Cookie Policy



Triple-Expansion Steam Engine

The steam engine will be on display in the future exhibition in the Ship and Equipment section. It will be used to show how the steam engine revolutionized shipping.

The piston steam engine with triple expansion originally belonged as a starboard engine to a shallow-water minesweeper built during the First World War. Steam engines of the same type were installed in all new torpedo boats of the Navy from the mid-1880s onwards. On a larger scale, however, this type of engine was mainly used in civil shipping. After 1885, North German Lloyd, for example, had several Reichspostdampfer and Schnelldampfer equipped with triple expansion steam engines. In steam navigation around 1900, triple expansion steam engines were the most common type of engine. The steam engine in the German Maritime Museum has an output of 300 hp at a speed of 300 min-1 and is part of the museum's founding collection.

Revolution of shipping by the steam engine

Steam engines first appeared in the 18th century in mining and the textile industry. From the beginning of the 19th century, steam propulsion gradually gained acceptance in shipping and finally reached its heyday around 1900. Steam engines were still built as propulsion systems for ships until after 1950. For the first time, steam propulsion made it possible to cover longer distances across the sea relatively independently of wind and weather conditions. Steam ships thus made it possible to transport goods to and from overseas quickly, predictably and thus more cost-effectively. At the same time, the mobility of people also increased with steam navigation; the number of emigrants and luxury travellers who crossed the Atlantic in steamships rose rapidly until 1900.

The steam engine and the social consequences

Steam propulsion fundamentally changed the social structure and working conditions on board ships: new occupational groups emerged. Deep down in the belly of the ships, stokers and coal-pullers had to ensure the smooth operation of the engine. While the stokers fired the steam boilers, the coal pullers were responsible for transporting the coal to the boiler room and disposing of the slag. The work was dictated by the rhythm of the machine. It took place under inhuman conditions and often ended with suicide attempts to escape the heat and coal dust of the boiler rooms. Questions of occupational health and safety law were not discussed publicly in this context on the occasion of the wedding of the steam ships, nor were environmental policy aspects, for example with regard to lignite emissions from the steam boiler plants.


Further literature

Scholl, Lars U. (Hg.)
Technikgeschichte des industriellen Schiffbaus in Deutschland
Band 2: Hauptantriebe, Schiffspropulsion, Elektrotechnik (Schriften des Deutschen Schifffahrtsmuseums, Bd. 35)
Hamburg 1996


Wagenbreth, Otfried; Düntzsch, Helmut und Gieseler, Albert
Die Geschichte der Dampfmaschine. Historische Entwicklung, Industriegeschichte, Technische Denkmale
Münster 2002


Wulf, Stefan und Schmiedebach, Heinz-Peter
Das Schiff als Ort des Wahnsinns – Hitzschläge, Misshandlungen und Suizide von Heizern und Trimmern im transozeanischen Seeverkehr
in: Hess, Volker und Schmiedebach; Heinz-Peter (Hg.): Am Rande des Wahnsinns. Schwellenräume einer urbanen Moderne
Wien/Köln/Weimar 2012, S. 57-80



Related contributions



The MEISSEN - a paddle steamer from 1881

The paddle steamer MEISSEN is an impressive large object, which can also be viewed in the future in our exhibition "Passenger Shipping and Migration" in the museum.

read more

Opening hours

Cog hall: daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Ships: daily 10 am to 5:45 pm

how to reach us

Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum
Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1
D-27568 Bremerhaven


T. +49 471 482 07 0

Contact person

.svgDSMlogo { fill: #fff; } .svgDSMType { display: block; } .svgDSMlogo { fill: #fff; } .svgDSMType { display: block; } .svgDSMlogoBlue { fill: #002c50; } .svgDSMType { display: block; } .svgDSMlogoBlue { fill: #002c50; } .svgDSMType { display: block; } .svgNavPlus { fill: #002c50; } .svgFacebook { fill: #002c50; } .svgYoutube { fill: #002c50; } .svgInstagram { fill: #002c50; } .svgLeibnizLogo { fill: #002c50; } .svgWatch { fill: #002c50; } .svgPin { fill: #002c50; } .svgLetter { fill: #002c50; }