Steam didn’t “replace” sail in the way we sometimes think, and coal or oil powered engines aren’t always more “efficient”.
These two models from Glasgow Museums’ collection show designs that date from the same year, 1890, but with two very different types of journey in mind. The transatlantic liner Oregon (top) was intended to carry passengers to a speedy five-day timetable across the Atlantic. The five-masted barque France (bottom) was designed to carry essential, but bulky, cargoes of fertilizer from South America to Europe. Steam engines were the most appropriate source of power for the liner, but sail power was much cheaper, and just as efficient, for the owners of France.
That’s the nineteenth century solution, but cargo ships using the latest designs for wind power are being developed around the world today. They are considered as part our requirement for carbon-neutral transport.