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State-of-the-Art Technology

As machinery became larger and more complex, new processes were needed to create and manufacture the parts in large quantities. Entire factories eventually were employed to create parts for other factories. Manpower and horsepower were now obsolete, and even water power had its shortcomings. Once again, necessity led to the development of something new. In this case, the need for more raw power for large machines led to the development of new devices that allowed man to find and harness energy like never before.

New Sources of Energy

In Britain, the iron industry consumed the forests at a rapid pace and by the mideighteenth century had virtually depleted the isles of all meaningful forests. As a result, the iron industry slowed in Britain. Manpower and horsepower no longer got the job done. Britain needed new sources of energy to break the pattern of relying on wood, humans, and horses.

Britain already relied on coal for heating homes and for making things like glass, but not for machinery. As the forests disappeared, coal mining grew in importance. The mines got larger and deeper as the need for coal increased. The main problem with mining coal, though, was that the mines tended to fill with water. Men and horses lost countless man-hours emptying the mines of the water so mining could resume.

A simple device was developed that would eventually be revolutionary.

Thomas Savery (1650-1715) invented a steam-powered pump to clear mines of water. The pump used coal to create steam from water. The problem with Savery’s invention, which had no moving parts, was that the high pressure made it very volatile and dangerous. Therefore, miners used it at very low pressures. Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) improved upon Savery’s general idea and built a true steam-powered engine complete with a boiler, a piston, and a cylinder. Newcomen’s engine was a marvel compared to Savery’s, but it was still highly inefficient.

Would You Believe?

Critics of Watt argue that his carefully guarded patents restricted further development of steam technology, thus slowing the Industrial Revolution.

In 1763, a brilliant Scot named James Watt (1736-1819) was repairing one of Newcomen’s engines when he figured out the problem. Watt noticed that the cylinder was heated and then cooled with every single stroke of the piston. Watt decided that the engine needed a separate condenser so the steam could cool somewhere else besides the cylinder. He also sealed the top of the cylinder so the steam couldn’t escape. Both improvements resulted in massive increases in both efficiency and raw power. It was a Watt engine that Arkwright used to power his mill; by 1800, hundreds of Watt engines powered mills across England.

The successful harnessing of steam rejuvenated the coal and iron industries, and production soared during the late 1700s. The iron industry also benefited from a new development by Henry Cort (1740-1800). Henry Cort invented a puddling furnace that allowed pig iron, or raw iron, to be refined with coke, created by baking coal to remove water and other things, to create iron more suitable for use in heavy industry. In other words, Cort’s furnace allowed impurities to be removed from the pig iron. The stronger iron played a major role in the development of an industry that changed not only Britain but the entire world.

The Railroads

Railroads existed in England as early as the seventeenth century. Not that there were trains and locomotives yet. Railroads were simply roads consisting of two rails along which carts could be pulled more easily than along the ground. The first sets of rails, which were made of wood, were used to haul coal. As time passed and the loads got heavier, wheels and rails alike were changed to iron. By 1800, rail companies actually transported passengers along the rails using steam-powered engines. The first passengers enjoyed speeds up to a hair-raising 10 miles per hour.

In 1813, a locomotive called the Puffing Billy made its debut. George Stephenson (1741-1848) improved upon that model and his new locomotive allowed the transportation of passengers and cargo at the same time. As the success of steam-powered locomotives became apparent, railways began appearing across England. The first real rail line was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. At the famous Rainhill Trials, inventors competed to see whose locomotive would operate on the new railway. At a blazing 16 miles per hour, Stephenson’s locomotive, the Rocket, won the right to run the rails between Liverpool and Manchester. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway served as a prototype that investors and engineers from around the world came to observe before building their own railways.

The railways were invaluable for carrying goods from one point to another. Likewise, passengers could travel throughout England more quickly than ever before. The railways made a fortune for the investors who financed their construction, mostly because there was no competition initially. However, the rails remained relatively lucrative even after rails crisscrossed all of Europe. The rails also produced a new group of workers. Large numbers of laborers were necessary for the construction of the rails and huge numbers of unskilled poor workers found work building the railways.

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