Boulton Letter (Steam Engine)

In Matthew Boulton’s letter to Erasmus Darwin, Boulton discusses how the B & W steam engines differ from Newcomins engines. Later he states how the B & W engines have been improved upon.

Boulton begins his argument by writing how the two engines are different from each other. The way that the B & W engine operates is the acting power in the engine is the steam on the piston rather than using the atmosphere. The steam is also condensed in a separate vessel and the air is extracted by an air pump at each stroke. The vacuum is placed above and below the piston, therefore doubling the power of the engine.

Later in the letter he discusses seven points on how the B & W engines have improved. The engine is the “most powerful machine in the world,” it is the most tractable, it shews the strength of the steam, it registers the number of strokes it makes, and it is applicable to every purpose that requires either rotative or reciprocating motion. He goes on to support each of his seven claims with calculations or examples. He states that the steam engine is equal to the work of a thousand horses. He also says that the horses must rest, but the steam engine can keep going as long as it has fuel. The steam engine also has a multitude of uses, much more than a horse or man.

The steam engine was able to revolutionize the world by allowing a machine to do the work rather than by man or animals. From the original steam engine developed by Thomas Savery in 1689, the engine has been improved and innovated upon.

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This link takes you to a YouTube video that gives a brief background on the Watt steam engine and provides a great depiction of how the engine worked. It labels all of the parts of the engine and how they interact with one another.

This link will take you to a website that mainly focuses on the engineering methods that went into the development of the Watt steam engine. The article begins by giving a short biography on James Watt. He began the work on his steam engine after having to repair a model Newcomen engine. Watt’s idea for the engine was to add a separate condenser. He found that the Newcomen model was wasting a lot of energy because cold water was injected into the cylinder so that the steam could be condensed. The article then goes on to discuss the methods and procedures that were used to make the Watt steam engine.

6 Replies to “Boulton Letter (Steam Engine)”

  1. Great summary of Matthew Boulton’s letter to Erasmus Darwin! In the the letter I found the description of the steam engine very interesting because it described how the steam engine works with several benefits of it. I really appreciate the picture you included so I could get an idea of what the steam engine looks like after reading what it is and how it works.

  2. Great summary. You describe the functions of the machine very clear. (good for those who couldn’t understand what the text was saying). This may be necessary but I would add in a summary of the equations he listed (comparing the machine’s power to horse power). Just to be more detailed and emphasize the power of the machine. Also, the examples of places he listed to demonstrate why it’s tractable (ex. drawing coals, spinning silk, etc)

  3. Awesome summary of Boulton’s letter! I really enjoyed the video you provided it gave me a great idea of how the engine works and I can see how this steam engine was the most powerful steam engine in the world.

  4. Jacob,
    This is a fair summary and analysis of Matthew Boulton’s letter to Erasmus Darwin. The letter itself is extremely short with a topic that doesn’t allow for expanded commentary, so I enjoyed watching the linked YouTube video and reading the linked article. I felt both provided some interesting information to go along with the letter, and I found reading about James Watt’s colored life story intriguing. You know you’ve made it big when you make 76,000 euros from just having your name associated with something and you have a unit of measurement named after you. I suppose he never had the luxury of knowing his last named was adopted as a unit of power though. Anyways, I do not know if I’d allocate the first steam engine to Thomas Savery. There were certainty machines that preceded his more popular attempt. Nevertheless, I think it is safe to state Watt’s machine was the most memorable and most transforming steam engine up until its conception.

  5. Jacob,
    Great post here! This is an excellent summary of Matthew Boulton’s letter to Erasmus Darwin. The picture is helpful in understanding the steam engine and the links provide great supplemental information.

  6. Well done, Jacob. I will echo all the other comments posted here: you’ve provided an excellent summary on the steam engine, etc. Keep up the nice work! I also appreciate the fine annotation to your additional sources.


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