19th Century Photographs

At the beginning of the 19th century, navies consisted of wooden fleets powered by the wind and armed with rows of cannons along the broadsides of the ship. Over the course of the century, naval technology changed dramatically as powerful nations built navies consisting of steel ships with rotating turrets. Much of this change began in the middle of the century with the development of ironclads, steam powered ships with iron hulls. The Battle of Hampton Roads during the Civil War in 1862 featured the first confrontation between two ironclads, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. In the following decades, navies around the world sought to build their own steel fleets in a period of rapid modernization. As steel and steam technologies improved, naval ships grew bigger and faster. By the end of the 19th century, navies began to resemble battleships used during much of the 20th century with the characteristic steel hulls and deck mounted guns. By the close of the 19th century, Great Britain continued its dominance of the sea, while the German and the United States navies were also rapidly growing and modernizing.