Inventions that changed the Course of History: The Engine


Ever since the dawn of history and until maybe the late 18th century, all sources of energy available for mankind were confined to human strength, animals, wind energy, and water energy. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that took place between the late 18th century and the early 19th century when the breakthrough of a practical steam engine—the earliest and most primitive form of the power engine that we know today—in Europe at this time was an event that drove global industrialization, eased transportation, and increased the overall productivity of the world to an extent that no one could ever believe.

It is believed that the credit of inventing the first practical steam engine should go to Thomas Savery of Devonshire, England, who was the first to make steam power useful in 1698. Savery came from a wealthy, well-educated family and became an innovative engineer. His engine was employed in many practical applications that solved several immediate problems. For example, British mines often filled with water and Savery’s water pumping engine model worked to solve this problem.

Approximately 65 years later, in 1763, a young mechanical engineer and inventor James Watt began to tinker with the steam engine at Glascow University. The English Government recognized the innovation and potential of his research, so they requested Watt to improve and develop a new model of the engine by making it more efficient and powerful. Watt did not fail the expectations of the scientific society; his new engine was the greatest improvement in retrieving energy from steam power. It was almost 75% more efficient than any of the previous models.

The most significant impacts of the steam engine occurred during the Industrial Revolution, a time when a new energy source could be very useful and appreciated. Watt recognized this fact and made it his ultimate goal to greatly improve his engine to answer the needs of the Industrial Revolution. Eventually, he quickly developed a series of engine models that amazed the whole world and gained a high reclaim providing a source of energy and power that encouraged the momentum of the world change.

Throughout the early 19th century, advances continued to be made, with engineers experimenting with alternative techniques using vacuum pistons moving inside cylinders. In 1866, Nikolaus Otto produced a much more efficient engine that used a flywheel for the piston. Otto finally announced his philosophy explaining the 4-stroke engine in 1876 which is the internal combustion engine used in our cars until now.

Until our day, research continues in developing new models of the power engine. The newest revolutionary form of engine developed is the gas turbine engine (Jet Engine). Jet engines show signs of future promise as the technology branches out to applications that we never considered in the past.

Today, scientists and engineers are working ambitiously on developing new forms of power engines with higher efficiency knowing that one of them could possibly be tomorrow’s James Watt or Nikolaus Otto.


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