Category Archives: Puns

Fifty years of nuclear shipping

Let me introduce the PS Savannah (‘PS’ stands for paddle steamer). 190 years ago, Savannah was docked in Russia while the captain received a gold watch from the country’s Emperor.

What was the occasion? A few months earlier, Savannah had become the world’s first steam-powered ship to cross an ocean, travelling from Savannah (on America’s south-east coast), to Liverpool (on England’s west coast) in 29 days.

Actually, it was a hybrid sail and steam ship, and most of its journey was carried out under sail, not steam power. But it was a start, and Savannah went on to tour Europe before returning home. Here’s our model of the ship:

PS Savannah, 1818 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

PS Savannah, 1818 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

PS Savannah was wrecked in 1821, but that wasn’t the end of the name, or the pioneering. In 1959, enter stage-left the NS Savannah, the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship, named in honour of its predecessor’s role in marine propulsion history.

NS Savannah, 1959 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

NS Savannah, 1959 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Nuclear reactors still power some military ships around the world, but it was pretty much a non-starter for merchant use, for mostly economic reasons. NS Savannah is currently being decommissioned and decontaminated in Baltimore.

But nuclear power for generating electricity is a different kettle of fission*, with fresh attention being paid to the technology as part of attempts to cut climate-changing emissions from burning fossil fuels. Of course, this just opens up a whole world of debate…


We’ll meter-gain… don’t know where… don’t know when…

The latest addition to the Science Museum’s road transport collection is the last ever coin-operated kerbside parking meter in Westminster. It arrived at our storage facility last week (let’s hope the delivery van didn’t get a parking ticket).

Westminster Council was the first in Britain to install parking meters, back in 1958 (great Times article here), and the roadside sentries have been a feature of London’s West End (and elsewhere) ever since. This particular one was installed in Warwick Square in the 1990s and was dug up at an official ceremony on 7 May 2009.

Parking meter, 1990s (credit: David Rooney)

Parking meter, 1990s (credit: David Rooney)

We’ve got some other traffic stuff in our collections. Alongside a handful of parking meters, a couple of traffic light sets and the Gatso speed camera I mentioned previously, we also have a 1980s handheld computer used by the Metropolitan Police to record details of illegally-parked vehicles which had been clamped, as well as a clamp itself:

Husky Hunter computer (credit: David Rooney)

Husky 'Hunter' computer (credit: David Rooney)

Wheelok wheel clamp (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

'Wheelok' wheel clamp (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Our road transport collection is by no means just vehicles. It’s about the whole driving system, the complex tangle of things that’s resulted from our attempts to move farther, faster, more safely and in more comfort - attempts that have been going on, I guess, since we first decided to see what was occurring in the next cave. But where do we go from here?

One thing’s for sure: at the Science Museum we’ll keep collecting whatever people come up with to help solve the problems of moving about. Speaking of which, I’d love to get my hands on more urban transport gadgetry, if any traffic engineers happen to be reading…