Room 3 -Ships - the 15th century


There are two differences between boats and ships - boats are smaller than ships and boats can be powered by one or more people pulling or pushing the boat through the water. Ships are larger and need to be powered by more than manpower.

The first ships came to America with the Europeans. Europeans had been using ships for many centuries. These ships were powered by wind that was captured in material made into sails. Large ships were built using many sails so that ships could go faster and could carry more people and things.



Activity - Discover how wind can power sails. Teacher will give each student a tissue. Students open tissues and hold on to sides of the tissue. They walk around room with tissue opened. Then they blow in tissue to simulate wind and compare - did the air in the room make the tissue move? did the wind (from blowing) make the tissue move? Which made the tissue move more?

Visit some sailing ships at Mystic Seaport.

Look at the globe. Why would people need to have sails and not depend on manpower pulling or pushing oars or paddles to power a boat from Europe to North America?

Find out what it would be like to be a sailor. What jobs needed to be done? Who were the people who sailed on a sailing ship?

As time went on, people wanted to sail farther and faster. In America in 1787 John Fitch made the first steamship. Wood was burned to make steam which turned a wheel which made a boat go. Today when we think of steamships we usually think of Robert Fulton who made the first commercially successful steamship in 1807.


As time went on, people found the paddlewheel steamer too slow. Also it could not be used on all types of water. Steam engines were improved. Propellors were used instead of paddlewheels to move the boat.

People still wanted to go farther and faster. They added more engines to the steam ships. Coal was burned instead of wood. It was easier to store a lot of coal than to store a lot of wood. Today ships use oil instead of coal to power the engines.


Activity - Look at these pictures of some steamships. Can you tell if they have more than one engine? What helps you to know?



Find out where naval and maritime museums are in your area.