ASME-Landmark:USS Olympia, Vertical Reproducing Steam Engines


The two 3-cylinder triple-expansion engines of the U.S.S. Olympia are excellent examples of naval ship propulsion machinery of the late nineteenth century. The ship was built in 1892, soon after the U.S. Navy had come to accept the vertical engine for propulsion; big warships had continued to be sail-powered until the 1870s. The Olympia's engines, which barely exceeded water-level height, had a short stroke and a relatively high speed of rotation, generating about 7,000 indicated horsepower per shaft.

Borrowing from merchant ship designs of the previous decade, the development of these engines improved naval ship propulsion with particular respect to lightweight construction with minimum headroom requirements.

Built (and engined) at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco (later part of Bethlehem Steel Corporation), the ship was one of the most famous ships in the history of the U.S. Navy, having been Commodore Dewey's flagship at the battle of Manila Bay in 1898. It was from the bridge of the Olympia that Dewey delivered his famous command to his flag officer: "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."

The steam turbine, more efficient than the reciprocating engine, came into use in all naval vessels after 1912. The U.S.S. Olympia is one of the two surviving ships of the era of the vertical reciprocating steam engine. The other survivor, the U.S.S. Texas, was one of the last built; it is also a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. See ASME website for more information