A propeller is a type of fan that transmits power by converting rotational motion into thrust. A pressure difference is produced between the forward and rear surfaces of the blade, and a fluid is accelerated behind the blade. Their disadvantages are higher mechanical complexity and higher cost, the principle employed in using a screw propeller is used in sculling. It is part of the skill of propelling a Venetian gondola but was used in a less refined way in parts of Europe. For example, propelling a canoe with a paddle using a pitch stroke or side slipping a canoe with a scull involves a similar technique. In China, sculling, called lu, was used by the 3rd century AD. In sculling, a blade is moved through an arc. The innovation introduced with the propeller was the extension of that arc through more than 360° by attaching the blade to a rotating shaft. Propellers can have a blade, but in practice there are nearly always more than one so as to balance the forces involved. The origin of the screw propeller starts with Archimedes, who used a screw to lift water for irrigation and bailing boats and it was probably an application of spiral movement in space to a hollow segmented water-wheel used for irrigation by Egyptians for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci adopted the principle to drive his theoretical helicopter, in 1784, J. P. Paucton proposed a gyrocopter-like aircraft using similar screws for both lift and propulsion. At about the time, James Watt proposed using screws to propel boats. This was not his own invention, though, Toogood and Hays had patented it a century earlier, by 1827, Czech-Austrian inventor Josef Ressel had invented a screw propeller which had multiple blades fastened around a conical base. He had tested his propeller in February 1826 on a ship that was manually driven. He was successful in using his bronze screw propeller on an adapted steamboat and his ship Civetta with 48 gross register tons, reached a speed of about six knots. This was the first ship successfully driven by an Archimedes screw-type propeller, after a new steam engine had an accident his experiments were banned by the Austro-Hungarian police as dangerous. Josef Ressel was at the time a forestry inspector for the Austrian Empire, but before this he received an Austro-Hungarian patent for his propeller. This new method of propulsion was an improvement over the paddlewheel as it was not so affected by either ship motions or changes in draft as the burned coal
Propeller on a modern mid-sized merchant vessel. The propeller rotates clockwise to propel the ship forward when viewed from astern (right of picture); the person in the picture has his hand on the blade's trailing edge.
Smith's original 1836 patent for a screw propeller of two full turns. He would later revise the patent, reducing the length to one turn.
A replica of SS Great Britain's first propeller was created for this museum ship. The real propeller was replaced with a four-bladed model in 1845. The SS Great Britain was initially designed to have paddles but the design was modified after screw propellers were proven to be more effective and efficient.