1712 – England
‘Uses the property of condensing steam to create a partial vacuüm in a cylinder and therefore pull a piston. The system was highly inefficient but was used to pump water from mines’
Today, the credit for the steam engine is usually given to James Watt, while the name Thomas Newcomen remains shrouded in obscurity.
The design of his low-pressure steam engine involved heating water underneath a large piston that was encased in a cylinder.
Steam that was released as a result of the heating forced the piston upwards. A jet of water was then released from a tank above the piston. The sudden cooling of the steam made it condense, creating a partial vacuüm which atmospheric pressure then pushed down on, forcing the piston downwards again. The piston was attached to a two-headed lever, the other side of which was attached to a pump in the mineshaft. As it moved up and down, the lever moved likewise and a pumping motion was created in the shaft, which could be used to eject floodwater.
The first engine could remove about 120 gallons per minute, completing about twelve strokes in that time, and had the equivalent of about 5.5 horsepower. Even though the engine was still not particularly powerful, was hugely inefficient to run, and burnt huge amounts of coal, it would work reliably 24-hours a day.
The steam engine originally developed by Newcomen for work in the mines was quickly developed by engineers like JAMES WATT and RICHARD TREVITHICK (1771-1833) into the steam locomotive.