Steam Engine

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”. (Ambrosius, 1936) As such, the use of horse power was still the most efficient utility by the mid 17th century. The steam engine needed an ambitious new design if it was going to become a realistic tool for generating energy. A Scottish engineer by the name of James Watt realized this.

By 1765 Watt had already improved the steam engine by separating the condenser from the cylinder but more was needed. In January of 1769 Watt submitted a concept for patenting that would, through its application, reduce the inefficient use of fuel that made the atmospheric engine of Newcomen obsolete. Watt proposed that “the cylinder in the common fire engine … must, during the whole time the engine is at work, be kept as hot as the steam that enters it” (Ambrosius, 1936) thus reducing the massive amount of steam lost during the operation of the current engine.

After many more improvements and alterations Watt had transformed the improvident, clumsy steam engine pump of previous generations into a high-speed, high-power engine that he would later adapt to power machinery of all kinds. Because of this, Watt has become known as the father of the steam engine and although he did not create the concept of it, his improvements to the governing dynamics and fundamental principals of it gains him lasting acknowledgement. In the following years, Watt’s steam engine would become one of the most significant products of the 20th century.

With the introduction of an efficient steam powered engine, industry no longer had to rely on inconvenient power sources. The previous common power sources such as wind and water were awkward for industry due to the fact that they were inconsistent or unavailable. Wind, of course depended on the weather. Unpredictable atmospheric pressure causing wind streams left companies using it in a constant state of flux. Power output was never consistent and production was therefore a gamble.

The more dependable source of water, however, was just as problematic for industry. Manufacturing plants were forced to cater to climate and topography to use water as a power supply. This was especially inconvenient due to the fact that prime location for watermills were generally “not where key economic considerations such as access to markets for inputs and outputs would have directed. ” ( Rosenburgh, 2004) The introduction of the steam engine therefore was extremely significant to industry due to the fact that it introduced flexibility in location.

With a power source not constrained to topography, manufacturers could choose locations on factors such as “proximity to markets, transportation facilities (such as rail or ports), availability of labour, skills, and capital. ” (Rosenburgh, 2004) As such, the identity of industry began to be revolutionized. Aside from the choice of location, the sheer power and consistency that the steam engine offered started global industrial revolutions. Cotton textile factories, for example, greatly benefited from a smooth and responsive power supply.

Due to the fact that cotton thread was fragile under uneven speeds, the introduction of an even supply of power like the steam engine allowed cotton textile firms to move up the quality ladder from low grade, course cotton fabrics to finer grades of cotton yarns in response to the demands of an increasingly affluent consuming public”. (Rosenburgh, 2004) Added to the fact that American textile firms could relocate to the lower production costs in the American lower south, the introduction of the steam engine was especially significant to this industrial mogul.

However the biggest spark of industrial revolution came from Watt’s adaptation of the steam engine to power transportation devices such as the railroad and steam boats. Connecting markets via the railroad in Britain and the United States shrunk the global economy. Large shipments of raw materials increased industry speed monumentally and allowed markets access to materials that were previously inaccessible.

As other countries followed suit, the speed of the economy quickened and super powers were born and strengthened by the implementation of this new technology. At the height of its success, the steam engine revolutionized industry. The ability to apply a flexible, easily controlled power supply far more economical than the previous choices of wind and water was monumental in the growth of national and international economy. By the end of the 19th century, horsepower no longer referred to the amount of beasts used to perform functions.

There is no doubt that the works of James Watt and his fellow engineers gave birth to one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century: The steam powered engine. Bibliography Woodcroft, Bennet. 1851. The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria. Online Source. http://www. history. rochester. edu/steam/hero/index. html Ambrosius, E. E. ; Reed J. C. 1936. James Watt: A Scientist Rather Than an Inventor. Online Source. The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 43, No. 3 http://www. jstor. org/view/00963771/ap990396/99a00090/0?

currentResult=00963771%2bap990396%2b99a00090%2b0%2c1E&searchUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww. jstor. org%2Fsearch%2FBasicResults%3Fhp%3D25%26si%3D1%26gw%3Djtx%26jtxsi%3D1%26jcpsi%3D1%26artsi%3D1%26Query%3Dsteam%2Bengine%26wc%3Don Rosenberg, Nathen; Trajtentberg, Manuel. 2004. A General-Purpose Technology at Work: The Corliss Steam Engine in the Late-Nineteenth-Century United States. Online Source. The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 64, No. 1 http://scholarsportal. info. cerberus. lib. uoguelph. ca/pdflinks/07101921063514285. pdf