Steam locomotives were powered by steam engines , and deserve to be remembered because they swept the world through the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Steam engines rank with cars, airplanes , telephones , radio , and television among the greatest inventions of all time. They are marvels of machinery and excellent examples of engineering, but under all that smoke and steam, how exactly do they work?

Photo: A small, newly rebuilt steam locomotive working on the Swanage Railway, England, in 2007. Great Western Railway 0-6-2 Tank 6695 was rescued from a scrapyard in 1979 and took 26 years to restore to full working order at a cost of £200,000 (approx US$400,000).

It takes energy to do absolutely anything you can think of—to ride on a skateboard, to fly on an airplane , to walk to the shops, or to drive a car down the street. Most of the energy we use for transportation today comes from oil, but that wasn't always the case. Until the early 20th century, coal was the world's favorite fuel and it powered everything from trains and ships to the ill-fated steam planes invented by American scientist Samuel P. Langley, an early rival of the Wright brothers. What was so special about coal? There's lots of it inside Earth, so it was relatively inexpensive and widely available.

The Boulton and Watt steam engine played a key role in the development of the modern world. Built in England during the Industrial Revolution, it may be the most significant technological artifact ever to reach Australia. It was one of the earliest rotative (wheel-turning) steam engines to be built and is the oldest in existence. The engine is also one of the oldest in the world to still work regularly under steam.

This engine was made by engineer James Watt and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England. It was installed in Whitbread’s London brewery in 1785 and was used there for 102 years, powering equipment for grinding and lifting malt, stirring vats, and pumping water and beer. Professor Archibald Liversidge, a trustee of the Museum, was in London when the engine was taken out of service and asked that it be donated to the Museum. It arrived in Sydney aboard the sailing ship ‘Patriarch’ in 1888.

James Watt did not invent the steam engine, but he made several important innovations that improved the efficiency of engines and made them useful in a wide range of industries. The innovations that can be seen in the Whitbread engine are: the separate condenser, where steam is condensed (cooled to form water) without cooling the working cylinder; the parallel motion mechanism, which allowed the piston to push the beam up as well as pulling it down; the sun and planet gear, which translates the up-and-down motion of the beam into rotary motion; and the centrifugal governor, which reduces steam supply if the engine begins to run too fast.

Steam locomotives were powered by steam engines , and deserve to be remembered because they swept the world through the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Steam engines rank with cars, airplanes , telephones , radio , and television among the greatest inventions of all time. They are marvels of machinery and excellent examples of engineering, but under all that smoke and steam, how exactly do they work?

Photo: A small, newly rebuilt steam locomotive working on the Swanage Railway, England, in 2007. Great Western Railway 0-6-2 Tank 6695 was rescued from a scrapyard in 1979 and took 26 years to restore to full working order at a cost of £200,000 (approx US$400,000).

It takes energy to do absolutely anything you can think of—to ride on a skateboard, to fly on an airplane , to walk to the shops, or to drive a car down the street. Most of the energy we use for transportation today comes from oil, but that wasn't always the case. Until the early 20th century, coal was the world's favorite fuel and it powered everything from trains and ships to the ill-fated steam planes invented by American scientist Samuel P. Langley, an early rival of the Wright brothers. What was so special about coal? There's lots of it inside Earth, so it was relatively inexpensive and widely available.

Steam locomotives were powered by steam engines , and deserve to be remembered because they swept the world through the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Steam engines rank with cars, airplanes , telephones , radio , and television among the greatest inventions of all time. They are marvels of machinery and excellent examples of engineering, but under all that smoke and steam, how exactly do they work?

Photo: A small, newly rebuilt steam locomotive working on the Swanage Railway, England, in 2007. Great Western Railway 0-6-2 Tank 6695 was rescued from a scrapyard in 1979 and took 26 years to restore to full working order at a cost of £200,000 (approx US$400,000).

It takes energy to do absolutely anything you can think of—to ride on a skateboard, to fly on an airplane , to walk to the shops, or to drive a car down the street. Most of the energy we use for transportation today comes from oil, but that wasn't always the case. Until the early 20th century, coal was the world's favorite fuel and it powered everything from trains and ships to the ill-fated steam planes invented by American scientist Samuel P. Langley, an early rival of the Wright brothers. What was so special about coal? There's lots of it inside Earth, so it was relatively inexpensive and widely available.

The Boulton and Watt steam engine played a key role in the development of the modern world. Built in England during the Industrial Revolution, it may be the most significant technological artifact ever to reach Australia. It was one of the earliest rotative (wheel-turning) steam engines to be built and is the oldest in existence. The engine is also one of the oldest in the world to still work regularly under steam.

This engine was made by engineer James Watt and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, England. It was installed in Whitbread’s London brewery in 1785 and was used there for 102 years, powering equipment for grinding and lifting malt, stirring vats, and pumping water and beer. Professor Archibald Liversidge, a trustee of the Museum, was in London when the engine was taken out of service and asked that it be donated to the Museum. It arrived in Sydney aboard the sailing ship ‘Patriarch’ in 1888.

James Watt did not invent the steam engine, but he made several important innovations that improved the efficiency of engines and made them useful in a wide range of industries. The innovations that can be seen in the Whitbread engine are: the separate condenser, where steam is condensed (cooled to form water) without cooling the working cylinder; the parallel motion mechanism, which allowed the piston to push the beam up as well as pulling it down; the sun and planet gear, which translates the up-and-down motion of the beam into rotary motion; and the centrifugal governor, which reduces steam supply if the engine begins to run too fast.

Each Monday, this column turns a page in history to explore the discoveries, events and people that continue to affect the history being made today.

Sixteen hundred years after the ancient Greek scientist first made mention of the untapped power of steam, the technology would become the hero and the engine that drove the Industrial Revolution.

When it was refined by 18th century scientists such as James Watt, steam power overcame the limitations of using relatively weak men or tired horses to do grunt work and sped factories along at a pace never before seen.

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