Parsons turbine receives worldwide recognition

In the previous article, the author explained how Parsons steam turbine powered ships. Here, he lists a few of the British war ships and talks about their growth over a decade.

I will list a few of the British war ships that were made with Parsons turbine drives without giving many details to show how the war ships grew in size over a period of 10 years, thanks to Parsons.

          1902 H. M. Torpedo-Boat Destroyer “Velox”,  8000 HP at 27.12 knots

          1903 H. M. Torpedo-Boat Destroyer “Eden”, 7000 HP at 26.22 knots

          1905 H. M. 3rd Class Cruiser “Ametlhyist” ,14,200 HP at 23.63 knots

          1906 H. M. Battleship “Dreadnought”, 24,712 HP at 21.25 knots

          1908 H. M. Torpedo-Boat Destroyer “Swift”, 35.000 HP at 35.3 knots

          1908 H. M. Armored- Cruiser “Invincible”, 42,000 HP at 26.0 knots

          1908 H. M, Cruiser “Indomitable, 43,000 HP at 25.13 knots

          1910 H. M. Destroyer “Mohawk”, 14,500 HP at 34.51 knots

The book,


only goes to 1911 and there were many more steam turbine English war ships to follow. In this book there are many details, photographs and drawings, and it is full of information.

The application of steam turbines for merchant ships differs to a great extent than that of a naval vessel. The merchant ship owners and operators are looking at the first cost with the ships operating near constant speed for maximum efficiency. Therefore, the steam turbines can be smaller and sized to drive a given tonnage ship at a much lower maximum speed. No bursts of power and high speeds are required or wanted. The merchant ship owners and operators had the operating experience of the “Viper” and “Cobra” to use before ordering turbine powered ships to fit their needs. It became easier and simpler to select turbine powered merchant ships.

After the two naval ships were at sea, the risk for the merchant ships having steam turbines was quite low. Parsons, a strong advocate of steam turbines for merchant ships, knew these things when he approached the merchant people to use his turbines. It was just a matter of time and of course his price had to be right before the merchant men would start ordering his steam turbines. He had to simply abide his time, which he did.

The merchant people were reluctant at first and Parsons was ready to purchase an old paddle ship and install his turbines in it to have a demonstrator to use like he did in building the “Turbinia” for the British Navy. However, a ship operator for the Clyde Estuary along with the Denny ship building  firm decided to order the first merchant ship to be powered by the Parsons steam turbine. This first merchant ship was then ordered and built in 1900.

The first merchant vessel was put in service in 1901. Named King Edward, it was a three shaft ship, with one prop per shaft, having 3500 horsepower Parsons steam turbines with the center shaft equipped with the HP turbine and the outer shafts having the LP condensing turbines. Its cruise speed was 20.48 knots. The launch of this ship was over two years after the first 12,300 HP Naval vessel launched in 1898 named the “Viper” having had 4 shafts and two props per shaft with a top speed of 37 knots.

The “King Edwards” conducted short a runs on the Clyde estuary involving l50 to 180 miles per day carrying 1994 passengers and could be directly compared to the latest paddle ships making the same runs. The vibration-free, turbine-powered ship proved to be far superior to the paddle ships and a second ship, the “Queen Alexandra” was ordered to carry 2077 passengers. The passengers loved them.   The operation of these two ships attracted considerable attention and ships propelled by Parsons turbines were off and running.

Without giving many details, listed below are a number of other British ships that followed the two above mentioned vessels. Many details and photos are in the book for those that are interested.

          1903 the ”Queen” , 6000 HP, 21.76 knots, cross- channel service, Dover and Calais

          1903 the “Brighton”, 6500 HP, 21.37 knots, cross -channel service, Dover and Calais

          1902 the yacht Tarantula, 2000 HP, 25.36 knots, cross-channel service, Dover and Calais

          1903 the “Princes Maud”, 6,000 HP, 20.66 knots, cross-channel service

          1902 the yacht “Emerald”, 6,000 HP, 15.0 knots, first to cross the Atlantic

          1905 the “Virginian”, 12,000 HP, 19.1 knots, first turbine Atlantic liner      

          1905 the “Camania”, 21,000 HP, 20.5 knots, Atlantic liner

          1907 the “Royal Edwards”, 19,000 HP, 20.5 knots, Atlantic liner

          1907 the “Lusitania”, 74,000 HP, 26 knots, Ocean liner

          1910 the “Titanic”,  48,000 HP,  21.0 knots, the largest liner built,  Atlantic liner

There were many more British merchant liners made up by 1911 and I have only listed about half of them. This was a very productive period for ocean liners. John Brown of Scotland had to start making them by 1906 under license from Parsons to keep up with the demand. The merchant steam turbine business was slower to star by about 3 years than the Naval business but when it started it really took off in a big way.

Parsons turbine in other countries

Interest in the Parsons steam turbine grew rapidly around the world and he was most generous to license his steam turbine manufacturing technology, patents and designs to a number of outside companies.  As already mentioned, he gave John Brown a license in Scotland for his steam turbines. John Brown also was licensed to make the American Curtis impulse steam turbine and did so for some of its vessels.  Parsons also licensed his turbines to be made by other English ship builders as well. He further licensed Brown Boveri Company (BBC) of Baden, Switzerland in 1900 to make his turbines in Germany (Mannheim) and Switzerland and sell them to France, Russia, Italy and Belgium.

In regard to BBC, it was Charles E. Brown of BBC who made in 1900 a significant contribution by focusing on the three-phase AC motor and his three-phase alternating current generator when he ingeniously introduced a new design for the first time the magnetic fields located in a solid, fast rotating smooth rotor on which the field coils were arranged in milled grooves. He likewise built unique oil cooled transformers to step up and step down the AC power and he gained international recognition by these contributions. Parsons also licensed at this time his turbines to European companies in France, Belgium, Italy and Austria. The demand for his new steam turbine was growing by leaps and bounds.

George Westinghouse recognized the importance of the Parsons steam turbine early. He already had the rights to make transformers for his new AC power which was made possible through the help of Nikola Tesla and in 1895, ahead of BBC and the rest, he obtained a license for the Parsons steam turbine technology for the USA. GE, on the other hand, in 1896, decided to go along with Charles G. Curtis with his multiple stage impulse design. GE then started making both horizontal and vertical steam turbines. Steam turbines started sprouting up all over the world like asparagus patches to drive electric generators, ships and factories.

Although both the Parsons and Curtis turbines look about the same, there are subtle differences. In the Parsons reaction turbine the steam expands between the rotating blades and increases in velocity to drop the pressure and push on the rotating blades with the fixed stator blades serving to change the direction of the steam to flow back to an axial direction thus becoming a diffuser to reduce the velocity whereas in the Curtis impulse design the steam passes through the fixed blades, called nozzles, to increase the velocity and the steam impulse drives the rotating blades. More stages are needed in the reaction turbine but the efficiency is slightly higher. Also the reaction turbine can use a drum type rotor with a smaller diameter for a given speed whereas the impulse has to use disks bolted together with larger diameters running at a higher RPM. Both designs and combination thereof are used today by all of the manufacturers.

In his next article, the author writes about the use of Parsons steam turbine in a few other foreign countries.

Ivan G. Rice was past chairman of the South Texas Section of ASME (1974 - 75), past chairman of the ASME Gas Turbine Division (now IGTI) (1975 - 76). A Life Fellow Member of ASME and Life Member of NSPE/TSPE, he has authored many articles and ASME papers on gas turbines, inter-cooling, reheat, HRSGs, steam cooling and steam injection.

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