1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trevithick, Richard

16277591911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Trevithick, Richard

TREVITHICK, RICHARD (1771–1833), English engineer and inventor, was born on the 13th of April in the parish of Illogan, Cornwall, and was the only son of Richard Trevithick (1735–1797), manager of the Dolcoath and other important Cornish mines. He attended his first and only school at Camborne, and was in general a slow and obstinate scholar, though he showed considerable aptitude for figures. He inherited more than the average strength for which his family was famous; he stood 6 ft. 2 in. in height, and his feats in wrestling and throwing weights were unexampled in the district. At the age of eighteen he began to assist his manifesting great fertility of mechanical invention, father, and, was soon recognized as the great rival of James Watt in improvements on the steam-engine (q.v.). His earliest invention of importance was his improved plunger pole pump (1797) for deep mining, and in 1798 he applied the principle of the plunger pole pump to the construction of a water-pressure engine, which he subsequently improved in various ways. Two years later he built a high-pressure non-condensing steam engine, which became a successful rival of the low-pressure steam-vacuum engine of Watt. He was a precursor of George Stephenson in the construction of locomotive engines. On Christmas Eve 1801 his common road locomotive carried the first load of passengers ever conveyed by steam, and on the 24th of March 1802 he and Andrew Vivian applied for a patent for steam-engines in propelling carriages. In 1803 another steam vehicle made by him was run in the streets of London, from Leather Lane along Oxford Street to Paddington, the return journey being made by Islington. He next directed his attention to the construction of a steam locomotive for tramways, with such success that in February 1804 at Pen-y-darran in Wales he worked a tramroad locomotive which was able to haul twenty tons of iron; a similar engine was supplied to the Wylam Colliery (Newcastle) in the following year. In 1808 he constructed a circular railway in London near Euston Square, on which the public were carried at the rate of twelve or fifteen miles an hour round curves of 50 or 100 ft. radius. Trevithick applied his high-pressure engine with great success to rock boring and breaking, as well as to dredging. In 1806 he entered into an engagement with the board of Trinity House, London, to lift ballast from the bottom of the Thames, at the rate of 500,000 tons a year, for a payment of 6d. a ton. A little later he was appointed to execute a driftway under the Thames, but the work was abandoned owing to the water breaking in. He then set up workshops at Limehouse, for the construction of iron tanks and buoys. He was the first to recognize the importance of iron in the construction of large ships, and in various ways his ideas also influenced the construction of steamboats. In the application of steam to agriculture his name occupies one of the chief places. A high-pressure steam threshing engine was erected by him in 1812 at Trewithen, while in the same year, in a letter to the Board of Agriculture, he stated his belief that every part of agriculture might be performed by steam, and that such a use of the steam-engine would “double the population of the kingdom and make our markets the cheapest in the world.” In 1814 he entered on an agreement for the construction of engines for mines in Peru, and to superintend their working removed to Peru in 1816. Thence he went in 1822 to Costa Rica. He returned to England in 1827, and in 1828 petitioned parliament for a reward for his inventions, but without success. He died, penniless, at Dartford on the 22nd of April 1835.

A Life of Richard Trevithick, with an account of his Inventions was published in 1872 by his third son, Francis Trevithick (1812–1877).