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Fourth funnel of OLYMPIC-class liners

2022.02.12. 22:52 Doki

With regard to ocean liners built with many funnels, it is widely believed that in older times many funnels were needed only because the poor efficiency of early boilers required this. However, there are many examples of large numbers of funnels being used even after they were no longer absolutely necessary due to the development of boilers. In the present study, we recall these examples.


The silhouette of the ships has been defined for centuries by a plethora of high masts and sails, making it recognizable from afar. As steam propulsion gained more and more ground in ocean-going shipping, the masts and sails disappeared and were gradually replaced by ships that were emitting dense smoke and soot, or just friendly white steam. Finally the thin and tall, or even thick and squat funnels, which lined up on upper deck of the huge passenger liners, had became characteristic hallmarks, just on the same way as the most striking element of the human face is the nose.

A total of only 14 four-funnelled ocean liners have been built in the history of shipping, although the GREAT EASTERN is sometimes listed here, but it was originally a five-stacker and was only converted to a four-funnelled in cable-laying period of it's service time. However, each of them did not really need four funnels, including the White Star Line's famous OLYMPIC-class trio (OLYMPIC, TITANIC, GIGANTIC - later BRITANNIC II).


Fig. 1.: That 14 four-funnel ocean liners which served in shipping companies of different nations through the maritime history. (created by Dr. Tamás Balogh).



Fig. 2. and 3.: First four-funnelled ships were warships: the H.M.S. TERRIBLE (1845-1879) the largest steam-powered wooden paddle wheel frigate built for the Royal Navy, and the U.S.S. WAMPANOAG (1864-1885), a screw frigatedesigned to be the fastest in the world, were intended for use in hit-and-run operations against British ports and commerce in the event of war (this type of warships widely known as cruisers later). The WAMPANOAG was a speed-recorder of the age with it's18 knots. (Source: to the TERRIBLE here, to the WAMPANOAG here and here.)



Fig. 4., 5., 6., 7., 8. and 9.: First four-funnelled civilian ships were was the iron paddle-steamers of the ULSTER-class which performed at a speed of 14 knots - ULSTER (1860-1897), MUNSTER (1860-1896), LEINSTER (1860-1896), CONNAUGHT (1860-1897) - built by the Laird's ship builders of Birkenhead for the City of Dublin Steam Pocket Co., and the BEN-MY-CHREE (1875-1906) built by Barrow Shipbuilding Co. for Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.



Fig. 10., 11. and 12.: Plan and builder's model of the very first four-funnelled ocean liner from 1890. A German engineer employed by Fairfield Shipbuildingand Engineering Company, in Govan, Scotland, Robert Zimmermann, made for GUION LINE a new design for their new record breaker. Stephen Barker Guion (1820–1885) has died, and the then financial instable line, transformed into an incorporation, tried to get a new record vessel after OREGON went back to the builder, who sold it to CUNARD. The newbuild contract never materialized. Zimmermann went back to Germany and seven years later the first four-funnelled ocean liner came into service under German flag.

In the present study, we are looking for an answer to what has led designers to use such components, which are indifferent to the ship's operability, and that ships with dummy funnels, especially those in the OLYMPIC-class, were really only self-serving results of designer's or customer's arbitrary, without any rationate and practical function?


Fig. 13.: Boiler room and fuunnel-arrangement of the famous GREAT EASTERN 1858-1890 (Source: Library of Congress).


I.) On the practical and aesthetic significance of funnels:

The primary purpose of funnel(s) on steamships is to remove smoke (and smoke gases), heat and excess steam from the boiler(s) located down, in the boiler room(s). As the size of ocean liners increased, more and more boilers were used.

The boilers were connected directly to the funnels in the middle of the 19th century. It was the so-called simple smoke-exhausting system. However, as the number of boilers increased, smoke-gas exhausting required more and more differentiated technical solutions, since it was also necessary to find a way to connect the flue pipes of those boilers which were located further from the funnel uptakes (had to abandon those previous solution, according to which 1-2, or maximum 4 boilers standing under a certain funnel are connected into the same funnel uptake, since an unlimited number of funnels could not be placed on the upper deck, if passengers should have accommodated too).

The problem is well illustrated by the fact that the GREAT EASTERN (which was the largest ship in the world for 40 years, and had fundamentally influenced the mindset of designers for decades), had only 10 boilers initially with 5, then (after reducing the number of boilers) with 4 functioning funnels, but the ships of the OLYMPIC-class had 29 boilers per ship with 3 funnels! The technical task to be solved was therefore to divert the combustion products of the boilers located further away from the funnel-uptakes to the funnels as well. In doing so, the horizontal sections had to be avoided, which would have led to a stagnation of the flow of flue gases, a cessation of ventilation, and possibly a return to the combustion chamber (thus reducing the efficiency of the combustion).

The solution was the development of a complex boiler exhaust assembly system for boilers in the last decade of the 19th and the first of the 20th century. This is consisted of two basic structural elements, between the boilers in the bottom of the vessel and the funnels on the upper deck: (1) special-shaped ventillation shafts (or boiler uptakes) which connect gas exit flanges on the upper part of boilers with the lower part of the funnel uptakes, and (2) the actual vertical funnel -or smoke shafts (i.e. funnel uptakes).


Figs. 14. and 15.: GREAT EASTERN’s simple and OLYMPI’s complex boiler exhaust assembly system (blue: boiler, green: boiler uptakes, red: funnel uptakes). (Source: Science Museum and Bruce Beveridge)


By the end of the 19th century, the long rectangular, box-shaped (so-called locomotive) boilers used in steam locomotives had been replaced by cylindrical boilers for ships. According to the widespread practice, a maximum of two rows of single- or double-ended boilers (which had fireplaces at both ends, ie heated from both sides) were connected to one funnel with 3-5 boilers per row. Depending on the number of boilers and the size of the ships, this solution was first used by the Germans to build a four-funnelled ocean liner, which was named KAISER WILHELM der GROSSE (1897-1914). In Germany, it became model of an ocean liner-series (owned by Norddeutscher Lloyd, which built 3 or more ships based on it's plans, but even the great rival HAPAG - Hamburg-Amerikanische Paketafahrt Aktiengesellschaft - used the plans of this ship to build a fast steamer called DEUTSCHLAND).


Figs. 16., 17. and 18.: Boiler- and funnel-arrrangement of KAISER WILHELM der GROSSE, its sister ship, KRONPRINZ WILHELM (above) and DEUTSCHLAND (middle) and KAISER WILHELM II and its sister ship, KRONZPRINZESSIN CECILIE (below). (Source: Collection of Dr. Tamás Balogh.)


In the case of German ships, however, the number of funnels has clearly been adapted to aspects other than technical necessity. In their case, unlike the practice of the time, there were not 2-2 rows of single- or double-ended boilers connected to the funnels, but fewer!

1) In the case of KAISER WILHELM der GROSSE (and its sister ship), only 1-1 rows of double-ended boilers were connected to 3 of the 4 funnels (2 rows of boilers were connected only to the last last funnel, but into one of these rows only single-ended boilers installed).

2) In the case of DEUSCHLAND, although 2-2 rows of boilers were already connected to all 4 funnels, there was always only single-ended boilers in one row.

3) Finally, in the case of KAISER WILHELM II (and its sister ship), there was again only one row of double-ended boilers under 1 of the 4 funnels, while in one of each rows of boilers under the other funnels contained only single-ended boilers.

In other words, while it was already possible at that time to connect 2 rows of double-ended boilers to 1 funnel (with 3-5 boilers per row), only half of this amount (up to one and a half times) was connected to 1-1 funnels on German ships. That is, the flue gas extraction of the boilers - if all the possibilities provided by the technical standards of the age were used to the maximum - could have been solved with fewer funnels! In light of this, the question may arise: what justified this type of funnel-arrangement? The answer is simple: advertising!

By the first years of the 20th century, the market for transoceanic passenger taffic had changed significantly. The transport of masses of emigrants from Europe to America from the second half of the 19th century onwards, more and more small and medium-sized European shipping companies were set up. Their presence was a challenge for the large national shipping companies, regarding they ordered far more ships than ever before, while - in the supply market - ticket prices were falling consequently. In order to stay afloat, companies have been lowering their prices and relentlessly cutting tariffs to secure a place in the competition. Thus, in many cases, they did not even generate enough revenue for the maintainance costs of their ships, let alone pay dividends to their shareholders.

A typical case of absorption was recognized by a U.S. financier, John Pierpoint Morgan, who – with the transformation of the International Navigation Co., established in 1871 to merge U.S. transatlantic shipping companies with strong financial support from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and various banks – acquired shares in the largest European shipping companies (including the English White Star Line) by 1902, and has entered into a co-operation agreement (we would now say a market-sharing agreement) with the German HAPAG and Norddeutscher Lloyd. The International Mercantile Marine Co., which was formed at this time, has since then rationalized the shipbuilding programs of its member companies, but until that the competition was almost unrestricted and ruthless.

In this situation, all that mattered was for the companies to catch passengers and persuade them to choose their ships for the transatlantic crossing rather than ships of the rival companies. As the 5-7 day voyage was still one of the most dangerous modes of travel at the time (the entry "disappeared at sea" was in too many registers), safety, speed and strength were those primary considerations for the passengers for their decisions. So the German designers set out to design ships that, with their appearance, suggest safety, speed and strength. When German ships actually won one by one the award for fastest Atlantic crossing - the famous Blue Ribbon - four funnel, which originally was just a marketing trick, became a brand and a symbol of speed and safety. Therefore, shipping companies have made every effort in order to be able to put four-funelled ocean-liners into service…

All right, but exactly what?

1) For example, they designed – or redesigned – their ships (which were still in the design phase) on that way, so that their boiler-arrangement will be as such that 4 funnels must be built in all conditions (the LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA, which originally designed as three-stacker, thus became four).

2) Or they built dummy funnels on their ships (as in the case of the OLYMPIC-class) simply just to have four funnels, in order to gave the impression of strength with them, by making their ship’ appearance more impressive.

Nevertheless the construction of the four-funnelled oceanliners used by competing shipping companies covered a very short period of time, only 25 years from the construction of the KAISER WILHELM der GROSSE in 1897 to the construction of the SS WINDSOR CATLE in 1922. In this quarter of a century, the reason for the use of a larger number of funnels, although in some cases undoubtedly necessary, remained largely symbolic.


Fig. 19.: The LUSITANIA (and its sister ship, the MAURETANIA) would have been built with three funnels according to the first plans in 1903. (Source: wikihmong.com)


However, the power and the prestige of the four funnels (which almost created style and fashion at the beginning of the 20th century) began to decline shortly after the First World War and then quickly disappeared. The flagships of the fleets of the large shipping companies, including the IMPERATOR, NORMANDIE and QUEEN MARY, had only three funnels (and often almost even that was unnecessary, since the size and performance of the boilers increased, so the same performance could be achieved with fewer boilers and funnels). The increase in the efficiency of shipbuilding, and the need to preserve (and possibly increase) the space available to passengers, has eventually led to the fact that oceanliners built in the years before the Second World War were only built with a maximum of two funnels, like in case of the BREMEN and EUROPA, the REX and CONTE di SAVOIA, and the MAURETANIA (II.) and QUEEN ELISABETH. And today's modern passenger ships carry only a single stack uniformly…

Fig. 20.: Final boiler- and funnel-arrangement of the LUSITANIA (and its sister ship, the MAURETANIA) from 1907. (Source: Illustrated London News, Courtesy of Péter Könczöl.)


II.) OLYMPIC-class dummy funnels - is a "dummy" funnel really disfunctional?

Units of the OLYMPIC class originally evoking the outline of the latest ocean liners built before them for the White Star Line (i.e. the "Big Four" - ADRIATIC, BALTIC, CEDRIC and CELTIC), as they would have been four- or three-masted ocean liners, with a superstructure split into several parts and only three (!) funnels. However, according to the first preliminary design which made after the construction of LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA in the summer of 1907, were soon replaced by the designs of a much larger and more elegant four-funnelled ship, he led the combustion products of the boilers to the open air. The R.M.S. OLYMPIC and its two sisterships thus eventually had four recognizable, elegant funnels, the first three of which led the combustion flue of the boilers to the open air.


Figs. 21., 22. and 23.: Plans of the R.M.S. BALTIC (above), first sketches of the OLYPMIC from 1907 (middle) and view of the ship (below). (Source: Wikimedia, The New York Times, March, 15.1908, Pinterest).





Figs. 24., 25., 26. and 27.: Boiler and funnel arrangement of the OLYMPIC on the final plans of the ship. (Source: Dr. Tamás Balogh.)



Figs. 28., 29. and 30.: Spider-like boiler uptakes for the OLYMPIC-class that conveyed flue gases and soot to the funnel uptakes. The size of these structures that are about to be completed is a good indication of how much space they needed over the boilers (Source: Samuel HalpernParks Stephenson). 


A boiler uptakes of 29 shafts, reminiscent of a giant spider, connected to the first three funnels was available for smoke extraction. In contrast, the fourth funnel in the OLYMPIC class (often referred to briefly as a “dummy” funnel) was used for ventilation, ie the fourth funnel was part of the ventilation system, namely it had to be used for the ventilation for the engine room and had to drain the combustion products from the fireplace of the first class smoking room. 

When OLYPMIC's boilers were converted to burn oil instead of coal in the 1920s, a fan was built into the fourth funnel to extract the flammable gases formed in the oil tanks. The fittings and equipment in the funnel were accessible and maintained by means of ladders built inside the funnel, which help for mechanics in cleaning or even in maintainance.

The elliptical cross-section funnels were 24 feet, 6 inches, and 19 feet in diameter, height were 70 feet from the boat deck, 150 feet from the waterline, and had an angle of 11 degrees. Each funnel was held by six-six steel wire (wrapped with rope) from each side, which were attached to rims placed on the reinforced lower part of the black-painted funnel collars. The funnel itself was painted buff, the usual White Star Line livery, except for the top quarter, which was painted black to mask the discoloration caused by soot on the funnel collar.

018019020.jpgFigs. 31., 32. and 33.: TITANIC funnel-arrangement and fourth funnel on the ship's plans (Source: Daily Mail, The Hitory Blog).


Fig. 34.: The dummy funnel of the OLYMPIC-class did not determined by aesthetics only. The rear funnel served the following functions: 1) ventilated air to/from the ship’s medical compartment, 2) ventilated air to/from the ship’s engine room, 3) ventilated air to/from the 1st and 2nd Class kitchens, 4) and was a chimney for the 1st Class smoking room fireplace. (Source Illustrated London News)


Figs. 35., 36., 37., 38., 39., 40., and 41.: Above the first three funnels of the OLYMPIC-class liners and the fourth funnel in the middle. The bottom three images were taken from the top of the fourth funnel of the OLYMPIC in the 1920s.


III.) Were other ships built with dummy funnels?

That's right! Even not one! As mentioned in the introduction to the study, not all of the 14 four-funnelled liners would have needed four funnels! In fact of the 14 ships, only 11 actually needed four funnels to discharge the combustion products from their boilers.

At the same time, dummy funnels for the White Star Line’s three OLYMPIC-class ships has long been the subject of debate. The German website on the work of the German Shipbuilding Technical Society (Schiffsbautechnische Gesellschaft) from 1901 to 1930, for example, traces the aesthetic debate of the fourth dummy funnel of the OLYMPIC class in 1917 (!).

Why this renowned society of German civil and naval shipbuilding engineers considered this topic important in the third year of the war, and why the abandonment of the fourth funnel still met with fierce resistance after the construction of the first two ships of the three-funnelled IMPERATOR-class, is a mystery.

The translation of the description commemorating the 1917 debate is as follows:

"Prof. Lienau [professor at the Royal Prussian Technical College in Danzig, today Gdansk, Poland], gave a lecture on the fourth funnel of the Olympic / Titanic, which was only a dummy funnel, and then discussed his proposal for another three-funnelled fast steamer, which others strongly opposed it."



Fig. 42.: Otto Lienau's demonstration (Source: Otto Lienau: Schiffbau als Kunst, in.: Jahrbuch der Schiffbautechnischen Gesellschaft, 1918. 328. o., collection of Dr. Tamás Balogh).


However, out of the 11 real four-funnelled ocean-going steamers mentioned, 7 (the 4 KAISER-class ships of the German Norddeutscher Lloyd, the DEUTCHLAND of the German HAPAG Line, the ARUNDEL CASTLE and WINDSOR CASTLE of the british Union-Castle Line) only had four funnels just because their plans had been modified such a way, although two funnels would have been enough for them. Funnels that originally served for boilers that actually operate in two boiler rooms were separated per boilers, so instead of one funnel per boiler room they received two funnels (one per boiler), that is, in their case, artificially (not because of technical necessity) four funnels were created.


Figs. 43. and 44.: WINDSOR CASTLE ocean liner in its original condition and after reconstruction. There was no need for four funnels! (Source: Wikipedia)


2 ships out of 11 (the LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA of the British Cunard Line), only three funnels were originally designed in the same way as the first plans of the OLYMPIC-class, and only due to the success of the German four-stackers - so only for advertising reasons - they decided to change the plans and order four-funnelled ocean liners. All in all, therefore, only 2 of the 14 vessels actually and indisputably had four funnels from the very first stage of design: in case of AQUITANIA of the Cunard Line and FRANCE (II) of the Compaigne Générale Transatlantique ('Transat'), although the real four-funnelled nature of the latter is debatable given the boiler arrangement.


Figs. 45. and 46.: Longitudinal section of the only real four-stackers, the AQUITANIA (above) and the FRANCE (II.). (Source: Dr. Tamás Balogh)


Moreover, the ships of the OLYMPIC-class were not only unique among their four-funelled contemporaries in the use of dummy funnels: the famous German Ballin Trio, the three-funnelled ships of the IMPERATOR-class, also had a dummy funnel at the rear. This was the case with the sister ships CAP POLONIO and CAP TRAFFALGAR of the Hamburg-Süd Line, or the STRATHNAVER of the Peninsular and Orient Line (P&O), the ILE de FRANCE and NORMANDIE of the CGT, the EMPRESS of BRITAIN of the Canadian Pacific Line, or BRITANNIC (III.) of the WSL and AMERICA of the US Lines, and we could continue. What's more! In case of Cunard Line's two-stacker sister ships of ANDRIA and ALSATIA in the 1950s (!), the first funnel was a dummy funnel as well. This means that then - even after the design-revolution, the constructivism, and the functionalism - it was a common feeling that to seem bigger, is better.


Fig. 47.: On ships in the IMPERATOR-class, the rear funnel (although the ships had “only” three funnels) was also a dummy. (Source: Dr. Tamás Balogh)



Fig. 48.: And when there are already just two funnels, but they are also too many: AMERICA and its dummy-funnel (this time the first). (Source: Dr. Tamás Balogh)



Figs. 49. and 50.: BRITANNIC (III.) above and her sister GEORGIC (below). GEORGIC originally also had two funnels, but it was converted to a single-stacker by removing the forward dummy-funnel in World War II. (Source: Wikipedia)


So, using parts (by neglect of material- and cost-saving) which were completely unnecessary for technical reasons, just for the sake of appearance (purely for design, or optical purposes), was a common thing for a long time.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary of these items was the third funnel of the NORMANDIE, which, however, was not a completely inoperable piece: the kennel for the dogs of the passengers were placed in it. The dog kennel was a place surrounded by stainless steel bars, in the middle of which was an drinking fountain for the animals in an oval space. The kennels were steam-heated, ventilated rooms with fresh litter and straw waiting for the animals daily. Allowed daily exercise for the dogs was provided on the upper deck around the funnel base. Of course, rescue equipment was also provided for the dogs in puppy, large and medium sizes, and a special daily menu was printed in French (offering a variety of bones, soups, biscuits and vegetables). A separate veterinarian was also available on board if required.


Figs. 51.: Dog Kennels, located inside the third - dummy - funnel of NORMANDIE (Source: Popular Mechanics, August, 1939.)


IV.) Under the spell of funnels:

Designer of the GREAT EASTERN,the  French-born British engineer genius Isambard Kingdom Brunnel once responded to accusations connected to his liner-plans (according to that building a ship of such a huge size is uneconomical and unnecessary) that “the bigger is better”.

His idea hadn't been approved for nearly 40 years, but now we know that he was right. He is not wanted that his ships won the title of the largest sea-going steamers for selfish purposes. These ships had been built so big only for they could take on board the amount of coal needed to cross the ocean without refueling. They had to be large in the first place, and many passengers had to be accommodated to make their journeys profitable.

Incidentally, the large size was accompanied by stability, seaworthiness, which was of great value to passengers who wanted to cross safely (even if, as is well known, all pioneers had a hard time, so the handling of Brunnel’s vast and unprecedented ocean liners was not an easy task either, and the necessarily untrained crew certainly caused many accidents).

Still, the “mania for size” brought to life by talented or just untalented engineers trying to follow Brunnel, continues to this day. An interesting side effect of this was the attraction to multi-funnelled ocean-going vessels, as the epitome of safety, speed and power, which was initially embodied in the construction of the four-stackers, but we also know of a case where designers flirted with the idea of installing even more funnels…

The following are manifestations of this strange mania for size (presenting three unrealized oceanliner plans, which were partly intended as a joke):


Figs. 52.: Concept of Jochann Schütte for the KAISER WILHELM II. in 1902. (Source: Pinterest)


The success of the first fourstacker oceanliners (the KAISER WILHELM der GROSSE and its sistership, KRONPRINZ WILHELM, and the rival DEUTSCHLAND) prompted the shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd, to build new, larger and faster ones.

Answering the order of the company, in 1900, several designers prepared a design proposal for the new ships (later KAISER WILHELM II and its sister ship, KRONPRINZESSIN CECILIE). Jochann Schütte's project to upgrading the KAISER-class stood out from the rest by he had now installed even five (!) funnels on the upper deck, instead of the previous four.

His plans contained nothing new in other respects, only in that the German engineer gave the hull of his ship the shape of the warships, more precisely the stern of the cruisers - perhaps as a result of the universal interest in warship-building (which was booming at the time and was also of great concern to the public, and the patriotic sentiments centered around it).

This is all the more remarkable because the so-called cruiser-stern began to spread on ocean liners only about ten years later, but only gained popularity in the 1930s following the success of the largest liner built with cruiser stern, the QUEEN MARY.


Figs. 53.: Concept of William Francis Gibbs for the INDPENDENCE in 1915. (Source: The New York Times, August 3. 1919.)


The background of this situation is well highlighted by the third example is a funny mirror in front of all car-crazy people, which is nothing more than a caricature made by a German photographer in the 1920s as a prank for April 1st. Using a picture of VATERLAND (US-owned LEVIATHAN) confiscated from the Germans, he created a photomontage of a ten-funnelled limousine oceanliner – the imaginary PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT – as a reference to the contemporary enthusiasm for vast dimensions.



Figs. 54.: The German caricature-photo. (Source)











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