Home > Ship Wheels > History Of The Ship Wheel

History Of The Ship Wheel

October 25th, 2010

Wooden Ship Wheel

The ship’s wheel was predated by the use of the whip staff, which proved very insufficient. The ship’s wheel actually did not come about until very late in the development of the ship itself, until then the lackluster whip staff sufficed. The invention of the ship’s wheel is credited to the British Royal Navy, even though there has been no sufficient evidence to support this statement. It was believed to have been created by the workers in the ship docks and the artisans and not commissioned by the central government itself. The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich provides much back story on the history of the ships wheel.

The first ship wheels are thought to have been implemented around 1703, as seen in photographs of models from that period of time. However, this date is highly uncertain as there is not enough evidence short of a singular model ship that shows a fully developed wheel. Even if the ship’s wheel were invented then, it still may have taken some time for it to become commonplace in the use of ships. For instance, there is evidence that the Russel, an 80-gun ship started in 1707 was to be fitted with a whip staff. While in 1711, the 90-gun ship Ossory shows a design of a ship wheel in the proper place. While the 50-gun Gloucester of the same date used a whip staff. This evidence suggests that the ship wheel were probably truly invented closer to 1710 rather than circa 1702-03. By 1715, the ship’s wheel became the new standard for ships.

Early ship wheels were placed behind the mizzen mast, and above the tiller’s end, obstructing the helmsman’s view quite profoundly. Originally, the ship wheel was placed in front of a barrel of cylinder shape. It was to be operated by two men in heavy storm conditions, although the small amount of space caused them to get in the way of each other. Around 1740, many ships included two wheels. This allowed four men to be capable of steering if need be.

Early wheels suffered the problem of not having equal amounts of slack and tightening on both ends of the tiller rope. When the rope became hauled to one side, the angle of the center line of the ship became altered. This caused the rope to either become too tight or too slack. This flaw of design was not improved on for about 70 years until Pollard, Master Boat builder at Portsmouth Dockyard, introduced a new system. Pollard’s system was comprised of “sweeps and rowles” that were tested under Captain Bentinck in 1771. Pollard’s system was a success and became used as the standard by 1775.

The ship’s wheel is shrouded in many mysterious and discrepancies. While no one knows who invented the ship wheel at exactly what point in time, there is a general idea. It is one of the biggest steps taken in nautical navigating and helped to improve the way we view ships in the modern era.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogplay

admin Ship Wheels , ,

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.