The Steam Engine was one of the essential mechanisms that drove the Industrial Revolution. However, like many other developments of the time, the steam engine was not invented then but improved; its existence had commenced in ancient times.
The first formal mention of the steam-engine in scientific literature was made by the ancient Egyptian Hero, though the invention of many of the mechanisms he enumerates is often attributed to Cestibus. He proposed the use of steam power – the expansion of heated water to force movement and perform work – in a variety of mechanisms, such as door-openers and mechanized altar libations activated by heating air chambers, as well as small steam chambers that whistled as heated vapor left them. These seemed to have been adopted only for use in altars, and very little progress was made in finding a more practical application until the early medieval period.
It was during this period that the interest of scientists and inventors in the power of steam was rekindled. At Rheims in the early twelfth century, a steam-powered clock was constructed for a church. Several scholars studied the properties and applications of steam power. Hieronymus Cardan, Matthesius, Augostino Ramelli, and Leonardo da Vinci all wrote theoretical works on the topic. Blasco de Garay reportedly used steam power to operate paddle-wheels on a ship; other functional models of steam engines to raise water above the level at which it is found were devised by Porta, Salomon de Caus, Giovanni Branea, David Ramseye, and John Wilkins throughout the seventeenth century.
However, the period in which steam power came into practical use began with the works of Edward Somerset, Marquis of Worcester. Though he was not successful in marketing his apparatus, he did create a large-scale model for the removal of water from mines. This ushered in a period of serious development of the subject. Jean Hautefeuille introduced the piston in the steam engine in order to transfer the pressure of the evaporating water to kinetic energy. In 1680 Huygens presented a fully gas-operated engine, with cylinders and pistons, to the Academy of Sciences in Holland . Later, in Paris , his apprentice Denis Papin would modify the engine, using the condensation of steam in a cooling chamber to create a vacuum and propel water upward. Where Huygens had used gunpowder to initiate the action of the engine, Papin proposed the introduction of a small amount of water into the thin-walled chamber and then lighting a fire under it for heat. Papin would create a series of boilers of increasing efficiency, and suggest their use for other applications, such as propelling paddle-wheels in ships and mills, though these, too, never came into practice beyond the experimental.
At about this time, English engineers gained ground under the encouragement of Charles I. The pressure was also mounting to devise an efficient steam engine because of the increasing need for coal in the various industries that began to develop in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In the late seventeenth century, Thomas Savery devised and in 1699 constructed a practical engine for the removal of water from mines. Steam was heated, increasing pressure until it exited the chamber; then it was cooled, creating a vacuum and drawing water upward from the reservoir below when the valve was opened. Savery also added a secondary boiler, to introduce water into the primary boiler without interrupting its action. The first such engine was installed at Kensington, raising 3,000 gallons of water per hour and using an average of a bushel of coal each work-day. This allowed miners to delve increasingly deeper into coal deposits.
However, there were several problems associated with Savery's engine. The high pressure in deeper mines, without safety valves, led to the occasional explosion of boilers from excessive pressure. The apparatus was also relatively small, meaning that several had to be installed to effectively drain a mine, and leading to a costly expenditure of coal.
Various improvements were made upon the machine. Thomas Newcomen, Savery's business partner, attempted to attach a beam to the piston in order to derive mechanical work from the engine. However, this motion could not be performed smoothly and continuously, as the condensation chamber had to be cooled and the heated again, resulting in a jerking motion. Later, James Watt further improved the system's efficiency by separating the boiling and condensation chambers. This eliminated the need for cooling, and reduced the amount of coal used because the piston now traveled twice in each cycle of operation, giving twice the output. Pistons and cylinders could now be manufactured to match precisely with John Wilkinson's borer. Using a three-bar link that connected the moving piston to fixed and jointed rods, the forward-and-backward motion of the piston could provide rotary motion in a rod. These innovations finally made the use of the steam engine widespread and affordable to industrial operations. . With the aid of Mathew Boulton, Watt formed a company that manufactured steam engines, producing thousands of models in their practice.
The steam engine's introduction had a great effect upon the rapidly industrializing England . Mines could operate more effectively as the water found in their deeper reaches became removable. Water could also now be pumped more efficiently to the crowded and demanding industrial cities. Waterwheels as well as more complicated factory machinery could be operated with steam, and essentially the same mechanism could be used to operate a steamboat. The steam engine's rotary application would eventually be used in the creation of railroads. In every aspect of industry, the steam engine brought an accelerated and more efficient means for production, transportation, and acceleration.
Bellis, Mary. “The History of Steam Engines” Inventors . < http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blsteamengine.htm >
Thurston, Robert H. “A History of the Growth of the Steam Engine.” 1878, D. Appleton and Co., New York . 2 December 2005 . < http://www.history.rochester.edu/steam/thurston/1878 >