The Ages of Globalization by Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Ages of Globalization by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Author:Jeffrey D. Sachs
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: BUS072000, Business & Economics/Development/Sustainable Development, HIS037000, History/World
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Published: 2020-06-02T00:00:00+00:00

7.1 James Watt’s Steam Engine, c. 1776

Source: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Maquina vapor Watt ETSIIM.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Maquina_vapor_Watt_ETSIIM.jpg&oldid=362051513

Newton had declared “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Watt too made his great breakthroughs by building on the innovations of worthy predecessors. Thomas Savery invented the first modern steam engine in 1699, using steam created by burning coal to pump water. The aim was to use the steam engine to pump water from coal mines to raise the productivity of the mine. Savery’s breakthrough idea was then advanced by Thomas Newcomen, who added the idea of moving a piston with steam power. Savery’s pump worked by creating a temporary vacuum that forced water through the pump. Newcomen’s 1712 steam engine used the steam to move a piston to pump the water. The coal mined with the help of these steam engines was used mainly for heating homes in Britain’s winter months. Later on, of course, the coal would be mined for the steam engines themselves, which became the source of power for Britain’s railroads, steamships, and industrial factories, and notably for use in massively scaled-up steel production.

Newcomen’s engine was deployed to pump water out of coal mines, but it was not very efficient. It required an enormous input of energy and was not economical to use for other applications. In the 1760s, James Watt, employed in a workshop at the University of Glasgow in Scotland making scientific instruments, began thinking about how to make Newcomen’s steam engine more efficient. Brilliantly, Watt made two great innovations to Newcomen’s engine. One involved the translation of the steam energy into motion. Rather than the alternating beam that Newcomen had used, Watt introduced rotary motion into a steam engine. Watt’s second change was even more revolutionary: the addition of a separate condenser. Newcomen’s steam engine involved heating and then cooling the boiler to create the alternation of hot and cold temperatures to create and condense steam. This wasted a tremendous amount of heat energy, meaning that Newcomen’s engine required a tremendous amount of coal, at high expense, to operate. By introducing a condenser separate from the boiler, Watt made the steam engine vastly more efficient, and hence much more economical. He turned the steam engine from a high-cost device for pumping water from mines to a low-cost device that could be deployed in literally thousands of uses in the future. The world economy was transformed by that single insight.


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