Detail map of Dudley, England, United Kingdom,Wolverhampton, England, United Kingdom,Midlothian, Virginia, United States

A: Dudley, England, United Kingdom, B: Wolverhampton, England, United Kingdom, C: Midlothian, Virginia, United States

Thomas Newcomen Invents the First Atmospheric Steam Pumping Engine

1710 to 1712

Around 1710 English ironmonger, Baptist lay preacher, and inventor Thomas Newcomen developed the atmospheric reciprocating engine, which unlike the steam pump ("The Miner's Friend") developed by Thomas Savery in 1698, employed a piston in a cylinder, the vacuum pulling the piston down to the bottom of the cylinder when water was injected into it, cooling the steam. Newcomen's reciprocating engine could pump water far higher than was possible using Savery's steam pump.

In 1712 Newcomen and his partner John Calley produced the first working atmospheric reciprocating engine, or Newcomen steam engine, for pumping water at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley, England. Newcomen's Dudley Castle beam engine is generally accepted as the first successful Newcomen engine. Newcomen engines were successful partly because they were very safe to operate. Since the steam was under such low pressure, there was no risk of a dangerous boiler explosion.  It is possible that Newcomen's Dudley engine was preceded by an engine Newcomen built a mile and a half east of Wolverhampton. Both of these steam engines were used to pump out water-filled coal mines. 

Because Savery held a general patent covering all imagined uses of steam power, Newcomen and his partner John Calley persuaded Savery to join forces with them to exploit their invention until the expiration of Savery's patent in 1733.

"Although its first use was in coal-mining areas, Newcomen's engine was also used for pumping water out of the metal mines in his native West Country, such as the tin mines of Cornwall. By the time of his death, Newcomen and others had installed over a hundred of his engines, not only in the West Country and the Midlands but also in north Wales, near Newcastle and in Cumbria. Small numbers were built in other European countries, including in France, Belgium, Spain, and Hungary, also at Dannemora, Sweden. Evidence of the use of a Newcomen Steam Engine associated with early coal mines was found in 2010 in Midlothian, VA (site of some of the first coal mines in the U.S." (Wikipedia article on Newcomen steam engine, accessed 10-21-2012).

A full-size working replica of Newcomen's steam engine can be seen in operation at the Black Country Living Museum, which stands on another part of what was Lord Dudley's Conygree Park. 

Rolt, Thomas Newcomen. The Prehistory of the Steam Engine (1963).

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