Thomas Newcomen

Newcomen Engine House

Thomas Newcomen was the inventor of the first practicable atmospheric steam pumping engine, the Newcomen engine. This was to have a profound effect on the ability to mine from greater depths, thus assisting the dawning industrial revolution.

Newcomen was born in Dartmouth, Devon in 1664, a devout Baptist. He worked as an ironmonger – and so described himself throughout his life. He not only sold items but fabricated parts himself from metal. Through this he became familiar with the mines of Devon and Cornwall where he noted the difficulty and expense of removing water from the mines.

Another Devonian, Captain Thomas Savery, had invented a pump in about 1698, and took out a broadly-worded patent for “raising water and imparting motion to all sorts of mill-work by the impellant force of fire”. The device relied upon vacuum and atmospheric pressure to raise water from below, and upon high-pressure steam to force this water to the surface of the mine. It was not a success when used in mines, there were difficulties in construction due to the limits of current technology, but the patent created problems later for Newcomen.

There is no known image of Thomas Newcomen, but the location of his house and workshop are known and are commemorated by plaques in Dartmouth. He worked for many years on his invention, and achieved success in about 1710 with the construction of the world’s first reciprocating steam engine. This also relied on a vacuum but was a great advance over Savery’s pump, and made no undue demands on the technology then available.

This item was written by Past President John Allen who has made the study of Newcomen his life’s work.

  • Forthcoming Events

    Jun
    19
    Tue
    2018
    5:45 pm An engineering study of the stat... @ MANCHESTER Renold Building, University of Manchester
    An engineering study of the stat... @ MANCHESTER Renold Building, University of Manchester
    Jun 19 @ 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
    A meeting led by Institution of Structural Engineers at which  Bill Harvey will speak on  “An engineering study of the station at Liverpool Road Manchester – an examination of the construction and development of the[...]
    Jul
    13
    Fri
    2018
    9:00 am Newcomen Society Annual Conferen... @ TEESSIDE, Middlesbrough
    Newcomen Society Annual Conferen... @ TEESSIDE, Middlesbrough
    Jul 13 @ 9:00 am – Jul 17 @ 6:00 pm
    Teesside Flyer Having taken into account wishes of the membership this new type of conference will be led by Jonathan  Aylen and Dr Fred Starr. Based in Middlesbrough in NE England it will focus on[...]
    Oct
    20
    Sat
    2018
    9:00 am Symposium: The White Salt Industry @ NORTHWICH The Lion Salt Works Museum
    Symposium: The White Salt Industry @ NORTHWICH The Lion Salt Works Museum
    Oct 20 @ 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
    An all-day Symposium on the technologies associated with White Salt is being organised by the North West Branch. It will take place at The Lion Salt Works Museum outside Northwich (10 minutes from M6 Junction[...]
  • Twitter Feed


  • Latest News