Steampowered flying machines of yesteryear

David ! of the Wondermark webtoon sez, "To make my comics, I collect all sorts of weird old books and mine them for images. I found these photos in a recent acquisition -- an attempt at a steam-powered flying machine from 1893! The entire article is very long, but I think these three photos perfectly tell the whole story."

True Stuff: A New Flying Machine (Thanks, David !)


  1. And it appears to be powered by an enormous flask of whiskey. I like the way these Victorians think.

    1. Sadly, knowng how those Victorians really did think, that’s likely a giant flask of cod liver oil.

  2. cod liver oil is rich in omega 3s , very good for you — also , cod liver oil makes an excellent , if not really price competitive , bio-diesel , and bio-diesel is great for making steam , ( as is ethanol ) , but i really think that the flask shape is an attempt ( prolly sub-successful ) at a rumford firebox style boiler

  3. I have an old book of inventions showing a steam locomotive repurposed as a vacuum cleaner. Water-trap type. Operator has a very snazzy uniform.

  4. What about a genuine steam-powered flying saucer?

    This machine was built by “Professor” Robert Botts of Point Richmond, California, in 1904, but was destroyed in a storm before it could be tested. Powered by two steam engines, the circular-winged machine was supposed to take off vertically and as well as to fly forward like a conventional airplane. The craft was profiled in “Scientific American”:

  5. Gee, that gives me an idea….

    I’d always read that the Wright bros lucked out in having a workable gasoline engine to power their craft, the steam engines that were more frequently tried, didn’t have enough power.

    But these days, we’ve built airplanes so light that a cyclist can power the damn thing, so why not a steam engine?

    And if you stick some of those vacuum solar collector tubes in the top of the plane someplace, you might end up with a solar powered craft that was more efficient than the gossamer penguin.

  6. “I’d always read that the Wright bros lucked out in having a workable gasoline engine to power their craft…” “…lucked out…”? You need to read more carefully! Wilbur & Orville had to DESIGN & BUILD their own engine because none were available on the market; machining was done by Charles Taylor, their hired “Mechanician” in their shop. Prof. Langley, on the other hand, was able to hire several people to design & build an engine for him. He had far more power available, and from a light weight engine, but he ignored the need for control – and worse, the need to learn to operate the machine. He may also have miscalculated material strengths, launching mechanisms, and other factors. “Luck” had very little to do with it! Planning, testing, measuring, and calculating had far more influence on the final results.

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