Invented by an Englishman in 1891, this “Putt Putt” steam boat utilizes a simple method for creating power as an inexpensive toy. A candle, or in this case a small tin of olive oil with a wick, is used to heat the boiler. The heated water flashes into steam, which then jets out the rear pipes and pulls water back into the boiler, thus restarting the cycle over and over. This process propels the boat forward, and the advertisers claimed that it could, “run for hours on only a few drops of olive oil!”

These toy boats are now more commonly produced in India. Looking at the graphics on the outside of the hull, it’s plain to see that the tiny boats are made from scrap tin to keep costs to a minimum. While fairly simple, the Putt Putt boat is an efficient and inexpensive toy to demonstrate steam power with just a candle or oil tin.

Exhibit added: March 21, 2017 - Last modified: May 18, 2024

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship