Smoke Dispersal

Arun Vajpey

Apr 21, 2009
Actually, there are TWO related questions:

1. In most photos of the period, Lusitania and Mauritania seemed to belch out far more smoke than the Olympic & Titanic. Is this due to differences in the engine types, and if so specifically what issue?

2. I suppose that folks of those days were less concerned about pollution and its after effects, but since those big ships had very HIGH smokestacks, did it mean that people on the deck did not get to smell the fumes?
PS: I dread to think what it must have been like for the Engine Room crew.
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
I don't think there's anything all that remarkable about the times when these ships were belching smoke. When boilers were hand stoked with coal, getting the timing of adding fuel was as much an art form as a science. Add too much, and combustion is inefficient and sooty. Add too little and you don't get quite as much thermal energy as you need to do the job. The quality of the coal had a lot to do with it as well. The lower the quality, the dirtier it tended to be. The better, the cleaner.

The engine type in and of itself probably had very little to do with the efficiency of the combustion since the boilers only made the working fluid (The steam) used in the engines. From a mechanical standpoint, they didn't much "care" where it went or how it was used.

I would also point out that soot and ash builds up inside the exhaust and stacks and from time to time has to be blown out. This is a problem even with oil fired ships. When the stacks are blown, it can result in a very impressive and dirty pall of smoke.

All that said, the engines had a lot to do with how efficiently the steam was used. The triple expansion engines were a lot more efficient then the older types they replaced although you couldn't move all that quickly with them. Turbines were more efficient still and didn't present the vibration problems which reciprocating engines caused. Reduction gearing made them even better so that ultimately, the steam turbine won out over reciprocating engines.

The hight of the smokestacks did quite a bit to minimize the problems of fumes but they weren't 100% effective. Depending on conditions, it was not unusual to find yourself brushing off soot or occasionaly even smouldering embers.

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