Thomas Savery

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Thomas Savery
Thomas Savery.gif
Bornc. 1650
Shilstone, Modbury, Devon, England

Thomas Savery ( /ˈsvəri/ ; c. 1650 – 1715) 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". Savery's "engine" was a revolutionary method of pumping water, which solved the problem of mine drainage and made widespread public water supply practicable.

Manor house country house that historically formed the administrative centre of a manor

A manor house was historically the main residence of the lord of the manor. The house formed the administrative centre of a manor in the European feudal system; within its great hall were held the lord's manorial courts, communal meals with manorial tenants and great banquets. The term is today loosely applied to various country houses, frequently dating from the late medieval era, which formerly housed the gentry.

Modbury a town in South Hams, United Kindom

Modbury is a large village, ecclesiastical parish, civil parish and former manor situated in the South Hams district of the county of Devon in England. Today due to its large size it is generally referred to as a "town" although the parish council has not elected to give itself the status of a town as it could do under s.245(6) of the Local Government Act 1972, so it does not have a town council and cannot have a town mayor. It is also known informally as a "market town", as from at least 1199 the lord of the manor has held the right to hold a regular market. The village is situated on the A379 road, which links it to Plymouth and Kingsbridge. The current parish population is approximately 1,500.



Savery became a military engineer, rising to the rank of Captain by 1702, and spent his free time performing experiments in mechanics. In 1696 he took out a patent for a machine for polishing glass or marble and another for "rowing of ships with greater ease and expedition than hitherto been done by any other" which involved paddle-wheels driven by a capstan and which was dismissed by the Admiralty following a negative report by the Surveyor of the Navy, Edmund Dummer. [1]

Capstan (nautical)

A capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables, and hawsers. The principle is similar to that of the windlass, which has a horizontal axle.

Surveyor of the Navy

The Surveyor of the Navy also known as Department of the Surveyor of the Navy and originally known as Surveyor and Rigger of the Navy was a former principle commissioner and member of both the Navy Board from the inauguration of that body in 1546 until its abolition in 1832 and then a member Board of Admiralty from 1848-1859. In 1860 the office was renamed Controller of The Navy until 1869 when the office was merged with that of the Third Naval Lord's the post holder held overall responsibility for the design of British warships.

Edmund Dummer (1651–1713) was an English naval engineer and shipbuilder who, as Surveyor of the Navy, designed and supervised the construction of the Royal Navy dockyard at (Devonport), Plymouth and designed the extension of that at Portsmouth. His survey of the south coast ports is a valuable and well-known historic document. He also served Arundel as Member of Parliament for approximately ten years and founded the first packet service between Falmouth, Cornwall and the West Indies. He died a bankrupt in the Fleet debtors' prison.

Savery also worked for the Sick and Hurt Commissioners, contracting the supply of medicines to the Navy Stock Company, which was connected with the Society of Apothecaries. His duties on their behalf took him to Dartmouth, which is probably how he came into contact with Thomas Newcomen.

Sick and Hurt Commissioners

The Sick and Hurt Commissioners were responsible for medical services in the Royal Navy. They were a separate body to the Navy Board, supplying surgeons to naval ships, providing them with medicines and equipment, and running shore and ship hospitals; they were also responsible for prisoners of war.

Thomas Newcomen English inventor

Thomas Newcomen was an English inventor who created the first practical steam engine in 1712, the Newcomen atmospheric engine. 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. 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.

First steam engine mechanism

Fire pump, Savery system, 1698. Fire pump Savery system 1698.jpg
Fire pump, Savery system, 1698.

On 2 July 1698 Savery patented an early steam engine, "A new invention for raising of water and occasioning motion to all sorts of mill work by the impellent force of fire, which will be of great use and advantage for draining mines, serving towns with water, and for the working of all sorts of mills where they have not the benefit of water nor constant winds."[ sic ] [2] He demonstrated it to the Royal Society on 14 June 1699. The patent had no illustrations or even description, but in 1702 Savery described the machine in his book The Miner's Friend; or, An Engine to Raise Water by Fire, [3] in which he claimed that it could pump water out of mines.

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.

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

Mining The extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, usually from an ore body, lode, vein, seam, reef or placer deposit. These deposits form a mineralized package that is of economic interest to the miner.

The 1698 Savery Engine Savery-engine.jpg
The 1698 Savery Engine

Savery's engine had no piston, and no moving parts except from the taps. It was operated by first raising steam in the boiler; the steam was then admitted to one of the first working vessels, allowing it to blow out through a downpipe into the water that was to be raised. When the system was hot and therefore full of steam the tap between the boiler and the working vessel was shut, and if necessary the outside of the vessel was cooled. This made the steam inside it condense, creating a partial vacuum, and atmospheric pressure pushed water up the downpipe until the vessel was full. At this point the tap below the vessel was closed, and the tap between it and the up-pipe opened, and more steam was admitted from the boiler. As the steam pressure built up, it forced the water from the vessel up the up-pipe to the top of the mine.

A Pistonless pump is a type of pump designed to move fluids without any moving parts other than three chamber valves.

Atmospheric pressure, sometimes also called barometric pressure, is the pressure within the atmosphere of Earth. The standard atmosphere is a unit of pressure defined as 1013.25 mbar (101.325 kPa), equivalent to 760 mmHg (torr), 29.9212 inches Hg, or 14.696 psi. The atm unit is roughly equivalent to the mean sea-level atmospheric pressure on Earth, that is, the Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is approximately 1 atm.

However, his engine had four serious problems. First, every time water was admitted to the working vessel much of the heat was wasted in warming up the water that was being pumped. Secondly, the second stage of the process required high-pressure steam to force the water up, and the engine's soldered joints were barely capable of withstanding high pressure steam and needed frequent repair. Thirdly, although this engine used positive steam pressure to push water up out of the engine (with no theoretical limit to the height to which water could be lifted by a single high-pressure engine) practical and safety considerations meant that in practice, to clear water from a deep mine would have needed a series of moderate-pressure engines all the way from the bottom level to the surface. Fourthly, water was pushed up into the engine only by atmospheric pressure (working against a condensed-steam 'vacuum'), so the engine had to be no more than about 30 feet (9.1 m) above the water level – requiring it to be installed, operated, and maintained far down in the dark mines all over.

Solder metal alloy used to join together metal pieces with higher melting points

Solder is a fusible metal alloy used to create a permanent bond between metal workpieces. The word solder comes from the Middle English word soudur, via Old French solduree and soulder, from the Latin solidare, meaning "to make solid". In fact, solder must first be melted in order to adhere to and connect the pieces together after cooling, which requires that an alloy suitable for use as solder have a lower melting point than the pieces being joined. The solder should also be resistant to oxidative and corrosive effects that would degrade the joint over time. Solder used in making electrical connections also needs to have favorable electrical characteristics.

Fire Engine Act

Savery's original patent of July 1698 gave 14 years' protection; the next year, 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed which extended his protection for a further 21 years. This Act became known as the "Fire Engine Act". Savery's patent covered all engines that raised water by fire, and it thus played an important role in shaping the early development of steam machinery in the British Isles.

The architect James Smith of Whitehill acquired the rights to use Savery's engine in Scotland. In 1699, he entered into an agreement with the inventor, and in 1701 he secured a patent from the Parliament of Scotland, modelled on Savery's grant in England, and designed to run for the same period of time. Smith described the machine as "an engyne or invention for raising of water and occasioning motion of mill-work by the force of fire",[ sic ] and he claimed to have modified it to pump from a depth of 14 fathoms, or 84 feet. [2] [4]

In England, Savery's patent meant that Thomas Newcomen was forced to go into partnership with him. By 1712, arrangements had been between the two men to develop Newcomen's more advanced design of steam engine, which was marketed under Savery's patent, adding water tanks and pump rods so that deeper water mines could be accessed with steam power. [5] Newcomen's engine worked purely by atmospheric pressure, thereby avoiding the dangers of high-pressure steam, and used the piston concept invented in 1690 by the Frenchman Denis Papin to produce the first steam engine capable of raising water from deep mines. [6]

When Denis Papin was back to London in 1707, he was asked by Newton, new President of The Royal Society after Robert Boyle, Papin's friend, to work with Savery, who worked for 5 years with Papin, but never gave any credit nor revenue to the French scientist.

After his death in 1715 Savery's patent and Act of Parliament became vested in a company, The Proprietors of the Invention for Raising Water by Fire. [7] This company issued licences to others for the building and operation of Newcomen engines, charging as much as £420 per year patent royalties for the construction of steam engines. [8] In one case a colliery paid the Proprietors £200 per year and half their net profits "in return for their services in keeping the engine going". [9]

The Fire Engine Act did not expire until 1733, four years after the death of Newcomen. [10]

Application of the engine

A newspaper in March 1702 announced that Savery's engines were ready for use and might be seen on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at his workhouse in Salisbury Court, London, over against the Old Playhouse.

One of his engines was set up at York Buildings in London. According to later descriptions this produced steam 'eight or ten times stronger than common air' (i.e. 8–10 atmospheres), but blew open the joints of the machine, forcing him to solder the joints with spelter. [11]

Another was built to control the water supply at Hampton Court, while another at Campden House in Kensington operated for 18 years. [12]

A few Savery engines were tried in mines, an unsuccessful attempt being made to use one to clear water from a pool called Broad Waters in Wednesbury (then in Staffordshire) and nearby coal mines. This had been covered by a sudden eruption of water some years before. However the engine could not be 'brought to answer'. The quantity of steam raised was so great as 'rent the whole machine to pieces'. The engine was laid aside, and the scheme for raising water was dropped as impracticable. [13] [14] This may have been in about 1705. [14]

Another engine was proposed in 1706 by George Sparrow at Newbold near Chesterfield, where a landowner was having difficulty in obtaining the consent of his neighbours for a sough to drain his coal. Nothing came of this, perhaps due to the explosion of the Broad Waters engine. [14] It is also possible that an engine was tried at Wheal Vor, a copper mine in Cornwall. [15]

Comparison with Newcomen engine

The Savery engine was much lower in capital cost than the Newcomen engine, with a 2 to 4 horsepower Savery engine costing from 150-200 GBP. [16] It was also available in small sizes, down to one horsepower. Newcomen engines and early high pressure steam engines were larger and much more expensive. The larger size was due to the fact that piston steam engines became very inefficient in small sizes, at least until around 1900 when 2 horsepower piston engines were available. [17] Savery type engines continued to be produced well into the late 18th century.

Inspiration for later work

Several later pumping systems may be based on Savery's pump. For example, the twin-chamber pulsometer steam pump was a successful development of it. [18]

See also


  1. Fox, Celina (2007). "The Ingenious Mr Dummer: Rationalizing the Royal Navy in Late Seventeenth-Century England" (PDF). Electronic British Library Journal. p. 25. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  2. 1 2 Jenkins, Rhys (1936). Links in the History of Engineering and Technology from Tudor Times. Ayer Publishing. p. 66. ISBN   0-8369-2167-4.
  3. Savery, Thomas (1827). The Miner's Friend: Or, an Engine to Raise Water by Fire. S. Crouch.
  4. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007–2013), date accessed: 24 June 2013.
  5. "Steam Condensate: Important Things to Know | DFT Valves". DFT Valves. 2018-03-06. Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  6. L. T. C. Rolt and J. S. Allen, The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen (Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne 1997).
  7. Jenkins, pp. 78–79
  8. Oldroyd, David (2007). Estates, Enterprise and Investment at the Dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 14. ISBN   0-7546-3455-8.
  9. Roll, Eric (1968). An Early Experiment in Industrial Organisation. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN   0-7146-1357-6.
  10. Armytage, W.H.G. (1976). A Social History of Engineering. Westview Press. p. 86. ISBN   0-89158-508-7.
  11. L.T.C. Rolt and J. S. Allen, The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen (Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne 2007), pp. 27–28
  12. E. I. Carlyle, 'Savery , Thomas (1650?–1715)', rev. Christopher F. Lindsey, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 29 April 2006 URL
  13. Richard Wilkes of Willenhall, quoted in Stebbing Shaw, History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798–1801) II(1), 120
  14. 1 2 3 P. W. King. 'Black Country Mining before the Industrial Revolution' Mining History: The Bulletin of the Peak District Mines History Society 16(6), 42–3.
  15. Earl, Bryan (1994). Cornish Mining: The Techniques of Metal Mining in the West of England, Past and Present (2nd ed.). St Austell: Cornish Hillside Publications. p. 38. ISBN   0-9519419-3-3.
  16. Landes, David. S. (1969). The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge, New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. p. 62, Note 2. ISBN   0-521-09418-6.
  17. Hunter, Louis C.; Bryant, Lynwood (1991). A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1730-1930, Vol. 3: The Transmission of Power. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press. p. xxi. ISBN   0-262-08198-9.
  18. "SPP Pumps". Archived from the original on 1 December 2006.

Further reading

There are countless modern day reprints: Lives of Boulton and Watt. ISBN   1-4255-6053-9., Lives of Boulton and Watt. ISBN   1-4067-9863-0., Lives of Boulton and Watt. ISBN   1-84588-371-3..
Reprinted in Appendix B of: Savary, A.W.; Lydia A. Savary (1893). A Genealogical and Biographical Record of the Savery Families and of the Severy Family. Lippincott.

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