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Richard Trevethick Essay

1230 words - 5 pages

When one considers the many technological achievements of mankind, few people can match those of Richard Trevethick (See Appendix 1). He was a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution and undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers to have ever lived. The range and magnitude of his inventive genius is truly astounding, and yet few outside Cornwall are aware of the immense contribution he made to the development of the modern world (See Appendix 2).Born on April 13, 1771 in Cornwall, England (See Appendix 3), Trevethick was the first to successfully harness high-pressure steam. Trevethick constructed the world's first steam railway locomotive in 1803. In 1805 he adapted his high-pressure engine to driving an iron-rolling mill and to propelling a barge with the aid of paddle wheels.Trevithick spent his youth at Illogan in the tin-mining district of Cornwall and attended the village school. The schoolmaster described him as "disobedient, slow and obstinate." His father, a mine manager, considered him a loafer, and throughout his career Trevithick remained scarcely literate. Early in life, however, he displayed an extraordinary talent in engineering. Because of his intuitive ability to solve problems that perplexed educated engineers, he obtained his first job as engineer to several Cornish ore mines in 1790 at the age of 19.The constant need, in the eighteenth century to keep the ver deepening mines in Cornwall dry made it necessary to employ the beam engines of Newcomen and latterly the more efficient engines of Boulton and Watt. They were monstrous stationary machines, which were very expensive to erect each requiring an immense masonry engine house and stack, a separate boiler and a reservoir to maintain a constant water supply.Boulton and Watt held very restrictive patents, which effectively gave them a monopoly on the supply of steam engines for much of this period. In Cornwall there were many unsuccessful experiments and trials made to circumvent these patents and it is likely that this quest was a driving force, which propelled the inventive mind of the young Richard Trevithick.Because Cornwall has no coal Fields, high import costs obliged the ore-mine operators to exercise rigid economy in the consumption of fuel for pumping and hoisting. Cornish engineers, therefore, found it imperative to improve the efficiency of the steam engine. The massive engine then in use was the low-pressure type invented by James Watt. Inventive but cautious, Watt thought that "strong steam" was too dangerous to harness; Trevithick thought differently. He soon realised that, by using high-pressure steam and allowing it to expand within the cylinder, a much smaller and lighter engine could be built without any less power than in the low-pressure type.In 1797 Trevithick constructed high-pressure models of both stationary and locomotive engines to test the practicality of using this inherently dangerous power source (See Appendix 4,5). The testing was so successful that he...

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