Steam Engine – Inventions that Revolutionized the World

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First Date of Publication: 26th November 2010.

 

In the era, when the Scientific Revolution occurred and mechanics was established as science, Sir Isaac Newton was known as a scientist rather than a natural philosopher, the world took a massive step towards the modern world. The advent of newly invented machines became part of the daily and economic lives. Textile production was the bustling trade in 17th century but geographically it was focused mainly around Greater Manchester, Pennines and Lancashire. Thus it faced the problem of geographical separation.
At that time, horses and rivers were used for transporting goods from place to place. Deployment of horses for the transportation of goods was expensive and also required lots of care to keep them in good shape. Horses were also used to lug buckets of water out of flooded mines. So there existed a need for some mechanical devices which can overcome the mentioned limitations.
And as we say “necessity is the mother of invention”, a Steam engine was invented which converted potential energy of steam pressure into mechanical force. Invention of steam engine started the industrial revolution, and it is contributing to the industries present even in today’s world. But, who deserves the credit for this great invention?  Some give the credit to James Watt while others claim that Thomas Newcomen was the original inventor.
Interestingly, the invention of steam engine was designed to solve the problem of pumping water out of coal mines. It was invented and patented by Thomas Savery in the year 1679. In Savery’s machine pressurized steam was introduced into a vessel filled with water. The steam forced the water upwards and out of the mine shaft. Then cold water was sprinkled to condense the steam, in order to create vacuum inside the cylinder which is used to suck more water out of the mine shaft.
In 1712, Thomas Newcomen, an English blacksmith enhanced Thomas Savery’s machine and invented the basic steam engine; Newcomen’s machine comprised of a cylinder into which pressurized steam was introduced, the introduced steam forces the piston upwards. The steam was then condensed by cold water so that vacuum will be created inside the cylinder, which results in atmospheric pressure operated on piston, creating downward strokes.
Finally, in 1769, the first practical steam engine was patented by James Watt, a Scottish inventor, believed by many to be the inventor of steam engine. Unlike Newcomen’s engine, Watt’s design had a condenser that could be cool while the cylinder was hot and connected the condenser to the cylinder by valve. James Watt also came up with the term ‘horsepower’ as a way to help explain how much work his steam engines could do for a potential buyer and the term “Watt” – a unit of power familiar today when dealing with light bulbs – was named after James Watt.
This invention contributed significantly in bringing about the Industrial Revolution. Unlike the internal combustion engine, the steam engine is not particular about the source of heat. Since the oxygen for combustion is enormous, steam engines burn fuel cleanly and efficiently, with relatively little pollution. Most notably, steam engine plays a vital role in nuclear reactor, where the steam engine is used to convert nuclear energy into useful work, as a nuclear reactor does not directly generate either mechanical work or electrical energy. It is the steam engine which converts that heat into useful work.

By performing a quick search with keyword “steam engine”, we can find till date there are 16,822 granted patents and 4906 applications that were filed with respect to steam engine.Though the invention dates back to the 17th century, its applications are numerous even today.

References:
“The Steam Engine” .
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