Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine

Resource Type: Image | Posted on 4th November 2011 by Liam Physick

This is an illustration from the The Rainhill Story. It is a contemporary plan of the first practical steam engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen. Baptised in Dartmouth on 24th February 1664, Newcomen’s steam engine was inspired by the ideas of Thomas Savery and Denis Papin. Before Newcomen, steam devices had existed, but had little practical use. In 1698, Savery patented a steam-powered pump which he called the “Miner’s Friend”, however it had no moving parts and was consequently not an engine in the proper sense, as it could not transmit its power to an external device, and it also proved far less successful than hoped as it was not powerful enough to pump water out of a mine. Papin was able to develop a device powered by a piston on a rod, by cylinders and by fire. It was able to raise a weight of 60 lbs, but it was designed purely to demonstrate the principle, and Papin did not develop his innovation. Papin had not come up with any means to repeat the action at regular intervals, so Newcomen followed Savery in providing a boiler that would continuously supply steam to the cylinder, condensing the steam to power the engine, and then dispose of the condensed steam once it had served its purpose. However, unlike Savery, the pumping was entirely mechanical, with the engine lifting a weighted rod. This “atmospheric engine” was invented in 1712, and was soon used in mines across the country. However, it was expensive to operate, with a lot of fuel necessary to heat the cylinder so it would be filled with new steam after the old steam had condensed: to improve efficiency, the engine had to become bigger. It was also impossible to use the Newcomen engine to drive machinery, due to the jerky motion of the power stroke. It was superseded by James Watt’s engine, invented in 1769, which was more efficient. As well as inventing his engine, Newcomen was an ironmonger by trade, and a Baptist preacher. He died on 5th August 1729

Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine

Tagged under: fixed engines, james watt, thomas newcomen

Categorised under: The Station & Railway Pioneers

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