History of the steam boiler

Steam boilers have become an essential household item since their invention. They played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution, bringing the western world into the modern technological age. Steam engines have been experimented with or proposed in some capacity for centuries. The first recorded – ‘the Aeolipile’ – was mentioned by Vitruvius in 1st century Roman Egypt. However, steam boilers became more recognised in the 17-1800s with the invention of the kettle boiler. These simply involved placing water above a firebox, allowing it to boil into steam. Since then, boilers have had various iterations over the decades and centuries to improve efficiency and application. 

Denis Papin and the pressure cooker 

In 1679, French scientist Denis Papin designed the first pressure cooker. He organised a system that placed a sealed pot above a high heat source. Papin is credited with introducing valves to steam boilers to allow them to release pressure before systems become unsafe.  

Flooded Mines and Industrial Pumps

Throughout the late 1600s and 1700s, Europe was experiencing a coal mining boom. However, during this time, mining was completed by pickaxes, and transport of goods was achieved by pulley and minecart. The mines were often flooded when water veins were found or it rained, and it proved difficult to get the water out with hand labour. Various iterations of steam engines were patented during this time, beginning with Jeronimo de Ayanz’s machine that propelled water out of the mines using steam in 1606. Followed by Thomas Savery’s steam-powered pump in 1698. Savery’s machine had significant faults: safety concerns, a lack of durability, wasted energy potential and a requirement for operation, installation, and maintenance within the dark and potentially flooded mine. The machine also had a maximum height capability of 10m of pumping, not feasible when many of the mines travelled far deeper than this.

The Newcomen Engine – an early boiler

Due to the faults presented by Savery’s design, Thomas Newcomen invented the Newcomen engine. This design used atmospheric-level steam pressure (as opposed to requiring accumulated steam pressure). Newcomen’s design was very popular throughout 1700s Europe as it was more efficient than the alternatives, but still had issues. It constantly required cold and hot water to cool and heat the steam cylinder. However, this design eliminated the requirement for horse-operated pumps – a feature of Savery’s machine – drastically reducing operating costs.  

Boilers and the industrial revolution

Over the course of the industrial revolution, steam engines and boilers underwent multiple iterations and improvements attempting to solve some of the problems presented by earlier models. This included maintaining temperature and improving the pressure capabilities of the vessels. A notable example is the James Watt steam engine, which added a separate condenser unit to previous steam pump iterations. Steam engines became an essential part of the industrial revolution as they were used for powering trains, carts, factories, mills, and breweries.

Babcock & Wilcox Company – a modern boiler 

The first modern recognisable steam boiler design was patented by George Babcock and Steven Wilcox in 1867. This design has been described as the first ‘convection boiler’ and utilised tubes inside a firebrick-walled box. However, the initial designs were very small in size and capacity. Meanwhile, a different business, the Stirling Boiler Company, founded in 1891, began making larger industrial boilers labelled the ‘H-type.’ In 1907, the two companies merged to create the ‘H-type Stirling boiler’, a combination of the two designs that were large and incredibly popular.   

Since this inception, boilers have continued to increase in size, capacity, and efficiency. By the 1950s and 60s, boiler designs could generate 9,000,000 pounds of steam, (1,300 megawatts of electricity per hour,) compared to the H-type Stirling’s 50,000 pounds of steam. Modern-day boilers are used within a wide variety of industries for various applications.

Tomlinson Energy – 130 years of steam boilers. 

That’s right. Tomlinson Energy has over 130 years of experience delivering steam boiler services to a wide variety of industries. We specialise in the sale of high-quality steam boilers from world-renowned brands, as well as the maintenance of a wide catalogue of boiler types. Tomlinson Energy has been there to witness the improvement of boiler technology over the company’s lifespan and remains on the cutting edge of the market.  

When you need boiler maintenance or boiler repair, make sure to call us at your state-specific telephone number, or fill out our online contact form, and one of our industry experts will get back to you. 

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