Ships' Bilge Pumps
A History of Their Development, 1500-1900
Nautical Archaeology
6 x 9, 130 pp.
39 b&w photos., 23 line drawings.
Pub Date: 10/01/1996
Studies in Nautical Archaeology
  paper
Price:        $17.95

978-0-89096-722-5

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Ships' Bilge Pumps

A History of Their Development, 1500-1900

By Thomas J. Oertling

All wooden ships leak, a stark fact that has terrified sailors since the earliest days of ocean travel. Maritime historical literature is filled with horrific descriptions of being aboard a slowly sinking ship. Starting from this human perspective, then, Thomas J. Oertling traces the five-hundred-year evolution of a seemingly mundane but obviously important piece of seafaring equipment—and tells the story of nautical innovation—in this one of a kind history of the ship bilge pump. Beginning with early sixteenth-century documents that recorded bilge pump design and installation and ending at about 1840, when bilge pumps were being mass-produced, Oertling covers a period of radical technological change. He describes the process of making long wooden pump tubes by hand, as well as the assembly of the machine-crafted pumps that helped revolutionize ship construction and design. Also given in detail are the creation, function, and development of all three types of pumps used from about 1500 to well into the nineteenth century—the burr pump, the suction or common pump, and the chain pump. Of further interest is Oertling's overall examination of the nature and management of leaks in ships' hulls. This work is well illustrated, with line art depicting the placement and use of pumps aboard the ships, early drawings showing pump design, and photographs revealing artifacts recently found at shipwreck sites. Of obvious interest to nautical archaeologists, maritime historians, and ship modelers, this book is written in an interesting and informative style, rendering it easily accessible to laypersons and amateur enthusiasts.

Thomas J. Oertling received a B.A. from Tulane University and an M.A. in anthropology with a specialization in nautical archaeology from Texas A&M University. One of the field's recognized experts on the ship pump, he has done extensive research and site work in ship reconstruction and has published numerous articles relating to nautical archaeology.

What Readers Are Saying:

“. . . Marshalling what pertinent historical accounts and descriptions that do exist, Oertling melds these with the archaeological information to produce a balanced and informative exposition of the subject. . . . The author has admirably succeeded in bringing to light hitherto overlooked aspect of naval technology that is deserving of intensive study. . . .” --The Northern Mariner

“. . . useful and well-illustrated little book for the ship modeler . . . the bibliography is a real gem and contains a wealth of domestic and foreign, including non-English language, sources concerning shipboard auxiliary equipment, . . .” --Nautical Research Journal

“Seldom does a reference text lend itself to cover-to-cover reading, but Tom Oertling’s Ships’ Bilge Pumps is one such exception.” --Seaways’ Ships in Scale

“. . . (Oertling) Yet, the end product is a cohesive, digestible dollop of relevant data that has hitherto been sorely ignored in the voluminous works on the history of marine technology. . . . (Mott) In his effort to encompass a topic as vital as any to maritime history and the evolution of navigation technology, he has tackled his subject in a systematic and lucid fashion. The work is extremely well illustrated with extensive technical drawings, historic illustrations, and photographs that amply expand upon and enhance the text. . . . In addressing every relevant topic, from performance and flotation to mounting systems and construction, The Development of the Rudder should be considered a seminal work on the subject. . . . (Oertling & Mott) both have been published in Texas A&M’s prestigious ‘Studies in Nautical Archaeology’ series. They deserve to stand side by side on the bookshelves of all maritime historians and nautical archaeologists, or indeed anyone with a serious interest in ships and the sea. It is unlikely that works on these two subjects equal in scope, character, or quality will appear anytime soon.” --The American Neptune

“. . . A decidedly valuable contribution and rich investigation of a key development in late medieval maritime technology. . . .” --Technology and Culture

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