Thomas Newcomen

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Thomas Newcomen
Born1664 [1]
Died5 August 1729 (Aged around 65) [2]
Nationality English
Known forInventing the first practical Steam engine
Scientific career
Influenced James Watt
Animation of a schematic Newcomen engine.
- Steam is shown pink and water is blue.
- Valves move from open (green) to closed (red) Newcomen atmospheric engine animation.gif
Animation of a schematic Newcomen engine.
Steam is shown pink and water is blue.
Valves move from open (green) to closed (red)

Thomas Newcomen ( /ˈnjkʌmən/ ; February 1664 [lower-roman 1] [1] 5 August 1729) was an English inventor who created the atmospheric engine, the first practical fuel-burning engine in 1712. He was an ironmonger by trade and a Baptist lay preacher by calling. He was born in Dartmouth, Devon, England, to a merchant family and baptised at St. Saviour's Church on 28 February 1664. [3] In those days flooding in coal and tin mines was a major problem, and Newcomen was soon engaged in trying to improve ways to pump out the water from such mines. His ironmonger's business specialised in designing, manufacturing and selling tools for the mining industry.

Contents

Religious life

The Newcomen house in Dartmouth Sketch of Newcomin house - Devonshire characters and strange events.jpg
The Newcomen house in Dartmouth

Thomas Newcomen was a lay preacher and a teaching elder in the local Baptist church. After 1710 he became the pastor of a local group of Baptists. His father had been one of a group who brought the well-known Puritan John Flavel to Dartmouth. Later one of Newcomen's business contacts in London, Edward Wallin, was another Baptist minister who had connections with the well-known Doctor John Gill of Horsleydown, Southwark. Newcomen's connection with the Baptist church at Bromsgrove materially aided the spread of his steam engine, as the engineers Jonathan Hornblower (both father and son) were involved in the same church.

Developing the atmospheric engine

Newcomen's great achievement was his steam engine, developed around 1712; combining the ideas of Thomas Savery and Denis Papin, he created a steam engine for the purpose of lifting water out of a tin mine. [4] It is likely that Newcomen was already acquainted with Savery, whose forebears were merchants in south Devon. Savery also had a post with the Commissioners for Sick and Hurt Seamen, which took him to Dartmouth. Savery had devised a "fire engine", a kind of thermic syphon, in which steam was admitted to an empty container and then condensed. The vacuum thus created was used to suck water from the sump at the bottom of the mine. The "fire engine" was not very effective and could not work beyond a limited depth of around thirty feet.

Newcomen replaced the receiving vessel (where the steam was condensed) with a cylinder containing a piston based on Papin's design. Instead of the vacuum drawing in water, it drew down the piston. This was used to work a beam engine, in which a large wooden beam rocked upon a central fulcrum. On the other side of the beam was a chain attached to a pump at the base of the mine. As the steam cylinder was refilled with steam, readying it for the next power stroke, water was drawn into the pump cylinder and expelled into a pipe to the surface by the weight of the machinery. Newcomen and his partner John Calley built the first successful engine of this type at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley in the West Midlands. A working replica of this engine can be seen at the Black Country Living Museum nearby.

Later life and death

Comparatively little is known of Newcomen's later life. After 1715 the engine affairs were conducted through an unincorporated company, the 'Proprietors of the Invention for Raising Water by Fire'. Its secretary and treasurer was John Meres, clerk to the Society of Apothecaries in London. That society formed a company which had a monopoly on supplying medicines to the Navy providing a close link with Savery, whose will he witnessed. The Committee of the Proprietors also included Edward Wallin, a Baptist of Swedish descent; and pastor of a church at Maze Pond, Southwark. Newcomen died at Wallin's house in 1729, and was buried at Bunhill Fields burial ground on the outskirts of the City of London: the exact site of his grave is unknown.

By 1733 about 125 Newcomen engines, operating under Savery's patent (extended by statute so that it did not expire until 1733), had been installed by Newcomen and others in most of the important mining districts of Britain and on the Continent of Europe: draining coal mines in the Black Country, Warwickshire and near Newcastle upon Tyne; at tin and copper mines in Cornwall; and in lead mines in Flintshire and Derbyshire, amongst other places.

After Newcomen

The Newcomen engine held its place without material change for about 75 years, spreading gradually to more areas of the UK and mainland Europe. At first brass cylinders were used, but these were expensive and limited in size. New iron casting techniques pioneered by the Coalbrookdale Company in the 1720s allowed bigger cylinders to be used, up to about 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter by the 1760s. Experience led to better construction and minor refinements in layout. Its mechanical details were much improved by John Smeaton, who built many large engines of this type in the early 1770s; his improvements were rapidly adopted. By 1775 about 600 Newcomen engines had been built, although many of these had worn out before then, and been abandoned or replaced.

The Newcomen Engine was by no means an efficient machine, although it was probably as complicated as engineering and materials techniques of the early 18th century could support. Much heat was lost when condensing the steam, as this cooled the cylinder. This did not matter unduly at a colliery, where unsaleable small coal (slack) was available, but significantly increased the mining costs where coal was not readily available, as in Cornwall. Newcomen's engine was gradually replaced after 1775 in areas where coal was expensive (especially in Cornwall) by an improved design, invented by James Watt, in which the steam was condensed in a separate condenser. The Watt steam engine, aided by better engineering techniques including Wilkinson's boring machine, was much more fuel efficient, enabling Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton to collect substantial royalties based on the fuel saved.

Watt subsequently made other improvements, including the double-acting engine, where both the up and down strokes were power strokes. These were especially suitable for driving textile mills, and many Watt engines were employed in these industries. At first attempts to drive machinery by Newcomen engines had mixed success, as the single power stroke produced a jerky motion, but use of flywheels and better engineering largely overcame these problems. By 1800, hundreds of non-Watt rotary engines had been built, especially in collieries and ironworks where irregular motion was not a problem but also in textile mills. (see reference (2) below).

Despite Watt's improvements, Common Engines (as they were then known) remained in use for a considerable time, and many more Newcomen engines than Watt ones were built even during the period of Watt's patent (up to 1800), as they were cheaper and less complicated. Of over 2,200 engines built in the 18th century, only about 450 were Watt engines. Elements of Watt's design, especially the Separate Condenser, were incorporated in many "pirate" engines. Even after 1800 Newcomen type engines continued to be built and condensers were added routinely to these. They were also commonly retro-fitted to existing Newcomen engines (the so-called "pickle-pot" condenser).

Surviving Newcomen engines

The Newcomen Memorial Engine in Dartmouth Dartmouth Newcomen engine.jpg
The Newcomen Memorial Engine in Dartmouth

There are examples of Newcomen engines in the Science Museum, London, England and the Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan US, amongst other places. [5]

In 1964 the Newcomen Society of London arranged for a Newcomen engine at Hawkesbury Junction, Warwickshire to be transferred to Dartmouth, where it can be seen working using a hydraulic arrangement instead of the steam boiler. [6] According to Dr. Cyril Boucher of the Newcomen Society, [7] this Newcomen Memorial Engine dates from about 1725, with new valve gear and other parts added later.

Perhaps the last Newcomen-style engine to be used commercially – and the last still remaining on its original site – is at the Elsecar Heritage Centre, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. It was restored to working condition between 2012 and 2015, the refurbished engine was unveiled by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in May 2016/ [8] Another Newcomen engines that can be shown working is the modern replica engine at the Black Country Museum in Dudley, West Midlands. The Newcomen Memorial Engine at Dartmouth can be seen moving, but is worked by hydraulics.

Recognition

On 23 February 2012 the Royal Mail released a stamp featuring Newcomen's atmospheric steam engine as part its "Britons of Distinction" series. [9]

Related Research Articles

James Watt British engineer

James Watt was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen's 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1776, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

Steam engine Heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid

A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid. The steam engine uses the force produced by steam pressure to push a piston back and forth inside a cylinder. This pushing force is transformed, by a connecting rod and flywheel, into rotational force for work. The term "steam engine" is generally applied only to reciprocating engines as just described, not to the steam turbine.

Thomas Savery British steam engineer

Thomas Savery was an English inventor and engineer, born at Shilstone, a manor house near Modbury, Devon, England. He invented the first commercially used steam powered device, a steam pump which is often referred to as an "engine", although it is not technically an "engine". Savery's "engine" was a revolutionary method of pumping water, which solved the problem of mine drainage and made widespread public water supply practicable.

Newcomen atmospheric engine Early engine invented by Thomas Newcomen.

The atmospheric engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, and is often referred to simply as a Newcomen engine. The engine was operated by condensing steam drawn into the cylinder, thereby creating a partial vacuum which allowed the atmospheric pressure to push the piston into the cylinder. It was the first practical device to harness steam to produce mechanical work. Newcomen engines were used throughout Britain and Europe, principally to pump water out of mines. Hundreds were constructed through the 18th century.

Watt steam engine Industrial Revolution era stream engine design

The Watt steam engine, alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine, was an early steam engine and was one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution. James Watt developed the design sporadically from 1763 to 1775 with support from Matthew Boulton. Watt's design saved so much more fuel compared with earlier designs that they were licensed based on the amount of fuel they would save. Watt never ceased developing the steam engine, introducing double-acting designs and various systems for taking off rotary power. Watt's design became synonymous with steam engines, and it was many years before significantly new designs began to replace the basic Watt design.

Richard Trevithick British steam and mining engineer

Richard Trevithick was a British inventor and mining engineer from Cornwall, England, UK. The son of a mining captain, and born in the mining heartland of Cornwall, Trevithick was immersed in mining and engineering from an early age. He performed poorly in school, but went on to be an early pioneer of steam-powered road and rail transport. His most significant contribution was the development of the first high-pressure steam engine. He also built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive. The world's first locomotive-hauled railway journey took place on 21 February 1804, when Trevithick's unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.

Boulton & Watt was an early British engineering and manufacturing firm in the business of designing and making marine and stationary steam engines. Founded in the English West Midlands around Birmingham in 1775 as a partnership between the English manufacturer Matthew Boulton and the Scottish engineer James Watt, the firm had a major role in the Industrial Revolution and grew to be a major producer of steam engines in the 19th century.

Steam power developed slowly over a period of several hundred years, progressing through expensive and fairly limited devices in the early 17th century, to useful pumps for mining in 1700, and then to Watt's improved steam engine designs in the late 18th century. It is these later designs, introduced just when the need for practical power was growing due to the Industrial Revolution, that truly made steam power commonplace.

Improvements to the steam engine were some of the most important technologies of the Industrial Revolution, although steam did not replace water power in importance in Britain until after the Industrial Revolution. From Englishman Thomas Newcomen's atmospheric engine, of 1712, through major developments by Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer James Watt, the steam engine began to be used in many industrial settings, not just in mining, where the first engines had been used to pump water from deep workings. Early mills had run successfully with water power, but by using a steam engine a factory could be located anywhere, not just close to water. Water power varied with the seasons and was not always available.

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Elsecar Heritage Centre is a living history centre in Elsecar, Barnsley, England.

Beam engine An early configuration of steam engine utilising a rocking beam to connect major components.

A beam engine is a type of steam engine where a pivoted overhead beam is used to apply the force from a vertical piston to a vertical connecting rod. This configuration, with the engine directly driving a pump, was first used by Thomas Newcomen around 1705 to remove water from mines in Cornwall. The efficiency of the engines was improved by engineers including James Watt, who added a separate condenser; Jonathan Hornblower and Arthur Woolf, who compounded the cylinders; and William McNaught, who devised a method of compounding an existing engine. Beam engines were first used to pump water out of mines or into canals, but could be used to pump water to supplement the flow for a waterwheel powering a mill.

Cornish engine Type of steam beam engine originating in Cornwall, England

A Cornish engine is a type of steam engine developed in Cornwall, England, mainly for pumping water from a mine. It is a form of beam engine that uses steam at a higher pressure than the earlier engines designed by James Watt. The engines were also used for powering man engines to assist the underground miners' journeys to and from their working levels, for winching materials into and out of the mine, and for powering on-site ore stamping machinery.

History of the steam engine

The first recorded rudimentary steam engine was the aeolipile described by Heron of Alexandria in 1st-century Roman Egypt. Several steam-powered devices were later experimented with or proposed, such as Taqi al-Din's steam jack, a steam turbine in 16th-century Ottoman Egypt, and Thomas Savery's steam pump in 17th-century England. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen's atmospheric engine became the first commercially successful engine using the principle of the piston and cylinder, which was the fundamental type of steam engine used until the early 20th century. The steam engine was used to pump water out of coal mines.

Shudehill Mill

Shudehill Mill or Simpson's Mill was a very early cotton mill in Manchester city centre, England. It was built in 1782 by for Richard Arkwright and his partners and destroyed by fire in 1854. It was rebuilt and finally destroyed during the Manchester Blitz in 1940. One of Arkwright's larger mills, it was built three years before his patent lapsed. The mill had a 30 feet diameter water wheel and a Newcomen atmospheric engine was installed. Doubts remain as to why the engine was installed, whether it was a failed attempt to power a mill directly by steam or was modified to assist the wheel. It is possible that this engine, constructed by Hunt, could have been one of the 13 engines installed in Manchester mills by Joshua Wrigley. Water from the upper storage pond turned the water wheel to drive the mill. The steam engine recycled water from the lower storage pond to the upper storage pond. Three more Boulton and Watt engines were installed to power the increasing number of spindles.

John Calley, was a metalworker, plumber and glass-blower, who became famous for being Thomas Newcomen's partner. Like Newcomen, he was a member of a Dartmouth family.

<i>Old Bess</i> (beam engine)

Old Bess is an early beam engine built by the partnership of Boulton and Watt. The engine was constructed in 1777 and worked until 1848.

A water-returning engine was an early form of stationary steam engine, developed at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 18th century. The first beam engines did not generate power by rotating a shaft but were developed as water pumps, mostly for draining mines. By coupling this pump with a water wheel, they could be used to drive machinery.

Cataract (beam engine)

A cataract was a speed governing device used for early single-acting beam engines, particularly atmospheric engines and Cornish engines.

Resolution was an early beam engine, installed between 1781–1782 at Coalbrookdale as a water-returning engine to power the blast furnaces and ironworks there. It was one of the last water-returning engines to be constructed, before the rotative beam engine made this type of engine obsolete.

Newcomen Memorial Engine Newcomen engine

The Newcomen Memorial Engine is a preserved beam engine in Dartmouth, Devon. It was preserved as a memorial to Thomas Newcomen, inventor of the beam engine, who was born in Dartmouth.

References

  1. This is often given as 1663 - see Old Style and New Style dates
  1. 1 2 Rolt & Allen (1977), p. 33.
  2. "Thomas Newcomen (1663 - 1729)". BBC History. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  3. "Newcomen, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. Morris, Charles R. Morris; illustrations by J.E. (2012). The dawn of innovation the first American Industrial Revolution (1st ed.). New York: PublicAffairs. p. 42. ISBN   978-1-61039-049-1.
  5. Russell, Ben. "In pursuit of power". Science Museum. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  6. (Eric Preston,Thomas Newcomen of Dartmouth, Dartmouth History Research Group 2012, ISBN   1-899011-27-7)
  7. Transactions of the Newcomen Society 35, October 1962
  8. Bansley Museums Annual Review 2015-2016, page 10; url=http://www.elsecar-heritage.com/content/downloads/Barnsley-Arts-and-Museums-Annual-Review-15-16-41719234.pdf
  9. Tom Banks (23 February 2012). "Purpose designs Britons of distinction stamps". Design Week.

Further reading