How a Paddle Steamer Changed the Course of History
- P. J. G. Ransom
15th August 2012
P. J. G Ransom’s new study of Bell and the Comet and their place in history, written to mark the Comet bicentenary in 2012.
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The passenger steamer burst upon the early nineteenth century with all the suddenness and immediate widespread popularity of electronic communications in our own time. Leading the way was Henry Bell of Helensburgh. When he started to carry passengers down the Clyde in his little steamer Comet in 1812, he established the first viable steamer service in the Old World. And steamers were the first mechanised passenger transport: no longer were travellers dependent upon the muscles of people and animals or the fickle effects of winds, tides and currents. Many had attempted to build and operate steamers, but few had been successful - and they were far away in North America. However once Bell had shown the way, others rushed to follow. All this is covered in P. J. G. Ransom's new study of Bell and the Comet and their place in history, written to mark the Comet bicentenary in 2012. The author also shows that the direct influence of Bell extended more widely than has been generally supposed: as well as starting steamer services on the Firth of Clyde, he was instrumental in establishing them on the Firth of Forth, the west coast of Scotland, and along the Caledonian Canal as soon as it opened. Thomas Telford, engineer of the canal which was the greatest engineering work of the age, referred to him as 'the ingenious and enterprising Mr Henry Bell'.
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