Thomas Newcomen was born in the middle of the 17th century and his family was involved within the merchant trade. His family was also quite religious, which brought Newcomen to become a lay preacher and an elder with his Baptist church. Many of his business contacts throughout the years were also involved within the ministry and many of them were also within the Baptist faith.
The problem that his community and the region he lived in faced was flooding. The coal and tin mines in the area would collect water and this was a major problem because it limited the amount of product that could be mined while providing safety issues for the miners. Newcomen soon became involved in solving the problem. Here is a look at how he solved it.
The Development of the Atmospheric Steam Engine
Most people know the name of Thomas Newcomen because he is recognized for the development of the steam engine. This invention occurred around 1710 through the combination of ideas of other inventors from the area. To create his engine, Newcomen replaced the area where the steam condensed with a cylinder that contained a piston. This was then attached to a fulcrum that would power the engine. Newcomen then attached this engine to a pump at the base of the mine and this created the needed solution to the mine flooding.
Outside of this one invention, however, Thomas Newcomen has been essentially forgotten by history. Because the mines could produce nearly 20 times the amount of water than the amount of ore, however, this one invention was a critical innovation that improved the mining industry and ultimately the industrial revolution itself.
Newcomen Was an Ironmonger By Trade
Newcomen made his reputation based on his work as an ironmonger. He would supply miners with the tools that they would need to bring out the ore or minerals. Part of his job also meant doing specific iron work when it was needed for the mine. It’s what he did throughout most of his life, even though he felt a calling to be a minister. He considered himself an ironmonger first and then a preacher second.
Part of the reason why history doesn’t remember all of the work of Newcomen is likely because of his reputation. He was known for being more than just a little eccentric and he was also known as a schemer. Unless people were involved with mining or were part of his congregation, Newcomen was essentially avoided because he was deemed to be a bit strange.
What is even more remarkable about the development of the atmospheric steam engine is that Newcomen didn’t have any engineering experience whatsoever. That same could be said about his partner in the development of the engine, John Calley. At one point, they even spoke with a leading scientist who advised the two against their planned design, but they were stubborn and stuck to it, which history has become quite grateful for.
The story of Thomas Newcomen is this: no matter who you are, you can do something great. Don’t let your reputation get in the way of your dream.
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