Wha's like us

S — Steam engine

Illustration showing workings of a steam engine

Illustration of James Watt's double steam engine, 1782.


James Watt's improved steam engine represented a true technological revolution. 

It propelled Britain and Europe into the Industrial Revolution and transformed the economic and social landscape of the Western world.

Using steam to produce mechanical power can be traced back to Antiquity.

In the early 18th century, steam engines were used to extract water from mines. However, they were highly inefficient because of the large amounts of coal required to heat up the cylinder.

The solution to this design problem was provided by James Watt (1736-1819), who proposed to have a separate vessel for the steam to condense. This ensured that the cylinder remained hot throughout the process.


An ABC of Scotland

Steam engine was just one of the 'S' topics in our alphabetical exhibition celebrating some of the outstanding achievements by Scotland and Scots.

'Wha's like us?' ran from 13 December 2013 to 18 May 2014.

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