In his book Blowing Steam, American author Mark Twain wrote, “Truly we are blessed to be living in this modern age, for either we are witnessing the birth of our future or the end of all History. Sadly, no-one is yet sure which is occurring.” The book is a chronicle of both the writer’s journeys during the last twenty years and the state of modern technology: a dirigible journey from California to his native Missouri, the construction of the Harding Line, the installation of a steam drive into a Confederate submarine in the Gosport Shipyard, travel with fellow writer and adventurer Bat Masterson aboard a French convoy, helping a gun crew load cannons off the cliffs of Dover, and taking a flight from the French mainland to Corsica with the dashing but aging Count Dantes aboard an experimental biplane.
Truly we are blessed to be living in this modern age, for either we are witnessing the birth of our future or the end of all History…
As Twain notes, the commonality threading together all the elements of his journey is steam power, and how it has shaped the world throughout the nineteenth century. The invention of the steam drive by Robert Fulton and the discovery of Areium created both the engine and the fuel that have driven technological development faster than any might have dreamed. Steam vessels outpace experienced crews aboard sailed ships, dirigibles and zeppelins float majestically through the sky, and submarines have opened a new and silent world beneath the waves. But old powers like the British Empire and new powers like the Confederacy are using steam to power their engines of war, leading many to be uneasy around the new technology and what poet Emily Dickinson called “the sinister hiss”. Others are more hopeful, like Twain’s friend and leading scientist Nikola Tesla, who calls the ever-improving technology “tools of wonder to burn away fools and open the eyes of the wise.”
Ships Though older ships around the world still carry rigging and sailcloth, the fleets of Britain and France have been converted fully to steam power. Their Areium-fueled steam drives cooled by ocean waters, steamships at full steam can outrace the wind itself. Read more about types of ships here.
Aircraft From bomb balloons to biplanes and dirigibles to zeppelins, man has staked a claim in a domain that once belonged to birds alone, thanks to the power of the steam drive. While engineers continue to search for materials that will make their craft lighter and more maneuverable, steam power keeps them mobile enough to be a formidable force above the battlefield. Read more about aerial vessels here.
Submarines Famously, Robert Fulton built an early submarine called the Nautilus even as he sketched the designs for the first steam drive. Now, seventy-five years later, his two creations have been combined. At first armored ships that hugged the surface of the waves, the steam drives of modern submarines are connected to electrical generators that allow them to dive fully beneath the water’s surface and travel unseen, making them a silent and dangerous predator on the seas. Read more about submarines here.
Engines of Power
Steam Drives The invention of Robert Fulton, inspired by notes from legendary inventors Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin, the steam drive can produce incredible amounts of power with incredible efficiency. Though little more than a classical steam engine when fed with traditional fuels like coal and wood, a steam drive fed with blood-red Areium can easily generate three to four times the power of a Watt steam engine of similar size.
Electrical Drives A recently new innovation, motors using direct electrical current have been around for less than twenty years. Motors using Nikola Tesla’s alternating current are even newer, but more efficient. Most electrical drives are comprised of a DC or AC motor connected to a steam drive, and are used in situations where cooling for a larger steam drive would be impossible or the mechanical linkages for full steam power would be inefficient or impossible, as on zeppelins and dirigibles.