Throughout the ages, man has attempted to improve his standard of living through technology. In the beginning there was the wheel and now we have iPads (amongst hundreds of other inventions). Though our history is long, the age of new technology is very short and it all really started with the rise of steam-powered machinery. The first steam powered engine was created by Hero, an ancient Greek mathematician, in the first century AD which was called the aeolipile. This was a rocket like reaction engine and the first recorded steam engine. Since then, humans have managed to turn this idea into a practical machine by using steam for a number of uses such as to power boats or trains to Manchester and London allowing us to travel around. So here is a list of the best steam driven inventions to date:
10. Steam Train
Probably the most practical on the list, the steam train progressed throughout the 18th century and was originally created for track use, although many tried to use it for road functions aswell. William Murdoch was a Scottish inventor who built the original prototype for the steam engine in 1784. His invention of the time was very similar to those used in the more modern versions of the steam train. However, this model was not made on tracks. Though some of these locomotives are fuelled by water and oil, most were commonly fuelled by coal. They have since been replaced by our far quieter, faster diesel-electric multiple unit train, such as the Rail Class 220 Voyager.
9. Steam Boat
Steamboats are usually powered by propellers or power-wheels which can be seen on rivers or lakes. Steamboats normally have the prefix S.S. before, such as the S.S. Natchez IX, which was used on the famous Mississippi river. Reports have stated that designs have appeared from as early as 1652 by John Thurloe, though this design was not completed before Thurloe’s untimely death. His idea was to create a boat, capable of speed and swiftness through water, without the use of a sail. This concept was adopted in the early 18th century and newer designs using steam pistons to power the wheel were implemented. In American culture, the steamboat was put on the map by Mickey Mouse, in his first cartoon from 1928, “Steamboat Willie”, which you can view here.
8. Steam Cannon
A Steam Cannon is a cannon which launches projectiles using only water and heat. It features a large copper cylinder which would have been placed into a furnace. Once the temperature reached a high enough level, a small water injection would be placed behind the projectile, theoretically shooting it out of the end. The original design was made by Leonardo Da Vinci and though he never made a prototype, this concept has since been explored by a number of television shows with varied results.
7. Steam Plane
The steam aircraft always had a number of technical difficulties. Mainly, there was an issue regarding the power-to-weight ratio whereby the weight of the steam-propelled engine far outweighed that of the capability of the machine. In 1842, William Henson and John Stringfellow patented the Aerial Steam Carriage, which is considered the first real design, but it was never successfully flown. Though more conventional engines were later used, in the 1960’s designs were made to put a steam engine in a Hughes 300 helicopter, making it far more durable in the air.
6. Steam Bicycle
Above is an image of Geoff Hudspith, inventor of the much desired Hudspith bicycle. Hudspith claims his love of motorbikes and steam drew him to creating this machine. As early as 1972, he set his heart on creating the machine, though it was not finished until 2001. It was put on show at the Great Dorset Steam fair and was recorded to do an average of 8mph.
5. Steam Wheelchair
Though the idea of many old biddies whizzing down the street in a steam clad chair is rather sublime, the truth is that this machine is a mere prop off the set of the Fresh-Prince flop, ‘Wild Wild West’ (1999). The steam wheelchair was the transportation device for the villainous Dr. Loveless, who tried to take down Jim West, played by Will Smith. The film centred around old guns, steam and buxom women. Despite this, it is still truly, truly awful.
4. Steam Hammer
Steam hammers are huge power driven structures, used to hammer forgings. They have pistons within a cylinder, which is filled with steam to raise the hammer. When the steam is removed, the hammer drops, but can be forced to drop faster with steam injected above the hammer itself. The first was created in Manchester in 1937 and has been stated as one of the most important elements for the industrialisation of Britain.
3. Steam Lawnmower
The Leyland Mower was one of the first motorised lawn mowers ever, being developed in the late 19th century. In 1893 the first steam powered device was created in Leyland by James Sumner, who was sick of simply rolling rotary blades around his garden. This original design can now be seen at the University of Reading. Though it meant that larger fields could be mowed quickly, it also meant a lot of expense for the purchaser, as it cost a lot to run and maintain the engine. The one in Reading University is the only known Steam Mower left.
2. Steam Rocket
Every kid dreams of building a rocket and flying it high into the sky. However, this device is a little bit out of reach for most children. The steam rocket is a thermal rocket working by water being held in the pressure vessel at high temperatures, then steam is released causing a hard thrust. Recently, more complex designs have been made, including nuclear fuelled rockets. Steam rockets are most popularly used to propel bikes and cars, like on Evil Knievels stunt on the Snake River Canyon.
1. Steam Powered Robot
Though the future of robotics is nearly here, Germany has decided to take it a step backwards and invent this nifty little fellow, the SteamBot. He is run simply on H2O and can waddle, waggle and spin his arms in a crazy fashion. Simply pop off his head, fill him up and set fire to his belly using an Esbit fire and wait for half hour whilst he gets going. That is, if you can find one. Only 300 were made and were originally sold off at over $600.
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