Inventors

Hero of Alexandria

Many people stil think that steam is invented by James Watt when he saw the lid of the kettle move. But that is a very wrong idea, steampower was known thousands of years before James Watt.

The first attempt to harness steampower was done by Hero, Heros, a scientist in Alexandria, in the first century. His aeolipile is described in his book Pneumatica. Other Greek and Roman scientists described the power of fire, but no other attempts is known of. And that is not peculiar, since their civilisation was build on the labor of slaves. And there were so many of them that another source of power was not needed. Therefore steam was used for toys, but not as a serious powersource.

Edward SomersetThe next attempt of importance we know of was done by Giambattista Della Porta (1536-1605) in Naples. He build a device that forced water out by means of steampressure.

In the same century Edward Somerset  (1601-1667), the 2nd marquis of Worcestor wrote a book full of inventions. One of these was a steamengine. It is a practible and usable design and could do its work, but again technical skills were far from sufficient and the engine failed. Much of his design can be found in the designs of his successors like Papin and Savery. But in between Edward Somerset and Papin were several English noblemen trying to build a working steamengine, but they all failed.

And then, in 1690, Denis Papin (1647-1712) constructed a cylinder with piston in which he boiled water. After condensing the steam which had filled the cylinder, the piston was pushed down by the atmospheric pressure. Denis Papin was a french Hugenot who had to flee from France. He came to London and worked there for the Royal Society.

ThThomas Newcomenomas Savery (1650-1715) was the first man ever to invent a working steam-device. Since it has no moving parts it can not really be called an engine.  He was a very important inspirer of Thomas Newcomen, the real first inventor of the steamengine.

Thomas Newcomen lived from 1663-1729. Without any doubt he was the most important inventor in the world of steam. His engines drove the industrial revolution.

He was succeeded by James Watt, erroneous known as the inventor of the steamengine. Watt addes some crucial parts to the Newcomen engine, but blocked further development of the steamengine by a very rigid maintaining of his patent. Because of this the development has been slowed down significantly.

Richard TrevithickIt was Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) who tried to persue Watt to improve his engine. But Watt refused, and then Trevithick turned completely over to the development of the locomotive. He was very succesful with his engines, but Travithick's life was not very succesfull, he died in poverty.

From then on many inventors improved the steamengine and developed many new types of engines. Horizontal engines, compound engines, uniflow engines, all these types were improvements.

But the real change in steamengines came from Pearson, he developed the steam-turbine. And today the steam-turbine is the only steam-engine which is still in common use, mainly in powerstations and ships driven by nuclear energy.