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Industrial Revolution
The steam engine.


Industrial Revolution

The steam engine. Many of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution required much more power than horses or water wheels could provide. Industry needed a new, cheap, and efficient source of power and found it in the steam engine. The first commercial steam engine was produced in 1698. That year, Thomas Savery, a Cornish army officer, patented a pumping engine that used steam.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen, a Devonshire tool seller, created an improved engine. Newcomen's engine came into general use during the 1720's. Newcomen's steam engine had serious faults. It wasted much heat and used a large amount of fuel. In the 1760's, a Scottish engineer named James Watt began working to improve the steam engine. By 1785, he had eliminated many of the problems of earlier engines. Watt's engine used heat much more efficiently than Newcomen's engine and used less fuel. For more information on the development of the steam engine,

The enormous potential of the steam engine and power-driven machinery could not have been achieved without the development of machine tools to shape metal. When Watt began working with the steam engine, he could not find a tool that drilled a perfectly round hole. As a result, his engines leaked steam. In 1775, John Wilkinson, a Staffordshire ironmaker, invented a boring machine that drilled a more precise hole. Between 1800 and 1825, English inventors developed a planer, which smoothed the surfaces of the steam engine's metal parts. By 1830, nearly all the basic machine tools necessary for modern industry were in general use.

Coal and iron. The Industrial Revolution could not have developed without coal and iron. Coal provided the power to drive the steam engines and was needed to make iron. Iron was used to improve machines and tools and to build bridges and ships. Britain's large deposits of coal and iron ore helped make it the world's first industrial nation.

Early ironmaking. To make iron, the metal must be separated from the nonmetallic elements in the ore. This separation process is called smelting. For thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, smelting had been done by placing iron ore in a furnace with a burning fuel that lacked enough oxygen to burn completely. Oxygen in the ore combined with the fuel, and the pure, melted metal flowed into small molds called pigs. The pigs were then hammered by hand into sheets. Beginning in the early 1600's, the pigs were shipped to rolling mills. At a rolling mill, the pig iron was softened by reheating and rolled into sheets by heavy iron cylinders.

The most practical fuel for smelting was charcoal, made by burning hardwoods. Most of Britain's iron ore deposits and hardwood forests were in rural areas. Smelting and rolling thus became rural activities done by local workers. Since the 1600's, charcoal had been used in many other manufacturing processes besides smelting and rolling. Wood was also in demand for other purposes. As a result, Britain had almost used up its hardwood forests by the early 1700's. Charcoal became so expensive that many ironmakers in Britain quit the industry because of the high costs of production.

The revolution in ironmaking. Between 1709 and 1713, Abraham Darby, a Shropshire ironmaker, succeeded in using coke to smelt iron. Coke is made by heating coal in an airtight oven. Smelting with coke was much more economical and efficient than smelting with charcoal. But most ironmakers continued to use charcoal. Manufacturers complained that coke-smelted iron was brittle and could not be worked easily. They still preferred the more workable iron smelted with charcoal. About 1750, Darby's son Abraham Darby II developed a process that made coke iron as easy to work as charcoal iron. After 1760, coke smelting spread throughout Britain.

In the 1720's, an important breakthrough occurred in rolling the iron. Grooves were added to the rolling cylinders, allowing manufacturers to roll iron into different shapes, instead of simply into thin sheets.

A Fareham ironmaker named Henry Cort took out a patent for improved grooved rollers in 1783. The next year, he patented a puddling furnace. Cort did not invent the puddling furnace, but he made great improvements in it. The puddling process produced high-quality iron. Pig iron was reheated in Cort's puddling furnace until it became a paste. A person called a puddler stirred the paste with iron rods until the impurities were burned away. The purified iron was then passed through Cort's grooved rollers and formed into the desired shape.

Before Cort developed his puddling furnace, ironmakers had to use charcoal to reheat the pig iron for rolling. But Cort's furnace-with its combined rolling mill-used coke. The use of coke for smelting and puddling finally freed the British iron industry of any dependence on charcoal. In addition, the smelting, puddling, and rolling steps could be combined into a continuous operation near the coal fields. As a result, the British iron industry became concentrated in four coal-mining regions-Staffordshire, Yorkshire, southern Wales, and along the River Clyde in Scotland.

Ironmaking techniques continued to improve, and iron production expanded enormously. In 1788, for example, British ironmakers produced about 76,000 tons (68,900 metric tons) of iron. In 1806, they produced more than three times that amount. During the mid-1700's, probably only about 5 percent of all British iron was made into machine parts. Most machines were made of wood. But by the early 1800's, manufacturers used iron to make numerous products, including machine frames, rails, steam engine parts, and water pipes.>>> Steam engine >>>

Contributor: William S. Comanor, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Barbara; Professor of Health Services, University of California, Los Angeles.
Source : World Book 2005



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