Eugene Ferguson on the Origin of Steam Engines

By Jeremy Lane

In Eugene Ferguson’s article, he explains that, while James Watt made significant improvements on the steam engine, it was Thomas Newcomen that was the creator of the original steam engine. So while most people might give Watt all the credit, Ferguson does his best to show that Newcomen made just as significant contributions to technology. This can be seen in oil wells that, even today, still use the “walking beam” that Newcomen invented as part of his Newcomen Engine.

The Newcomen Engine was invented to fill the need of miners in England during the 17th Century. The issue was, as mines went deeper and deeper into the ground, miners were increasingly running into water seepage, slowing or even preventing them from working. The Newcomen engine used a steam piston attached to a beam in order to pump the water out. As the steam was condensed on the bottom of the piston, the vacuum that was created pulls the piston down, which pushes the beam down and while the pump rod moved water up the other side.

Newcomen Pump

Savery PumpAnother inventor, Thomas Savory was building his own version of the steam engine around the same time for the same purpose. However, the way it worked was very different — it used the power of steam rising the create suction that would pull the water out and into the pump. Unfortunately, due to increased atmospheric pressure, Savory’s invention was not capable of working underground and was mostly relegated to pumping water into buildings and fountains. However, Savory’s engine was considerably cheaper than Newcomen’s or Watt’s engines, so for any work done above ground, it was the preferred machine.

Here is a cool link demonstrating the Savery Pump!

And here is one showing a Newcomen Pump working!

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One Reply to “Eugene Ferguson on the Origin of Steam Engines”

  1. Great post. I believe you did a good job on informing the reader about Newcomen and how important his contributions were to steam engines. I also enjoyed the savory pump portion of the post, I had not been aware of savory pumps before this.

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