Technology during the late 18thcentury into the 19thcentury was developed to be a technology of haste. American’s thought of technological development like a Nascar driver in a race. It was important to get there first and fast.
“ If you ain’t first, you’re last.” – Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights
There were big types of engines that were used in steamboats on the Western river to suit western needs. The first practical type is the engine of low pressure that was developed by Watt. It was expensive and complicated, requiring many moving parts for the cylinder and condenser. The second is an engine of high pressure by Oliver Evans. This type was far simpler, compact, cheap and easy to make, operate, and maintain.
Many risks arose for people in trying to achieve the benefits of the steamboat by fast high-pressure engines. Western steamboats showed an appalling accident record, with 30% being lost. Steamboat’s life span was brief and explosions became a western phenomenon.
What about the choo-choo sound you may ask?…Early steam engines depended condensing steam to create a vacuum that pushed the piston out of the cylinder and back in. When high pressured engines arose, instead of condensing steam, builders would blow spent steam into the atmosphere.
The same passion for speed developed ideas in the creation of the railroad. Instead of taking a steamboat a week, railroads could cover the same distances in two or three days. There was also a call to settlement within the railroad with its availability to create an unnatural path. Railroads were created in the quickest way possible with little regard to safety, comfort, or duration.
Americans built for the present, while English railroad builders consciously built for the future. English locomotives were solid, stable, heavy, and well-made while American locomotives were essentially a mess. It was more important to get one place to another fast than to build something to serve our grandchildren.
Click here to read about the Stourbridge Lion, the first working steam-powered locomotive.
By Kristan Wilkins
World Count: 345