Thomas Newcomen was a well-known English inventor best remembered for inventing the atmospheric steam engine. He invented the first successful steam engine for water pumping. Originally an ironmonger dealing in hardware tools, Newcomen quickly became aware of the widespread flooding problem in the mining industry. Waterlogging was such a problem that it forced several mining industries to close their doors. Though Thomas Savery invented a pump that used vacuum to draw water upward, the device had numerous flaws. Additionally, its use was restricted to a depth of thirty feet. As such, Newcomen dedicated himself to developing more efficient methods of extracting water from such mines. He set out to create a steam engine with plumber John Calley. His atmospheric steam engine was operational for the first time in 1712, making a significant contribution to the Industrial Revolution. His invented machinery ruled for more than three quarters of a century until it was surpassed by James Watt’s engine. In addition to inventing the steam engine, Newcomen served the local Baptist church as a lay preacher and teaching elder. He also served as pastor of a local Baptist congregation.
Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas Newcomen was born in February 1664 in Dartmouth, Devon, England, to a merchant family. He was baptized at St Savior’s Church on February 24, 1664.
Newcomen apprenticed early in life to learn the blacksmith’s trade. He quickly established himself in his hometown as an ironmonger. He designed, crafted, and manufactured tools, nails, and other hardware items, which he sold throughout Dartmouth’s mining district.
As an ironmonger, he became aware of the constant threat of flooding to Cornish tin miners. With the mines becoming deeper, removing water manually or by using horses to force out water proved to be costly and time-consuming.
The pervasiveness of the flooding problem prompted Newcomen to experiment with devising a machine capable of driving a water pump. His primary motivation for the attempt was to devise an improvised method of extracting water from such mines.
Career of Thomas
With the assistance of his assistant John Calley, Newcomen began experimenting in order to develop a successful steam engine model. He worked with Denis Papin and Thomas Savery, who had patented all methods of raising water via fire in 1698.
In 1712, Newcomen achieved a breakthrough by developing a model of his steam engine that aided in the extraction of water from a tin mine. Though he, like Thomas Savery, used condensed steam, his model was far superior to the latter’s crude pump.
Savery’s steam engine was ineffective because its operating depth was limited to thirty feet. He had invented a thermic syphon in which steam was admitted to an empty container and then condensed. The resulting vacuum sucked water from the mines.
Newcomen modified Savery’s model by substituting a cylinder containing a piston for the receiving vessel in which steam was condensed. His engine was unique in its operation – the intensity of pressure was not limited by the engine’s pressure. Rather than that, once condensed steam created a vacuum in the cylinder, atmospheric pressure pushed the piston downward.
Newcomen’s water-drawing apparatus consisted of a large wooden beam that swung freely around a central fulcrum. On the opposite side, a chain was connected to a pump. The cylinder had a diameter of 21 inches and a length of approximately eight feet.
While the steam cylinder was being refilled, water was drawn into the pump cylinder via a power stroke operating at a rate of twelve strokes per minute. Almost immediately afterwards, ten gallons of water were lifted from a depth of 156 feet and expelled to the surface via a pipe by the machinery’s weight.
Though Newcomen’s steam engine was significantly more advanced than Savery’s, he was unable to patent it because Savery had obtained a broad patent for his pump. As a result, Newcomen was forced to partner with Savery.
In 1712, the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley’s Castle, Staffordshire, in the West Midlands, built the first operational Newcomen’s steam engine. It was incredibly efficient and cost-effective at draining mines and raising water to power waterwheels.
Since the first steam engine began operation, numerous others have been installed throughout England and Europe’s mining regions. In comparison to manual pumping, the steam engine proved to be quite efficient. Additionally, it rescued numerous mines from bankruptcy.
In addition to inventing the steam engine, Newcomen served the local Baptist church as a lay preacher and teaching elder. Following 1710, he became the pastor of a local Baptist congregation.
Around 125 Newcomen engines were installed and operational by 1733. They drained coal mines in the Black Country, Warwickshire, Newcastle, and Tyne; tin and copper mines in Cornwall; and lead mines in Flintshire and Derbyshire.
Significant Works of Thomas
Seeing the mining industry’s flooding problem, Newcomen set out to build a steam engine capable of extracting water from great depths. In 1712, after nearly a decade of effort, he succeeded in developing the first atmospheric steam engine. In comparison to manual methods, Newcomen’s steam engine was more effective and efficient. For nearly three-quarters of a century, his steam engine was widely used throughout Britain and Europe.
Personal History and Legacies
Newcomen died on 5 August 1729 at Wallin’s House and was buried on the outskirts of the City of London’s Bunhill Fields burial ground.
Since its launch, Newcomen’s engine has maintained a steadfast position for approximately 75 years. Later, John Smeaton and James Watt’s version of the machine surpassed Newcomen’s.
The last commercially operated Newcomen steam engine is located at the Elsecar Heritage Center in South Yorkshire. It remains at the location where it was originally used.
Numerous models of Newcomen engines are housed in prestigious museums throughout the United Kingdom and the United States. The only surviving original Newcomen engine is the Newcomen Memorial Engine at Dartmouth. A replica engine at the Black Country Museum in Dudley, West Midlands, is also operational.
In 2012, as part of its ‘Britons of Distinction’ series, the Royal Mail released a series of stamps featuring Newcomen’s atmospheric steam engine.
Estimated Net Worth
The net worth of Thomas is unavailable.