Are Steampunk Airships Possible?
By Steampunk Origins | Updated Oct 09, 2019
While many people find steampunk airships incredibly appealing, few know about their existence and mechanisms, which is why it is quite common to hear people ask, are steampunk airships possible?Now, it is quite reasonable to conclude that steampunk airships do not exist. This might come as a disappointment to many who fancy becoming space pirates. However, it is possible to design a steampunk airship, just in case you want one.
What Do You Need to Build a Steampunk Airship?
Steampunk airship cannons are actually more affordable than many people imagine. A cannon may sell for around $1000. Ten cannons would be more than enough for your steampunk airship. A cannon is basically a tube of metal.
The boat itself could be any type or make left to the imagination. Some of the factors to consider when looking for a boat for your steampunk airship are weight and price.
Consider choosing the right size of boat and one with the Victorian era look to it. Lastly, choose a zeppelin that will lift the airship. The zeppelin should be designed to lift the boat and its content. Generally, one kilogram of mass requires one cubic meter of helium to lift it.
Why Are Airship Pirates in Steampunk?
First, it is important to acknowledge that airship pirates never really existed. There is no proof of the existence of airships as imagined in steampunk.
However, when we imagine airship pirates, their outfits are often inspired by the look of sea pirates, which is practically the closest analog to air pirates.
The look of airship pirates draws inspiration from the styles popularized in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, which are the eras in which steampunk draws its look from.
In fact, government sponsored piracy or privateering ended during the Victorian era. So, why do we see so many airship pirates in steampunk and why do they look like they are from the Victorian era?
What is the History of Steampunk Airships?
First, a few facts about piracy. Piracy did not end in the 18th century, just like it didn’t start in the 16th century. Piracy is alive and well even in the 21st century, although it has certainly declined from the “golden age of piracy”, which lasted between 1650 and 1730.
This period saw the rise of many famous pirates including Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd. Piracy was wildly romanticized during its golden age, but its current popular conception of what it was like is more fiction than fact.
Although privateering officially ended in 1856, it provides some overlaps for steampunks to play with. That said, there is no known steampunk airship privateer.
Meanwhile, piracy was a constant problem in the 19th century, especially in the Caribbean and U.S. waters so much that the U.S. designed several battleships that were specifically made to prevent and counter piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Mediterranean.
One of the anti-piracy ships, the USS Grampus, sank one of the most famous pirates of the era, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte is considered the Puerto Rican version of Robin Hood and there are many stories around his exploits and hidden treasures.
Lafitte raided many towns in the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast. Although his influence eventually waned, there was still a fair degree of piracy in form of slave trade that had been outlawed. Consequently, the U.S. Navy spent significant sums of money trying to counter the ships that were involved in piracy during the 19th century.
There were also joint efforts by the British Navy and U.S. Navy to eradicate piracy in China between 1840 and 1860. Although Chinese pirates are not the first thing we think about when we think of piracy, but they actually existed.
Another thing many people do not know about is river piracy. While it was quite common in the U.S. for quite a while, it died down in the early to mid 19th century.
This is probably one of the main reasons why many people have not paid much attention to the history of river piracy. Still, you may probably be wondering, why aren’t there many followers of steampunk river pirates? Because river pirates are not as romanticized as sea pirates.
The distance between East and West is so huge that there was little communication from the West to the East during the Victorian era and people living on the East Coast knew very little about life on the Wild West.
In fact, the distance between the East Coast and the West Coast Frontier was roughly the same as the distance from England to Turkey, which was considered the orient for quite a while. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Wild West stories popped up almost in the same era as Oriental tales.
Although piracy may not have had the same appeal in the Victorian era as it does now considering its effects on local communities back then, outlaws have often been popular among people that resent their government. Therefore, some pirates had such a considerable following.
While piracy existed during the 19th century, which gives it a precedent for steampunk, many people tend to default to more romanticized visions of piracy when constructing worlds and outfits. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that steampunk mainly draws inspiration from those eras.
So Are Steampunk Airships Possible?
Unfortunately steampunk airships do not exist within our realms of reality. So we must improvise. When looking for inspiration for your steampunk airship, there are many areas to draw inspiration from including river pirates, Chinese pirates and privateers.
There are many options to choose from. Nevertheless, why is the golden age of piracy the main inspiration for steampunk? The answer is quite simple, the golden age of piracy has been romanticized in many popular stories and art and steampunk airships are popular features of such stories.