The advent of steam and shipbuilding
Plan and side elevations of the Austrian Lloyd Arsenal
Lithograph on paper, 1853
In 1818, the Mediterranean’s first steamships were launched in Naples and Trieste, the Ferdinando I and the Carolina. These were small sailing ships equipped with a side-lever engine that drove two side paddle wheels. The propeller was not invented until 1927, when it was patented by Josef Ressel (1793-1857). Two years later, Ressel would put at sea his steamship Civetta, the first-ever ship to be able to sail using Leonardo da Vinci’s principle of the tractor propeller.
The hulls were made of wood and built by the so-called maestri d’ascia, shipwrights with centuries of experience behind them.
In 1852 Lloyd Austriaco bought a used iron-hulled steamship, its first one. Called the Cremona, she was used on the Po River. The iron hull’s advantages over wooden hull were immediately evident, and in 1853 the 32nd steamship to be commissioned by Lloyd, the Fiume (launched in London), had both an iron hull and a propeller.
As early as 1837 Lloyd had purchased from William Morgan the small arsenals in Venice and Trieste created by the “Compagnia Inglese”, the company that owned the Carolina. The following year all maintenance activities were transferred to Trieste, in the Campo Marzio area, and entrusted to Alessandro Toppo, Morgan’s brother-in-law and former director of the abandoned arsenal based in Venice.
The rapid expansion of the fleet soon meant that the Campo Marzio arsenal was too small for all of the necessary ordinary and extraordinary ship maintenance activities.
In November 1850 Hans Christian Hansen (1803-1883), the Danish architect who had designed the maritime stations in Lutraki and Kalimaki (Corinth) on behalf of Lloyd, was tasked with visiting the Great Exhibition in London to establish contacts with the leading builders of iron hulls and steam engines. This was followed by a long journey exploring the most modern shipyards in Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France to get a good grasp of all the most recent developments in shipbuilding.
Meanwhile, Eduard J. Haider, engineer, began building an enormous, 11-hectare embankment in the bay of Servola to host the new arsenal, whose construction was formally launched on 30th May 1853. Three years later the arsenal would begin its activity, although it took another nine and a half years to complete its construction.
Admiral David G. Farragut, tasked with designing the U.S. Navy Arsenal at Mare Island, near San Francisco, visited the main European shipyards. Upon returning to the United States, he wrote in his report that the Lloyd arsenal was not only the largest in the world, it was also the best.
View of the new dry dock and patent slip in the Austrian Lloyd new Arsenal in Trieste
Lithograph on paper, 1857 ca.
From half-hull model to completed ship
Many of the ‘half-hull’ models exhibited here were used to measure the size and shape of the full scale sheet metal to be used for building the actual hull.
Inside the mould loft, whose floor looked like a huge sheet of graph paper, many workers used large pantographs to trace the outline of the model onto the actual sheet metal. The points traced were then joined together by long strips of wood known as battens, held in place by heavy lead weights.
This job was entrusted to carpenters aged sixteen or less, due to their keen eyesight and especially because they would have to spend the entire working day on their knees.
This system remained unchanged until the mid-1960s, when the first electronic drawing systems were introduced, and metal sheets began to be cut with plotters fitted with oxyacetylene torches.
Wien and Helouan, the arsenal’s masterpieces
These two elegant twin ships launched in 1911 were the largest, most powerful, and most luxurious ships to be built at the famous Lloyd Austriaco arsenal and also its swan song as they were the last ships to be constructed there.
They were bound for the prestigious express route between Trieste and Alexandria (Egypt). As most of their passengers were wealthy celebrities, they were lavishly outfitted by the renowned Vienna-based furniture makers Portois & Fix, and decorated with paintings by Karl Ludwig Prinz (1875-1944).
With a length of 138 metres, they could travel at a speed of over 17 knots thanks to two quadruple-expansion, 5000 HP steam engines.
During the Great War the Helouan remained in port in Dalmatia, while the Wien became a Red Cross hospital ship until 1st November, 1918, when she was accidentally sunk during the mission by Rossetti and Paolucci that resulted in the sinking of the Austrian dreadnought battleship Viribus Unitis. After being salvaged by the Italians, she went back to serving the Trieste – Alexandria route together with her twin ship (which was renamed Vienna in 1922).
In 1937, while in Naples, the Helouan was destroyed by a fire. In 1941 the Vienna, renamed Po in 1936, was sunk during an Allied bombing raid in the port of Valona, even though she was serving as a hospital ship.
Ships and photography
Photography was born at about the same time as mechanically-propelled ships. The first photograph of a steamship was probably that of the Great Britain, taken by William Talbot in April 1844. The earliest known photograph of a steamship built by Lloyd, the Pluto, was taken in Trieste in 1857, probably by the German photographer Wilhelm Fredrik Engel (1824-1891) on behalf of the ship owner.
Trieste was one of the very first cities in Europe where daguerreotypes were made. On 21st November 1839, L’Osservatore Triestino wrote about Carlo Fontana’s first studio in Via di Romagna 10, where clients could have their portraits taken.
A much more practical photographic printing system using albumen quickly took over in the first half of the 19th century. In 1855 Lloyd hired Engel, thus establishing the first full-time photographic studio in Trieste. Two years later Engel opened his own studio in Via dei Forni, next to Taddeo Reyer’s house. One of his first pupils was Giuseppe Wulz (1851-1886), who photographed the entire fleet between 1884 and 1886.