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The turbine

Unprecedented power and speed

The steam engine has limitations, which became particularly apparent at the end of the nineteenth century.  Owners of passenger liners were wanting greater speed, as were navies.  But in the reciprocating steam engine the piston changes direction every with every stroke, often several times a second.  The resulting vibration and stress makes very high speeds difficult to achieve.  The Royal Navy discovered this when the piston on one of their high-speed destroyers was moving so fast that it not only broke out of the cylinder, but also came through the ship’s deck!  The alternative was to build a more powerful engine and drive the screw faster through gears.  But not only were gears difficult and expensive to cut, but a more powerful reciprocating engine was bigger and took up valuable space in the ship.

The solution to delivering more power and more speed was the steam turbine.  The man who takes the credit for developing the first practical marine turbine is Sir Charles Parsons, but inventors elsewhere, including Sweden, were not far behind him.


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