In the previous video, we have discussed the wheel which is considered an invention that changed the world. The wheel and rotary motion give rise to another civilization changing invention possible called The Steam Engine.
The steam engine propelled the world into a new age of transportation. Popular legends have that 18th-century inventor James Watt discovered the power of steam when he observed the lifting lid of a kettle of boiling water. But the truth is that man had been aware of the power of steam for countless centuries long before Watt ever sat down for his first cup of tea as early as 100 A.D. ancient writings told of a rotating steam turbine wheel created in 1st century Roman Egypt by Heron of Alexandria. The device was described simply as a sphere of Aeolus but Heron never realized the potential uses of his creation and dismissed it is nothing more than a simple toy to keep a drowsy emperor awake. It would be nearly 2000 years before a practical steam engine would be invented.
A steam engine is a machine that converts the heat energy of steam into mechanical energy. A steam engine passes its steam into a cylinder, where it then pushes a piston back and forth. It is with this piston movement that the engine can do mechanical work. The steam engine was the major power source of the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It dominated industry and transportation for 150 years.
It's common knowledge that modern civilization was forged in the factories of the industrial revolution. And these factories themselves were powered by the steam engine.
Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that steam engines ushered in the modern age. But where did the steam engine come from? Who was the inventor of this "mover of mountains?"
The steam engine was not so much invented as developed. To give credit to any one person would be to steal credit away from its many rightful owners. The steam engine was developed over a period of about a hundred years by three British inventors.
The first crude steam-powered machine was built by Thomas Savery, of England, in 1698. Savery built his machine to help pump water out of coal mines. This machine was so simple that it had no moving parts. It also used up lots and lots of coal just to pump a small quantity of water.
To say it was a steam engine would be to stretch the world "engine" far beyond its current meaning. However, it would be fair to say that Savery was the first person to find a practical way of using steam to perform useful work.
The next stage in the history of the steam engine was a result of the work of Thomas Newcomen, also of England. Newcomen knew that there must be a way of improving on Savery's inefficient steam powered pump. Newcomen built a machine where the steam actually pushed a movable piston in one direction. This true "steam engine" was also used to pump water out of coal mines. Neither Savery nor Newcomen had any grander purpose in mind for their machines.
This all changed in 1763, when James Watt, a Scottish engineer, set out to improve upon Newcomen's design. Watt figured out a way to push a piston back and forth in its cylinder. And more importantly, he found out a way to make this back-and-forth motion turn a wheel. By using a "crankshaft," the steam engine could produce circular motion. Watt may not have realized it at the time, but he had just invented the first railroad locomotive.
Unfortunately, Watt didn't have the money to develop his improved steam engine. However, he was able to convince an English manufacturer that building steam engines could become a profitable business. Together with his business partner, James Watt started a company to build steam engines. Of course, he must have hoped that his improved steam engine would find many uses in factories. But little did he realize at the time that his machine would forever alter the course of history.
The improved steam engine aided by the wheel provided a major advance in the way we traveled over water. By late 1700, the steam ship was the man's first major development in traveling great distances since the creation of the sail 1000's of years before. The French were the steam ships earliest pioneers of the late 1700's. But it was an American Robert Fulton who 1st achieved commercial success when he gained world wide attention for driving a steam ship from Clermont between New York and Albany in 1807. With the success of steam travel on the waterways, inventors looked at the steam engine as a power source for land transport.
Hope you are now clear about the steam engine to a certain extend. In the upcoming videos, we'll discuss about some other inventions that changed the world. Can you guess them? I'll give you a hint. It has got a connection with the steam engine.. Make your guesses in the comment section below. Stay tuned...