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Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

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4 comments

Richard Trevithick - Part 1

Posted March 27, 2007 3:06 PM

Richard Trevithick was a British inventor who built the first railway steam locomotive and pioneered the use of "strong steam" in mining, maritime and agricultural applications. He was a contemporary and rival of James Watt, whose improvements to the steam engine helped power the Industrial Revolution.

Trevithick was born at Tregajorran, a village in Cornwall, on April 13, 1771. His father labored in the local tin and copper mines while his mother raised six children. As a boy, Richard attended elementary school in Camborne, but was more interested in watching steam engines pump water from the mines where his father worked. According to one of his teachers, young Richard was "a disobedient, slow, obstinate (and) spoiled boy" who was "frequently absent and very inattentive." Although Trevithick eventually displayed an aptitude for mathematics, he was regarded mainly for his athletic abilities. Known as "The Cornish Giant", Richard Trevithick towered over his classmates and could use his 6' 2" frame to throw sledge hammers over the tops of engine houses.

At age 19, Richard Trevithick went to work with his father at the Wheal Treasury Mine. Although he had disliked school, Trevithick displayed both an interest and aptitude for hands-on engineering. By building and repairing the steam engines that he had watched as a boy, Trevithick earned the title of "consultant" and helped the mine avoid paying royalties to James Watt, the Scottish-born inventor who still held a condenser patent. Later, Trevithick was named engineer of the Ding Dong mine at Penzance, where he built a high-pressure engine and designed a miniature steam locomotive. In 1796, the 25-year old engineer developed his first working steam locomotive, a model which used a one-piece boiler and engine.

Six years later, on Christmas Eve 1801, Trevithick took seven friends for a ride on the "Puffing Devil", a larger locomotive that featured a cylindrical horizontal boiler, a single horizontal cylinder, and a pressure-driven piston which was connected to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel. For several years, Richard Trevithick sought support for his invention. Although James Watt had once considered the use of high-temperature steam ("strong steam"), the Scottish inventor now spread fears of dangerous explosions to discourage potential investors. When the failure of one of Trevithick's stationary pumping engines killed four workers in Greenwich, Trevithick modified his design to incorporate two safety valves. He finally secured funding in 1803, but quickly lost his financing when the "Puffing Devil" failed to pull a carriage during an exhibition in London.

In 1804 (the year of the world's first passenger railway),Trevithick found a new sponsor in Samuel Homfray, owner of the Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The "Penydarren" vehicle that debuted in 1804 was the first steam locomotive to run on rails. Equipped with a single vertical cylinder, an 8-foot flywheel, and a long piston-rod, the "Penydarren" hauled 10 tens of iron and 70 passengers from Homfray's ironworks to the Methryr-Cardiff Canal, reaching speeds of 5 mph. By turning the exhaust steam up the chimney, Trevithick's steam locomotive produced a draft which could draw hot gases from the fire through the boiler.

Editor's Note: Part 2 of this biography will run tomorrow on CR4.

Resources:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RAtrevithick.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Trevithick

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Watt

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Guru
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#1

Re: Richard Trevithick - Part 1

03/28/2007 3:56 AM

"By turning the exhaust steam up the chimney, Trevithick's steam locomotive produced a draft which could draw hot gases from the fire through the boiler."

- the world's first turbocharger? Discuss...

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Power-User
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#2
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Re: Richard Trevithick - Part 1

03/28/2007 1:22 PM

I'm no expert, but it sounds like you might be able to consider that as a turbo charger. This really just pulls the hot exhaust gasses from the fire around the boiler, but a real turbo would push fresh air into the fire to make it burn hotter. I suppose I'm just stating the obvious...

Nick

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Guru
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#4
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Re: Richard Trevithick - Part 1

04/02/2007 4:09 AM

By pulling the exhaust from the fire through the tubes, thereby enhancing heat transfer and thereby boosting power output, fresh air is pulled through the firebars to the fire, and secondary air, if needed, through such gaps in the firehole door as are provided by the designer and the fireman-operator.

The blast-pipe, present in a fitting that became the smokebox on "Rocket" et. seq., was too forceful on "Sans Pareil", in that it lifted the contents of the firebox up the chimney to the detriment both of lineside observers and of power output.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Richard Trevithick - Part 1

03/29/2007 8:54 AM

Interesting thought, PWSlack. Perhaps we can re-write history here at CR4! I'm not an expert on turbochargers, but Trevithick's design did meet a basic requirement of turbocharging - the use of exhaust gases to boost power output. The absence of a compressor and/or pump is significant, however. Many of the definitions that are displayed by Googling "define:turbocharger" mention these two components.

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