April 14, 2015 marks the 103rd anniversary of the most infamous maritime disaster in history—the sinking of the Titanic. Our devotion to boilers drew our attention to several scenes in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film, which ended up grossing over $2 billion worldwide and made it the 2nd highest grossing film of all time. You might remember seeing the ship’s boiler rooms in several scenes, most notably when the ship begins to take on water and all the watertight doors are being shut to slow down the flow of water into the ship’s compartments.
While the Titanic was ironically called “unsinkable,” the ship’s size certainly justified its name, so we wondered, just what did it take to move a ship like that? As it turns out, to power the vessel, there were 29 boilers onboard that each stood about 2 stories tall and produced a steam supply at 215 psi. Many of them had furnaces on both sides, which amounted to a total of 159 furnaces. With that many coal-hungry furnaces, it took a crew of 200 men just to keep them full of stone. If the ship wished to remain at full speed, it would need to consume over one million pounds of coal each day!
Those boilers fed steam to the main engines to propel the ship, and they also made steam for dynamos and heat exchangers to generate electricity and hot water. While the average person may not be very familiar with boilers, the fact remains that steam generation is the backbone of many of humanity’s great undertakings, and it continues to allow us to produce goods and services on a scale that would make even a vessel as large as the Titanic feel small.