THE STEAM ENGINE
Definition and Nature of the Technology
The steam engine, as we know it today, is a machine that converts the heat energy of pressurized steam into mechanical energy by utilizing the steam to exert force on a piston in a closed cylinder. The steam of today’s models is produced in a water pipe boiler, which involves water traveling through pipes located within a furnace. As the water travels through the pipes, it is heated by the gasses of the burning coal in the furnace surrounding the pipes. Earliest documentation of some variation of the steam engine dates back to the “aeolipile” described by Hero of Alexandria, Greek mathematician, dated back to the first century AD. Several variations would be invented between that first documentation and what is considered to be the first true steam engine. Centuries later, near the end of the 17th century, mining and milling was a booming industry near and around Cornwall. Pumping water out of these mines would allow for deeper mining, which in turn would create more jobs. With this in mind, Thomas Savery created an engine for pumping the water out of the mines. His model would later be modified and improved upon by Thomas Newcomen, and later by James Watt, whose version of the steam engine was essential to the Industrial Revolution. The Initial Problem
As previously mentioned, the initial problem dates back to late in the 17th century. At that time, Cornwall saw a steady rise in the mining industry. Though mining companies were producing profit, they quickly realized they were severely limited by the large amounts of water that prevented them from mining any deeper. Many of these companies had the idea of utilizing a powerful pump to extract the water from the mines but did not have the technology to construct one. With the potential profits in mind, they became desperate to expand their mining efforts and offered to pay engineers to design a pump they could use. Unfortunately, they began to lose hope after several failed attempts by highly regarded engineers. By the time Thomas Savery came around with his proposed machine, “The Miners Friend”, he had to prove that his idea was realizable and would truly benefit the industry. The Players
Thomas Savery was the first person credited with building a commercial device used to pump water by condensing steam to create a vacuum. He turned his ideas into a reality by building off of his knowledge of atmospheric pressure and the mechanics of a vacuum, as studied and outlined by several individuals dating back to experiments conducted by Evangelista Torricelli in 1643. He took these concepts and set out to design an engine that would utilize these mechanisms in order to draw water into a container by condensing steam within the container, then pushing the water up a pipe to the required height using steam pressure, as seen in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below. He described his pump as “Raising water by the impellent force of fire”
when taking out a patent in 1698. When he first tried to introduce his machine, he was welcomed with skepticism because of the numerous failed attempts preceding him. Determined that his model was exactly what they had been looking for, he began marketing his machine himself, naming it “The Miner’s Friend” after the ease of use and benefits it would provide to miners. He was eventually able to convince mining companies to allow him to demonstrate its potential. Upon seeing it perform, miner’s welcomed it openly. Unfortunately, The Miner’s Friend had no moving parts and required manual opening and closing of the valves. Because of this, most people do not credit Savery for his invention. Though his invention was not as efficient as a true steam engine, it served its purpose and led to greater innovation. His modal was widely used for the next decade, up until the introduction and popularity of the Newcomen steam engine. Thomas Newcomen was another key player in the invention...
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