Steam machine

economic-dictionary

The steam engine is one that, through the force of steam generated by a certain amount of water via thermal energy, achieves mechanical energy that allows the machine to run.

In other words, it consists of a machine that, thanks to the force generated by the steam, manages to move the different parts of the machine continuously, making it possible to operate.

Origin of the steam engine

The origin of the modern steam engine traditionally goes back to the prototypes of Thomas Newcomen, who dedicated himself to improving the initial brushstrokes in this type of technology of the also English inventor Thomas Savery. At this time, there was more talk of ‘expansion machines’ than steam.

It is not until late in the 18th century that James Watt appears. This Scottish inventor perfected the precursor machines of Thomas Newcomen, creating the steam engine and patenting it in the year 1769. Thanks to the improvement of Watt, the industrial revolution experienced the boom that made possible the great impact that it had on the economy, society and technology of the epoch.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the first steam engine as such, no matter how rudimentary it was, must be attributed (at least technically) to Heron of Alexandria, a Greek engineer settled in 1st century Egypt. This question was called 'aeolipile', and it only had a recreational use, so nothing similar was studied or improved until 17 centuries later.

Some time later, the data in which a Spanish inventor in 1606, Jerónimo de Ayanz, managed to develop and patent a steam engine oriented to work in mines is very unknown. Still, the achievement in this section is often credited to Watt for its impact and overall utility.

Function and evolution of the steam engine

The usefulness of the steam engine was manifested in the development that took place in the industrial revolution, on the one hand, allowing the transport of goods and people on a scale totally unknown until then and, on the other hand, allowing the development of engines in factories of dimensions and powers also unprecedented.

Thus, the evolution of the steam engine took place mainly during the industrial revolution, since depending on the orientation that one wanted to give it at the time, certain changes and improvements would be added aimed at the activity to which it was going to be. intended for the machine.

Although they could be oriented to factory engines, in which the size had to be proportional to the power they needed, or they could be oriented to vehicles, in which the smallest possible size is required for efficiency, but on the contrary, also the largest possible power. Something that was not easy to achieve and that over the years would be perfected until its disappearance at the end of the 19th century by the replacement of these machines by imminent combustion engines, which were more powerful and efficient.

Examples of steam engine applications

Some of the examples that can be cited are:

  • Steam engine: This application is derived towards its use in factories, almost regardless of whether it was the steel or wood industry, since what the steam engine offered was power, the expertise was in knowing how to use it to your advantage according to what sector or type of industry you belong to.
  • Steamboat: Previously, ships moved with human power (oars) or with the natural force of the wind (currents). With the addition of the steam engine, the ship obtained a power greater than the human force, and more independent than the sails that worked with wind.
  • Steam railway: Badly known as a 'steam engine', it is the application of the steam engine itself to start up a vehicle that circulated only on its tracks. It was key to establishing land transport routes for goods and people during the industrial revolution.

These are the three main known applications of the steam engine, which represented an unparalleled advance in the world society and economy of the 19th century.

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