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A brief outline history of steam through the 17th and 18th centuries

Page 2 of 14                                     1600's

By the 17th century the limitations of wind and waterpower caused by calm and dry weather spells were seriously affecting the development of mining for valuable metals and to some extent coal. Mines were becoming too deep for animal and human powered pumps to cope with subterranean water. When wind and water power failed, the mines flooded.

1606 Della Porta in 1606 showed that water could be forced up a pipe by steam pressure.

1611 Likewise, Salomon de Caus demonstrated in 1611 that steam pressure could forcibly eject water from a closed boiler.

1629 Giovanni Branca of Loretto proposed in 1629 to provide power by impinging steam issuing from a boiler on to vanes fitted to a horizontal wheel. It is doubtful if this machine existed otherwise than in the mind of the presenter.

1643 Galileo's pupil, Evangeliste Torriceli, proved in 1643 that the earth's atmosphere had weight and therefore exerted a pressure.

1672 Otto von Guericke in 1672 made a cylinder with a close fitting piston. This he strongly fixed in the vertical position. By a rope and pulley 20 men effortlessly raised the piston to the top of the cylinder. Von Guericke had earlier prepared a large hollow sphere from which he had removed the air using a vacuum pump of his invention. When the sphere was connected to the cylinder atmospheric pressure pushed the piston down in spite of the efforts of the 20 men to restrain it. This demonstrated that the atmosphere was a potential source of energy but a vacuum was also needed to make use of it. No easy means existed of creating a vacuum except by a mechanical pump.

1680 Huygens and his assistant Denys Papin tried gunpowder in 1680 to expel air from a cylinder and create a vacuum. This was not at all practical.

1690 Denys Papin went on to replace the gunpowder by a small quantity of water which he boiled off into steam. When the fire was put out, the steam condensed causing a vacuum and the piston was forced down by the pressure of the atmosphere, raising a weight by rope and pulleys. Papin, however, did not pursue this line of investigation.

1698 Thomas Savery, a Devon man, was the first to combine the force of steam and the pressure of the atmosphere. He was granted a patent in 1698 for "Raising water by the impellent force of fire". Savery's "engine" comprised a boiler and a receiver. Steam from the boiler filled the receiver. Cold water poured over the receiver condensed the steam causing a vacuum. Atmospheric pressure forced water up a suction pipe connected to the receiver, which became full of water. Steam from the boiler at pressure blew the water out of the receiver up a delivery pipe and also refilled the receiver with steam. The cycle was then repeated. Valves were fitted in pipes to control the steam and to prevent the water, which was being raised, from going the wrong way. In time the boiler became empty. To refill it with water meant drawing the fire and relieving the boiler of its pressure.

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A brief outline history of steam through the 17th and 18th centuries

Pages 1 to 14

Page 3 of 14                                      1700's

By the 1780s factory owners were demanding steam engines that could provide rotary motion. This need was answered, with engines running at constant speed without any attention from the driver, which also led to experiments with paddle steamers and miniature carriages. The 18th century saw the development of the first workable and commercially viable steam engines pumping out the mines and allowing them to go deeper.

1702 Savery overcame the problem of intermittent operation to some extent by providing a second boiler, which was used to refill the first boiler under pressure. Although the "Miner's Friend" was workable, boiler making technology of the time could not cope with the steam pressures involved. Effectively it became a suction machine only, capable of lifting water to 30 feet at the most. Savery abandoned his attempts to introduce the engine in 1705.

1712 About the time that Savery was developing his engine, Thomas Newcomen of Dartmouth assisted by John Calley, was experimenting with a cylinder and piston engine. Steam under the piston was condensed to form a vacuum, whereupon atmospheric pressure pushed the piston down. By means of chains and a rocking beam the piston could be connected to a pump in a mineshaft. A vital discovery was that direct injection of cold water in to the cylinder rapidly produced condensation so that the engine could operate at several strokes per minute. The height to which water could be lifted was limited only by the size of the piston, and the engine would work with the pressure of 1.5 pounds per square inch (0.1 bar). Here was an engine that could be built by the millwright and blacksmith. Success was assured. Because of Savery's patent, Newcomen had to go into partnership with him although Newcomen's engine had hardly anything in common with Savery's machine. The first Newcomen engine of which there is record was erected on a colliery near Dudley castle in 1712. It had a brass cylinder 21 inches bore (533mm) and 7ft 10 inches high (2.388metres). When the boiler was making plenty of steam and the engine made 12 pumping strokes a minute lifting 10 gallons per stroke (45 litres) from 50 yards (46 metres depth). At the time of it's construction it was the world's first self-acting machine apart from clocks. By 1800 some 1500 engines were at work in Britain, with others in Europe and one in the USA.