Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society

Next page  
Home About Us Gallery Society Trips Contact Us


Next page   Previous  

Page 4 of 14


The Newcomen engine was extravagant in fuel and a newcomer, James Watt, perfected a less fuel hungry engine which he patented, with the financial backing of Matthew Boulton. But the next great hurdle was rotary motion for the factories.

1769 The Newcomen engine was extravagant in fuel due to the injection of cold water into the cylinder at each stroke. This was made evident to James Watt when he asked to try and make a model of Newcomen work. Although he had no previous experience of engines he began experiments which led to his "separate condenser" which eliminated the injection of water directly into the cylinder with a consequent great saving in fuel. He also used steam, still at very low pressure to push down on a piston instead of the atmosphere. A vacuum was still needed under the piston for the engine to do useful work. Watt's patent for the separate condenser was taken out in 1769.

1774 James Watt encountered great financial difficulties in perfecting his new engine and in 1774 entered into partnership with Matthew Boulton, a Birmingham industrialist who was able to provide financial backing and business acumen.

1775 An Act of Parliament in 1775, Watt was able to extend his patent to 1800.

1780 By 1779, factory owners desperately wanted engines that could provide rotary motion. This was considered a great difficulty. James Pickard and Matthew Wasborough fitted a crank, connecting rod, and flywheel to a Newcomen type engine to obtain rotary motion and patented the arrangement.

Return to home page

Page 4 of 14

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

Page 5 of 14

1780's and 1790's

After an abortive attempt at the introduction of the "compound" engine, the indefatigable Boulton and Watt developed the double acting rotative engine for the Albion flourmills in London.

1781 Jonathan Hornblower the younger obtained a patent for a "compound" engine in 1781. Steam was first admitted to a small cylinder, and after pushing the piston, was exhausted to a larger cylinder to do further work before exhausting to the condenser. Hornblower used Watt's separate condenser and was prosecuted. In any event the very low steam pressures of the time prevented success.

1783 Until 1783, steam engines had been "single acting". Steam had pushed one side of the piston only. Watt now introduced the "double acting" engine in which steam pushed each side of the piston alternately. A problem was the attachment of the piston rod to the beam as it is now pushed up as well as pulled down. The chains used up to now were no use. Double chain and rack-and-sector arrangements were not satisfactory either. In 1784, Watt perfected his "parallel motion" linkage which provided a positive connection to the beam and also guided the piston rod in a straight line. The double acting rotative engine was now a practical proposition. About this time, William Murdoch, a senior employee of Boulton and Watt devised an oscillating cylinder engine which drove directly on to the crankshaft without the interposition of a rocking beam.

1786 A double acting rotative engine was supplied by Boulton and Watt in 1786 to drive the new Albion flourmills in London. This was followed by a second engine in 1789. William Murdoch made a miniature steam carriage in 1786.

James Watt built an engine that needed no attention from the driver, an employee of Boulton and Watt's was prosecuted for patent infringement - though his engine was popular at collieries, and a clergyman loomed large.

1788 James Watt introduced his centrifugal pendulum in 1788. This regulated the steam supply to rotative engines. These could now run at a steady speed without any attention from the driver. Miller, Taylor and Symington built a small paddle steamboat and tested it with some success on Dalswinton Loch in Scotland, near to Miller's residence. William Symington, an engineer at Wanlockhead lead mines, made the engine.

1792 Edward Bull, one of Boulton and Watt's engine erectors, introduced a pumping engine with the cylinder inverted over the mineshaft. The piston was coupled directly. Bull used the separate condenser. After he had built several engines James Watt prosecuted him for infringement of patent. Later, this type of pumping engine became quite popular at collieries.

1797 Richard Trevithick, a Cornish engineer was experimenting with higher pressure steam than Boulton and Watt were using. With a higher pressure steam, he could manage without a condenser. He was also experimenting with miniature road carriages at this time.

1798 Edward Cartwright, a clergyman and inventor of the powered weaving loom, designed a vertical engine whose piston drove an overhead crankshaft directly, without using a beam.