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Who Invented the Steam Engine? Origin, History, & Advances

steam engine

Undoubtedly, the steam engine is one of the most significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution. In 1712, the first commercial-use steam engine was created by Thomas Newcomen.

This incredible technological advance arose from a need and desire to make life easier for tin and coal miners in Devon, England. Traditional methods, such as buckets or other containers to remove water from the mine, were tedious and hard work. The pump engine that Newcomen developed to solve the miner’s problem ran off of a single piston and cylinder. This was the first engine of its kind and provided the foundation for inventors after him to build on this new technology.

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Advances in Steam Engine Power

Almost 50 years later, in 1764, James Watt was given one of Newcomen’s steam pumps to repair. Up until this point, Necomen’s engine had gone without any competition. However after Watt began working on it, he realized the engine was not very efficient. He realized that adding a condensing chamber could prevent the steam from escaping and create more efficient use of the power.

He patented the design, and steam engine technology began to advance. Because of his improvements, the types of jobs these steam engines could be used for increased. It also made it easier for others after him to continue building on the technology.

In its early days, steam power was used for small-scale tasks such as powering engines for water removal or pumping water for irrigation. However, in 1807, Robert Fulton took that same technology that powered these small engines and used it to build the first steam-powered boat.

This boat allowed for further advancements during the Industrial Age due to how easy it became to transport goods throughout the waterways and canals of Europe.

Only 7 years later, George Stephenson invented the first steam-powered train in 1814. Like the boat, this made it easier to transport goods, which helped European development. Plus, people were able to move throughout Europe more easily.

steam locomotive
Photo Credit By: hpgruesen, Pixabay

Steam Power in the Past

Since 1814, many more advances have been made regarding steam power. But one thing that’s interesting to note is that steam power is much older than these inventions that began in the 1700s.

As far as we know, steam power dates back at least 2,000 years to the first century A.D., when the first aeolipile was invented. A Greek inventor known as Hero of Alexandria was the first person recorded to make one of these primitive steam turbines.

While this turbine wouldn’t have been enough to do much in the way of helping production, it showed that men have been thinking about using steam as a form of energy for a long time.

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Closing Thoughts

Steam power isn’t some long-lost technology. It’s still very much in use today. For example, many gas plants or power plants use steam power in many of their processes. It’s important to remember that while modern man has learned to harness steam in impressive ways, the technology isn’t new, as demonstrated by the early Greeks.

Featured Image Credit: LittleVisuals, Pixabay

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