Newcomen's engine The first working steam engine was built in 1712 by the English engineer Thomas Newcomen (1664–1729). He started out as an ironmonger, supplying tools to the mining industry. He found that many of his customers, Cornish tin mine owners, complained about the amount of flooding in their mines. Manual pumping was slow and ineffective. A steam-powered machine designed to pump water from flooded mines had already been built in 1698 by English engineer, Thomas Savery (1650–1715). It worked by creating a vacuum in a cylinder which could suck in water through a pipe. Newcomen decided to go one better by designing an engine that used a vacuum to drive a piston.
Steam from the engine boiler travelled along pipes to a cylinder, where its pressure pushed a piston upwards. Then cold water was sprayed into the cylinder, which made the steam condense. This reduced the pressure inside the cylinder, and the pressure of the air outside pushed the piston back down. The movement of the piston was transferred by a rocking beam to a pump, which pumped water out of the mine. Called an atmospheric engine, the Newcomen engine was the first to use a piston fitted inside a cylinder.
Newcomen's first working engine was installed at a coalmine in Staffordshire in 1712. Called the "Fire Engine", it pumped water from a mine at the rate of 45 litres (10 gallons) per stroke from a depth of 45 metres (150 feet).
Savery's pump could not work in a mine: it burnt too much fuel and could not pump water very far. But it did find a use pumping water for fountains and cascades in the gardens of stately homes.
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