ANNIVERSARIES SERIES-Thomas Newcomen

Model of Newcomen beam engine
Model of Newcomen beam engine

Last week marked the 350th anniversary of the birth of the inventor Thomas Newcomen Feb 1664- 5 Aug 1729). He is perhaps most famous as being the creator of the first atmospheric engine – the Newcomen steam engine. Newcomen was born in Dartmouth, Devon, in 1664. He owned an ironmongers and was also a lay Baptist preacher in his spare time. Flooding in coal and tin mines was a real problem at the time, and whilst earlier attempts by people such as Savery had not been successful at producing enough power, Newcomen worked for over 14 years and in 1712 the atmospheric engine became the first device to use steam power to power mechanical work. By the time of his death over 100 Newcomen engines were installed in Britain and a few in Europe as well.

Animation of a Newcomen engine pumping
Animation of a Newcomen engine pumping

Newcomen’s design paved the way for other engineers to innovate and create new engines more powerful and efficient – in fact; James’ Watt’s steam engine from the 1770s was based on a modified Newcomen engine. But without the pioneering work of Newcomen it would not have been possible.

We have a model of a Newcomen beam engine in our IMechE archive, and at Crofton Pumping Station you can see the earliest working example of a beam engine from 1812.

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