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Old Engineering: A ship that moves by harnessing the power of fire?

  1. Dec 4, 2013 #1
    This is bothering me way more than it should. Ever since I saw the following image: http://i.imgur.com/iUZsw3Cl.jpg?1
    (This is a fraction of a set of pictures that contains other cool people with quotes that would be considered "ignorant" nowadays. All credit goes to the original author. I have no proof that the quotes are correct. Be aware that in the internet anything a person has ever said can be turned into something else and/or attributed to anyone. Original set of images)

    I've been wanting to come with a theoretical model to make it work. But I don't know what concepts of physics would be used to explain it. Of course nowadays I would go with electricity and it would be so easy. But assuming I'm living in those times and there are no turbines, no engines, or electricity how would I make a ship which in theory can move against the wind and currents by using fire? How does one harness the power of fire for this purpose?

    This is an old problem, and in this forum it may not be constructive at all because there are better solutions today. Still, I'm curious. It would be fun to understand.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2013 #2
  4. Dec 4, 2013 #3


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    Your history is a bit off. The first working steamboat was built in 1803, a year before Napoleon became Emperor of France. And the first sea-going steamboat was built two years before the battle of Waterloo.

    But Napoleon probably didn't bother much about what the English (or more accurately the Scots) were doing!

    FWIW the first steam turbine was invented by the ancient Greeks.
  5. Dec 4, 2013 #4
    Curiously enough you just reminded me of the movie Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea where a kid uses that kind of boat.

    That history clarification renders my post answered. I was assuming there were no engines, but if something like a cylinder and piston were known in those times then I have no more doubts. It's easy to implement it with those parts. If he said that then I suppose it was because for some reason he had no knowledge of the existence of those parts. Or if he did, he couldn't visualize any use for them. Or like you said, he just didn't care. Or who knows, maybe he never said such a thing to begin with!! Thanks for your answer.

    I do not doubt that statement. Many amazing things are attributed to the ancient Greek. Say something about them and I will probably believe it without a second thought. I'm their fan.
  6. Dec 5, 2013 #5


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    Thomas Newcomen invented the first steam engine in 1712:


  7. Dec 5, 2013 #6


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    Arguably, the real breakthrough for engine-powered boats was the screw propeller replacing the paddle wheel - though paddle wheels survived for a long time. Three of these boats operated the river Humber ferry in the UK until the suspension bridge (still the 7th longest in the world) was completed in 1981.
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