Steam Engine Invention And Its Importance


This report is dedicated to establishing the historical and engineering significance of the steam engines. He highlights the main points of the invention and refinement of the steam engine, showing its transformation from the prototype to the final Watt model. The subspecies of the steam engine are also considered, and the significance of each of them for engineering. At the end of the report, visual drawings of both the first steam engine and the last are presented for comparison. This work gives an idea of the significance of the invention of the steam engine for the industrial revolution. Recommendations for the familiarization with the device and modification of the steam engine:

  1. A visual display of the aelopile which is the prototype of the steam engine to highlight the significance of its following modifications.
  2. To show a Wyatt’s steam engine which is the most famous model to explain how the later works.


Reason for the Report

The purpose of this report is to investigate the reasons why the steam engine was one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution. The areas of application of the steam engine that will be investigated are its historical and engineering significance.

Methods of Enquiry

The methodological basis of this research is theoretical and is based on the analysis of scientific book. The scientific source used is a work not older than five years, which makes it possible to verify its relevance. References for this work are placed on pages 7 and 8.


Historical Significance


One of the first steam engines was invented by Thomas Savery in 1698 (Smiles 2019). It was not very useful, but other inventors eventually made improvements to it. The first useful steam engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712 (Smiles 2019). Newcomen’s engine was used to pump water out of the mines. The Porter-Alar high-speed steam engine was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s (Smiles 2019).

Improving the Steam Engine

The Watt steam engine has significantly improved the efficiency of steam engines. Its engines are smaller and use less coal. By the early 1800s, Watt steam engines were being used in factories all over England (Smiles 2019). Throughout the 1800s, steam engines were improved: they have become smaller and more efficient (Smiles 2019). Large steam engines were used in factories and mills to power machines of all types. Smaller steam engines were used in transportation, including trains and steamships.

Steam Engines Today

The steam engine has been largely replaced by electricity and an internal combustion engine which ran on either gasoline or diesel. Some old steam engines are still used in vintage locomotives. However, steam power is still widely used worldwide for various industries. Many modern power plants use steam generated by burning coal to produce electricity. In addition, nuclear power plants use steam generated as a result of nuclear fusion to produce electricity.

Engineering Significance

High-Pressure Steam Engines

In steam engines, steam flows from the boiler into the working chamber of the cylinder, where it expands, exerting pressure on the piston and performing useful work. After that, the expanded steam can be released into the atmosphere or enter the condenser. An important difference between high-pressure and vacuum machines is that the exhaust steam pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure or is equal to it, that is, a vacuum is not created (Smiles 2019). The spent steam usually had a pressure higher than atmospheric and was often discharged into the chimney, which allowed to increase the draft of the boiler. The importance of increasing the vapor pressure is that at the same time it acquires a higher temperature. Thus, a high-pressure steam engine operates at a greater temperature difference than that which can be achieved in vacuum machines. After high-pressure machines replaced vacuum ones, they became the basis for the further development and improvement of all reciprocating steam machines. However, the pressure that was considered high in 1800 is now considered very low – the pressure in modern steam boilers is ten times higher (Smiles 2019).

Stationary Steam Engines

Stationary steam engines can be divided into two types according to the mode of use. The first is machines with variable mode, which include machines of metal rolling mills, steam winches and similar devices that must often stop and change the direction of rotation. The second one is power machines that rarely stop and should not change the direction of rotation (Smiles 2019). They include power engines in power plants, as well as industrial engines used in factories, factories and cable railways before the widespread use of electric traction. Low-power engines are used on ship models and in special devices.

Engineering Efficiency of Steam Engines

The efficiency of a steam engine can be defined as the ratio of useful mechanical work to the amount of heat consumed contained in the fuel. The rest of the energy is released into the environment in the form of heat (Smiles 2019). The efficiency of an ideal steam heat engine depends solely on the temperature difference, and the absolute thermodynamic temperature is used in the calculations. Such differences in efficiency with other types of engines occur due to the peculiarities of the thermodynamic cycle of steam engines.


The steam engine is one of the very few inventions in history that dramatically changed the picture of the world, revolutionized industry, transport, and gave impetus to a new take-off of scientific knowledge. It was a universal engine of industry and transport throughout the XIX century. Its capabilities became a prototype for engines that arose in connection with the construction of power plants and the use of high-speed mechanisms at the end of the XIX century. It was the creation of the steam engine that made it possible to enter the technical arena as a new high-speed turbine heat engine. With the invention of the steam engine, man learned to turn energy concentrated in fuel into motion, into work, which served as the source of a large number of further historically and engineering significant discoveries.


Historical Significance

It is necessary to pay attention to the prototype of a steam engine – an aelolipile. It is still used by people as an example of the action of hydraulic turbines and jet engines for physics lessons, and in irrigation mechanisms in parks and agriculture. Observing the mechanism of its operation will help to better understand the historical significance of the steam engine (see appendix 1).

Engineering Significance

It was Watt’s steam engine that became the most famous model, so it is necessary to study its construction. Powerful engines were useful not only for pumps, but also for steam hammers, presses, threshers, bellows and other machines where it was necessary to mechanize the vertical movement of cargo (see appendix 2).

Reference List

Smiles, S 2019, ‘Lives of Boulton and Watt. Principally from the Original Soho Mss: Comprising a History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam Engine’. New York: Good Press.


Appendix 1

Ancient Greek Aeolipile

Ancient Greek Aeolipile

This device, called aeolipile, was a closed container from which two tubes came out from above, fastened in the middle by a ball that could rotate on them. The ball had a pair of l-shaped pipes opposed to each other. Water was poured into the container through a single hole and plugged tightly with a cork. A fire was lit under the tank, the water boiled and steam entered the balloon through the tubes and escaped from the nozzles. Under the influence of the reactive force, the ball began to rotate.

Appendix 2

Watt’s Steam Engine

Watt’s Steam Engine

The image shows the increase in the power of a steam engine by replacing the atmospheric pressure on the piston with steam pressure performed by Watt. After that, steam was supplied to the working cylinder from both sides of the working piston, both raising and lowering it. It was no longer a steam-atmospheric engine, but a steam engine.