Parsons' steam turbine-generator, 1884.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Made by Clarke, Chapman, Parsons & Co, this machine was the forerunner of the turbo-generators that today provide most of the world's electricity. It was the first prototype produced by Charles Parsons (1854-1931), who promoted the turbine as a smaller and more efficient alternative to the steam reciprocating engine. In the turbine, the expanding steam works continuously as it pases through many turbine stages. This gives far higher efficiency than was posible with the steam engine. The turbine combines freedom from vibration with the high speed suited to electrical generators. The turbine was also used in marine propulsion. In 1894 Parsons launched his first turbine-powered boat, the s Turbinia, which reached previously-unattainable speeds of up to 34 knots.