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Steam Punk / Real Life

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  • Despite the presence of oil, the First World War was pretty steampunk. You've got mid-late 1800s strategy and tactics (and even military fashion) meeting (then) high technology featuring fleets of airships in the sky, cantankerous early warplanes, riveted-steel early tanks (which were even called Landships back then), heavily armed & armoured steamships, monstrous pieces of artillery, armored trains and many other bizarre equipment that would not have been out of place in a steampunk piece of media. The war was also extremely Diesel Punk because it saw the advent of industrial warfare, modern military tactics, a new type of world spanning the globe, and new types of society. As such, in many ways it is the border between the two punks, and a useful case study in how the two can be blended.
  • Most warships would use steam power well after WWII. It's just that after the replacement of triple expansion engines with the more efficient turbine engines, it became increasingly less obvious that steam was actually being as the power source.
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  • Airships and airplanes have roots in Victorian-era steampunk. Henri Giffard's airship, the first powered aircraft in the world, flew in 1852 using a steam engine. The Eole bat-steam-plane flew in 1893. Barely.
  • There was a little bit of Steampunk in Ancient Greece. One of the most famous examples is Hero of Alexandria who built, among other things, a primitive steam engine, a wind-powered organ, a vending machine that dispensed holy water, force pumps for fire engines, and a hydrostatically powered fountain. Some historians today actually debate why the Ancient Greeks did not have an Industrial Revolution; a leading theory is that the abundance of cheap slave labor and a corresponding shortage of easily obtainable fuel served as a disincentive.
  • Goggles Do Nothing: Goggles are a mainstay of steampunk fashion. Likely harkening back to the days of early motorcars when there were no windshields, and the vehicles belched loads of smoke, but also likely due to the fact that mad scientists and World War I-era aviators inevitably wear them as well.
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  • Jeweler's Eye Loupe: For some reason, these devices are almost always attached to the ubiquitous goggles steampunks wear.
  • Jake von Slatt's Steampunk Workshop.
  • Datamancer's creations.
  • The Steampunk Treehouse from Burningman.
  • Weta Workshop
  • Dark Roasted Blend has lots of photos on the subject.
  • Outlands Armour
  • Thomas Willeford's Brute Force Studios
  • Steampunk jewelry. Although steampunk stuff is so ubiquitous on Etsy, and the term is so often misapplied to decidedly non-steampunk crafts, that Regretsy (often NSFW, so beware) ran a regular "This Is Not Steampunk" feature.
  • Steampunk Prostethic arm works using rocket-style motors that run on steam. One of the stranger side effects this will have when in production is that the excess steam will be vented off as sweat.
  • Even today steam enginesnote  drive submersibles, tremendous ships of war, and power cities. But since the water is boiled by radioactive isotopes and not by coal or wood, we tend to call them "nuclear reactors" nowadays. There's a reason they called the first Atomic Sub the Nautilus!
  • What people hardly realize today is that fact that many weird inventions in Jules Verne's novels were based on actual technologies of his time, blown Up to Eleven and therefore pretty hard to be put in practice. As Nautilus had been based on the Real Life Plongeur (1863-1872), which it resembled in description, but which also performed poorly (a top speed of barely 4 knots, while the battery-powered Nautilus was said to make 50 knots(!), Robur the Conqueror's 150mph automobile from 1904 Master Of The World had been based on Real Life Jamais Contente racecar from 1899 (again electrically-powered) and so on. And, strangely connecting Steampunk and Diesel Punk ages together in Real Life, the British Great Western Railway ran from 1838 to 1892 high-speed trains on 2,140mm gauge tracks, prefigurating Adolf Hitler's plan of the 3,000mm gauge Breitspurbahn which was never built.
  • This Steampunk Turntable. Taking this trope literally.
  • Modern architects slip into this trope when trying to adapt 19th century architecture and technology to modern life, instead of simply letting them to be razed and replaced:
    • Vienna's 1896 Gasometers, four giant buildings made for town gas storage. Turned into a modern complex of apartments, shopping malls and interior gardens.
    • Paris Musée d'Orsay, built in the main hall of a former temple of Steam Age, a railway station.
    • Anvers Central rail station, converted from an ornate ground level 19th century terminus station into a four-level modern station incorporating a tunnel for high-speed rail.
    • Modernized building of the Moscow GUM: Steam Age department store fitted with modern amenities.
  • Also, the High-Tech architectural style may slip into Steampunk when it tries to incorporate in buildings exposed structures, decorations made from industrial appliances and other stuff which give to an office building the look of a modernized steam plant or oil refinery: London Lloyd's Building (even better when it does also incorporate the 1925 façade) or Centre Georges Pompidou of Paris (where glass-encased escalators also add a bit of Raygun Gothic).
  • Probably the largest architectural work of intentional steampunk in the world is the station vault and platforms for Paris Metro Line 11 at the Arts et Metiers station, designed in steampunk style by Belgian artist Francois Schuiten as a tribute to the nearby national museum of Arts et Metiers (literally translates as arts and crafts, actually covering science and technology).
  • Want this shirt you do.
  • Whom shall you telegram? The League of S.T.E.A.M.!
  • Since Doctor Steel was a Steampunk musician and the founder of his fan site is a steampunk fashion designer, it isn't surprising to see steampunk fashion influences in the uniforms of the Army of Toy Soldiers.
  • The first programmable computer was designed by Charles Babbage using only mechanical processes. While the concept of the design was never fully realized in his lifetime, workable versions were built for much more simplified purposes, making the idea feasible. It wouldn't be until 120 years after his death that a complete and working version of it was built in 1991 using the plans for his Difference Engine No. 2 with materials and within the engineering tolerances of his time. It worked and there is interest in testing his design for the Analytical Engine he designed in 1837, which, if it works, would make it the oldest design for a Turing-complete computer.
    • There is a very serious problem in actually building the Analytical Engine compared to the Difference Engine No. 2: The Difference Engine was actually being built at one time (although almost all the original parts were destroyed after the effort collapsed) so complete construction plans were drawn up (including little details like the actual frameworks the parts were to be fitting into). The Analytical Engine never got past the conceptual design stage, so while all the mechanisms needed were designed, the details of how to actually put them together in a working configuration that will hold together were never done. The Difference Engine construction was simply producing a complex machine from blueprints, but the Analytical Engine will require first completing the design. (This may not be a bad thing, however. The Difference Engine was not what you'd call a good production design and was extremely difficult to debug. Almost all glitches in it caused the whole thing to lock up solidly, making it almost impossible to locate the problems and unbind the machine. The need to complete the Analytical Engine's design would, among other things, make it possible to modularize it so that portions could be tested and debugged in isolation, making it much easier to get and keep working.)
    • Konrad Zuse got a lot closer to a general-purpose mechanical computer with the Z1, but did so close enough to the advent of relay and transistor computers that it was abandoned. The Z1 would probably have been powered by an electric motor rather than steam engine, but both this and the Difference and Analytical engines could have been powered by anything capable of turning an axle, predating even steam.
  • The Lippisch P.13a rocket-fueled interceptor, one of the many Wunderwaffe designed by Hitler's designers in the twilight of Nazi Germany. Because of Germany's awful supply situation, the designers anticipated that the complex chemicals needed to produce WWII rocket fuels would be in short supply. To solve this problem, they decided to use coal instead. Coal. In an aircraft. The rather clever propulsion consisted of a rotating drum of coal dust burned by natural gas jets, with the resulting fumes being mixed with clean air and re-ignited in a ramjet. Even more impressively, the engine worked, trialing successfully in Vienna. Sadly, WWII ended before the airframes could be completed and prototypes flown.
  • Like WWII, the American Civil War had its share of outrageous tech that never actually saw combat. Of course, everyone knows about the ironclads, the first steam powered iron-plated warships, which were the precursors of the battleship. But some you might not have heard of: A Confederate dentist named Dr. R. Finley Hunt drew up plans for a steam-powered airplane. And Union Colonel Edward Wellman Serrell designed a steam-powered helicopter called the Reconoiterer.
  • The earliest precursors of automobiles (from 17th to mid-19th century) worked with steam.
  • This ingeniously homemade gatling gun pretty much breathes this trope.
  • The GN car factory flourished during The Edwardian Era and World War I, building small cyclecars with JAP motorcycle engines and dog-chain transmissions (very similar to a bicycle derailleur gear). Then, in the 1990s, Richard Scaldwell from Britain restored a GN racecar and adapted the V8 engine, still made by JAP, from a friggin' airplane from 1908. All has been done with materials and hand tools used during the Steam Age and Edwardian Age, brass, copper, aluminum sheet and wood. It races modern WRC cars.
    Nash and Godfrey hated cogs,
    Built a car with chains and dogs.
    And it worked, but would it if
    They had built it with a diff?
    (ironic verse of the 1920s)
  • One modern-day proposal for a rover designed to operate on the surface of Venus is based on the principles 19th-century analog computers such as Babbage's Analytical Engine. The reasoning for this is that the temperatures on the surface of Venus are hot enough to melt the electronic components of traditional landers and rovers, but an analog-computer rover could last up to a year.
  • Many of Leonardo Da Vinci's designs were Clock Punk or steampunk. Among his designs were calculators, helicopters, tanks, and a robot terminator.
  • The modern revival of vinyl records. This uses complex mechanisms to reproduce what can be done much easier with electronics.


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