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Lincoln's Secret Weapon

Steam Engine Go to "Steam Machine"

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Steam Machine
by Rick Groleau

Steam engines, believe it or not, have been around for over 300 years. In England in 1698, Thomas Savery patented the first working steam engine—this was a simple machine that utilized the vacuum created when steam condenses. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen built an engine that made use of a piston, and, beginning in 1769, James Watt improved on steam engine design with a string of patents that included innovations such as having steam push alternatively on both sides of a piston. But it really wasn't until the advent of high-pressure steam engines, developed almost simultaneously in England and the U.S. in 1802, that the modern steam engine came to be.

The USS Monitor, launched in 1862, was powered by a high-pressure steam engine. And, like all of the engines just discussed, it was a reciprocating engine—that is, an engine that relies on pistons. (The steam turbine, a type of engine used in the Titanic and other steamships, wasn't developed until the late 1800s.)

In this Hot Science, you have complete control of your own virtual, reciprocating steam engine. Can you make it run? Let's find out...

    Steam Engine
        requires the free Shockwave plug-in


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