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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/560

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They exploded a small quantity of gunpowder in a large vessel with escape valves, which after the explosion caused a partial vacuum to remain in the vessel. This partial vacuum was then used to actuate a piston or engine and perform useful work. Subsequently several other inventors worked on the same lines, but all of these failed on account of two causes which now are very evident to us. Firstly, gunpowder was then, as it still is, a very expensive form of fuel, in proportion to the energy liberated on explosion; secondly, the method of burning the powder to cause a vacuum involves the waste of nearly the whole of the available energy, whereas, had it been burned under pressure, as in the cannon, a comparatively large percentage of the energy would have been converted into useful work. But even with this alteration, and however perfect the engine had been, the cost of explosives would have debarred its coming into use, except for very special purposes.

We come a century later to the first real gas-engine. Street, in 1794, proposed the use of vapor of turpentine in an engine on methods closely analogous to those successfully adopted in the Lenoir gas-engine of eighty years later, or thirty years ago. But Street's engine failed from crude and faulty construction. Brown, in 1823, tried Huygens's vacuum method, using fuel to expand air instead of gunpowder, but he also failed, probably on account of the wastefulness of the method.

Wright, in 1833, made a really good gas-engine, having many of the essential features of some of the gas-engines of the present day, such as separate gas and water pumps, and water-jacketed cylinder and piston.

Barnett, in 1839, further improved on Wright's design, and made the greatest advance of any worker in gas-engines. He added the fundamental improvements of compression of the explosive mixture before combustion, and he devised means of lighting the mixture under pressure, and his engine conformed closely to the present-day practise as regards fundamental details. No doubt Barnett's engine, so perfect in principle, deserved commercial success, but either his mechanical skill or his financial resources were inadequate to the task, and the character of the patents would seem to favor this conclusion, both as regards Barnett and other workers at this period. Up to 1850 the workers were few, but as time went on they gradually increased in number; attention had been attracted to the subject, and men with greater powers and resources appear to have taken the problem in hand. Among these numerous workers came Lenoir, in 1860, who, adopting the inferior type of non-compression engine, made it a commercial success by his superior mechanical skill and resources. Mr. Dugald Clerk tells us: "The proposals of Brown (1823), Wright (1833), Barnett (1838), Bansanti and Matteucci (1857), show gradually increasing knowledge of detail and the difficulties to be overcome, all leading to the first practicable engine in 1866, the Lenoir." This stage of the