When thinking of the creator of the steam engine or who started the industrial revolution many people think of James Watt. However, fifty years before Watt became popular in the public eye a man named Thomas Newcomen was building steam engines which pumped water out of mines.
Before Newcomen began work on his engine there were many devices used to remove water from mines. Newcomen’s invention provided the power needed to move the walking beams and in turn the pump shaft. Steam was injected into the cylinder drawing the beam up. Water was then injected into the cylinder. This water injection caused the steam to condense rapidly and create a vacuum. The vacuum would then pull the beam back down. This process was repeated over and over in a cyclic manner.
animation of the Newcomen engine: http://www.animatedengines.com/newcomen.html
Another engine was created around the same time by Thomas Savery. This engine was created to remove water from mines using a vacuum created by steam. This engine was developed and works differently from the Newcomen engine. The Savery pump however could not remove water from deep wells and was used mainly for pumping water to reservoirs for the wealthy and for fountains. The limiting factor for the Savery Engine was the metalworking in the construction of the engine. With the quality at the time it could not withstand the pressure that would be necessary for pumping wells.
The image of the Savery pump is from this website. It also provides a detailed description of the mechanics behind the pump.
The Savery Engine needed better metals and better metalworking techniques to achieve its goal of pumping out mines. This pressure is seen throughout this time period from multiple different sources. New technologies forcing other tech in other fields to catch up. This is one of the reasons why technology progressed so rapidly throughout this timeframe. In the article Ferguson also states that science owes more to the steam engine than the steam engine owes to science. This is very interesting and aligns very well with what we have learned in class. The Idea that technology comes before science can be seen very easily when studying steam engines. When Savery and Newcomen were creating their engines they did not understand every aspect of the thermodynamics and molecular physics behind why their machines work. Rather they understood, based on discoveries before them, what mechanics worked and what did not. It would not be until years later that the science behind the steam engine would be totally understood.
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- Max McAllister
Animation of the Newcomen Engine: http://www.animatedengines.com/newcomen.html
Image of the Newcomen Engine: http://www.eoht.info/page/Newcomen+engine
Image of the Savery Engine: