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From Steamships to Submarines: A Thrilling Look at the History of Propellers!

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

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Propellers have been a critical part of modern transportation, providing the necessary thrust for everything from airplanes to boats. The propeller is a device that converts rotational motion into thrust, allowing a machine to move through a fluid medium like air or water. The history of the propeller dates back to the early 19th century, with the first patents being filed in the 1830s.


Four-blade propeller (Copyright © Prohull, 2023)

A French engineer named Joseph Pline made one of the earliest attempts at creating a propeller in 1827. Pline's device consisted of a series of flat blades arranged in a helical pattern, but the design was inefficient and did not see widespread use. In the United States, several inventors were also working on propeller designs around this time, including John Ericsson and Francis Smith.

It was not until the mid-19th century that the modern propeller design began to take shape. In 1845, a mathematician and physicist, George Gabriel Stokes published a paper describing the theory behind propeller operation. His work helped to establish the basic principles of propeller design and provided a mathematical framework for analyzing and optimizing propeller performance.


The first practical propellers were developed for steamships, which were becoming increasingly common in the mid-19th century. In 1839, John Ericsson built the steamship "Francis B. Ogden," which was the first ship equipped with a screw propeller. The propeller proved much more efficient than traditional paddlewheels and soon became the standard steamship system.

The development of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century led to the widespread use of propellers in airplanes. The Wright brothers, who made the first powered flight in 1903, used a wooden propeller to provide the necessary thrust for their airplane. The design of airplane propellers has evolved considerably since then, with modern propellers made from composite materials and designed using sophisticated computer modelling tools.


Propeller technology has also been critical for developing underwater vehicles like submarines and torpedoes. In 1864, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, thanks in part to its propeller-driven propulsion system.


Propellers are critical to modern transportation, providing the necessary thrust for everything from small boats to giant cargo ships. The design of propellers has come a long way since the early days of technology, but the basic principles remain the same. As transportation technology continues to evolve, propellers will likely continue to play an important role in getting people and goods from one place to another.

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