Steam Engine

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An engines horsepower, in its most condensed definition, refers to the amount of horses it would take to perform the same function. At mankind’s present level of dependence on technology such a concept seems absurd, but at the beginning of the 17th century the literal equation of horsepower was used daily, especially in industry. With wind or water as the only alternative power sources, the use of load bearing beasts was inevitable. Wind is inconsistent and unreliable, whereas water was only plausible as a power utility in a fixed, topographically suitable location. Thus, horse power, in its most literal meaning, was a benchmark of 17th century industry. That is, of course, until the birth of an engine engineered to run on steam. The invention and implementation of an efficient steam engine sparked global industrial revolutions that defined economies. The concept of utilizing steam to produce power was not unheard of before the 17th century. The observation of steams potential to produce power was recorded as early as 130 BCE by Hero, the Elder of Alexandria. In his works titled Pneumatics, Hero observed that if one “places a caldron over a fire … a ball shall revolve on a pivot”. (Woodcroft, 1851) Some 1,613 years later the next reference to a machine operated by steam can be found in the works of a German Protestant Minister named Mathesius. Johann Mathesius ministered in Joachisussthal which was, in 1563, the largest silver mine in Europe. In his work Serepta, Mathesius “hints at the possibility of constructing an apparatus similar in its operation and properties to those of the modern steam engine.” (Ambrosius, 1936) From the time of Mathesius’ abstract mention of a steam powered engine, many engineers partook in reshaping and improving the engine. One of the best examples of this is an English military engineer named Thomas Savory. In 1699, Savory engineered a steam powered “pumping engine, essentially the same as the simple injector of today” which fittingly came to be known as the Savory engine. Post Savory the next mentionable development to the steam engine came in 1705 from an engineer named Thomas Newcomen. The Newcomen engine used atmospheric pressure to fire a piston. This design, although highly innovative for its time, was extremely inefficient. At the height of its design through many alterations by various engineers, the atmospheric engine “used about one half of the steam that was generated for [it] to warm up the cylinder and piston on each stroke”.

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