Energy from Muscles to Steam and Beyond
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences,
University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
- Human and animal muscle
- Water and wind
- Mystery of ancient world's neglect of water and wind power.
(Slavery is a commonly-cited but oversimplified answer.)
A series of technological spinoffs
A Silver Strike
- Severe coin shortage of Middle Ages relieved by great silver
strike in 1515 at Jachymov, Saxony (Ger. Joachimsthal).
- Silver coins were universally accepted and called Joachimsthalers
or "Thalers." "Thaler" evolved into "Dollar."
- Jachymov silver eventually undercut by New World silver in the 1540's.
Mine pumping problem
- Water removed by bundles of rags on rope, by Archimedean screw or
- The problem of mine pumping would be the central element in the
development of the steam engine.
- Suction pumps could not lift water more than 30 feet. Work on
this problem led to discovery of air pressure and invention of
Scientific Spinoffs from the Mines
Mining districts of Saxony become world center for mining studies
- Georg Bauer (Agricola) 1571. De Re Metallica--first scientific
- Johann Beringer 1725. Victim of one of the most famous scientific hoaxes. A
believer in inorganic origin of fossils, he was taken in by fakes planted by
- Abraham Gottlob Werner. ca. 1800. Leader of Neptunist School.
It is tragic that Beringer and Werner are most remembered for
their mistakes because both made solid contributions to the
geology of their day.
Saxony ore played a role in nuclear energy
- Klaproth, 1789, identifies uranium in Joachimsthal ore.
- Most of Europe's uranium (at first only a curiosity) came from
- Becquerel 1896
- Curies ca. 1900
Mine-pumping leads to steam power
- Denis Papin attempts to design steam engine, 1690
- Engine operated by heating and air cooling a steam vessel--very slow.
- Invented piston and cylinder as machine elements
- Thomas Savery 1698: "An engine to raise water by fire."
- Condense steam to create partial vacuum.
- Condensation effected by spraying outside of boiler with water.
- Thomas Newcomen.
- Saw failure of a Savery engine ca. 1705 when water got into boiler and created power vacuum.
- By 1712 marketed an engine that injected water into boiler.
- Vastly more powerful than Savery engine.
- Newcomen also invented "walking beam."
- First commercially successful steam engine.
- Newcomen engines operated at mines well into 20th century.
James Watt, 1769
- Story that Watt invented steam engine after watching steam raise
a kettle lid is a myth.
- In reality, Watt was a laboratory instrument maker.
- When assigned to repair a model Newcomen engine, recognized
paradox of heating and cooling same vessel.
- Influenced by theoretical talks with Joseph Black on latent heat.
- Invented separate steam condenser.
- First applied steam engine to rotary motion.
- Final result: the first compact, versatile artificial power
Need for light leads to other power sources
Early heat and light sources
- Wood. Britain deforested by 1600's due to demand for shipbuilding
and fuel for iron and glass manufacture.
- Coke. Essentially melted coal with waste gases driven off.
Invented by Abraham Darby, 18th century.
- Coal gas: discovered in late 1700's from coking and distillation
- Gas lighting in cities by early 1800's. 300 miles of gas main in
England by 1823, 2000 by 1850.
- Petroleum (1859) originally developed for lighting.
Lime light and its spinoffs
- Gas light shows feasibility of artificial lighting.
- Need for brighter light for:
- Surveying (long sights impossible in Ireland survey).
- Lighthouses (800 wrecks/year around Britain in 1850's)
- Thomas Drummond invents lime light 1825 (alcohol and oxygen jets
on a small sphere of lime).
- Soon applied to theater (hence "in the limelight"). Far safer
than gas--reduced fire hazard.
- Attempt to fuel lime light by H and O for lighthouses.
Nollet (1849) develops generator for electrolysis.
- Lime light superseded by its own spinoffs.
- Arc light invented 1844.
- F. Holmes (1856) applied Nollet's generator to arc lights.
- Arch light supersedes limelight.
- Zenobie Gramme (1870) invents dynamo.
Need for compact power sources
Steam mechanization leads to need for still smaller and more
convenient power sources.
- Oersted, 1831, demonstrates link between electricity and
- Many attempts to develop electric motors--feedback with generator
and dynamo development.
- Modern electric motors widespread by 1890's.
- Otto, 1876, develops 4-stroke piston engine using piped gas as
stationary power source.
- Venturi effect (discovered 1797) used in 1870's for atomizers and
- Maybach and Daimler, 1892, develop atomizer into carburetor.
- Gasoline, originally a waste-product of kerosene refining (!)
finds use as fuel.
The bicycle connection
- First personal mass-transit vehicle.
- Broke down many social constraints (e.g., women travelling alone).
- Created desire for faster, more powerful personal transportation.
- Was source of many mass-manufacture and metallurgical techniques
used in auto manufacture.
- Many early auto manufacturers started as bicycle companies
- Wrights were bicycle makers.
- Explosive growth of diversity in technology.
- Invention must have ground prepared for it (steam paves way for electric motors).
- Intense cross-feed between technological lines of development.
- Technology opens new areas which are exploited further by other
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Created 21 May 1997, Last Update 30 May 1997
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