The first recorded rudimentary steam engine was the aeolipile
described by Heron of Alexandria in 1st-century Roman Egypt.
Several steam-powered devices were later experimented with or
proposed, such as Taqi al-Din's steam jack, a steam turbine in
16th-century Ottoman Egypt, and Thomas Savery's steam pump in
17th-century England. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen's atmospheric engine
became the first commercially successful engine using the principle of
the piston and cylinder, which was the fundamental type steam engine
used until the early 20th century. The steam engine was used to pump
water out of coal mines
During the Industrial Revolution, steam engines started to replace
water and wind power, and eventually became the dominant source of
power in the late 19th century and remaining so into the early decades
of the 20th century, when the more efficient steam turbine and the
internal combustion engine resulted in the rapid replacement of the
steam engines. The steam turbine has become the most common method by
which electrical power generators are driven. Investigations are
being made into the practicalities of reviving the reciprocating steam
engine as the basis for the new wave of advanced steam technology.
1.1 Early uses of steam power
2 Development of the commercial steam engine
2.2 Savery steam pump
3 Atmospheric condensing engines
3.1 Newcomen "atmospheric" engine
3.2 Watt's separate condenser
3.3 Watt double-acting and rotative engines
4 High-pressure engines
Cornish engine and compounding
5 Corliss engine
6 Porter-Allen high speed steam engine
6.1 Uniflow (or unaflow) engine
9 Further reading
Early uses of steam power
Aeolipile and Steam jack
The earliest known rudimentary steam engine and reaction steam
turbine, the aeolipile, is described by a mathematician and engineer
named Heron of Alexandria (Heron) in 1st century Roman Egypt, as
recorded in his manuscript Spiritalia seu Pneumatica. Steam
ejected tangentially from nozzles caused a pivoted ball to rotate. Its
thermal efficiency was low. This suggests that the conversion of steam
pressure into mechanical movement was known in
Roman Egypt in the 1st
century. Heron also devised a machine that used air heated in an altar
fire to displace a quantity of water from a closed vessel. The weight
of the water was made to pull a hidden rope to operate temple
doors. Some historians have conflated the two inventions to
assert, incorrectly, that the aeolipile was capable of useful
According to William of Malmesbury, in 1125,
Reims was home to a
church that had an organ powered by air escaping from compression "by
heated water", apparently designed and constructed by professor
Among the papers of
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci dating to the late 15th century
is the design for a steam-powered cannon called the Architonnerre
which works by the sudden influx of hot water into a sealed red hot
A rudimentary impact steam turbine was described in 1551 by Taqi
al-Din, a philosopher, astronomer and engineer in 16th century Ottoman
Egypt, who described a method for rotating a spit by means of a jet of
steam playing on rotary vanes around the periphery of a wheel. A
similar device for rotating a spit was also later described by John
Wilkins in 1648. These devices were then called "mills" but are now
known as steam jacks. Another similar rudimentary steam turbine is
shown by Giovanni Branca, an Italian engineer, in 1629 for turning a
cylindrical escapement device that alternately lifted and let fall a
pair of pestles working in mortars. The steam flow of these early
steam turbines, however, was not concentrated and most of its energy
was dissipated in all directions. This would have led to a great waste
of energy and so they were never seriously considered for industrial
In 1605 French mathematician
Florence Rivault in his treatise on
artillery wrote on his discovery that water, if confined in a
bombshell and heated, would explode the shells.
In 1606, the Spaniard,
Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont demonstrated and
was granted a patent for a steam powered water pump. The pump was
successfully used to drain the inundated mines of Guadalcanal,
Development of the commercial steam engine
“The discoveries that, when brought together by
Thomas Newcomen in
1712, resulted in the steam engine were:"
The concept of a vacuum (i.e. a reduction in pressure below ambient)
The concept of pressure
Techniques for creating a vacuum
A means for generating steam
The piston and cylinder
Evangelista Torricelli conducted experiments on suction lift
water pumps to test their limits, which was about 32 feet (Atmospheric
pressure is 32.9 feet or 10.03 meters. Vapor pressure of water lowers
theoretical lift height.). He devised an experiment using a tube
filled with mercury and inverted in a bowl of mercury (a barometer)
and observed an empty space above the column of mercury, which he
theorized contained nothing, that is, a vacuum.
Influenced by Torricelli,
Otto von Guericke
Otto von Guericke invented a vacuum pump by
modifying an air gun pump. Guericke put on a demonstration in 1654 in
Magdeburg, Germany, where he was mayor. Two copper hemispheres were
fitted together and air was pumped out. Weights strapped to the
hemispheres could not pull them apart until the air valve was opened.
The experiment was repeated in 1656 using two teams of 8 horses each,
which could not separate the Magdeburg hemispheres.
Gaspar Schott was the first to describe the hemisphere experiment in
his Mechanica Hydraulico-Pneumatica (1657).
After reading Schott’s book,
Robert Boyle built an improved vacuum
pump and conducted related experiments.
Denis Papin became interested in using a vacuum to generate motive
power while working with
Christiaan Huygens and
Gottfried Leibniz in
Paris in 1663. Papin worked for
Robert Boyle from 1676 to 1679,
publishing an account of his work in Continuation of New Experiments
(1680) and gave a presentation to Royal Society in 1689. From 1690 on
Papin began experimenting with a piston to produce power with steam,
building model steam engines. He experimented with atmospheric and
pressure steam engines, publishing his results in 1707.
Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquess of Worcester
Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquess of Worcester published a book of
100 inventions which described a method for raising water between
floors employing a similar principle to that of a coffee percolator.
His system was the first to separate the boiler (a heated cannon
barrel) from the pumping action. Water was admitted into a reinforced
barrel from a cistern, and then a valve was opened to admit steam from
a separate boiler. The pressure built over the top of the water,
driving it up a pipe. He installed his steam-powered device on the
wall of the Great Tower at
Raglan Castle to supply water through the
tower. The grooves in the wall where the engine was installed were
still to be seen in the 19th century. However, no one was prepared to
risk money for such a revolutionary concept, and without backers the
machine remained undeveloped.
Samuel Morland, a mathematician and inventor who worked on pumps, left
notes at the Vauxhall Ordinance Office on a steam pump design that
Thomas Savery read. In 1698 Savery built a steam pump called “The
Miner’s Friend.” It employed both vacuum and pressure. These were
used for low horsepower service for a number of years.
Thomas Newcomen was a merchant who dealt in cast iron goods.
Newcomen’s engine was based on the piston and cylinder design
proposed by Papin. In Newcomen's engine steam was condensed by water
sprayed inside the cylinder, causing atmospheric pressure to move the
piston. Newcomen’s first engine installed for pumping in a mine in
1712 at Dudley Castle in Staffordshire.
Denis Papin's design for a piston-and-cylinder engine, 1680.
Denis Papin (22 August 1647 – c. 1712) was a French physicist,
mathematician and inventor, best known for his pioneering invention of
the steam digester, the forerunner of the pressure cooker. In the
mid-1670s Papin collaborated with the Dutch physicist Christiaan
Huygens on an engine which drove out the air from a cylinder by
exploding gunpowder inside it. Realising the incompleteness of the
vacuum produced by this means and on moving to England in 1680, Papin
devised a version of the same cylinder that obtained a more complete
vacuum from boiling water and then allowing the steam to condense; in
this way he was able to raise weights by attaching the end of the
piston to a rope passing over a pulley. As a demonstration model the
system worked, but in order to repeat the process the whole apparatus
had to be dismantled and reassembled. Papin quickly saw that to make
an automatic cycle the steam would have to be generated separately in
a boiler; however, he did not take the project further. Papin also
designed a paddle boat driven by a jet playing on a mill-wheel in a
combination of Taqi al Din and Savery's conceptions and he is also
credited with a number of significant devices such as the safety
valve. Papin's years of research into the problems of harnessing steam
was to play a key part in the development of the first successful
industrial engines that soon followed his death.
Savery steam pump
Main article: Thomas Savery
The first steam engine to be applied industrially was the
"fire-engine" or "Miner's Friend", designed by
Thomas Savery in 1698.
This was a pistonless steam pump, similar to the one developed by
Worcester. Savery made two key contributions that greatly improved the
practicality of the design. First, in order to allow the water supply
to be placed below the engine, he used condensed steam to produce a
partial vacuum in the pumping reservoir (the barrel in Worcester's
example), and using that to pull the water upward. Secondly, in order
to rapidly cool the steam to produce the vacuum, he ran cold water
over the reservoir.
Operation required several valves; when the reservoir was empty at the
start of a cycle a valve was opened to admit steam. The valve was
closed to seal the reservoir and the cooling water valve turned on to
condense the steam and create a partial vacuum. A supply valve was
opened, pulling water upward into the reservoir, and the typical
engine could pull water up to 20 feet. This was closed and the
steam valve reopened, building pressure over the water and pumping it
upward, as in the Worcester design. The cycle essentially doubled the
distance that water could be pumped for any given pressure of steam,
and production examples raised water about 40 feet.
Savery's engine solved a problem that had only recently become a
serious one; raising water out of the mines in southern England as
they reached greater depths. Savery's engine was somewhat less
efficient than Newcomen's, but this was compensated for by the fact
that the separate pump used by the
Newcomen engine was inefficient,
giving the two engines roughly the same efficiency of 6 million foot
pounds per bushel of coal (less than 1%). Nor was the Savery
engine very safe because part of its cycle required steam under
pressure supplied by a boiler, and given the technology of the period
the pressure vessel could not be made strong enough and so was prone
to explosion. The explosion of one of his pumps at Broad Waters
(near Wednesbury), about 1705, probably marks the end of attempts to
exploit his invention.
The Savery engine was less expensive than Newcomen's and was produced
in smaller sizes. Some builders were manufacturing improved
versions of the Savery engine until late in the 18th century.
Bento de Moura Portugal, FRS, introduced an ingenious improvement of
Savery's construction "to render it capable of working itself", as
John Smeaton in the Philosophical Transactions published
Atmospheric condensing engines
Newcomen "atmospheric" engine
Engraving of Newcomen engine. This appears to be copied from a drawing
in Desaguliers' 1744 work: "A course of experimental philosophy",
itself believed to have been a reversed copy of Henry Beighton's
engraving dated 1717, that may represent what is probably the second
Newcomen engine erected around 1714 at Griff colliery,
Thomas Newcomen with his "atmospheric-engine" of 1712 who can
be said to have brought together most of the essential elements
established by Papin in order to develop the first practical steam
engine for which there could be a commercial demand. This took the
shape of a reciprocating beam engine installed at surface level
driving a succession of pumps at one end of the beam. The engine,
attached by chains from other end of the beam, worked on the
atmospheric, or vacuum principle.
Newcomen's design used some elements of earlier concepts. Like the
Savery design, Newcomen's engine used steam, cooled with water, to
create a vacuum. Unlike Savery's pump, however, Newcomen used the
vacuum to pull on a piston instead of pulling on water directly. The
upper end of the cylinder was open to the atmospheric pressure, and
when the vacuum formed, the atmospheric pressure above the piston
pushed it down into the cylinder. The piston was lubricated and sealed
by a trickle of water from the same cistern that supplied the cooling
water. Further, to improve the cooling effect, he sprayed water
directly into the cylinder.
The piston was attached by a chain to a large pivoted beam. When the
piston pulled the beam, the other side of the beam was pulled upward.
This end was attached to a rod that pulled on a series of conventional
pump handles in the mine. At the end of this power stroke, the steam
valve was reopened, and the weight of the pump rods pulled the beam
down, lifting the piston and drawing steam into the cylinder again.
Using the piston and beam allowed the
Newcomen engine to power pumps
at different levels throughout the mine, as well as eliminating the
need for any high-pressure steam. The entire system was isolated to a
single building on the surface. Although inefficient and extremely
heavy on coal (compared to later engines), these engines raised far
greater volumes of water and from greater depths than had previously
been possible. Over 100 Newcomen engines were installed around
England by 1735, and it is estimated that as many as 2,000 were in
operation by 1800 (including Watt versions).
John Smeaton made numerous improvements to the Newcomen engine,
notably the seals, and by improving these was able to almost triple
their efficiency. He also preferred to use wheels instead of beams for
transferring power from the cylinder, which made his engines more
compact. Smeaton was the first to develop a rigorous theory of steam
engine design of operation. He worked backward from the intended role
to calculate the amount of power that would be needed for the task,
the size and speed of a cylinder that would provide it, the size of
boiler needed to feed it, and the amount of fuel it would consume.
These were developed empirically after studying dozens of Newcomen
engines in Cornwall and Newcastle, and building an experimental engine
of his own at his home in
Austhorpe in 1770. By the time the Watt
engine was introduced only a few years later, Smeaton had built dozens
of ever-larger engines into the 100 hp range.
Watt's separate condenser
Early Watt pumping engine.
While working at the
University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow as an instrument maker and
repairman in 1759,
James Watt was introduced to the power of steam by
Professor John Robison. Fascinated, Watt took to reading everything he
could on the subject, and independently developed the concept of
latent heat, only recently published by
Joseph Black at the same
university. When Watt learned that the University owned a small
working model of a Newcomen engine, he pressed to have it returned
London where it was being unsuccessfully repaired. Watt repaired
the machine, but found it was barely functional even when fully
After working with the design, Watt concluded that 80% of the steam
used by the engine was wasted. Instead of providing motive force, it
was instead being used to heat the cylinder. In the Newcomen design,
every power stroke was started with a spray of cold water, which not
only condensed the steam, but also cooled the walls of the cylinder.
This heat had to be replaced before the cylinder would accept steam
again. In the
Newcomen engine the heat was supplied only by the steam,
so when the steam valve was opened again the vast majority condensed
on the cold walls as soon as it was admitted to the cylinder. It took
a considerable amount of time and steam before the cylinder warmed
back up and the steam started to fill it up.
Watt solved the problem of the water spray by removing the cold water
to a different cylinder, placed beside the power cylinder. Once the
induction stroke was complete a valve was opened between the two, and
any steam that entered the cylinder would condense inside this cold
cylinder. This would create a vacuum that would pull more of the steam
into the cylinder, and so on until the steam was mostly condensed. The
valve was then closed, and operation of the main cylinder continued as
it would on a conventional Newcomen engine. As the power cylinder
remained at operational temperature throughout, the system was ready
for another stroke as soon as the piston was pulled back to the top.
Maintaining the temperature was a jacket around the cylinder where
steam was admitted. Watt produced a working model in 1765.
Convinced that this was a great advance, Watt entered into
partnerships to provide venture capital while he worked on the design.
Not content with this single improvement, Watt worked tirelessly on a
series of other improvements to practically every part of the engine.
Watt further improved the system by adding a small vacuum pump to pull
the steam out of the cylinder into the condenser, further improving
cycle times. A more radical change from the Newcomen design was
closing off the top of the cylinder and introducing low-pressure steam
above the piston. Now the power was not due to the difference of
atmospheric pressure and the vacuum, but the pressure of the steam and
the vacuum, a somewhat higher value. On the upward return stroke, the
steam on top was transferred through a pipe to the underside of the
piston ready to be condensed for the downward stroke. Sealing of the
piston on a
Newcomen engine had been achieved by maintaining a small
quantity of water on its upper side. This was no longer possible in
Watt's engine due to the presence of the steam. Watt spent
considerable effort to find a seal that worked, eventually obtained by
using a mixture of tallow and oil. The piston rod also passed through
a gland on the top cylinder cover sealed in a similar way.
The piston sealing problem was due to having no way to produce a
sufficiently round cylinder. Watt tried having cylinders bored from
cast iron, but they were too out of round. Watt was forced to use a
hammered iron cylinder. The following quotation is from Roe
"When [John] Smeaton first saw the engine he reported to the Society
of Engineers that 'neither the tools nor the workmen existed who could
manufacture such a complex machine with sufficient precision' "
Watt finally considered the design good enough to release in 1774, and
Watt engine was released to the market. As portions of the design
could be easily fitted to existing Newcomen engines, there was no need
to build an entirely new engine at the mines. Instead, Watt and his
Matthew Boulton licensed the improvements to engine
operators, charging them a portion of the money they would save in
reduced fuel costs. The design was wildly successful, and the Boulton
and Watt company was formed to license the design and help new
manufacturers build the engines. The two would later open the Soho
Foundry to produce engines of their own.
In 1774 John Wilkinson invented a boring machine with the shaft
holding the boring tool supported on both ends, extending through the
cylinder, unlike the then used cantilevered borers. With this machine
he was able to successfully bore the cylinder for Boulton and Watt's
first commercial engine in 1776.
Watt never ceased improving his designs. This further improved the
operating cycle speed, introduced governors, automatic valves,
double-acting pistons, a variety of rotary power takeoffs and many
other improvements. Watt's technology enabled the widespread
commercial use of stationary steam engines.
Humphrey Gainsborough produced a model condensing steam engine in the
1760s, which he showed to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, a member of the
Lunar Society. Gainsborough believed that Watt had used his ideas for
the invention; however
James Watt was not a member of the Lunar
Society at this period and his many accounts explaining the succession
of thought processes leading to the final design would tend to belie
Power was still limited by the low pressure, the displacement of the
cylinder, combustion and evaporation rates and condenser capacity.
Maximum theoretical efficiency was limited by the relatively low
temperature differential on either side of the piston; this meant that
Watt engine to provide a usable amount of power, the first
production engines had to be very large, and were thus expensive to
build and install.
Watt double-acting and rotative engines
Further information: Rotative beam engine
Watt developed a double-acting engine in which steam drove the piston
in both directions, thereby increasing the engine speed and
efficiency. The double-acting principle also significantly increased
the output of a given physical sized engine.
Boulton & Watt developed the reciprocating engine into the
rotative type. Unlike the Newcomen engine, the
Watt engine could
operate smoothly enough to be connected to a drive shaft – via sun
and planet gears – to provide rotary power along with double-acting
condensing cylinders. The earliest example was built as a demonstrator
and was installed in Boulton's factory to work machines for lapping
(polishing) buttons or similar. For this reason it was always known as
the Lap Engine. In early steam engines the piston is usually
connected by a rod to a balanced beam, rather than directly to a
flywheel, and these engines are therefore known as beam engines.
Early steam engines did not provide constant enough speed for critical
operations such as cotton spinning. To control speed the engine was
used to pump water for a water wheel, which powered the
As the 18th century advanced, the call was for higher pressures; this
was strongly resisted by Watt who used the monopoly his patent gave
him to prevent others from building high-pressure engines and using
them in vehicles. He mistrusted the boiler technology of the day, the
way they were constructed and the strength of the materials used.
The important advantages of high-pressure engines were:
They could be made much smaller than previously for a given power
output. There was thus the potential for steam engines to be developed
that were small and powerful enough to propel themselves and other
objects. As a result, steam power for transportation now became a
practicality in the form of ships and land vehicles, which
revolutionised cargo businesses, travel, military strategy, and
essentially every aspect of society.
Because of their smaller size, they were much less expensive.
They did not require the significant quantities of condenser cooling
water needed by atmospheric engines.
They could be designed to run at higher speeds, making them more
suitable for powering machinery.
The disadvantages were:
In the low-pressure range they were less efficient than condensing
engines, especially if steam was not used expansively.
They were more susceptible to boiler explosions.
The main difference between how high-pressure and low-pressure steam
engines work is the source of the force that moves the piston. In the
engines of Newcomen and Watt, it is the condensation of the steam that
creates most of the pressure difference, causing atmospheric pressure
(Newcomen) and low-pressure steam, seldom more than 7 psi boiler
pressure, plus condenser vacuum (Watt), to move the piston. In
a high-pressure engine, most of the pressure difference is provided by
the high-pressure steam from the boiler; the low-pressure side of the
piston may be at atmospheric pressure or connected to the condenser
pressure. Newcomen's indicator diagram, almost all below the
atmospheric line, would see a revival nearly 200 years later with the
low pressure cylinder of triple expansion engines contributing about
20% of the engine power, again almost completely below the atmospheric
The first known advocate of "strong steam" was
Jacob Leupold in his
scheme for an engine that appeared in encyclopaedic works from around
1725. Various projects for steam propelled boats and vehicles also
appeared throughout the century one of the most promising being
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's who demonstrated his "fardier" (steam wagon),
in 1769. Whilst the working pressure used for this vehicle is unknown,
the small size of the boiler gave insufficient steam production rate
to allow the fardier to advance more than a few hundred metres at a
time before having to stop to raise steam. Other projects and models
were proposed, but as with William Murdoch's model of 1784, many were
blocked by Boulton and Watt.
This did not apply in the US, and in 1788 a steamboat built by John
Fitch operated in regular commercial service along the Delaware River
between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Burlington, New Jersey,
carrying as many as 30 passengers. This boat could typically make 7 to
8 miles per hour, and traveled more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km)
during its short length of service. The Fitch steamboat was not a
commercial success, as this route was adequately covered by relatively
good wagon roads. In 1802
William Symington built a practical
steamboat, and in 1807
Robert Fulton used a
Watt steam engine
Watt steam engine to power
the first commercially successful steamboat.
Oliver Evans in his turn was in favour of "strong steam" which he
applied to boat engines and to stationary uses. He was a pioneer of
cylindrical boilers; however Evans' boilers did suffer several serious
boiler explosions, which tended to lend weight to Watt's qualms. He
Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company
Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company in 1811 in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. The company introduced high-pressure steam engines
to the riverboat trade in the Mississippi watershed.
The first high-pressure steam engine was invented in 1800 by Richard
The importance of raising steam under pressure (from a thermodynamic
standpoint) is that it attains a higher temperature. Thus, any engine
using high-pressure steam operates at a higher temperature and
pressure differential than is possible with a low-pressure vacuum
engine. The high-pressure engine thus became the basis for most
further development of reciprocating steam technology. Even so, around
the year 1800, "high pressure" amounted to what today would be
considered very low pressure, i.e. 40-50 psi (276-345 kPa), the point
being that the high-pressure engine in question was non-condensing,
driven solely by the expansive power of the steam, and once that steam
had performed work it was usually exhausted at higher-than-atmospheric
pressure. The blast of the exhausting steam into the chimney could be
exploited to create induced draught through the fire grate and thus
increase the rate of burning, hence creating more heat in a smaller
furnace, at the expense of creating back pressure on the exhaust side
of the piston.
On 21 February 1804, at the
Penydarren ironworks at
Merthyr Tydfil in
South Wales, the first self-propelled railway steam engine or steam
locomotive, built by Richard Trevithick, was demonstrated.
Cornish engine and compounding
Cornish steam engine
Cornish steam engine and Compound engine
Trevithick pumping engine (Cornish system).
Richard Trevithick was required to update a Watt pumping
engine in order to adapt it to one of his new large cylindrical
Cornish boilers. When Trevithick left for South America in 1816, his
improvements were continued by William Sims. In a parallel, Arthur
Woolf developed a compound engine with two cylinders, so that steam
expanded in a high-pressure cylinder before being released into a
low-pressure one. Efficiency was further improved by Samuel Groase,
who insulated the boiler, engine, and pipes.
Steam pressure above the piston was increased eventually reaching
40 psi (0.28 MPa) or even 50 psi (0.34 MPa) and
now provided much of the power for the downward stroke; at the same
time condensing was improved. This considerably raised efficiency and
further pumping engines on the Cornish system (often known as Cornish
engines) continued to be built new throughout the 19th century. Older
Watt engines were updated to conform.
The take-up of these Cornish improvements was slow in textile
manufacturing areas where coal was cheap, due to the higher capital
cost of the engines and the greater wear that they suffered. The
change only began in the 1830s, usually by compounding through adding
another (high-pressure) cylinder.
Another limitation of early steam engines was speed variability, which
made them unsuitable for many textile applications, especially
spinning. In order to obtain steady speeds, early steam powered
textile mills used the steam engine to pump water to a water wheel,
which drove the machinery.
Many of these engines were supplied worldwide and gave reliable and
efficient service over a great many years with greatly reduced coal
consumption. Some of them were very large and the type continued to be
built right down to the 1890s.
Main article: Corliss steam engine
"Gordon's improved Corliss valvegear", detailed view. The wrist-plate
is the central plate from which rods radiate to each of the 4 valves.
Corliss steam engine
Corliss steam engine (patented 1849) was called the greatest
improvement since James Watt. The Corliss engine had greatly
improved speed control and better efficiency, making it suitable to
all sorts of industrial applications, including spinning.
Corliss used separate ports for steam supply and exhaust, which
prevented the exhaust from cooling the passage used by the hot steam.
Corliss also used partially rotating valves that provided quick
action, helping to reduce pressure losses. The valves themselves were
also a source of reduced friction, especially compared to the slide
valve, which typically used 10% of an engine's power.
Corliss used automatic variable cut off. The valve gear controlled
engine speed by using the governor to vary the timing of the cut off.
This was partly responsible for the efficiency improvement in addition
to the better speed control.
Further information: Steam engine
Porter-Allen high speed steam engine
Further information: High-speed steam engine
Porter-Allen high speed engine. Enlarge to see the Porter governor at
left front of flywheel
The Porter-Allen engine, introduced in 1862, used an advanced valve
gear mechanism developed for Porter by Allen, a mechanic of
exceptional ability, and was at first generally known as the Allen
engine. The high speed engine was a precision machine that was well
balanced, achievements made possible by advancements in machine tools
and manufacturing technology.
The high speed engine ran at piston speeds from three to five times
the speed of ordinary engines. It also had low speed variability. The
high speed engine was widely used in sawmills to power circular saws.
Later it was used for electrical generation.
The engine had several advantages. It could, in some cases, be
directly coupled. If gears or belts and drums were used, they could be
much smaller sizes. The engine itself was also small for the amount of
power it developed.
Porter greatly improved the fly-ball governor by reducing the rotating
weight and adding a weight around the shaft. This significantly
improved speed control. Porter's governor became the leading type by
The efficiency of the
Porter-Allen engine was good, but not equal to
the Corliss engine.
Uniflow (or unaflow) engine
Main article: Uniflow steam engine
The uniflow engine was the most efficient type of high-pressure
engine. It was invented in 1911 and was used in ships, but was
displaced by steam turbines and later marine diesel
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^ Wiser, Wendell H. (2000). Energy resources: occurrence, production,
conversion, use. Birkhäuser. p. 190.
^ Heron Alexandrinus (Hero of Alexandria) (c. 62 CE): Spiritalia seu
Pneumatica. Reprinted 1998 by K G Saur GmbH, Munich.
^ a b c Dayton, Fred Erving (1925). "Two Thousand Years of Steam".
Steamboat Days. Frederick A. Stokes company. p. 1.
Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria (1851). "Temple Doors opened by Fire on an
Altar". Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria. Bennet Woodcroft (trans.).
London: Taylor Walton and Maberly (online edition from University of
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^ "Thurston, Robert (1878), "A history of the growth of the steam
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^ Garcia, Nicolas (2007). Mas alla de la Leyenda Negra. Valencia:
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^ a b McNeil, Ian (1990). An Encyclopedia of the History of
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^ a b c d e f g h Johnson, Steven (2008). The Invention of Air: A
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^ a b Tredgold, pg. 6
^ a b Landes, David. S. (1969). The Unbound Prometheus: Technological
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^ "Phil. Trans. 1751-1752 47, 436-438, published 1 January
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^ Tredgold, pg. 21-24
^ "Energy Hall See 'Old Bess' at work". Science Museum. Retrieved
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^ Ogg, David. (1965), Europe of the Ancien Regime: 1715-1783 Fontana
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Taylor, "J.¨ (1827). "Thomas Tredgold". The Steam Engine. see
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
History of the steam engine.
Stuart, Robert, A Descriptive History of the Steam Engine, London: J.
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Six-column beam engine
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Savery Engine (1698)
Newcomen Memorial Engine
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Elsecar Engine (1795)
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Old Bess (1777)
Chacewater Mine engine (1778)
Smethwick Engine (1779)
Soho Manufactory engine (1782)
Bradley Works engine (1783)
Whitbread Engine (1785)
National Museum of Scotland engine (1786)
Lap Engine (1788)
Puffing Devil (1801)
London Steam Carriage (1803)
"Coalbrookdale Locomotive" (1803)
"Pen-y-Darren" locomotive (1804)
Woolf's compound engine (1803)
Murray's Hypocycloidal Engine
Murray's Hypocycloidal Engine (1805)
Glossary of steam locomotive components
History of steam road vehicles
Cugnot's fardier à vapeur (1769)
Murdoch's model steam carriage (1784)
Lean's Engine Reporter
List of steam technology patents
Stationary steam engine
Timeline of steam power