James Watt was a Scottish industrialist, mechanical engineer, chemist, and inventor who improved upon Thomas Newcomen's seventeenth century Newcomen steam motor with his own Watt steam engine in 1696, which was crucial to the technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. In this article I'll briefly discuss some of the key figures behind the creation of the first practical internal combustion engine.
Thomas Newcomen had originally developed his design as a simple method for extracting steam from the ocean and into useable water. He developed a way to compress the steam to such a degree that it could then be used to generate electricity. After developing the principle he was able to further simplify his design and create what we know today as the first internal combustion engine. This invention was a great step forward because it allowed the world to harness the energy of the wind and provide it with an unlimited source of free energy. Because of this, we could use the wind as a means of producing electricity and this new type of power became extremely popular during the eighteenth century.
James was soon working closely with John Oldfield, who was a highly skilled mechanic who had developed a highly innovative and sophisticated design that would enable James and his company to develop their first commercially viable product – the first practical internal combustion engine. James developed his design based on the design of Oldfield's and they both used the principles of reciprocating pistons.
A piston engine works using an arrangement of reciprocating pistons that are connected together via a series of connecting rods. When one of these pistons is turned, the movement of the other is immediately translated into motion – this causes the other piston to turn in the same direction. The result is a continuous motion that causes an engine to run. The process is very much like that of a simple garden fountain which has continual motion due to gravity.
James and Oldfield designed the engines to work using the principles of the old English cycle engine which they modified and improved upon to allow more force to be put into a single rotation of the pistons, which caused the speed to increase and decrease. This allowed them to create a device that could produce the amount of torque necessary to make the engine run faster and at a higher speed. By changing the number of cylinders the engine could also be adjusted so that it produced more power, and a greater amount of torque. Eventually, James and Oldfield discovered a way of increasing the total torque by taking two pistons and turning one . . . . . . together in opposite directions so that they would lock together, which they referred to as a “double action” engine.
During the early days of their company James and Oldfield continued to improve upon the design of their engine by adding parts that were unique to their system, such as the first practical alternator and first working wind turbine, as well as the first working air pump. They were then able to develop a method of producing their engine out of the materials they used by taking lead plates. These plates were made up of either sand or lead. Eventually, they discovered that lead plates were more reliable than sand as the metal retained its electrical properties better and they were also more affordable.
Because of the reliability of their initial lead plates, James and Oldfield later developed a metal called tin. Tin plates became a preferred choice for lead plates, which was cheaper and easier to work with. They then moved on to steel plates, which were still reliable but more expensive.
Eventually, James was able to use a lead plate to create a more complex working model, which led to him being able to develop the basic principle behind a modern-day hybrid gas/electric motor. This allowed him to develop the world's first mass production electricity generator. He further developed the design of his device to make it more suitable for mass use.