Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Horsepower

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 25, 2011

Back in the mid-1990s, there was a Gothic Country Music, with influences from bluegrass and European folk, and known by the name of 16 Horsepower.  Ten years and 8 CDs later, they disbanded.  Considering that this year’s 2012 Hyundai Accent features a 138-horsepower six-speed transmission, anything with only 16 horsepower may not sound terrible powerful.  But just how much power is found in one horsepower?

The fact of the matter is that a horsepower is a unit for measuring the rate of work of an engine or motor.  Horsepower is the unit of power needed to lift 165 pounds 27 inches in one second. The average horse is actually 10 to 13 times stronger than that, meaning that one horse normally is capable of producing 10 to 13 units of horsepower.

Horses are known for two things when it comes to their ability to move from place to place: power and speed.

On September 10, 1915 Montana’s Miles City Independent newspaper ran an advertisement for the Chalmers Six-40 — a two-door seven-passenger, 40 horsepower, valve-in-head motor with overhead camshaft touring car that sat two in the front seat, two in the middle seat and three in the back seat that sold for $1,350 US dollars.  In many respects, it sounds a little like today’s minivans. The ad included this tidbit of information about reasons why people may be interested in purchasing a Chalmers Six-40:

Some one said a short time ago that people buy  motor cars largely on three P’s — Paint, Price and Performance.  You can measure this wonderful Chalmers car at $1,350 by any one of these three standards.  It is right in Paint which indicates finish and wearing qualities.  It is right in Performance because no car at any price performs better than this car does. And it is right in Price.  No one in the history of the industry ever approached such quality at such a price before.

Cunard Lines has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic since 1839, when Canadian-born Samuel Cunard (1787–1865) was awarded the first British transatlantic steamship mail contract.  Originally named the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company, it operated four paddle steamers that travelled between Liverpool (England), Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) and Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.A.)  In 1879, it was renamed the Cunard Steamship Company.  Back in 1839, however, steamships were between 300 and 450 horsepower.

The Brittania, one of Cunard‘s large ocean liners, crossed the Atlantic in 11 days and 4 hours, arriving in Halifax from England on July 17, 1840.   She was 207 feet (63 m) long and 34 feet (10.3 m) across the beam, had three masts and a power output of about 740 horsepower.   Her usual speed was about 8.5 knots or 16 km per hour on average and could carry 115 passengers and 82 crew members.

But the origin of the expression horsepower dates back to 1780 when Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819) realized he needed a term for power that would help him market his modified steam engine.  At the time, his competition was a horse and so he coined the expression “horsepower” so the marketplace would be able to make the comparison easily and accurately.

Advertisements

One Response to “Horsepower”

  1. Slava said

    Very interesting, thank you. I wonder how they decided on the 165/27/1 bit.

    I also never knew that Cunard started out as a packet delivery service. As a philatelist, I recognize well the abbreviation BNA, as British North America is a very popular collecting area.

    I’m assuming the 6-40 was so-called because it had six, er, um, whatchamaycallits. I can’t come up with the word for the combustion chambers! Argh! I once had an 8-banger Camaro, and now drive a 4-banger PT Cruiser, but what the heck’s the word for a banger?

    Cylinder! Wow, that was tough!

    Sincerely,

    Slava

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: