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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Industry and Technology

Marine Engineering

By John R Hume

John Robertson Marine engineering may be said to have begun in earnest in Glasgow immediately after 1812, when the paddle steamer Comet demonstrated that steam navigation could be commercially attractive. By the 1830s it was well-established in the city, with Robert Napier the leading practitioner. He manufactured engines for the first four Cunard steamships, which inaugurated a liner steamship service across the Atlantic in 1840. He went on to build the largest marine engines, for transatlantic steamers, until the early 1860s. Tod & MacGregor were rivals and made horizontal screw engines and "steeple" engines for their own first-class steamships.

Elder Statue, Elder Park In 1853, John Elder, who was the son of Napier's works manager and who had trained in Napier's works, patented the compound marine engine. Elder went into partnership with Charles Randolph, a noted millwright, to make these engines, which saved so much coal that they made trans-Pacific navigation possible, as well as other long-distance routes. Compound marine engines dominated the top end of the market until the mid 1880s, when the triple-expansion engine, offering further economy, was put on to a commercial footing by Alexander Kirk, successor to Napier. This type of engine remained the industry standard for reciprocating-engined vessels until long after 1914.

Fairfield Shipyard For the maximum power, however, the steam turbine was superior to the reciprocating engine and this was first demonstrated as a commercial proposition in 1901 at Dumbarton. In Glasgow, the leading firm of turbine-builders was the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, successors to Elder's company. Just before 1914 the manufacture of marine diesel engines began in Glasgow, first in Whiteinch and then in Finnieston, but the motor-ship was still in its infancy when World War One began.

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