For many years previous to this period, ingenious mechanics had been engaged in attempting to solve the problem of the best and most economical boiler for the production of high-pressure steam.
Continuing The First Railroad,
our selection from The Life of George Stephenson by Samuel Smiles published in 1857. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The First Railroad.
Time: October, 1829
Place: Rainhill, England
In Stephenson’s first Killingworth engines he applied the ingenious method of stimulating combustion in the furnace by throwing the waste steam into the chimney after it had performed its office in the cylinders, thereby accelerating the ascent of the current of air, greatly increasing the draught and consequently the temperature of the fire. This plan was adopted by him as early as 1815, and it was so successful that he himself attributed to it the greater economy of the locomotive as compared with horse-power. Hence the continuance of its use upon the Killingworth Railway.
Though the adoption of the steam-blast greatly quickened combustion and contributed to the rapid production of high- pressure steam, the limited amount of heating-surface presented to the fire was still felt to be an obstacle to the complete success of the locomotive-engine. Mr. Stephenson endeavored to over come this by lengthening the boilers and increasing the surface presented by the flue-tubes. The Lancashire Witch, which he built for the Bolton and Leigh Railway, and used in forming the Liverpool and Manchester Railway embankments, was constructed with two tubes, each of which contained a fire and passed longitudinally through the boiler. But this arrangement necessarily led to a considerable increase in the weight of those engines, which amounted to about twelve tons each; and as six tons were the limit allowed for engines admitted to the Liverpool competition, it was clear that the time was come when the Killingworth engine must undergo a further important modification.
For many years previous to this period, ingenious mechanics had been engaged in attempting to solve the problem of the best and most economical boiler for the production of high-pressure steam. The use of tubes in boilers for increasing the heating surface had long been known. As early as 1780, Matthew Boulton employed copper tubes longitudinally in the boiler of the Wheal Busy engine in Cornwall — the fire passing through the tubes — and it was found that the production of steam was thereby considerably increased.
The use of tubular boilers afterward became common in Cornwall. In 1803 Woolf, the Cornish engineer, patented a boiler with tubes, with the same object of increasing the heating- surface. The water was inside the tubes, and the fire of the boiler outside. Similar expedients were proposed by other inventors. In 1815 Trevithick invented his light high-pressure boiler for portable purposes, in which, to “expose a large surface to the fire,” he constructed the boiler of a number of small perpendicular tubes “opening into a common reservoir at the top.” In 1823 W. H. James contrived a boiler composed of a series of annular wrought-iron tubes, placed side by side and bolted together, so as to form by their union a long cylindrical boiler, in the centre of which, at the end, the fireplace was situated. The fire played round the tubes, which contained the water. In 1826 James Neville took out a patent for a boiler with vertical tubes surrounded by the water, through which the heated air of the furnace passed, explaining also in his specification that the tubes might be horizontal or inclined, according to circum stances. Mr. Goldsworthy Gurney, the persevering adapter of steam-carriages to traveling on common roads, applied the tubular principle in the boiler of his engine, in which the steam was generated within the tubes; while the boiler invented by Messrs. Summers and Ogle for their turnpike-road steam-carriage consisted of a series of tubes placed vertically over the furnace, through which the heated air passed before reaching the chimney.
About the same time George Stephenson was trying the effect of introducing small tubes in the boilers of his locomotives, with the object of increasing their evaporative power. Thus in 1829 he sent to France two engines constructed at the Newcastle works for the Lyons and St. Iitienne Railway, in the boilers of which rubes were placed containing water. The heating-surface was thus considerably increased; but the expedient was not successful, for the tubes, becoming furred with deposit, shortly burned out and were removed. Then M. Seguin, the engineer of the railway, pursuing the same idea, is said to have adopted his plan of employing horizontal tubes through which the heated air passed in streamlets, and for which he took out a French patent.
In the mean time Henry Booth, secretary to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, whose attention had been directed to the subject on the prize being offered for the best locomotive to work that line, proposed the same method which, unknown to him, Matthew Boulton had employed, but not patented, in 1780, and James Neville had patented, but not employed, in 1826; and it was carried into effect by Robert Stephenson in the construction of the Rocket, which won the prize at Rainhill in October, 1829. The following is Mr. Booth’s account in a letter to the author:
I was in almost daily communication with Mr. Stephenson at the time, and I was not aware that he had any intention of competing for the prize till I communicated to him my scheme of a multitubular boiler. This new plan of boiler comprised the introduction of numerous small tubes two or three inches in diameter and less than one-eighth of an inch thick, through which to carry the fire, instead of a single tube or flue eighteen inches in diameter and about half an inch thick, by which plan we not only obtain a very much larger heating-surface, but the heating-surface is much more effective, as there intervenes between the fire and the water only a thin sheet of copper or brass, not an eighth of an inch thick, instead of a plate of iron of four times the substance, as well as an inferior conductor of heat.
When the conditions of trial were published I communicated my multitubular plan to Mr. Stephenson, and proposed to him that we should jointly construct an engine and compete for the prize. Mr. Stephenson approved the plan and agreed to my proposal. He settled the mode in which the fire-box and tubes were to be mutually arranged and connected, and the engine was constructed at the works of Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Company, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
I am ignorant of M. Seguin’s proceedings in France, but I claim to be the inventor in England, and feel warranted in stating, without reservation, that until I named my plan to Mr. Stephenson, with a view to compete for the prize at Rainhill, it had not been tried, and was not known in this country.”
From the well-known high character of Mr. Booth we believe his statement to be made in perfect good faith, and that he was as much in ignorance of the plan patented by Neville as he was of that of Seguin. As we have seen, from the many plans of tubular boilers invented during the preceding thirty years, the idea was not by any means new; and we believe Mr. Booth to be entitled to the merit of inventing the method by which the multitubular principle was so effectually applied in the construction of the famous Rocket engine.
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