the sounds of steam (16 bit stereo sound 383k)
the last four hundred years, wrote the American historian John U.
Nef in 1941, in an important article on the rise of industrialism, the
Western peoples have concerned themselves, to a greater degree than any
other peoples before them, with the conquest of the material world.
In the story of that conquest the introduction of new forms of power was
of crucial importance, and the greatest breakthrough of all was the first:
the discovery and application of the power of steam.
For centuries society depended on human and animal muscle, wind and water,
and all such natural forms of power are still in use. It was not until
the beginning of the 18th century, when the first steam engines were built,
that humankind began to break free from this limiting dependence a process
that originated in England and spread by stages to the rest of the Western
world and beyond. In the process, the Western peoples became increasingly
dependent on mineral resources, firstly coal, and on technical and scientific
The steam engine was no exception. There had to be persistent effort before
it was perfected and there was much dispute about its likely effects -
whether it would liberate or enslave; whether it would destroy the environment;
whether through locomotion it would pull the world together or ruin its
From the late 17th century, one point was clear to all far-sighted contemporaries:
the development of the engine would have universal, and not merely local
or national, implications. The process of invention was itself international,
as the process of discovery and development in computer technology was
also to be.
The age of the steam engine was relatively short. It began, however, before
the work of James Watt, who figures most prominently in all accounts of
its achievements, so prominently indeed, that it is difficult to consider
his particular achievement in perspective. The scientific explorers were
to be found in many countries; the more practical men, Thomas Savery and
Thomas Newcomen outstanding among them, were in the first instance English.
dealt with a wider challenge than that of the mine: the challenge of harnessing
power to every kind of machine. The progress of mechanisation (a new word)
in the 18th century generated a demand for power on an unprecedented scale.
In the textile industry in particular, where new machinery was introduced
in both spinning and weaving, there was a restless struggle by the 1770s
to obtain power and more power. The challenge of the mill
became the starting point of what soon began to be thought of as the industrial
revolution, a revolution which inevitably transformed other industries
besides textiles. Industry, regarded increasingly as a major
sector of the economy, not as it had been earlier in history, as many
people turned increasingly to steam during the 19th century. So for a
time did the most advanced agriculture, and as the number of steam engines
multiplied, the demand for iron and coal multiplied too.
It was steam locomotion however, which was, and still is, usually taken
to be the chief of the triumphs of steam. The iron horse was
the king of beasts, steam had the power to move people as
well as machines, to inspire prophets as well as businessmen, and to generate
controversy as well as to establish new routines of life and work.
compiled from: The Power of Steam, Asa Briggs, AP Publishing
Pty. Ltd. 1981. Photos by Brian Carter.
power was, to those of the 19th century, as innovative and
controversial as computers and electronics are to us here today...
at the dawn of the 21st century!
to Sydney is never complete without including the Powerhouse
Museum located at Ultimo, near Darling Harbour.
see" at the museum is the Boulton
and Watt engine... the oldest rotative steam engine in existence
and still running on steam!
the museum don't forget to visit the permanent Steam
Exhibition that regularly runs on steam.