Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Future of Steam (1889)

The June 13, 1889 Bucks County Gazette (Bristol, Pennsylvania) contained a short article about the future of steam power.

Professor Thurston, of Cornell university, does not believe the steam engine will be superseded in a hurry by any other motor, not even electricity. He says, on the contrary, that improvements will continue to be made in it which will adapt it more and more to the might industrial enterprises of the centuries to come. Gas engines can be used for small industries, not for great ones. The first improvements will be in the direction of overcoming the enormous waste of fuel whereby speed and power are obtained. Great changes for the better in this respect have already been made. He prophesies that the next generation will see steam engine driving a ship across the Atlantic in three or four days, at an expenditure of one pound of fuel per horse power an hour. Flying trains may be expected to cross the continent in two days, transporting freight at a cost of $3 or $4 a ton. The steam engine will yet be improved by a hundred investors.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know that he goes on to describe steam engines in uses where they have been superseded by gasoline engines. However Steam turbines are still a core component in all major power plants. So his line about them not being replaced in large scale applications has some truth to it.

Tyler said...

I find this very interesting. I enjoy the strange ideas people had about steam. How it controlled so much back then...

Steve Toby said...

It's also interesting that his prediction of steamships crossing the Atlantic in "3 or 4 days" was fulfilled, when on her maiden voyage, SS UNITED STATES achieved the crossing in 3 days and some-odd hours, I think maybe 12? But, this wasn't until 1952.

However, his prediction of fuel rates was far too conservative -- UNITED STATES burned oil at the rate of 0.55 lb/hp, not 1 lb/hp! The source of the good professor's error is doubtless that he was expecting the fuel to be coal.

Oil fuel was first used (experimentally) in a steamship in the 1890's at Trieste. The engineer running the experiment, Vittorio Cuniberti of the Italian Navy -- later to become famous as the inventor of the "all-big-gun" battleship, built in 1906 by a rival navy -- concluded from the problems experienced burning oil fuel that for the foreseeable future, all steamships would be fueled by coal. (He wrote this in an article in "Brassey's Naval Annual".)