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On our first full day in Birmingham, we spent the day at ThinkTank, the city’s science museum. There are many exhibits, but we were there for one: steam engines.

Early steam engines were incorporated into public works projects, like sewage removal or gas systems. They came with attractive paint jobs and woodwork to please the government officials in charge of procuring them. One of the things that fascinated us about these steam engines was how long they were used for. This one was still in use in 1957. Can you imagine any machine built today that will still be working in 73 years?

Watt steam engine

Sewage Pumping Engine

James Watt, between 1883 and 1884

“It raised sewage from the drains so that it could be discharged when the tide would carry it out to sea.”

Steam engine with wheels

Portable steam engine, 1894

“towed by a horse or traction engine, and connected by belt to drive saws and rock crushers”

I got fascinated by the governors, early safety switches, on steam engines. Here, Rick played with a demonstration of how a governor works. When it spins fast, the balls swing up and a valve closes, stopping the supply of steam and slowing down the engine.

A demonstration at ThinkTank in Birmingham, England

Spin the governor just fast enough, but not too fast!

Many of the engines were rigged up so that they moved — very helpful in understanding how they worked. Here is a video of an agricultural engine of unknown manufacturer that was still being used in 1951.

Steam engines were an important part of British history. Do you find them as fascinating as we do? Or, is that just because we’re geeky engineering types?


Steam Engines, Galore! #BriFri — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Birmingham, UK #BriFri | Joy's Book Blog

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