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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

And probably written by Besson


Besson, a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Orleans, and who was in his time distinguished as a mechanician, and for his ingenuity in contriving illustrative models for use in his lecture-room, left evidence, which Beroaldus collected and published in 1578,[10] that he had found the spirit of his time sufficiently enlightened to encourage him to pay great attention to applied mechanics and to mechanism. There was at this time a marked awakening of the more intelligent men of the age to the value of practical mechanics. A scientific tract, published at Orleans in 1569, and probably written by Besson, describes very intelligently the generation of steam by the communication of heat to water, and its peculiar properties.

[10] "Theatrum Instrumentorum et Machinarum, Jacobi Bessoni, cum Franc Beroaldus, figuarum declaratione demonstrativa." Lugduni, 1578.

The French were now becoming more interested in mechanics and the allied sciences, and philosophers and literati, of native birth and imported by the court from other countries, were learning more of the nature and importance of such studies as have a bearing upon the work of the engineer and of the mechanic.

Agostino Ramelli, an Italian of good family, a student and an artist when at leisure, a soldier and an engineer in busier times, was born and educated at Rome, but subsequently was induced to make his

home in Paris. He published a book in 1588,[11] in which he described many machines, adapted to various purposes, with a skill that was only equaled by the accuracy and general excellence of his delineations. This work was produced while its author was residing at the French capital, supported by a pension which had been awarded him by Henry III. as a reward for long and faithful services.

[11] "Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli, del Ponte della Prefia." Paris, 1588.

The books of Besson and of Ramelli are the first treatises of importance on general machinery, and were, for many years, at once the sources from which later writers drew the principal portion of their information in relation to machinery, and wholesome stimulants to the study of mechanism. These works contain descriptions of many machines subsequently reinvented and claimed as new by other mechanics.

Leonardo da Vinci, well known as a mathematician, engineer, poet, and painter, of the sixteenth century, describes, it is said, a steam-gun, which he calls the "Architonnerre," and ascribes to Archimedes. It was a machine composed of copper, and seems to have had considerable power. It threw a ball weighing a talent. The steam was generated by permitting water in a closed vessel to fall on surfaces heated by a charcoal fire, and by its sudden expansion to eject the ball.

In the year 1825, the superintendent of the royal Spanish archives at Simancas furnished an account which, it was said, had been there discovered of an attempt, made in 1543 by Blasco de Garay, a Spanish navy-officer under Charles V., to move a ship by paddle-wheels, driven, as was inferred from the account, by a steam-engine.

It is impossible to say to how much credit the story is entitled, but, if true, it was the first attempt, so far as is now known, to make steam useful in developing power for practical purposes. Nothing is known of the form of the engine employed, it only having been stated that a "vessel of boiling water" formed a part of the apparatus.

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