Propeller Indiana’s Capstan

Propeller Indiana’s Capstan

Usage conditions apply
The capstan, most commonly found on the decks of early steamboats, was used as a vertical winch for raising or lowering anchors, hoisting sails and cargo, hauling heavy lines, or other jobs where individual manpower was not enough.
It was operated manually, by putting timbers into the holes and using the resulting leverage to wind a line wrapped around the center of the device more easily. Sea chanties, or rhythmic songs, were often employed by ship crews to ensure that everyone hauled at the same time. Later in the 19th century, steam capstans and donkey engines replaced human muscle on the larger vessels.
Object Name
Other Terms
capstan; Maritime
date made
overall: 34 in x 28 in; 86.36 cm x 71.12 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
John Steele and William Cohrs
Expansion and Reform
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Industry & Manufacturing
On the Water exhibit
Energy & Power
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object