Full Steam Ahead

When you hear the words “steam engine” you probably think of James Watt or Robert Fulton, two men who were perhaps most famously able to harness steam power for manufacturing and transportation. But Watt and Fulton weren’t the first men to the steam party, not by  a long shot. On 2 July 1698, a military engineer by the name of Thomas Savery patented the first practical steam-powered engine.

Savery’s machine was designed to pump water, particularly out of mines, though it was never successfully used for that purpose. It was first demonstrated for the Royal Society on 14 June 1699, the same year his patent was extended for 21 years beyond the original 14-year timeline. The patent covered all engines that raised water by fire, so Thomas Newcomen, who was working on a more advanced model, was forced to go into business with Savery while developing the Newcomen Steam Engine. That steam engine was the first to harness the power of steam for mechanical work. The Watt steam engine was a later improvement on Newcomen’s model.

Savery’s early engine had some major problems and was never able to be used for its intended purpose. It was, however, used to control the water supply at Hampton Court and at Campden House in Kensington. This early engine may also have been the inspiration for later steam engines, such as the twin-chamber pulsometer steam pump.



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