Thomas Newcomen

Thomas Newcomen was a blacksmith, iron merchant and engineer who is credited for his invention of the atmospheric steam engine. This great achievement made him a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution. Had it not been for him, James Watt would not have had anything to work on.

Newcomen was born in 1664 in Dartmouth, Devin. In 1685 he started working as an ironmonger and had customers who were mostly mine owners. Before his invention, an ox or horse did the job of moving around of things. The usual methods used to remove water such as manual pumping or hauling buckets were slow and costly. Newcomen wanted to work out a way by which these things could be done more efficiently. He succeeded in creating such a machine in 1712. His engine soon became popular as it helped draining water from deeper spaces in a more economical way than was possible before it. It was this device that harnessed power from steam that enabled mechanical work. His atmospheric engine can safely be called the most important element of the Industrial Revolution.

It can certainly not be called the most efficient of machines, having only 1% efficiency but it was definitely cheaper. His first engine was set up in a coal mine in Staffordshire in 1712. It consisted of an 8 feet long cylinder that worked 12 strokes per minute and took out 10 gallons of water from 156 feet deep mine. Another factor that made it a success was that it worked day and night in continuity. These engines were used till the 19th century and some even lasted till the 20th century. One of Newcomen’s engines was still working more than a century after it was installed. The most important thing for people was that it made their life much simpler.

Unfortunately despite his great contribution to the industry, Newcomen was not a very wealthy man and his influence is not appreciated or acclaimed as much as it should have been. It was him who laid down the foundation for the more advanced models of steam engines. The limelight shifted towards James Watt who made significant improvement to Newcomen’s engines making them more efficient and even more cost-effective. At the time of his death, 75 of his engines were operating but under Thomas Savery’s (another inventor) patent. They had been installed by Newcomen himself in important places such as coal mines in Warwickshire, Newcastle upon Tyne and Black Country. They were also set up in copper and tin mines in Cornwall and lead mines in Derbyshire and Flintshire.  However by 1790 most of his engines had been replaced by Watt’s more effective and enhanced engines.

Thomas Newcomen died on 5th August 1729 in London, United Kingdom. It was him who began the Industrial Revolution by creating the prototype that was later used to work on. In February 2012 the Royal Mail released a stamp that had his steam engine in the series of ‘Britons of Distinction’. He did not receive many awards as is common with entrepreneurs and famous personalities.


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