Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/28

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communication to an English engineering periodical, described the new machinery which was built at Newport, Rhode Island, by John Babcock and Robert L. Thurston, for one of the first steamboats that ever ran between that city and New York. He prefaced his description with a frequently-quoted remark to the effect that, as Minerva sprang, mature in mind, in full stature of body, and completely armed, from the head of Jupiter, so the steam-engine came forth, perfect at its birth, from the brain of James Watt.

But we shall see, as we examine the records of its history, that, although James Watt was an inventor, and probably the greatest of the inventors of the steam-engine, he was still but one of the many men who have aided in perfecting it, and who have now made us so familiar with its tremendous power and its facile adaptation to labor, that we have almost ceased to admire it, or to wonder at this product of the workings of the more admirable intelligence that has so far perfected it.

5. Twenty-one centuries ago, the political power of Greece was broken, although Grecian civilization had risen to its zenith.

Rome, ruder than her polished neighbor, was growing continually stronger, and was rapidly gaining territory by absorbing weaker states.

Egypt, older in civilization than either Greece or Rome, fell but two centuries later before the assault of the younger states, and became a Roman province. Her principal city was at this time Alexandria, founded by the great soldier whose name it bears when in the full tide of his prosperity. It had now become a great and prosperous city, the centre of the commerce of the world, the home of students and of learned men, and its population was the wealthiest and most civilized of the then known world.

It is among the relics of this ancient Egyptian civilization that we find the first record of the early history of the steam-engine.

6. In Alexandria, the home of Euclid, the great geometrician, and possibly contemporary with that talented engineer and mathematician Archimedes, a learned writer, Hero, produced a manuscript which he entitled "Spiritalia seu Pneumatica."

The work is still extant, and has been several times republished. In it are described a number of interesting though primitive forms of water and heat engines, and, among the latter, that shown in Fig. 2,[1] an apparatus moved by the force of steam.

This earliest of steam-engines consisted of a globe, a, suspended between trunnions, G L, through one of which steam enters through pipes, C M, F E, from the boiler, D, below.

The hollow bent arms, H and K, cause the vapor to issue in such a direction that the reaction produces a rotary movement of the globe, just as the rotation of reaction water-wheels is produced by outflowing water.

  1. Vide Woodcraft's "Translation of Hero."