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The Steam Engine And Electricity Powered The Industrial Revolution

1825 words - 7 pages

The Steam Engine and Electricity Powered the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was an extremely important historical process in which the societies and cultures in the West, and then throughout the world, transformed under the influence of technological and scientific progress. The Western world, as industrialized as it is today, is the final result. Two major inventions, the steam engine and electricity, were both crucial parts of the technological progress that turned the wheels of the Industrial Revolution.

According to World History From 1500 by J. Michael Allen and James B. Allen, the Industrial Revolution could not have happened without a new, reliable source of power (144). The steam engine became such a source. Before the steam engine all industries used manpower, horsepower, and the power of water and wind to drive the machines. All these means were not efficient and practical enough to satisfy the rising needs for energy – the solution – steam engine.

The first practical low-pressure models of “steam engines were invented by Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen in 1698 and 1705, respectively” (Allen & Allen 144). Used exclusively as water pumps throughout the first three quarters of the eighteenth century, they drastically improved the mining industry. In Great Britain, the motherland of the Industrial Revolution, this resolved a severe energy crisis. Coal, extracted from earth by mining, now could be produced in sufficient quantities to replace firewood, supplies of which were practically exhausted. And since these water pumps were specifically designed to consume coal, it was extra beneficial to use them in the coal mining industry. As T. K. Derry and Trevor I. Williams state in A Short History of Technology, these early engines were also used for pumping water supplies for towns, feeding waterwheels in flat areas, and so on (319).

In 1765 a brilliant Scottish inventor James Watt made a major improvement to the Newcomen’s engine; the resulting new engine required 75 percent less fuel. According to the History Channel presentation, Money and Power, the new invention got immediate attention of a Scottish businessman Roebuck, who bought two thirds of the patent. Later, unfortunately, the partnership fell apart, and Watt found a new partner in 1774, Matthew Boulton. Together they built a new water pump engine in five months, and by 1776 a few of the pumps were already in service. The new engine was far more affordable and efficient than Newcomen’s engine and greatly improved the production in the areas it was used. But more tasks were awaiting the steam engine; new machines in various branches of industry needed power. As Egon Larsen writes in A History of Invention, “Boulton badgered Watt to think of ways and means to convert the reciprocating movement of the engine into a rotary one for use in factories and, later perhaps, for vehicles and ships” (37). Watt produced at least...

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