Thomas Savery and his Steam Pump

Thomas Savery and his Steam Pump

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Scene depicting the moment in 1690 when Thomas Savery (1650-1715)supposedly conceived the principle of a steam powered machine to pump water out of coal mines. Savery, after finishing his wine, threw the nearly empty bottle into the fireplace. As he noticed that the wine was turning to steam, he plunged the mouth of the flask into a bowl of water and as it cooled, it sucked up the water. Available pumps were incapable of dealing with problem of flooding in coal mines. Savery, a military engineer, drew on the work on steam power of the French physicist Denis Papin in designing his “fire pump” patented in 1698. First used in the Cornish tin mines, it was limited in that it could only raise water 6 metres, but it was the first commercial steam engine. This was followed by the more efficient engines of Thomas Newcomen from 1712, and later by the separate-condenser engines of James Watt.

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Keywords: coal mines, cornwall, design, engineer, fire pump, flooding, history of science, history of technology, newcomen, papin, steam engine, technology, thomas savery, tin mines

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