To imagine a world of steampunk, we need to assume that technology stopped advancing before the discovery of modern electronic computers. Most likely, things would run on steam power in this world. Any machinery or device would need the combustion of fossil fuels to generate energy for operation. This world would be full of huge machines with visible gear work, valves, gas pipes, pressure gauges, large combustion chambers, etc. As an example, we can imagine locomotive engines running on steam as a substitute for the locomotives used in the present day. We can also imagine steam-powered blimps or airships in place of airplanes as a mode of air transport.
What would be the timeline of this world?
During the advent of the industrial revolution which took place in the 1700s and 1800s, coal was the main source of energy. It was used to power steam engines, boilers, ships, and trains. By the late 1800s coal was also used to generate electricity for both homes and large factories.
At the beginning of the 1900s cleaner fuels such as oil and natural gas were found. These were abundant in nature and easily available at lower costs when compared to coal. They slowly replaced coal as the main fuel because they were easy to transport, store and handle. In the late 1900s technology advanced even more with the discovery of nuclear energy.
Suppose these cleaner fuels were not discovered in the 20th century, we can imagine this point in time where steam energy would have been the main source of power and energy for households and machinery. Different ways in which steam could have been used as the source of power can be imagined from hereon. Let us explore a few possibilities which could exist in today’s world.
Technologies that would exist in this Steampunk world
In this imaginative world, steam is the main source of power. This would mean that this world may have large infrastructural facilities consisting of steam distributing pipelines similar to the electric wires we see today. These pipelines may have been hooked to a steam line similar to a power grid. This would also mean that buildings would have large central steam generators which would be connected to the households and factories using pipes.
In most steampunk settings, steam is considered to be the only source of power. However, some settings also include electric wires, electronic gadgets, advanced computers, etc. implying the presence of electricity and futuristic technology in this world.
What would this steampunk world look like?
A steampunk world is usually characterized by the settings of stories and inventions which can be sci-fi, fantastical or magical. The visual appeal of this world is defined by the many different ways in which fashion and machinery are imagined. Most commonly seen elements in this world include
- Technologically advanced mechanical machinery which is powered by steam.
- Gears and clockwork mechanisms.
- Steam powered locomotives, airships and blimps.
- Fashion influenced by Victorian, American wild west and other settings.
Here are some amazing ways artists have visualized this world. Let us know in the comment section, which one you like the most.
Can a steampunk world actually exist today?
Even though the existence of some steampunk settings is possible in today’s world, most are impractical to design and use. For example, steam engines can still be seen in use but nowadays have mostly been replaced by electrical engines. Since the discovery of oil, natural gas, and nuclear power, the world has moved to cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient sources of energy.
Two of the most prevalent technologies were steam engines and hydrogen-filled airships which were also powered by steam engines. The mechanical movement of steam engines produces sparks which is a very bad mix with a hydrogen-filled airship as hydrogen is very volatile and flammable. Also in practicality, a steam engine will not be able to lift a big airship rigged on top of a cabin carrying the steam engine due to the poor power to weight ratio of the steam engine and the airship.
Even though we see some interesting clockwork mechanisms in use today, most of the designs are impractical to use and difficult to create. Too many laws of physics need to be violated for these mechanisms to be viable.