The Force of Steam – 1839
To the British almost more than any other nation it was important to find a way in which this great new force of steam could be used at sea as well as on land. Small beginnings were made quite early in the nineteenth century, when a steam tugboat was run on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Then an American engineer put steamboats on the Hudson River, and in  one of them managed to cross the Atlantic. But it was twenty years after that when people made up their minds that steamers should go regularly to and fro between Great Britain and America. These vessels had paddle-wheels which were turned by their engines, and it took them about fifteen days to get from Liverpool to New York. By the middle of the century, however, steamers had been much improved through the invention of the screw to take the place of the paddles, and then the length of the voyage to America was gradually reduced to seven days. Our newest liners of to-day can do it in four or five.
It was certain that as soon as people knew that they could cross the ocean in a steamship, there would practically be an end of their either travelling themselves or sending their letters by sailing vessel. Business men always insist on getting mails carried as quickly as possible; and as for passengers, a sea voyage was so dreadfully uncomfortable until the quite modern days of luxurious liners that hardly any one would face more of it than he could help.
So in the middle and later years of the nineteenth century a large number of steamship companies were formed to carry on a regular service to all parts of the world. Amongst the oldest and best known of these are the Cunard Company, by whose ships very many people still go to America, and the Peninsular and Oriental Company, usually called the P. and O., which will take you to India, China, or Australia.
These are only two out of a great many important lines, and any one who looks in the “Mail and Shipping Intelligence” of a big daily newspaper will find the names of plenty more.
Excerpt from Landmarks of British History by Lucy Dale – 1910
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