Yay Steam!

The photo is titled Diana visits a steam engine in Hesston, Indiana. I found it near the top of the Creative Commons “steam” photos. Kevin Dooley is a person whose photos I run across a lot because I do Absolute Michigan and he does very popular Michigan photos that he makes available via Creative Commons*.

This photo can be seen in context in Kevin’s Diana slideshow. Anyway, the subject was steam. Specifically, the steam engine. Specifically, Thomas Newcomen, creator of the first practical atmospheric steam engine who was born on or around and most probably before February 24, 1664 in Devon, England.

A devout Baptist, Newcomen worked as an ironmonger, fabricating and selling metal parts. Devon had plenty of tin mines around.

But flooding was a major problem in the mines, and water often had to be often pumped out of the mines — by human or animal power. It was for this task that Newcomen created the first practical steam engine. It was the prototype of the machinery that made the Industrial Revolution possible.

The initial design of Newcomen’s engine used a vertical brass cylinder with a piston connected to a rocking beam. A copper boiler sat below the cylinder to heat the water to boiling. When the piston was at the top of its range of motion, water was sprayed into the cylinder. That cooled the insides, condensing the steam within. This formed a vacuum, pulling the piston down. The boiler, still on, then reheated the steam, driving the piston up again.

Repeating this process caused the rocker beam to rock up and down: a working steam engine. Newcomen’s 1712 design attached the working end of the beam (opposite the piston) to chains that descended to pumps located deep in the mine.

*All photos on this blog are Creative Commons licensed … it was a decision I made years ago and I’ve been amazed at the cool people I’ve met through this simple policy.


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