Lubricants for early marine engines

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1500 – 1830 Lubricants for early marine engines

Tagged: ,

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • Author
  • #2730
    Malcolm Lewis

    The first marine engines were produced in the mid-eighteenth century. There are few references to the lubricants that were used to make these machines run smoothly. In Paul Quinn’s note (Mariner’s Mirror November 2009 pages 474-478) regarding Macgregor Laird’s galley invented to work on the Nigerian rivers, he refers to it having tanks for transporting palm oil used for lubricating machinery in the new industrial revolution. Palm oil was used up until mineral oil was discovered.
    Were other ‘vegetable’ oils used and how efficient were they? In view of the huge expansion of steam powered machinery around the world these oils must have been vitally important. What companies managed and controlled the market and when did mineral oils supersede such oils as palm?


    According to S C Gilfillan, Inventing the Ship, Chicago, Follett Publishing. Co., 1935 p. 129, tallow, rapeseed (colza) oil and congeners were used until 1847. After that date, petroleum products …mineral oil. Animal and Vegetable oils broke down into glycerin and stearic acid, which was corrosive to hot metal. According to Breakdowns. Reed’s Helpful hints to seagoing engineers, (1917) p.156. Sperm oil had less fatty acid content than vegetable oils. If the bearing became sufficiently hot, the lubricant could catch fire, and the white metal forming the bearing melt.
    The reason for using palm oil in Nigeria would be its ready availability and low price.

    J. W. M

    I have passed this subject to some of my ex-marine engineer colleagues, who is inline with the opinion that in the earliest engines tallow would have been sufficient, given very low rpm delivered at the time.

    Malcolm Lewis

    It appears that tallow is still used as a lubricant. Green Earth Technologies, Connecticut, USA ( produce a biodegradable motor oil based on tallow. Clearly a product with a long and continuing role in the world of engineering.

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.