Steam Power Story #AToZChallenge



Steam Power

Congratulations everyone, it is the Earth international day and it is also the “S” day in our great A2Z challenge. Unfortunately, today I’m gonna tell you the story of one of the most anti-nature events, which is the steam power and industrial revolution. 

Of course, all of you know that the industrial revolution is the MAIN reason we are here today, right? the industrial revolution which started in Europe and Britain in particular then it spread all over the world turning it to a whole new one. If we want to tell the story of the revolution itself we will need volumes to just tell it briefly. So, we will just tell the story of one invention that made it all possible. It all started with the STEAM POWER. 

Steam power developed slowly over a period of several hundred years, progressing through expensive and fairly limited devices in the early 17th century, to useful pumps for mining in 1700, and then to Watt’s improved steam engine designs in the late 18th century. It is these later designs, introduced just when the need for practical power was growing due to the Industrial Revolution, that truly made steam power commonplace.

The steam engine was invented by Heron, an ancient Greek geometer and engineer from Alexandria.

Heron Aeolipile
Heron Aeolipile

Heron lived during the first century AD and is sometimes called Hero. Heron made the steam engine as a toy, and called his device “aeolipile,” which means “wind ball” in Greek. The steam was supplied by a sealed pot filled with water and placed over a fire. Two tubes came up from the pot, letting the steam flow into a spherical ball of metal. The metallic sphere had two curved outlet tubes, which vented steam. As the steam went through the series of tubes, the metal sphere rotated. The aeolipile is the first known device to transform steam power into rotary motion. The Greeks never used this remarkable device for anything but a novelty. 

From this and through hundreds of years, small developments were being added to steam engines. But, when we talk about the modern steam engine which played the most important part in our modern human history, three names come up to our minds. Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen and James Watt. 

Thomas Savery (1650 – 1715) was an English military engineer and inventor who in 1698, patented the first


crude steam engine, based on Denis Papin’s Digester or pressure cooker of 1679. Thomas Savery had been working on solving the problem of pumping water out of coal mines, his machine consisted of a closed vessel filled with water into which steam under pressure was introduced. This forced the water upwards and out of the mine shaft. Then a cold water sprinkler was used to condense the steam. This created a vacuum which sucked more water out of the mine shaft through a bottom valve.

Thomas Newcomen (1663 – 1729) was an English blacksmith, who invented the atmospheric steam engine, an improvement over Thomas Slavery’s previous design. Thomas Savery


later worked with Thomas Newcomen on the atmospheric steam engine. The Newcomen steam engine used the force of atmospheric pressure to do the work. Thomas Newcomen’s engine pumped steam into a cylinder. The steam was then condensed by cold water which created a vacuum on the inside of the cylinder. The resulting atmospheric pressure operated a piston, creating downward strokes. In Newcomen’s engine the intensity of pressure was not limited by the pressure of the steam, unlike what Thomas Savery had patented in 1698.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen together with John Calley built their first engine on top of a water filled mine shaft and used it to pump water out of the mine. The Newcomen engine was the predecessor to the Watt engine and it was one of the most interesting pieces of technology developed during the 1700’s.

And now to the interesting part of the story, the James Watt part. This part is not only telling you part of the steam engine story but as well teaching you a very valuable lesson. 

In the mid 1700s, 12-year-old James sat in the kitchen with his aunt, staring at a teakettle. The water was boiling so hard that the lid of the teakettle began to jump up and down. For over an hour, James stared at the teakettle. His aunt told him he was wasting time, but James was too fascinated with the teakettle to stop. When he held the lid down tightly, the powerful steam escaped from the kettle’s spout. Removing his hand from the lid made it bounce again. As he watched the kettle, James learned about the power of steam. Later, James put that experience to good use. He invented a way to get even more power from the steam engine, without burning any more fuel. James Watt’s improvements on the steam engine made it a more powerful tool. (You can read Baldwin’s version of the story here)

The lesson is you should take a look around the room. What do you see? Did you ever think that something you see might lead to an invention that would change the world? That’s what happened to young James Watt. The next time you see something interesting, remember young James and the bubbling kettle.

In 1763, when he was twenty-eight and working as a mathematical-instrument maker at the University of Glasgow, a model of Thomas Newcomen’s steam pumping engine was brought into his shop for repairs. James Watt had always been interested in mechanical and scientific instruments, particularly those which dealt with steam. The Newcomen engine must have thrilled him.


James Watt set up the model and watched it in operation. He noted how the alternate heating and cooling of its cylinder wasted power. He concluded, after weeks of experimenting, that in order to make the engine practical, the cylinder had to be kept as hot as the steam which entered it. Yet in order to condense steam there had some cooling taking place. That was challenge the inventor faced.

James Watt came up with the idea of the separate condenser. In his journal the inventor wrote that the idea came to him on a Sunday afternoon in 1765, as he walked across the Glasgow Green. If the steam was condensed in a separate vessel from the cylinder, it would be quite possible to keep the condensing vessel cool and the cylinder hot at the same time. The next morning Watt built a prototype and found that it worked. He added other improvements and built his now famous improved steam engine.

After one or two disastrous business experiences, James Watt associated himself with Matthew Boulton, a venture capitalist and owner of the Soho Engineering Works, near Birmingham. The firm of Boulton and Watt became famous, and James Watt lived until August 19, 1819, long enough to see his steam engine become the greatest single factor in the upcoming new industrial era. Watt’s engine soon became the dominant design for all modern steam engines and helped bring about the Industrial Revolution. 

A unit of power called the Watt was named after James Watt. the Watt symbol is W, and it is equal to 1/746 of a horsepower, or one Volt times one Amp.

Until now, improvements are being made in steam engines industry and research. Without the invention of steam engine there would be almost no industrial revolution. Before steam engines, power sources were water and wind, but these were not enough to push the industry great steps forward as did the steam engine. 


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