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Aeolipile
June 20, 2009 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Steam engine. Henry was first. Steam powered trains soon followed. Steam powered shovels, tractors, and rollers. Think technology has made steam obsolete? Not yet.
posted by Mblue (24 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aren't nuclear reactors are basically steam engines?
posted by zerokey at 3:10 PM on June 20, 2009


My History of Technology class prof 20-odd years ago asked the room on the first day what was the most significant invention. I offered Watt's improved steam engine. I still stand by that; automatic mechanical labor is the most significant of wealth multipliers, and wealth is liberty when you think about it.
posted by @troy at 3:10 PM on June 20, 2009


Henry was first.

Don't say that around the local historians in my town.
posted by ixohoxi at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2009


Uh, the first what? Henry was the first...Henry Gaither Worthington?

This post is a riddle.
posted by Sova at 3:21 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm struggling to get past a bunch of random links related to steam. I'm not sure what the post is trying to achieve, really.
posted by Brockles at 3:29 PM on June 20, 2009


Given that the Henry linked to in the post appears to have been born a couple of years after the first steam-powered railway was built, and only a year before the famous Rainhill Trials, maybe it's just a "us-centric" tag that's missing?
posted by effbot at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aren't nuclear reactors are basically steam engines?

Virtually all of the major power generation systems (coal, nuclear, natural gas, etc.) are "steam engines", though they output electricity rather than direct mechanical power. They basically just heat up water and run the steam through a turbine (though it's somewhat more complex than that) -- the only major difference in the various concepts is what's used to heat the water.

I used to sort of think it was sad that humanity still used essentially the same tools for power generation as we did when they were invented, but as I've gone through my undergraduate and graduate career in mechanical engineering, I realize how ridiculously elegant of a solution it is.
posted by malthas at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2009


Henry's company made steam viable, he wasn,t an ancient Greek or "noble". He was an engineer. It's an "us" post because idiots that twit think Twitter is powered by other twits.
posted by Mblue at 4:02 PM on June 20, 2009


Henry's company made steam viable, he wasn,t an ancient Greek or "noble". He was an engineer. It's an "us" post because idiots that twit think Twitter is powered by other twits.

Henry who? I've never heard of this guy. The biography you linked to was somebody who wasn't born by the time steam engines were already in serious use. It should go Newcomen -> Watt -> Trevithick -> Stephenson; every schoolboy knows that. Please please please tell me something that makes sense.
posted by Sova at 4:09 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Virtually all of the major power generation systems (coal, nuclear, natural gas, etc.) are "steam engines", though they output electricity rather than direct mechanical power.

Well, roughly 20% of the world's electricity come from hydropower, but that's of course an even older concept...
posted by effbot at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2009


I thought this post was about Steam, and the complete failure of the American Army 3 release (which actually wasn't their fault at all besides some spotty downloads but many blame them for everything).
posted by Memo at 4:12 PM on June 20, 2009


I've always thought it funny that carriers still use steam catapults. I would have thought, by now, they'd have some kind of high-acceleration linear motor in use.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:13 PM on June 20, 2009


Thorzdad, that would be less efficient, more expensive, and less effective. Why fix what isn't broken? Steam catapaults are easier, and the technology works and is well understood.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2009


I would have thought, by now, they'd have some kind of high-acceleration linear motor in use.

Looks like they're working on it; from Wikipedia:

"Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is a system under development by the United States Navy to launch aircraft from carriers using a linear motor drive instead of steam pistons used in conventional aircraft catapults. This technology reduces stress on airframes because they can be accelerated more gradually to takeoff speed than steam-powered catapults. EMALS also uses less fresh water, reducing the need for energy-intensive desalinization. The EMALS is being developed by General Atomics for the U.S. Navy's newest Ford-class aircraft carriers. [...] Compared to steam catapults, EMALS weighs less, occupies less space, requires less maintenance and manpower, is more reliable, and uses less energy. [...] EMALS can control the launch performance with greater precision, allowing it to launch more kinds of aircraft, from heavy fighter jets to light unmanned aircraft."
posted by effbot at 4:44 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


that would be less efficient, more expensive, and less effective.

Care to elaborate? Especially on the efficiency and effectiveness? I can easily understand the expense.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Henry's company made steam viable...

So "Henry" must be a pseudonym for "James Watt" or "Matthew Boulton"?
posted by DU at 5:54 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Care to elaborate?

They don't need to. Their assumption is roundly trounced out of the park as wildly inaccurate by the link in the comment after it.
posted by Brockles at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2009


Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

(I can't believe the copyright to this whole book has not yet expired)
posted by caddis at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's still wrong history to say he's "first", but at least Henry Rossiter Worthington is related to steam engines.

This is a seriously terrible post.
posted by DU at 6:06 PM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I 'm paid for the application, not the theory. My largest problem is numb theorists thinking. Go fly desk, calendar boy.

My guest says Enterprise's engine is yours.
posted by Mblue at 6:19 PM on June 20, 2009


Go fly desk, calendar boy. My guest says Enterprise's engine is yours.

Touché.
posted by DU at 7:07 PM on June 20, 2009


I 'm paid for the application, not the theory. My largest problem is numb theorists thinking.

Ok, now consider my noodle thoroughly baked.
posted by Brockles at 8:16 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I 'm paid for the application, not the theory. My largest problem is numb theorists thinking. Go fly desk, calendar boy.
posted by Mblue at 6:19 PM on June 20


1812: The first commercially successful steam locomotives, using the Blenkinsop rack and pinion drive, commenced operation on the Middleton Railway. This was the world's first regular revenue-earning use of steam traction, as distinct from experimental operation.

1817: Henry Rossiter Worthington born

What DU said.
posted by Authorized User at 12:35 AM on June 21, 2009


My dad *helped* me to build an aeolipile for a science fair in 5th grade (1975). We harvested the needed parts from various garage sales, including: a 10" tin globe (now they press them from cardboard), a beautiful copper bowl (which I still have lying around somewhere), a three-legged bowl display stand, and a round cake pan (that wound up fitting pretty nicely over the copper bowl when inverted). We added our own bits of copper tubing and solder once we cut holes in the cake pan and the globe, and added a can of sterno underneath to heat the water.

It was a blast to build and learn about an aiolipile, and it looked soooooo cool.

Efficiency was rated at 0% however. The sterno didn't boil the water well enough, and we had a hard time balancing the seals to the globe with leaving them frictionless so as to allow for rotation. Alas...
posted by metacurious at 6:05 AM on June 21, 2009


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