The term "ram ship" conjures ancient images from the Greek Battle of Salamis or the later Roman Battle of Actium or even the more recent 1571 confrontation between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto. Those battles elicit visions of hundreds of wooden ships propelled less by sail than by rows and banks of oarsmen and targeting the broadsides of other ships, hoping to pierce and sink them with their reinforced metal prows. But the rams had largely fallen out of favor by the late Middle Ages as muscle-and-oar propulsion was replaced by wind and sail, and the weapon of choice became a row of cannon instead of the ship herself.
But by the late 19th century, when H. G. Wells wrote of the fictitious HMS Thunder Child in War of the Worlds-"About a couple of miles out lay an ironclad, very low in the water . . . like a waterlogged ship"-the vessels were not simply a vestige of empires in the distant past, but a reborn reality of his era. They had, in fact, been developed or considered for years in Europe as well as in the United States.