives at each stage of the process. Paddle steamer engines now remain mainly as a curiosity, for their own sake, as historical relics reminding us of a proud engineering heritage. Most people who see them do marvel at these magnificent pieces of machinery and they add something special to the excursion experience.