Great liners propelled by engines of 28,000 or more horsepower began plying the Atlantic on regular schedules in the late 1800s. During the 1880s Sir Charles A. Parsons and C. G. P. de Laval developed the steam turbine, and the Turbinia, the first vessel to be driven by a turbine, was first seen in 1897. Within 10 years several turbine-driven liners were in the Atlantic service. Although multiple cylinders were added to reciprocating engines to take full advantage of the steam's expansion, within a decade the steam turbine virtually eliminated the older reciprocating steam engine on major vessels; the great transatlantic liners, such as the Queen Mary (launched 1934), the Queen Elizabeth (1938), and the United States (1951), were all turbine-powered. In 1955 the first nuclear-powered ship, in which the heat generated by nuclear fission is used to create the necessary steam, was launched. Nuclear-powered commercial vessels like the Savannah (launched in 1958 but since laid up) proved to be uneconomical because of the high cost of nuclear-power systems and environmental concerns; however, most large naval vessels are powered by nuclear steam plants.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.